Novak on the Medicare prescription relief and some other stuff
The article is called 'Rove's blunder', which Novak believes was Medicare prescription reform, but it's about more than just that. He doesn't mention, on the Medicare thing, the pretty scandalous and almost immediate increase in cost estimates, nor that the person who first realised that the estimates were way low was threatened with being fired if he went public before the bill just scraped through (which was itself a pretty extraordinary story, alluded to by Novak).
What the fuck are the Republicans and the Bush administration thinking of? No Child Left Behind appears to be total bullshit, the prescription reform stuff is bullshit (as well as being somewhat pointless due to overcomplexity and outrageously expensive), Social Security reform went tits up, serious tax reform isn't going anywhere and it's going to be a little harder for Bush to motivate Congress in 2006 even than it was in 2005 because of the midterm elections and other distractions (for example, that many of them are concerned about being unveiled as fucking crooks in the course of the Abramoff investigation). The silver lining is that the Republicans probably won't lose Congress (as analysts from both sides seem to agree on) but other than the war, Bush doesn't seem to have accomplished much, overall, for his five years in the job, particularly when his party controlled both layers of Congress and the Democrats spent the first two years after 11/9 bending over and splaying in order to to appear patriotic.
Novak also continues the theme, that has appeared in a bunch of stories from different sources, that Bush is living in a bubble where everyone fears to bring him bad news because he just doesn't want to hear it. It's pretty stupid-looking when movie stars and boxers surround themselves with cunts like that, but what the fuck is the President doing? He has a responsibility to hear bad news; after all, he's the person with the most individual power to right situations that are heading South. His most recent PR drive did include a lot more apparent frankness (at least by Bush standards) about fuckups and false promises, but if you expend as much energy running ahead of truth as his administration has, when it does finally catch you it's liable to run right over you. Clearly, a significant turnaround in Iraq would paper over pretty much all the cracks (and this is the fault of the Dems, I think, who have ridden high enough on Iraq dissatisfaction that they've just failed to make many of the other cases against Bush's administration that are begging to be made; sure, Republicans are now apparently the Party of Whores, but we should expect the opposition to at least create a situation where GOPers find it easier to remember what they're there for), but that's just a political reality; it doesn't reflect much light on the underlying in adequacies in Bush policy. In the words of (at least) PJ O'Rourke, we cry:
'What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck?'
January 9, 2006 Karl Rove's Blunder
By Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- It is said only in hushed tones and not by anybody of prominence, but a few brave souls in the Bush administration admit it. President Bush's Medicare drug benefit that went into effect Jan. 1 looks like a political blunder of far-reaching consequences. Furthermore, these critics assign major responsibility to Karl Rove.
The hideous complexity of the scheme, which has the effect of discouraging seniors from signing up, is only the beginning of difficulties it entails for the president and his party. It will further swell the budget deficit without commensurate political benefits. On the contrary, the drug plan may prove a severe liability for Republicans facing an increasingly hazardous midterm election in November.
This program looks less like a bump in the road than a major pothole on Rove's highway to permanent majority status for the Republican Party. As Bush's principal political adviser, Rove has a brilliant strategic mind and can take credit for crafting the 2000 and 2004 presidential election victories. The drug plan was an audacious effort to co-opt the votes of seniors, reflecting Rove's grand design of building on the electoral majority by adding constituency groups. By failing to win new supporters while alienating old ones, the drug plan betrays a flaw in Rove's strategic overview and points to potentially disastrous consequences.
This is the winter of Republican discontent, even if it is not openly conceded. GOP members of Congress live in terror of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal touching them. Once House Republicans return from their global junkets in about two weeks, they face increasing pressure to elect a new majority leader to replace Tom DeLay. The Bush Social Security reform concept lies strangled in its crib, while his tax reform did not even get that far. In this atmosphere, the consequences of passing the drug benefit two years ago become unpleasantly clear.
Just before Christmas of 2003, the White House and the House Republican leadership forced the drug benefit down the throats of unhappy conservatives. In a memorable pre-dawn session, resisting Republican House members were threatened with dire consequences and offered rich rewards as the roll call was held open for more than an hour to erase a 12-vote deficit.
Rove's aim was to entice low-to-middle income seniors who vote heavily Democratic and complain about the cost of prescription drugs. That political maneuver was translated by bureaucrats and health-care technicians into a government program so difficult to understand that someone now receiving any prescription drug care would be inclined to stick with the present program even if it seems inadequate. For many whose existing insurance does not help pay drug bills, the Bush program is only a disappointment.
An earlier Bush attempt to co-opt the opposition also failed. The "no child left behind" education bill was passed in 2001 only after considerable arm-twisting of conservatives, but it has not produced political dividends. The president remains as unpopular as ever inside the education establishment, where school administrators complain about constant testing and paperwork required by the act.
Loyalty is the watchword among Bush administration officials, particularly White House aides. Consequently, George W. Bush in the course of his working day is unlikely to hear a discouraging word.
One mid-level presidential appointee, however, laid out for me the parameters of Bush's predicament with three full years remaining of his presidency. Bush is essentially a war president, leading the nation to fight an unpopular war that promises no temporary victories much less a final one, and at best offers the prospect of withdrawal from Iraq with honor. He needs something to energize the nation in his second term, but he has failed to do that with Social Security reform and has not even tried with tax reform. There is no clear sign the president appreciates the size of his problem.
Now, to begin his sixth year in office, Medicare drug benefits come into play, a major new entitlement that offends Bush's friends and does not placate his foes. There is not much at this point that can be done about it, except to try to convince seniors and conservatives that the program is really not that bad.
I've always thought of the prescription drug thing as a piss-poor attempt at triangulation. I don't see Bush as having a scrap of sentiment in his body that would support a prescription drug entitlement on principle, and indeed virtually all the meaningful opposition to said action came from conservatives. However, he DID succeed with the prescription drug reform in one very critically important respect: he took it off the table as an issue for the elections. There's no underestimating how important that was at the time; it was shaping up as THE important hot-button for the Dems.
The problem is, while he did with prescription drugs what Clinton effectively did with welfare, he had to endorse a much, much worse policy in order to do it.
As for the rest, theres a variety of reasons for the various failures in question. I blame him least for social security and tax reform; they died for lack of courage/interest on the part of others, but he did the right thing by pushing for them.
He has to take the rap for SS reform failure. His plan didn't even solve the problem, and his Congressional Outreach is so shit that he can hardly work with Congress at all on anything difficult. It's poor politics; achieving domestic reform without having a relationship with Congress is incredibly hard, so he had to build it (but he didn't).
His plan for significant tax reform failed because the panel he sent off to come up with revenue-neutral ideas came up with limitations on mortgage interest tax relief and that's political suicide, as it stands. I don't really think that he even took it to Congress.
The prescription drug relief is crazy. It appears to be costing a ton of money whilst achieving virtually nothing; even from the US government, this one is a real feat. I guess that the election was so close that you could point to any number of issues that could have swayed it (60 000 switched votes in Ohio, or maybe a larger number of switched votes in FL, where Medicare relief presumably plays biggest) but it looked like too high a price for any sane person to pay even before the predicted price of it doubled.