A furor has erupted over the recent revelation by the Bush administration that the new Medicare prescription drug law will cost $134 billion more than the approximately $400 billion assumed when the legislation was passed and signed. The new White House estimate of $534 billion is drawing escalating complaints from both Democrats and conservative Republicans who had opposed the law.
"The question is what did they know and when did they know it?" said Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA).
The Washington Post reports that Bush administration officials had indications for months that the new Medicare law might cost considerably more than they were telling Congress, according to internal documents and sources familiar with the issue.
Among a small group of lawmakers who negotiated the bill's final version, "it was an open secret" that administration officials believed "there is no way this is $400 billion," one Washington Post source said.
"The Bush administration owes Congress and the American people an explanation about why it took them so long to reveal their cost estimates -- and how much of the total is the result of lavish overpayments to HMOs and big profits for drug companies," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).
Meanwhile, a leading House Democrat has called on Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to launch an ethics investigation into accusations that a Republican lawmaker was bribed to vote in favor of the Medicare legislation, which narrowly passed the House. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic whip, warned that Democrats will conduct their own inquiry if the House leader does not act.
Following last November's vote on the new Medicare drug plan, Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) said groups and lawmakers had offered support for his son's Congressional campaign if Mr. Smith backed the measure. Smith refused.
For a New York Times article on the bribery investigation, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/02/politics/02ETHI.html
For the Washington Post article on the Bush administration's underestimate of the Medicare law's costs, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64627-2004Jan30.html
For an editorial on the new Medicare law in the Des Moines Register, go to: http://desmoinesregister.com/opinion/stories/c2125555/23362064.html