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Nevada County has a lot riding on president’s domestic plans

Most people were paying attention to President Bush’s comments about the looming “war” with Iraq in his second State of the Union address Tuesday night. We use “war in quotation marks because the word seems overblown for what will occur: a duck shoot, like Operation Desert Storm of 1991. U.S. Forces will very quickly wipe out Saddam Hussein and a few hundred thousands of his people, then have another Third World albatross around our necks, such as Afghanistan.

A Gallup Poll taken after the president spoke indicated 67 percent who watched believed that he made a convincing case for military action. That’s up from only 47 percent before the speech. Like much of the rest of the world, we’re still waiting to hear what additional justification Secretary of State Colin Powell offers when he goes to the United Nations on Feb. 5.

No, our focus – as residents of the county with the highest percentage of retirees in the state, and one that has more residents deriving their income from investments and pensions than from salaries – was on President Bush’s plans for the economy and medical care for the elderly.



Mr. Bush, who knows full well that his re-election in two years will depend on pocketbook issues, spent the first part of his speech on outlining his domestic agenda. He said his “first goal” was to revive the economy, which, after showing signs of recovery last year, has been stalling again. His best shot to do that, he continued to insist, is a $670 billion tax-cut plan that includes the end of taxation of most stock dividends, along with the slashing of federal spending. That may sound good until you consider the potential impact on a rural area like Nevada County that already is anticipating huge cuts in financial aid from the debt-ridden state of California.

The president, moreover, also set the stage for a fierce battle over health care by proposing to revamp Medicare and make it more cost-efficient by encouraging the elderly to join private health plans. Democrats already are countering that this is bound to force seniors to give up their familiar doctors for faceless health maintenance organizations in order to obtain the prescription drug insurance coverage they need.




More than 85 percent of the 40 million beneficiaries of health care plans are in the traditional, 38-year-old Medicare program, which specifies benefit payments by law and allows patients the freedom to choose their doctors and hospitals. The president raised the political ante by pledging $400 billion over the next 10 years to “reform and strengthen Medicare.”

For years, critics have said Medicare is becoming outmoded, and too costly to be sustained after Baby Boomers begin to retire in 2011. They say managed care plans would do a better job of coordinating elderly care. Others say that Medicare is at the core of the government’s promise to guarantee basic care for all of its citizens, and that to start down the road to forcing people into private plans is coercive.

Just as with economic planning, federal fiddling with Medicare can have drastic effects for us in the foothills. As U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri noted yesterday, even as she applauded Mr. Bush’s efforts, “Any plan for seniors must insure that seniors in the smallest of rural towns or the largest of cities have equitable access to the benefit.”

Our message to President Bush and the Congress is: you’re talking about people’s lives, not just politics. Please proceed with care.


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