- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Medicare prescription drug bill has produced some very odd bedfellows.

“On one side of the table I have Ted Kennedy and the Heritage Foundation, the other I had Jon Kyl and the AARP, and Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday after the $400 billion Medicare overhaul passed the Senate and headed to President Bush for his signature.

Mr. Kennedy led Democratic opposition to the bill, saying it did not provide enough of a benefit, while the conservative Heritage Foundation opposed it for being too big a program.

Meanwhile, AARP, the nation’s largest seniors lobby, which has been concerned about attempts to curb Medicare spending, supported the bill backed by conservative Republican leaders like Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader, and Mr. Kyl and Mr. Santorum, Republican leaders in the Senate, all of whom have advocated cost controls.

In particular, Mr. Frist said, having AARP backing the bill was “a huge advantage.”

“This bill helps those who need it the most — people with low incomes, as well as those with high drug costs,” said AARP Chief Executive Officer Bill Novelli yesterday.

But AARP has suffered mightily for its position among its traditional supporters, including members renouncing their membership and ripping up their cards at its D.C. headquarters.

“Americans deserve better from AARP,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, during the debate, as Democrats questioned whether the organization was influenced to support the bill because it stands to gain financially from its own insurance business.

Democratic opponents had a sign on the Senate floor with the organization’s phone number, urging viewers to call and say they opposed the bill.

But opponents were also a curious amalgamation of conservative and liberal members of Congress, advocacy groups and political committees.

In yesterday’s vote, Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, was on the same side as Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, in opposing the bill. They were joined by liberal labor unions, conservative think tanks and taxpayer advocates.

Nowhere was the oddness more apparent than last week, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent out e-mail to reporters touting a poll on how poorly seniors were receiving the Medicare bill. The poll was commissioned by the Club for Growth, a group that funds conservative Republican candidates for office.

“Even a broken clock is right two times a day,” said Greg Speed, spokesman for the DCCC. “In this case, the Club for Growth identified several tremendous weaknesses in the Republican plan, and demonstrated the plan is extremely unpopular with seniors, once they learn the details.”

“I guess this is a case where the left and the right opposed it for diametrically opposite reasons. They opposed it because they thought it was too free-market oriented; we opposed it because it didn’t rely on the free market enough,” said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth.

Mr. Frist predicted that opponents will come to realize the bill does work.

Maybe as striking as the coalitions was how close they came to defeating a bill that had the full legislative muscle of the president and majority leadership in both chambers.

“It was one of those cases where the left and the right came within a eyelash of defeating the White House and the powerful whip operation in the House,” Mr. Moore said.

As for the potential for future coalitions, Mr. Speed at the DCCC said, “We encourage Stephen Moore to pour more money into similar polling.”


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