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Bush must get out ... of drug quagmire

| Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005

President Bush should admit he made a huge mistake and order a speedy withdrawal -- from the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

On second thought, he doesn't have to admit the mistake. Just do it. This is a quagmire.

And so expensive. It will bust budgets for decades in the future. It is turning friendly people against us that we dare not alienate -- our senior citizens. They never before came up against an enemy like this, a "benefit" that breaks all decent rules of engagement.

Here and there an expert in government contracts might be able to figure out Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage. But nobody it will actually apply to. Test this for yourself. Ask any elderly person you know if he or she understands it. Hands will be thrown up

When a 98-page book -- 98 pages, Mr. President! -- comes in the mail titled "Medicare & You," it is not torn open like a pension check or a birthday card. Especially when its tone is vaguely menacing and order-giving. "Everyone," Grandma and Grandpa are told, "needs to make a decision" about coverage, and by Dec. 31 to be on the safe side.

Hard on the heels of this comes thick mail from a supplemental health care insurer. After repeated readings and cold compresses applied to the forehead the good news seems to be that the new coverage is automatic (though it's possible to opt out by May 15. Or June 30 anyway). The bad news: the monthly premium goes up from $20 to $45, except for the poor who "qualify." Then it may go down by $32.59.

You get the idea. We the People never signed on for a college entrance exam like this.

There's still time to Dec. 31 for the president and Congress. Call the whole thing off. Let's admit that Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage was the wrong benefit at the wrong time in the wrong part of the world -- that is, right here in the U.S. economy, where confidence is so important.

Mr. Bush should take a leaf from the Pennsylvania Legislature's book. They realized it was wrong to raise their pay extravagantly and unconstitutionally and when the error was pointed out to them, they repealed it, didn't they?

Granted, everybody in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, egged the president on in this fight. He had allies, who are deserting now. Notably AARP, the retirees' lobby. Its poll-takers found that U.S. seniors wanted nothing so much as for Uncle Sam to socialize their medicines. Then AARP got the shock of its institutional life. Its members hated the jungle of red tape that came out of Congress. While conservatives, meanwhile, hated the government to sign on for an unaffordable new entitlement.

So conditions have changed. Retreat is honorable. Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq have knocked the budget all out of whack. Billions have to be saved and Medicare drug repeal would do it.

That's all the exit strategy the president should need. Get us the heck out of this before Dec. 31 and his numbers would soar.

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