Bush administration: We were for Medicare reform before we were against it

Stan Collender roundly condemns the Bush administration's complete inaction in Medicare:

I have only one thing to add to what Andrew and Pete, my two bloggers in crime here at Capital Gains and Games, have both posted on the Medicare trustees report: it was facinating to watch the Bush administration talk about the immediate need to deal with Medicare after having adamantly refused to deal with the problem since Inauguration Day 2001.

I have vivid memories of former Treasury Secretary John Snow continually being asked why the administration wasn't proposing a Medicare reform package even though its problems were projected to be much closer than Social Security's, which it was proposing to change. His often-repated answer was that the White House wanted to deal with Medicare as part of a comprehensive health care reform plan...which it then also never proposed.

To now hear the current secretaries of Treasury, Labor, and HHS say that immediate action is needed while still not submitting a plan or admitting that they've been sitting on the sidelines for the past seven-plus years is some combination of amusing, infuriating, and fascinating.

Our nation's lack of action on Social Security is appalling. Not because it is going to bust the budget--it is going to become a very large, but still supportable, drain on resources. No, the reason it is appalling is that the structural incentives built into Social Security substantially depress labor force participation in a way that makes it harder to pay for Social Security, and especially health care.

But if Social Security appalls, Medicare quite stops the heart. We've seen this moment coming for twenty years and done nothing. Now it's here, folks: Medicare goes into deficit this year. For the first time, the general fund will be sending money to the entitlement programs, not the other way around. And that deficit will keep growing, and growing, and growing . . .

The Bush administration's response in the face of this has been glacial indifference. Nay, that's too kind: a glacier would at least pay enough attention to us to crush us under its icy maws. The administration's sole contribution to the question of "How do we pay for all this healthcare?" has been "While we're spending all this money we don't have, why not blow a few trillion on drugs, too?"

I can't give the Bush administration all the credit here, of course. Congress sure helped. The Democrats forced the government to spend more money on seniors by making it a key campaign platform, then complained when we didn't push our great generational overdraft higher still. The Republicans rushed to cater to their older constituents. And let's all have a big round of applause for those hard-working folks down at the AARP, who will seemingly be satisfied only when everyone under the age of fifty is actually physically chained to a desk, and all of their output funneled--via one of those vast pneumatic tube networks we'll all be using in The Future--directly into Centrum Silver and greens fees.