In the next two weeks, President Bush will be pushing legislation to provide health insurance to all Americans without a net tax increase, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), tells NewsMax.
By changing incentives in the tax code, the plan aims to create a pool of funds to make sure everyone is covered. So low-income individuals will be covered, the legislation would provide tax vouchers to pay for insurance premiums.
"Republicans are regrouping, and we're starting to get consensus around some key ideas, such as you'll see in a week or two—trying to work with the Bush administration on equalizing our tax code so that we can provide an amount of money for everyone to buy health insurance," says DeMint, who is chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus that includes the majority of the Republican Conference, the organization of all Republican senators.
"It was a huge mistake for the Bush administration to take on this immigration issue in a comprehensive way instead of trying to make some incremental progress," DeMint says. "But President Bush could be remembered as a great president if he could move people towards private insurance rather than socialized medicine. I don't know what chance we have with the Democrats really pushing towards socialized medicine, but this is probably our last hope for some domestic policy achievement that would actually be good policy."
Elected to the Senate in 2004, DeMint says he's been working closely with the White House on the issue.
"It's a good idea, it's something that's doable without raising taxes or spending any money," he says. "We just equalize the tax code, and it puts a lot of money in everyone's hand, rather than just concentrating it on the employer exemption side. If we take that same money, we could get everyone insured. Hopefully, we can start working it out through the media where the American people see what an opportunity this is."
Bush presented the broad outlines of the idea in his last State of the Union message. Since then, the idea of re-directing existing federal payments to hospitals to pay for insurance has been discarded. In part, the legislation that will be proposed is based on a plan developed by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. DeMint has endorsed Romney and says he has a good shot at the presidency by presenting himself as a competent CEO.
DeMint says the perception that the Bush administration is incompetent is unfair.
"I think he's certainly had some mistakes," DeMint notes. "But they've dealt with some overwhelming situations, from the corporate corruption when they first came in, they had a recession, they had 9/11, they had Katrina, they've been dealt the war. So I think they've been overwhelmed in a lot of cases and it's been very difficult for them to develop any kind of pace or rhythm, because there's always some crisis that comes up. And you don't just put someone in that CEO slot who is a good politician. You need somebody who's a CEO as well." DeMint, the owner of a market research firm based in Greenville, thinks competence will be a big issue in the presidential campaign.
"People will be looking for someone who's competent and looks unflappable and can turn things around," he says. "I think Romney's certainly demonstrated his CEO skills in putting together a national organization to raise money and put grass roots together. He's focused on those early primaries, and he's well ahead in the polls both on Iowa and New Hampshire."
Increasingly, DeMint says, "You're going to see people come to the conclusion that Romney's the only one in the race who's really managed anything at a big level. That's going to make a difference I think."
Fred Thompson, on the other hand, has no management experience, DeMint says.
"Thompson could be just a shooting star, where the day he comes in is as high as he's going to be, because he's got some star power from being in the movies and on television," DeMint says. "He could be a good candidate, but he's getting in late, assuming that star power will take him across the finish line. And I just don't think you can run a presidential race that way. You've got to have a strong organization down the stretch."
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have claimed they would be strong leaders, but they've shown no sign of that in their present jobs in the Senate, DeMint says.
"Hillary Clinton hasn't really introduced anything and doesn't make that many floor speeches," DeMint says. "So she's pretty much playing it safe on the policy stuff in the Senate, which, whether it's her or Obama, you're not seeing a lot of leadership there. It's amazing they can get out and say the president hasn't led when they haven't introduced anything serious since they've been there."
DeMint says the Democrats have misinterpreted the fact that Americans are frustrated with the war in Iraq as a sign that they want the U.S. to withdraw troops.
"They're taking America's concern for the war and the perception we're not making any progress with the desire just to cave in and get out, which I don't think the Americans want to do," he says. "But they don't want to lose, either. So the Democrats just seem to be overplaying their hand on all the subjects. They're trying to do some show votes for their union bosses, and trying to stir up discontent on Iraq, but otherwise they have not really put any substantive legislation forward. They don't seem to be getting anything done or managing things well."
With the notable exception of Sen. Joe Lieberman, "I don't think Democrats understand the nature of the threat from terrorists," DeMint says. "They really do have this belief that if we're nice to them, terrorists won't be bothering us, which is inconceivable given 9/11 and the fact that we were not occupying any territory at the time."
DeMint thinks John Edwards' view that the terrorist threat is something that Bush "conjured up" reflects what most Democrats think.
"So in that case, the rest of their talk makes sense," he says. "We can come home from Iraq and leave that problem to them, and it's not going to affect us."
By pushing for a quick end to the war, Democratic politicians have "done a lot of harm to our effort by making us appear weak, talking about all the negative things and trying to convince America that we can't win," DeMint says. "So the president has had to fight a lot of public opinion that otherwise he might not have if he'd had a more responsible Congress."
The problem is exacerbated by the press.
"If you listen to the troops, they certainly don't believe that there's an honest account, or a clear perspective of everything that's going on," DeMint says. "As some soldiers have told me, the only time we get on the news is when something blows up. So a lot of our troops feel that their biggest enemy is the American press. And I think if Americans really knew the threat and believed it, they'd be looking at the war a little differently."
At the same time, the media have mischaracterized tools needed to fight terrorists like the Patriot Act and NSA intercepts.
"So what you have is a lot of confusion, and you know we would never have won World War II if we were fighting in this media environment," DeMint says. "It's created a real problem for our commander in chief, and what it's done is tempted Congress to play politics with a deadly serious issue. The Democrats have certainly taken that bait, and they're playing politics with this."
In fact, DeMint says, "I heard one of them say, if any day we're not talking about Iraq it's a bad day. That's the way they see it."
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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