Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Bush Medicare Fraud

I've been reading James Bovard's book, The Bush Betrayal, which makes an overwhelmingly strong case that George W. Bush is not only a terrible president by liberal standards, but by conservative or libertarian ones (Bovard falls into the libertarian camp). The book is 278 pages of text followed by 43 pages of end notes (which, unfortunately, are mostly references to secondary sources) documenting Bush impropriety, dishonesty, and bad decisions regarding civil liberties, free trade, education, farm subsidies, Medicare, the war on drugs, and in war.

I just finished reading the chapter titled "Spending as Caring," which has a section on the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs in 2003 (pp. 121-126), which the Bush administration estimated would cost $400 billion in its first decade (and the Congressional Budget Office estimated would cost $2 trillion in its second decade). The initial vote took place at 3 a.m. on November 23, 2003, and lost by two votes. The Republicans violated House rules, which limit votes to 30 minutes, with the longest floor vote in House history. The voting finished at 6 a.m., with two Republicans changing their votes to yes and passing the bill.

Rep. Nick Smith (R-Michigan) was a Republican Congressman who opposed the bill and came under intense pressure to change his vote. Smith, who was in his last term and whose son was running for his seat, was told (according to Robert Novak--not a source I'd ordinarily rely upon) "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." He declined, at which time "fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat." Fortunately, Cunningham is now out of office after confessing to taking millions of dollars in bribes.

A month after Bush signed the bill, Josh Bolton, Bush's budget director, raised the estimate of the first decade's cost to $540 billion. As it turned out, the Bush admnistration had known since June 2003 that the cost was higher than $400 billion, from an estimate by Richard S. Foster, the top actuary at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Democratic staffers had contacted Foster asking for an estimate, which he was legally required to provide, but Thomas Scully, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reportedly threatened to fire Foster if he provided the information. Foster later said that "there was a pattern of withholding information for what I perceived to be political purposes." Why was this information suppressed? Because 13 conservative House members had vowed to vote against any bill costing more than $400 billion--they were deceived by the Bush administration.

Eighteen Democratic Senators requested the General Accounting Office to investigate whether any laws were violated (specifically a law that prohibits paying federal funds for the salary of any official who "prohibits or prevents, or threatens to prohibit or prevent" another employee from communicating with Congress). House Republicans blocked an effort to have Scully and White House aide Doug Badger testify before a congressional committee on this issue.

The Congressional Research Service published a legal analysis which concluded that "such 'gag orders' have been expressly prohibited by federal law since 1912." This position was backed by a 1927 Supreme Court ruling on that law which stated that a "legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information regarding conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change."

But the worst part about all of this deception is that the program itself is mostly a handout to people who don't need it. The Medicare prescription drug benefit helps wealthy elderly, corporations, and insurance companies more than elderly without insurance coverage. This change in the law brought the date of Medicare insolvency from 2026 to 2019, and is projected to cost up to $7 trillion over the next 75 years.

After the bill passed, the Bush administration then spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising to promote the law, including "video news releases" by fake reporters which the GAO determined in March 2004 were illegal "covert propaganda" with "notable omissions and weaknesses" and were "not strictly factual news stories."

The above gives a small sampling of the content of Bovard's book (though not his exact words, I've summarized), which is packed with equally damning criticism of the Bush administration.

BTW, Capitol Hill Blue (an often criticized source, yet which seems to often be quite accurate) claims reports from three witnesses that George W. Bush said, in response to criticisms of the USA PATRIOT reauthorization act, "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a goddamned piece of paper!" (Hat tip to Scott Peterson from the SKEPTIC list.)

1 comment:

Einzige said...

Yup. And "freedom"'s just a word, baby.