Saturday, October 08, 2005


The Republican Platform ensures that Paris Hilton will get 100% of her ancestors' estate; A Democrat proposes dedicating the estate tax to prescription drug relief for the needy elderly

Worst. President. In. History. I was at the Outback bar with my buddy Glenn Saturday night- he called me to come keep him company while his twin daughters were at the Westover-Dougherty game. And, as is our wont, even with compelling football and a baseball games on twin televisions over the bar, the subject turned to politics. After a couple of friends stopped by to say hello, I uttered the words at the beginning of the paragraph and asked their opinion of our President. Both emphatically agreed, at which point Glenn chimed in with his usual riposte: “Keep on saying that and you will see another Republican elected President in 2008, because the Democrats won’t win just by pointing out how bad Bush is unless they can point to what they would do differently.”

And I agreed with Glenn 100%. As low as Bush’s polls have dropped, Democrats won’t win elections just by pointing out what a horrible mess he’s created. (Miraculously, 38 percent of Americans still approve of Bush’s job; apparently they live in a parallel universe where the Iraq debacle never happened, the budget is balanced, gas costs $1.15 a gallon, the prescription drug bill actually reduced drug costs, and FEMA promptly responded to hurricane Katrina, which was only a Category 2 hurricane after Bush's efforts to reduce global warming.) So here’s the first of my suggestions for Democrats to use as alternatives to the failed policies of the Bush Administration. We’ll start with....


Republicans and their insurance company buddies screamed “socialism” back in 1994 when Bill and Hillary tried to reform our ridiculously complex health care payment system. The Clinton experiment never got off the ground- remember the 1994 State of the Union address when Bill held up the plastic card that would be used in a single payer plan? Problem is, we already have socialized medicine- Medicaid for poor children and the disabled, Medicare for the elderly, and for the rest of the uninsured, public hospitals which are required to treat everyone in need at great expense to the rest of us. Rather than cowering in fear of the word “socialism,” we should be screaming to the rafters that Republicans are in favor of keeping socialized medicine that costs all of us an arm and a leg (them’s our tax dollars paying for the 45 million uninsured when they get sick or injured).

My suggestion: government issued catastrophic health insurance for every American, including every employee of big business, for every dollar over $3,000.00, paid for by a national sales tax of one percent. The advantage of this plan is that it would benefit both America’s workers and their traditional adversaries, big business.

Many if not most American workers fear losing their health insurance almost as much, if not more, than losing the income from their jobs, because if a serious illness hits them or their family members, they can be wiped out financially. But alleviating this anxiety for workers would also provide a means for American businesses to be on a more even footing with foreign competition. Foreign companies in countries with national health presently enjoy a huge competitive advantage against American companies- they don’t have medical costs and health insurance as part of their overhead, so they can sell the same products at lower prices than American companies.

Why organized labor and large American corporations which presently provide health benefits for employees haven’t yet figured out that they are on the same side of this issue is beyond me. But if they ever do, then Republicans in power will have to explain to big business- their core constituency- why they shouldn’t be allowed to compete on an even playing field with foreign companies selling the same products to Americans.


Republicans whine that because of evil trial lawyers, runaway juries (I think I’ve seen their pictures on some milk cartons) and frivolous lawsuits, malpractice premiums have soared, driving obstetricians out of their specialty and taking doctors away from small communities. Their main solution: cap non-economic damages that can be awarded at $250,000. Of course, the fact that this has already been done in some states without reducing malpractice insurance premiums doesn’t faze them- after all, Bush’s handlers arrogantly asserted that they “create their own reality.” Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live in the real world, where their “tort reform” benefits only insurance companies, not doctors or patients. Rather than fighting them on this, which is what Democrats have been reduced to, making us look like the bad guys, we should leapfrog them on the issue and put doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies completely in the Democratic camp.

How? We replace the current tort system with a no fault system that will end all malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, hospitals, and drug companies. Zero- that’s right- they will pay zero dollars in insurance premiums. Instead, the no-fault system will be funded by a one percent tax on all medical goods and all medical services (these services are currently completely untaxed). The money will go into a fund, and claims will be paid similarly to workers’ compensation programs without regard to fault. Defense lawyers will be unnecessary, as the money will be paid out of the fund, so no medical provider would have a stake in opposing a particular claim. Plaintiffs' lawyers would be permitted but not necessary, because fault would not have to be proved and payment would be based on the severity of the injury. I liken this to the old flight insurance- buy $100,000 flight life insurance for a buck. If the plane goes down, your family collects without having to prove negligence of the pilot, the carrier, or the plane manufacturer.

To deal with incompetent doctors, all claims paid for medical related injuries (with patient confidentiality assured) will be reported and posted on internet websites. Before going to a doctor or purchasing a medicine, the consumer can check out the site.

Republicans will be left to explain to doctors why the Democrats’ proposal- which eliminates all of their malpractice insurance costs- is somehow worse than the Republicans’ proposal, which rewards only insurance companies and which provides continued employment and retainers for insurance defense law firms.


Most people understand and agree with the concept of “you get what you pay for,” and taxpayers are more understanding when taxes are dedicated to a particular program- like gasoline taxes for highway construction and repair- especially if the tax isn’t onerous or is imposed on a group eminently capable of paying. For the past few years, Republicans have been beating the Democrats over the head with proposals to phase out the estate tax (which they tried to rename the "death tax" to avoid the elitist connotations of the word "estate").

Instead of eliminating a tax on rich dead people (estates under a million aren’t taxed), I propose an estate tax which is "dedicated." In this case, "dedicate" estate taxes to reducing prescription drug costs for the needy elderly. I would love to see any Senator or Congressman try to explain to senior citizens why it would be better to save money for rich dead people to pass on to their unproductive drones (Paris Hilton, anyone?) than to provide low cost or no cost prescription drugs for living old people who don’t own retirement homes in Palm Springs.

We should include an exemption that leaves small businesses and family farms untouched by estate taxes. By dedicating the proceeds of the estate tax to a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, the Democrats get a two for one: (1) the elderly who might otherwise oppose estate taxes are the beneficiaries of the tax while they are still living; and (2) the Republicans are even more closely aligned as the party of the rich- in this case the dead rich (!) versus the people who are in need right now.


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