With barely enough time to warm up his desk chair or break his chops as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, former Beehive State Gov. Mike Leavitt is once again in the national spotlight, this time as President Bush’s future secretary of Health and Human Services.
Time once again to bask in the glory of Utah’s favorite native son. Time once again to affirm that Utah’s political tradition of bringing opposing parties to the table will have an even greater impact on national policy. More importantly, it’s time to ask whether someone so steeped in compromise—or at least his own personal version of it—is really suited for the task. After all, we live with an administration more enamored by unquestioned loyalty than a sharp critical eye. Ask Colin Powell in one of his guarded moments whether or not that’s true.
With his dulcet voice and broad handshake, Leavitt steered our state adequately enough through one of its most economically prosperous times. The only real challenge to his managerial style was a lawsuit over Utah’s decrepit child-welfare system, which he attempted to fix through one of the most unRepublican solutions of all, a doubling of child-welfare workers at the state agency. The only issue that provoked genuine rage from him was the prospect of American Indians bringing nuclear waste inside state lines. Given the massive political capital he earned from Utahns during three terms, he proved disturbingly risk-averse when it came to devising new policy. His “enlibra” school of environmental compromise was really just a fancy word for toeing the Republican Party line. This hardly bodes well for someone about to assume the mantle of a government agency overseeing more than 300 programs, Medicare most crucial among them.
For those of us not consumed with fear over the prospect of gay marriage, the cost of health care is perhaps the single most important domestic issue facing the nation. But few of us understand what a thorough mess the U.S. health-care system is, or how the current administration has attempted to pull the wool over our eyes regarding its deplorable state. In one of the most underreported stories of last year, the administration lied about the cost of its much-touted Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Administration officials first said the bill would cost $400 billion over 10 years. But after the bill was signed, and after Medicare chief actuary Rick Foster was threatened by Medicare head Thomas Scully should he reveal the bill’s true cost to the public, the administration admitted the benefit’s more accurate cost would run $551.5 billion over the same time period. Americans hate lies about a president’s sex life. We barely blink when this president lies about money. Adding to the outrage, the Republican-crafted Medicare bill also barred the Department of Health and Human Services from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices on drugs it purchases for government programs. In effect, the administration handed the pharmaceutical companies millions in profits, all funded by taxpayers’ money. Funny how Republicans laud market forces in certain arenas, then dispense with it in the high-stakes game of health-care costs.
Bush no doubt has the man he wants in Leavitt, who’s filled with overflowing “gratitude” at the opportunity. And as Sen. Orrin Hatch told the The Tribune, Leavitt no longer has to contend with the “extreme left controlling everything” at the EPA. At HHS, it’s rightward all the way, and straight into the abyss.