Kennedy: Bush Should Propose New Health Plan in Speech

Jan. 31, 2006 — -- Tonight, President Bush will deliver his fifth State of the Union address, and by all accounts his speechwriters are working down to the wire. Among the many topics expected to be covered in the speech are the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and ethics on Capitol Hill, but Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the administration's harshest critics, would like him to outline an overhaul of the health-care system.

"We have some very complex issues to grapple with, whether it be Iran or North Korea, our continuing mission to fight and find al Qaeda," said White House counsel Dan Bartlett. "Here at home tackling the long-term problem of rising energy costs -- these are big issues."

The president will not be facing the most receptive audience in the American public. The most recent ABC News poll shows Bush with a 42-percent approval rating -- the lowest in six years.

Kennedy, D-Mass., said he would like to see the president confront the rising cost of health care and develop a plan to work with Democrats to expand Medicare to cover all Americans. The president's health plan, Kennedy said, is only feasible for some Americans with high incomes.

"I think one of the most important issues for the president to deal with is health and health policy," said the senator, who with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., led the effort to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. "More than 2,000 people every single day are uninsured. If the president is going to follow the fiasco we had on Social Security, we are going to have more gimmicks."

Last year, the president unveiled his plan to privatize Social Security, which was met by considerable criticism from across the political spectrum.

Bartlett said that the president would call on the opposition, led by people like Kennedy and Kerry, to end partisan bickering and come together to solve problems.

"There is no question that there is divisiveness on some of the issues," he said. "But what the president is going to do tonight is call upon the leaders of Washington, D.C., to set aside the politics of the past, rise to the occasion. He will pledge tonight to do his part to elevate the tone of the debate. That's what the public wants to hear."

But Kennedy said the health savings plans, which are similar to 401(k) programs and would give tax deductions for medical expenses, would leave each American family to its own devices and enrich the HMOs and drug industry -- at the expense of the poor and sick.

"Health savings accounts … may work for a few young people that are very, very, healthy," Kennedy said. "We are finding every day more and more families are losing their health care, and the prescription-drug program is a disaster."