DEMOCRATS may be well on their way...


DEMOCRATS may be well on their way to winning this election, but history will give them bad marks for their demagoguing on Medicare. That costly entitlement program is heading toward insolvency even before newly elected senators complete their six-year terms. It is a tawdry business, one deserving the "Medi-scare" label applied by the bipartisan Concord Coalition on the page opposite.

Of course, Republicans share the blame. Though professing the need for a balanced budget, they have proposed big tax cuts that Democrats insist will be paid for out of the hides of Medicare recipients. Had the Republican-controlled Congress focused on Medicare alone, without the tax distraction, some real progress might have been made.

Now President Clinton faces a predicament. Having riled up the old folks about a government benefit they treasure as much as Social Security, he may find it difficult to slow down the runaway costs of Medicare if he gets a lame-duck second term.

In a Sunday debate, it wasn't enough for Senate minority leader Tom Daschle to repeat his mantra that proposed GOP Medicare cuts were to be used to finance tax cuts for the rich.

He warned senior citizens that they were "going to be limited in their choice of doctors." Shocking. Shocking to think that if they opted -- voluntarily -- for managed care they would face the same restrictions as working-age citizens enrolled in such programs. He lamented that under the GOP proposal seniors might not get the "the same kind of health services in the future" that they get now. Shocking. Shocking to think that revolutionary changes in health care delivery might reach all age groups.

Yet, Medicare fund trustees have warned of insolvency by the year 2001 unless the 10 percent annual growth rate in Medicare is curtailed. Otherwise the $548 billion cost for fiscal 1996 will grow to $720 billion in 2000.

The next president, be he Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, will have to do something. The GOP Congress dared to propose that the growth rate be pared to 7 percent a year -- an idea utterly rational in economic terms. But the president and his allies could not resist the opening provided by their tax-cut obsessed opponents.

Perhaps the only solution is to set up a bipartisan commission whose recommendations will have to be voted up or down by the next Congress. This is the only way the legislative branch can deal with military base closings. More and more, it may be the only way to get anything done on the tough issues in Washington.

Pub Date: 10/02/96

Medi-scare; Demagoguing Democrats: Crushing Republicans on an issue that will later haunt them.

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