Delay or Cancel Drug Benefits

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Moffit, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Real leadership is never easy. So it deserves to be recognized.

That's why we ought to congratulate the Republican Study Committee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, for offering to help pay for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction by returning the federal money they won for highway and byway projects in their districts - projects tucked away in the latest highway bill.

Unfortunately, even if all their colleagues go along with the current challenge to turn back half their transportation "earmarks," or special projects, that will raise only $25 billion. Congress already has appropriated $62 billion for Katrina relief, and some expect the final tab to exceed $200 billion.

Clearly, we'll have to trim much more from the federal budget if we are to come close to offsetting the rising cost of fixing the Gulf Coast. Failure to offset this massive spending increase will lead only to a still-larger deficit, which would crowd out other worthy priorities and lead us to borrow more from undependable foreign markets.

All the more reason to consider a bold idea floated by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and others: Cancel, or at least delay, the huge Medicare drug entitlement set for Jan. 1.

Mr. McCain, wisely enough, says we should abandon the Medicare drug program and go back to the drawing board and design a rational and responsible drug benefit. But even the RSC's more modest suggestion to delay it a year is a big step in the right direction.

According to the Bush administration, the drug benefit is projected to cost $37.4 billion next year alone, the first down payment on a massive entitlement that will add $8.7 trillion to Medicare's long-term debt. A simple delay would save a lot.

Some painful choices have to be made for the hurricane rebuilding projects. But a delay in a drug program that doesn't yet exist isn't one of them. Roughly 3 in 4 seniors already have some form of drug coverage.

Congress should help the minority who are too poor to buy private drug coverage, are ineligible for Medicaid or aren't covered by former employers. And the new Medicare drug-discount cards, which already have given millions of seniors big savings, could how to help directly poor seniors who need it.

Moreover, the intended beneficiaries aren't exactly clamoring for it. …