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December 9, 2003

What, I'm not allowed to be serious sometimes?

Daniel Radosh

Great article by Jonathan Chait on why Bush isn't a moderate just because he's gone and created a massive federal entitlement:

This argument betrays a common misunderstanding of the precise nature of the president's right-wingery. Bush's extremism does not lie in the purity of his devotion to the teachings of Milton Friedman but rather in the slavishness of his fealty to K Street. The distinction is a fine one, but it's highly revealing. In most instances, being pro-free market and pro-business amount to the same thing. Businesses usually want the government out of their way, which is why the business lobby threw its weight behind Bush's efforts to cut taxes, scuttle workplace safety standards, and so on. The way you tell the difference between a free-marketer and a servant of business is how he behaves when the interests of the two diverge. And all the evidence, including the Medicare and energy bills, points to the conclusion that Bush is happy to throw free-market conservatism out the window when business interests so desire. [snip]

Similarly, the Medicare bill, supposedly evidence of Bush's moderation, is in fact typical of his domestic agenda, which revolves around granting favors to powerful interest groups. Again, most of the major liberal and conservative think tanks opposed the bill. But the pharmaceutical companies were ecstatic with it: Not only does it subsidize drug purchases, it specifically prohibits the federal government from using its negotiating power to hold down the cost of the drugs it purchases. (Got that? Those who spend your tax dollars are forbidden from striking a good bargain with the drug companies.) The American Medical Association was brought on board with a promise to boost Medicare reimbursements. And employers received federal subsidies--more than twice what they requested--to help cover the cost of their retirees' health care. As Thomas Scully, the Bush appointee who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, put it, businesses received "way beyond their wildest requests" and "should be having a giant ticker-tape parade." Perhaps deeming a ticker-tape parade unseemly, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce instead launched a lobbying campaign on the bill's behalf.

Note that all these measures would require the government to spend more money. But they triggered nary a complaint from conservatives. What they hated about the Medicare bill was the part about helping senior citizens buy medicine. When the government gives money to sick people, you see, that's incipient socialism. When it gives money to drug companies, doctors, and employers, that's the free market in action.

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