Politics & Policy

A September Surprise?

The GOP Congress remains George W. Bush's secret weapon.

As the November election approaches, the GOP Congress remains George W. Bush’s secret weapon. Republicans should use their dominance of the House and especially the Senate to boost his and, simultaneously, their own electoral prospects. A few gutsy moves, right now, could create a September surprise for the Gore-Lieberman ticket.

#ad#Several ideas highlight the differences between Bush’s generally pro-market policies and Albert Gore’s rendezvous with red ink. Better yet for Republicans, these issues enjoy bipartisan support and cannot be dismissed as right-wing fantasies.

After passing selected measures in the House, where rules favor their swift adoption, Republicans should stage showdowns in the Senate. By scheduling key issues which narrowly could pass, Republicans could lure Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Vice President Gore from the campaign trail to devote precious time in Washington voting on these bills or, in Gore’s case, waiting to cast tie-breaking votes.

Republicans could make Gore and Lieberman sweat. They either could anger left-wing Democratic activists by supporting bipartisan, pro-market legislation or publicly expose themselves as champions of powerful bureaucrats over people who desperately seek greater freedom and opportunity.

Senators John Breaux (D, LA) and Dr. Bill Frist, M.D. (R, TN) have co-sponsored a Medicare modernization bill similar to Governor Bush’s recent proposal. It would free seniors to stay within today’s system or choose other private health plans coupled with subsidized premiums. Competition among insurers would limit cost increases while expanded choice would afford seniors access to higher-quality care.

As Senator Breaux said, “we must have bipartisan support if we want to pass legislation to modernize Medicare and offer prescription drug coverage for all older Americans.” Senators J. Robert Kerrey (D, NE) and Mary Landrieu (D, LA) agree and have co-sponsored his bill. Senator Lieberman himself praised Breaux’s plan as “true to the New Democratic ideals.”

Will Gore and Lieberman now cooperate, or will they actually try to kill a measure that would give seniors greater health options – and pharmaceutical coverage — just before an election? Senate Republicans should make them choose.

New Jersey’s Robert Toricelli, one of the Senate’s feistiest Democrats, has co-sponsored a measure with Senator Charles Grassley (R, IA) to allow permanent, universal access to medical savings accounts. Today’s MSA law allows no more than 750,000 Americans to dedicate tax-free money for health coverage. Numerous restrictions apply. As Toricelli explained in a July 28 Wall Street Journal column, more than one third of those who have opened MSAs previously lacked health insurance. MSAs, Toricelli wrote, “would provide low-cost coverage to those unable to afford health insurance premiums, and they would guarantee that patients, not insurance companies or health maintenance organizations, have control over health care.”

Given Toricelli’s passion, this, too, could pass. Still, many liberals want to keep MSAs outside their highly-regulated medicine chest. Would Gore and Lieberman help their fellow Democrat extend a pro-market medical reform to millions of Americans, or try to block it in favor of big-government medical mandates? Senate Republicans should give them that test.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Nina Shokraii Rees reports, 48 percent of Washington D.C.’s 11th graders tested below basic proficiency in reading this year, while 75 percent were below basic in math. School vouchers would help such abused students and their little brothers and sisters. On September 30, 1997, when the Senate last held a roll-call vote to provide $3,200 educational vouchers to 1,800 poor students in Washington’s miserable schools, Democrats Breaux, Landrieu and New York’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Aye.” And who co-sponsored this educational lifeline? A Democrat named Joseph Lieberman.

The Senate should vote on a new D.C. voucher bill. Let America learn whether Gore and Lieberman will join sensible Democrats in honoring their party’s pro-child rhetoric or leave the sons and daughters of the nation’s capitol trapped in the twilight of ignorance.

The biggest roadblock to this legislative endgame is that Republicans are too nice. True to form, the reputed party of the rich twirls croquet mallets while Democrats swing Louisville sluggers. In a watershed face-off with a Democrat so statist he makes Walter Mondale look like Steve Forbes, Republicans must play major-league hardball.

Passing these bills, or at least energetically attempting to do so, will sharpen the distinctions between George W. Bush and Albert Gore and show voters that Republicans are serious about enacting these reforms. Such courage bodes well for the GOP ticket, from top to bottom. The future of the entire free-market agenda is at stake. The time is now for Senate leaders to lead.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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