Robert Novak

Because the means testing is new, it is doubtful many members of Congress are aware of this prospective government intrusion. Even without that knowledge, conservative Republicans in the House are wary of voting for legislation much like past measures they supported because this time the bill will pass. It will pass thanks to a calculated decision, once and for all, to take the prescription drug issue away from the Democrats.

As he did two years ago on the education bill, President Bush called for bipartisanship -- meaning a bill that is satisfactory to Teddy Kennedy. This has dovetailed with passionate demands by Sen. Bill Frist, experiencing rough seas on his maiden voyage as majority leader, for passage of health care legislation by the Fourth of July.

A national Zogby poll taken for the Galen Institute June 18-21 shows that 82 percent of likely voters would like a private health option for drug benefits but that 74 percent consider the Senate plan worse than present coverage. The Senate plan's details are loaded against private participation. In her newsletter for Galen, conservative health analyst Grace-Marie Turner says the Senate plan is based on the same "flawed . . . system that has driven Medicare HMOs out of business and is forcing more and more doctors to refuse to see patients on traditional Medicare."

Former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott paid a recent visit to the always-closed sessions of the conservative GOP Steering Committee to complain about the party's drift. Lott is part of a movement by senior Republicans -- led by Sen. Jon Kyl, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, and including Sens. Don Nickles and Judd Gregg -- to add a reform component to the Senate bill.

Without help from President Bush and Majority Leader Frist, however, what Grace-Marie Turner calls the "Medicare steamroller" will not slow a bit. Instead, Kennedy can rejoice that the days of private health care options in America may be numbered and laugh that the Republican effort to prevent this would threaten the privacy of older Americans.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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