The Corner

Chait Vs. Frum

They’re debating what the Medicare bill says about President Bush’s political character. Frum says it shows the president’s moderation; Chait, his willingness to subsidize big business. I’m with Frum on the general point that Bush is more moderate than his critics contend, and on the specific point that the bill’s ban on de facto price controls is principled rather than merely a sop to pharmaceutical companies. (I wish the ban were stronger.) But I think Chait is closer to the truth than Frum in one important way. Frum argues that Bush signed the Medicare bill because older voters wanted the prescription-drug benefit, not because business wanted the bill. He’s right to this extent: Several years of polls showing that older voters (among others) strongly favored the benefit were a precondition for its enactment. But the bill did not have to take the form it did. Earlier this year, Republicans were debating whether to go for a universal benefit or a less expensive bill that primarily would benefit those most in need of aid. Business lobbies were quite insistent that the benefit had to be universal, essentially because they wanted to shift costs from themselves to the taxpayer. That was the decisive reason the Republicans wrote the legislation they did.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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