Bruce Bartlett

Back in 1985, the Coca-Cola Co. made a major screw-up. It decided to get rid of its classic cola drink and replace it with something sweeter called New Coke. The company had extensively market-tested the new product and was convinced that it would lead to higher sales. But when consumers found out that they would lose the Coke they had loved for 100 years, there was a vast outcry and the company was forced to dump New Coke and bring back the old formula.

 Republicans have made a similar screw-up in adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. They looked at polls showing strong support for a Medicare drug benefit and concluded that enactment of such a program would make them more popular. But as the Coca-Cola Co. discovered, people may tell market researchers one thing, but when confronted with a new reality they can quickly change their minds.

 So far, the data all not only show that Republicans have reaped no political benefit from the Medicare expansion, but they are losing support because of it. Ironically, those who will benefit directly from the new drug subsidies, the elderly, are the most hostile. In the process, Republicans have thrown away whatever credibility they had for fiscal responsibility, and are now actively opposed by many conservatives disgusted by their budgetary profligacy.

 A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April shows only 28 percent support overall for the prescription drug plan, with just 24 percent of those over age 65 approving. A Gallup poll in March shows support for the prescription drug bill falling from 52 percent in December to 41 percent among all Americans, and from 46 percent to 36 percent among those over age 65. Even a majority of members of AARP, which strongly supported the new law, are opposed to it.

 A December Gallup poll shows why support is falling. Among the elderly, 73 percent thought the new program wouldn't go far enough in helping them pay for prescription drugs. In other words, the elderly were guaranteed to be disappointed by the drug program no matter how much it cost. Unless it gave them 100 percent of whatever drugs they wanted for free, they were going to think that they could have done better. And, of course, the Democrats have been highly vocal in telling them that their program would have been better.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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