Peril in the Stimulus Bill Vote

I almost pity members of Congress who have to vote on the almost 1500 page so called stimulus  bill on Friday, as the actual language was only made available to them late Thursday.   The bill is likely to become very unpopular when people fully learn all the ways their future tax dollars are to be spent. 

Don't blame me, I didn't read it before I voted for it
doesn't make a compelling response to the many images of stupid waste lurking within the pages of the script to Midnight Basketball Meets Hope and Change.   Those who survived the backlash that followed the Clinton administration's spending spree when money promoting late night basketball programs and dance classes were justified as crime fighting measures don't seem to remember the ads run against incumbents during the 1994 Congressional campaign. 

One that stuck in my mind had a neatly pressed law enforcement officer in mirrored sunglasses keeping time with his nightstick as a little old lady ran several scruffy looking, tattooed gang member in tutus and point shoes through their dance steps. Back then such ads were only seen in the local market or the occasional C-Span recap of interesting political ads.  With You Tube ads poking holes in the upcoming Congressional Porkfest can be laughed at by anyone at anytime.   

The provisions that affect Medicare are likely to be even less popular than the frivolous spending. I suspect the success of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 has convinced some Democrats in Congress that won't have any problems from seniors.  After all, when that bill was being debated the political left gleefully recalled
this incident after the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 and predicted a similar fate awaited any Republican who dared alter Medicare.    
Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, one of the most powerful members of Congress, was booed and followed down the street by a group of screaming elderly people Thursday as he left a meeting with community leaders opposed to his stance on a program intended to protect the elderly from the high costs of extended illnesses.

Several dozen people shouted ''Liar!'' ''Impeach!'' and ''Recall!'' when Mr. Rostenkowski, the Democrat who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, left a community center in the North Side district of Chicago that he has represented for 30 years.
The group briefly blocked his car, hitting it with picket signs and pounding on the windows. Mr. Rostenkowski got out of the car and walked briskly down the street for about a block, with the protesters in pursuit. The driver then drove the car to a gasoline station, the Congressman got back in and the car sped away. 

This protest was covered widely in Chicago.  The images were just too delicious.  At one point during the protest a senior had crawled onto the hood of the Congressman's parked car.  Urban legend quickly turned this into a senior citizen being run down by the Congressman.  The next area press club event brought the urban legend to life with a video of Dangerous Dan's Driving School, with senior citizen's in walkers being used as lane markers in place of traffic cones. 

The reason there were violent protests to the 1988 bill as opposed to widespread acceptance of the 2003 bill are pretty clear to me.  In 1988 Congress decided that senior citizens needed catastrophic coverage for long term nursing care as part of Medicare, to be paid for by an income tax surcharge on Medicare recipients of up to $800 a year initially, to increase to $1,050 after three years.  A prescription drug coverage provision was also part of the bill, but the emphasis was on long term care. 

Unfortunately, no one had asked the seniors who would be paying the tax if the perceived benefit of such additional coverage was commensurate with the size of the tax surcharge. Since long term care insurance was available from private insurers at fairly reasonable premiums for many, the widespread lack of such coverage should have clued in lawmakers their new program might not be seen as being worth the targeted tax increase.  In fact, while a great many people fear a long stay in a skilled nursing facility will wipe out their savings, few actually do need such care for an extended period.  Stunned by the immense protest, lawmakers repealed the law in 1989 before the tax surcharge was collected.  By contrast the 2003 legislation on prescription coverage was carefully crafted to integrate with the existing supplemental insurance policies many seniors already carried as a matter of routine. Indeed some seniors saw reductions in their supplemental policy premiums.  

What the reaction will be to a potential reduction of benefits to seniors will be interesting to see. Will Speaker Pelosi soon find herself in the same position as Dan Rostenkowski was in 1989, running for her life as angry seniors show that urban street theater is not just for the young?  She certainly has been acting as arrogantly as he ever did at the height of his power.
I almost pity members of Congress who have to vote on the almost 1500 page so called stimulus  bill on Friday, as the actual language was only made available to them late Thursday.   The bill is likely to become very unpopular when people fully learn all the ways their future tax dollars are to be spent. 

