Racing to beat the clock so you can submit your entry for the Sixteen-Word Contest by the end of the day? Relax. Due to overwhelming interest, we’re extending the contest deadline to tomorrow. So sit back, take another look at President Bush’s State of the Union address, and let us know which phrase from this year’s speech you think will come back to haunt the White House. We’ll announce the lucky winner tomorrow.
In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush devoted two sentences to one of our nation’s most pressing economic concerns, the rising cost of health care. He prodded Congress to move forward on a “comprehensive health care agenda” which includes a raft of warmed-over proposals already proven to have little effect on the nation’s soaring health care costs. Things he didn’t mention included “reimportation” (drugs from Canada were supposed to be “coming” by now) and the issue of bulk purchasing power — at the bidding of big PHARMA, the final version of the 2003 Medicare bill blocked the health secretary from negotiating down prices with drug companies.
Thankfully, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s (D) “State of the State” address last month proved there are some government officials devoted to doing something about the issue. Doyle outlined a proposal to expand a bargain shopping strategy — buying in bulk — to help 500,000 uninsured residents in his state get better prices on their prescription medicine. His plan would let uninsured Wisconsinites pay a small enrollment fee to join BadgerRx, the state’s prescription drug bulk-purchasing pool, which currently is limited to state employees and private businesses. The pool already saved Wisconsin $25 million on prescription drugs in 2004.
Doyle’s plan is by no means unique. In Washington, newly elected Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) on Jan. 19 called on the legislature to authorize a bulk-purchasing consortium. In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D) is proposing something similar to Doyle’s plan. And in Connecticut, Sen. Edith Prague (D) has introduced a bill that would develop a way to buy prescription drugs in bulk for state agencies from Canadian pharmacies.
According to Stateline, 20 states are currently using some form of bulk purchasing to reduce inefficiencies and their bottom line. If President Bush was serious about cutting the deficit and controlling health care costs, he would have the federal government look into these programs.
In today’s Ask The White House, Jim from Colorado Springs took a ThinkProgress reader’s advice and asked:
What is the difference between the personal account now proposed by President Bush and private accounts he was talking about a month ago?
In his non-answer, Treasury Secretary John Snow claimed: The President has always referred to personal accounts, but some often mischaracterize them as “private accounts.”
Sorry, Secretary Snow, but in reality, it’s the White House doing the mischaracterizing. Check the transcripts:
On 1/12/05, for example, the White House press briefing had “Social Security/Private Accounts” on the agenda.
In a briefing a month earlier, on 12/16/04, Bush said: “We need to see that the philosophy of private accounts applies to Medicare just as we’ve been talking about Social Security.” –
And on 9/14/04 he said: “I believe younger workers ought to be able to take some of their own money, set aside a personal savings account that will help Social Security fulfill its promise, a private account that they can call their own, a private account they can pass on to the next generation and a private account that Government can’t take away.”
Someone once wrote, “If you hear me talking, listen to what I’m not saying.” That quote certainly encapsulates last night’s State of the Union address by President Bush. By devoting only two sentences to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the president barely addressed a disease that “nearly 1 million people in the United States” and over “35 million people worldwide” cope with everyday. But he still said a lot.
Sentence One: “…I ask you to reauthorize the Ryan White Act to encourage prevention, and provide care and treatment to the victims of that disease.”
President Bush provides no comment about funding for the Act and that is likely because “he has consistently sought to curtail [its] spending increases.” With all his claims of a newfound respect for fiscal responsibility, President Bush flat-funded the majority of the Act’s social programs, not appropriating any more funds for the New Year. However, the cost of HIV/AIDS in our society is not stagnant. With about 14,000 new infections each day, flat-funding a program like the Ryan White Act “really means a decrease. There are always more and more people diagnosed with HIV and more and more people who need these services. That means you have less money to take care of all the HIV patients than you did the year before.” For example, in 2004, the Ryan White Act actually saw a $5 million decrease in funding.
Perhaps, Vice President Cheney is still holding a grudge; he “was just one of 13 House members to vote against the precursor to the Ryan White CARE Act in 1988 — the AIDS Federal Policy Act.”
