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Analysis: Bush Re-Election Bid Gets Big Boost From New Health Care Legislation - 2003-11-26

President Bush got a major political boost this week when the Republican-led Congress approved a major revamping of Medicare, the health care program for older Americans. The health care vote and some recent good economic news could make the president tough to beat in his re-election bid next year.

Some revised figures now put the economic growth rate at more than eight percent for the period of July through September, and that feeds a growing impression among experts that the U.S. economy may be headed for a period of sustained growth.

The president quickly took credit for the improving economy and said his tax cut package was the catalyst for the economic upswing.

"We are laying the foundation for greater economic prosperity and more jobs across America so that every single citizen in this country has a chance to realize the American dream," he said.

The good news on the economy is likely bad news for Mr. Bush's Democratic challengers. The nine Democrats have been pounding the president for months on his handling of the economy and Iraq. But with the new economic numbers, many of the Democrats running for president are shifting gears and focusing more on national security and foreign policy issues.

Missouri Congressman and presidential candidate Richard Gephardt went after the president on his handling of Iraq during a recent Democratic debate in Iowa.

"He's isolated us in the world," he said. "He has not followed the precedents of the last eight presidents and his foreign policy is a miserable failure."

The other major boost for the president was congressional passage of an expansion of Medicare, the federal health care program that covers 40 million elderly and disabled Americans.

Mr. Bush won a major legislative victory when Republican congressional leaders were able to push through the Medicare bill over the objections of most Democrats.

Political experts say the president and his Republican supporters can now take credit for expanding a health care program that was launched by President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, in 1965.

Expansion of Medicare to include more coverage for the costs of expensive prescription drugs for senior citizens has long been a goal of the Democratic Party.

Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at the American University in Washington, told VOA-TV that passage of the Medicare bill and the improving economy give the president some major advantages just as the 2004 election campaign is about to begin.

"I've always believed that [if] the Democrats are going to win this election, the best they can do on national security and foreign policy is neutralize it and then win it on the economy and domestic issues," he said. "He is doing what [former President] Richard Nixon did so brilliantly in 1972, pumping up the economy, stealing the Democrat's thunder [on Medicare] and setting himself up for re-election," he said.

Democrats complain that the changes to Medicare are insufficient to keep up with the growing demands from seniors for prescription drugs. Some conservative Republicans opposed the bill because the expansion of Medicare will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, which they say will eventually have to be recovered by increasing taxes.

Even before the new developments on the economy and Medicare, the president got some encouraging news from a poll conducted by Time Magazine and the Cable News Network. The poll found that the president would easily defeat any of the nine Democrats currently campaigning for the White House.