The Real Middle Ground

Bill Scher

Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus is firmly establishing himself as the buzzkill of The First 100 Hours.

After dirtying up a minimum wage bill with special interest tax breaks, now he’s undermining Dem efforts to pass a bill requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Instead, he wants a bill that merely allows it, but does not require it.

This wouldn’t be that big a deal, if we could trust the Bush Administration to act in the best interest of the public.

But Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary has made it clear he doesn’t believe in negotiation. If he isn’t required to negotiate, he won’t.

(Frankly, even if he is required, we can’t trust that he would negotiate in good faith — but at least with a Democratic Congress, we can expect some oversight of his behavior.)

Today’s NY Times headline — “Bush Threatens Veto of Medicare Drug Bill, but a Senator Is Seeking a Middle Ground” — gives the false impression that Baucus’ stand is in line with the center of the electorate.

When in fact, 85 percent of the public wants Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. That’s indisputably the “middle ground,” not a bill that lets the Bushies sit on their hands.

What the NY Times headline writers don’t get, the NY Times editorial board members do:

The [House] Democrats’ bill would end the prohibition and require — not just authorize — the secretary of health and human services to negotiate prices with the manufacturers. That language is important since the current secretary, Michael Leavitt, has said he does not want the power to negotiate.

Today, the House is expected to pass its strong bill. But we’re going to have to keep fighting to make sure it stays strong.

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