Don't blame me, I didn't read it before I voted for it
doesn't make a compelling response to the many images of stupid waste lurking within the pages of the script to Midnight Basketball Meets Hope and Change.   Those who survived the backlash that followed the Clinton administration's spending spree when money promoting late night basketball programs and dance classes were justified as crime fighting measures don't seem to remember the ads run against incumbents during the 1994 Congressional campaign. 

One that stuck in my mind had a neatly pressed law enforcement officer in mirrored sunglasses keeping time with his nightstick as a little old lady ran several scruffy looking, tattooed gang member in tutus and point shoes through their dance steps. Back then such ads were only seen in the local market or the occasional C-Span recap of interesting political ads.  With You Tube ads poking holes in the upcoming Congressional Porkfest can be laughed at by anyone at anytime.   

The provisions that affect Medicare are likely to be even less popular than the frivolous spending. I suspect the success of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 has convinced some Democrats in Congress that won't have any problems from seniors.  After all, when that bill was being debated the political left gleefully recalled
this incident after the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 and predicted a similar fate awaited any Republican who dared alter Medicare.    
Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, one of the most powerful members of Congress, was booed and followed down the street by a group of screaming elderly people Thursday as he left a meeting with community leaders opposed to his stance on a program intended to protect the elderly from the high costs of extended illnesses.

Several dozen people shouted ''Liar!'' ''Impeach!'' and ''Recall!'' when Mr. Rostenkowski, the Democrat who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, left a community center in the North Side district of Chicago that he has represented for 30 years.
The group briefly blocked his car, hitting it with picket signs and pounding on the windows. Mr. Rostenkowski got out of the car and walked briskly down the street for about a block, with the protesters in pursuit. The driver then drove the car to a gasoline station, the Congressman got back in and the car sped away. 

This protest was covered widely in Chicago.  The images were just too delicious.  At one point during the protest a senior had crawled onto the hood of the Congressman's parked car.  Urban legend quickly turned this into a senior citizen being run down by the Congressman.  The next area press club event brought the urban legend to life with a video of Dangerous Dan's Driving School, with senior citizen's in walkers being used as lane markers in place of traffic cones. 

The reason there were violent protests to the 1988 bill as opposed to widespread acceptance of the 2003 bill are pretty clear to me.  In 1988 Congress decided that senior citizens needed catastrophic coverage for long term nursing care as part of Medicare, to be paid for by an income tax surcharge on Medicare recipients of up to $800 a year initially, to increase to $1,050 after three years.  A prescription drug coverage provision was also part of the bill, but the emphasis was on long term care. 

Unfortunately, no one had asked the seniors who would be paying the tax if the perceived benefit of such additional coverage was commensurate with the size of the tax surcharge. Since long term care insurance was available from private insurers at fairly reasonable premiums for many, the widespread lack of such coverage should have clued in lawmakers their new program might not be seen as being worth the targeted tax increase.  In fact, while a great many people fear a long stay in a skilled nursing facility will wipe out their savings, few actually do need such care for an extended period.  Stunned by the immense protest, lawmakers repealed the law in 1989 before the tax surcharge was collected.  By contrast the 2003 legislation on prescription coverage was carefully crafted to integrate with the existing supplemental insurance policies many seniors already carried as a matter of routine. Indeed some seniors saw reductions in their supplemental policy premiums.  

What the reaction will be to a potential reduction of benefits to seniors will be interesting to see. Will Speaker Pelosi soon find herself in the same position as Dan Rostenkowski was in 1989, running for her life as angry seniors show that urban street theater is not just for the young?  She certainly has been acting as arrogantly as he ever did at the height of his power.