D uring the first presidential and vice presidential debates, Bob Dole and Jack Kemp were hit by Medicare attacks from Bill Clinton and Al Gore some 22 times. That's an average of one Medicare attack every four minutes.
Dole's sins: Not only did he want to slash $270 billion from the program--more than needed to protect the Medicare "trust fund"--he wanted to hike premiums, force seniors to pay more out of pocket for care, and push them into managed care. Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the president and vice president said, wanted Medicare to "wither on the vine." All these were, as Gore put it on Meet the Press recently, "extremist measures that would have devastated Medicare."
Thank God Clinton was there to stop it.
Dole's limp response was that he would honor his mother's word not to cut Medicare. He needn't be so defensive. Three years ago Clinton himself proposed basically the same package of reforms for Medicare--a fact everyone seems to have forgotten since it was embedded in his massive, ill-fated Health Security Act. Here's the rundown.
Big Cuts vs. Slower Growth. Consider this exchange in the veep debate:
Jack Kemp: "The president himself suggested that the reduction in the growth of Medicare over the next five or six years ought to be held to 6 percent. Under the Republican plan, irrespective of the numbers, it will grow at 7 or even more percent."
Al Gore: "I think Mr. Kemp has unintentionally made a mistake in saying that President Clinton called for a reduction to 6 percent. ... It is not the president's position."
Nobody bothered to check out this one. But the fact is that in 1993 Clinton boasted he could cut Medicare growth to 6 percent while protecting the program.
Here's Clinton speaking to the American Association of Retired Persons in October that year: "Today, Medicaid and Medicare are going up at three times the rate of inflation. We propose to let it go up at two times the rate of inflation." Given that prices were expected to climb 3 percent a year, Clinton meant 6 percent growth for Medicare.
"That is not a Medicare or Medicaid cut," he reassured seniors. "So when you hear all this business about cuts, let me caution you that that is not what is going on. We are going to have increases in Medicare and Medicaid, and a reduction in the rate of growth."