- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

“Thosearemy principles,” Groucho Marx once said. “If you don’t like them, I have others.” So, it seems, do the Democrats in Washington, who are tripping over themselves in their eagerness to demagogue the issue of Medicare and prescription drug coverage. Their moral indignation du jour is dutifully reported by the media, who seem blissfully unaware that this is an election year and that the Democrats might — just might — want to discredit the president and his policies in the process.

Consider the Democrats’ sudden deification of a previously unknown Medicare numbers cruncher named Richard Foster. Mr. Foster is an actuary, who, if you believe all the media accounts based on the remarks of Senate Democrats, was told he would lose his job if he gave members of Congress his estimates of what it would cost to pay for the prescription drug plan and for all the seniorsMedicarebelieved would sign up for private health plans.

It has been implied that this was an unprecedented outrage — to threaten a man of Mr. Foster’s unchallenged reputation for integrity and grit. He was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “Certainly, Congress did not have all the information they might have wanted, or that we had.” And a later piece fawningly described him as dynamic and a bit dashing as far as actuaries go, since he rides motorcycles.

The media nods credulously when the Democrats accuse the administration of essentially doing its best to implement its own policy goals and to prevent an administrator from shooting it in the foot by making common cause with its critics.

High crimes and misdemeanors? The more you look at this story, the less there is to see. As far back as June, the Wall Street Journal was noting, “The Bush administration flexed its muscle in the Medicare debate, as President Bush pressed conservative and rural lawmakers to support the House package and officials blocked Medicare’s chief actuary from sharing information about the bill’s impact with opposing Democrats.”

Democrats protested that the administration was violating custom by stalling requestsfordatafrom Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, regarding the bill’s impact. But later in the same Wall Street Journal story, it is noted, “The Center for Medicare Services has forecast about 48% of Medicare beneficiaries may join such private plans by the end of the next 10 years; the Congressional Budget Office predicts a figure of 12%.”

Congress had other figures at its fingertips — and the fact that the Democrats are now alleging a Watergate-like hush-up only shows how well the president has pushed his policies, and how bankrupt the Democrats are when it comes to ideas of their own. Indeed, the Democrats were touting their own plan — paying for every prescription drug for every senior for evermore, including those of the likes of Warren Buffett and future geezerslikeSen.Jon Corzine. But they never dared ask the Congressional Budget Office for its input or the incredible Mr. Foster for his input on that whopper. Lacking substance, they are left with the Dean-Kerry refrain: “The president lied.”

Is it a crime for the administration to flex its muscle? Surely, the Democrats have never sunk so low, since they are clearly the bastions of logical reasoning and clear thinking.

Before Mr. Bush, the White House hasn’t seen such muscle-flexing since the last Democratic president, William Jefferson Clinton. It turns out that the “sharing” Democrats point to as a hallowed custom was routinely violated by the Clintonadministration, which refused to cough up Mr. Foster for cross-examination by Republicans when he came up with an estimate for the Clinton drug plan that was 24 percent lower than what Congress said it would cost. Where was the media when Mr. Clinton kept Mr. Foster cloistered from his enemies across the aisle?

Missing in action, of course. As it was when it failed to ask FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan if he rides a Harley. Instead, Mr. McClellan, nominated by Mr.Bushtooversee Medicare, has been scorned and borked by the Democrats for sticking to his guns and daring to assert that importing drugs is potentially unsafe and uneconomical — and just plain bad policy.

When the shoe is on the left foot, ugly partisanship suddenly becomes sound policy. Just like Mr. Foster, Dr. McClellan has been threatened with loss of employment by the Democrats and Sen. John McCain for holding fast to what he thinks are the facts.

All of which avoids what Medicare reform actually does for seniors or how Democrats want to ration drugs and raise taxes in order to pay for the medicines of every senior. But as Groucho would say, even a 5 year old could understand that. Fetch me a child of five.

Robert Goldberg is director of the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute.

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