Rational Ignorance

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Anne Applebaum writes that even those shouting loudest on both sides of the Medicare debate don't seem to know precisely what's in the bill. Why am I not surprised?

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  1. The people who voted on the bill don’t know what’s in it, why should anyone else?

    Maybe the rule should be that congresspeople have to pass a short quiz before they can vote on anything, but then we’d never have a quorum.

  2. “…but then we’d never have a quorum.”

    Excellent!

  3. Anne Applebaum, who writes mostly about foreign policy, has missed the point completely on this subject.

    The point is that almost everyone involved in putting together the Medicare bill and the opposition to it sees it primarily in the context of the 2004 election. The administration is rejoicing in its triumph because the prescription drug benefit appears to “inoculate” President push against the traditional, potent Democratic charge that as a Republican President he is hostile to the popular Medicare program. Democrats are seething that Sen. Baucus and a few others allowed the Republicans to get away with this. The nuts and bolts of the bill are irrelevant except insofar as they impact on the coming campaign.

    In the real world, of course, the nuts and bolts matter. They have political consequences too — this bill will have consequences its supporters cannot have thought about too much, though probably not before 2004. But in the political world what is required to maintain some focus on what the new legislation would actually do is a group of politicians prepared to insist on it. At one point in our history that might have been the Senate, or at least a few in the Senate; at another, the administration’s budget office. Who we have to play that role now I have no idea.

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