Republican leaders may not have a good grasp of public perceptions on healthcare, but they sure know how to have breakfast.
Consider the recent spectacle of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert at a $1,000-a-plate breakfast fund-raiser led by health insurance lobbyists. This breakfast at Denny's was held on the eve of the House vote on patient-protection legislation. He picked up $15,000 for his political war chest and a large amount of egg, most of it on his face.
The GOP-backed bill, with its softer legal approach, turned into burned toast. The defeat was helped, one has to think, by news coverage of Hastert's morning meal.
Maybe the speaker should frequent Starbuck's and wake up with a triple shot of espresso. And he should bring back some extra-strength java for his Republican National Committee pals. They clearly need it in light of a Seattle Times update on a story we reported two years ago (Feb. 10, 1997, p. 48).
Back in 1995 President Clinton accused Republicans of foisting a plan to slash Medicare to finance a tax cut. The RNC boys responded with newspaper ads offering $1 million to the "first American" who could prove the GOP plan would cut Medicare spending. They had a valid point. The plan would have boosted Medicare spending from $178 billion per year to $289 billion per year over seven years.
But some people countered that if health costs and the number of beneficiaries were increasing, providers would get less money than if Congress left the spending formulas alone. Some of them asked for the $1 million prize. One Democratic Senate staffer even filed suit, demanding the money.
The RNC said that the ad was not a real sweepstakes and that it stood by its position. It also filed suit against 80 "entrants" to prevent them from collecting the "prize" and demanding that entrants pay its legal fees.
Today, 20 people are still pursuing the money. The case soon may go to a jury trial in Washington.
Here's a modest proposal to help the GOP and show that it really wants to save Medicare: offer to donate $1 million to the Medicare trust fund if the remaining prize-seekers drop their claims in the national interest.
The RNC can easily raise the money. Just get Hastert to eat breakfast with his insurance industry buddies every day for a couple of months.