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Shop Talk II

Robert Samuelson on the Medicare prescription drug benefit:

The test of any replacement is whether it improves upon the status quo for the whole nation, not just retirees. By that test, Congress's drug benefit fails.

It would actually make a major national problem -- paying the baby boom's retirement benefits -- worse. In its first decade, costs are estimated at about $400 billion, which isn't so much compared with projected total federal spending of $28 trillion. But if a new "blockbuster" drug appears, forget the $400 billion estimate. Spending will explode anyway as baby boomers retire and drug use rises. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, director of the Congressional Budget Office, puts the second decade's costs between $1.3 trillion and $2 trillion.

Even this may be too low, considering inevitable pressures to expand coverage.

Without getting into too many tricky statistics, here's how government program spending breaks down:

How much they say it's gonna cost: LESS.

How much it will really cost: MORE.

That's hard data, kids, and you can look it up in any GAO report. It also goes by another name -- "buying votes."