(Then again, it might be better that the administration isn’t provided with more federal funds. Its quest for more power over the distribution of the Ryan White CARE Act would include funneling money away from social services and putting more towards faith-based organizations. Rev. Franklin Graham, the leader of one of the far-right religious groups that received money, once stated, “Only a massive societal change in behavior can stop the spread of AIDS, and only Jesus Christ can bring about this change.”)
The White House has expressed deep concern over the third spoke in the president’s “axis of evil,” Iran.
“Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.” — President George Bush, State of the Union, 2/2/05
“You look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list.” — Vice President Cheney, Imus show, 1/20/05
Iran is an “outpost of tyranny.” — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senate hearings, 1/18/05
The White House has called for “tough sanctions” against foreign companies still doing business with Iran. Unfortunately, the White House has turned a blind eye when it comes to big U.S. corporations looking to make a buck. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “U.S. officials said yesterday there has been no push by the Bush administration to persuade subsidiaries of American companies to pull out of Iran.”
Case In Point: Vice President Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, is still involved in business deals in Iran. On Jan. 9, Reuters reported that Halliburton had just “won a tender to drill a huge Iranian gas field.” The company recently “opened an unmarked office on the 10th floor of a Tehran office building” and its latest project “is expected to take 52 months to complete,” meaning Halliburton will be in this “outpost of tyranny” until 2009.
Of course, this isn’t Halliburton’s first transgression with this “trouble spot”. Early last year, remember, the Treasury Department reopened a 2001 inquiry that “centered on the legality of the business dealings between Iran and a Halliburton subsidiary incorporated in the Cayman Islands.”
Now’s your chance to hold them accountable. Treasury Secretary John Snow will take questions about of the State of the Union on whitehouse.gov at 2PM.
Here’s a question to ask him: how can the president credibly claim he will cut the deficit in half by 2009 when the figures he is using exclude: 1) funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; 2) the administration’s $2.5 trillion proposal to extend tax cuts; and 3) the administration’s $2 trillion Social Security package?
If there is another question you think people should ask, post it in the comments section.
Update: Snow is getting scared. Chat moved to 3PM.
What does Donald Rumsfeld think about the insurgency in Iraq? Depends on what he’s trying to spin.
Touting Sunday’s election, Rumsfeld offered a dramatically grim description of the dangers faced by Iraqis. “There were constant threats of death to people who worked in the election polling booths,” Rumsfeld said, “threats of death to the security forces; threats of death to people who voted; graffiti that said “You vote, you die.” Truly frightening stuff.
That same day, Rumsfeld was asked about the future “security situation on the ground in Iraq.” Presumably feeling under the gun, Rumsfeld waded into a world of spin and made the “constant threat of death” sound like an everyday occurance:
“Well, if you have a country of 25 million people and you have X thousands of criminals, terrorists, Ba’athists, former regime elements who want to blow up things and make bombs and kill people, they can still do that. That happens in most major cities in the world, most countries in the world, that people get killed and there’s violence.“
During last night’s State of the Union, Bush said, “As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.” This morning the Wall Street Journal has a review of other countries who have experimented with privatizing government retirement programs. It hasn’t gone very well. Here’s a few highlights from the article:
Argentina’s transition was initially projected to cost a little less than 1% of gross domestic product annually, or around $2.5 billion. When the law was drafted in the early 1990s, Argentina’s economy was booming, tax revenue was high and officials were confident they wouldn’t have to borrow much…By 2001, the cost of the entire social-security overhaul had grown to about 2.7% of output…That amount approached the entire government budget deficit that year. Financing the shortfall forced Argentina to borrow billions of dollars more at high interest rates, adding to an already towering debt…. investors eventually became so worried about the country’s solvency they wouldn’t lend it more money. The result was an economic collapse in December 2001.
Transition costs also helped to batter Bolivia, which adopted private accounts eight years ago in place of a traditional pension system. Bolivia’s budget deficits more than doubled because of higher-than-expected transition costs. Even with additional borrowing, the government hasn’t been able to pay promised benefits to many retirees. Some have joined in recurrent anti-government street protests.