Tommy Thompson is really in the race for U.S. Senate. He’s just not ready to make his formal announcement yet. That will come next spring in the inimitable Tommy Thompson style. “I’m going to announce later, but I am a candidate, yes,” Thompson told reporters at Monday’s WisPolitics luncheon in Madison. “I want to go around the state and meet the people, like I always did.”
The former governor, Bush administration cabinet member and one time presidential candidate focused on his conservative credentials and more during a wide-ranging question and answer session at The Madison Club. Thompson took issue with the Club for Growth, which has already run television spots in Wisconsin questioning Thompson’s conservative credentials. “A group of individuals in New York want another candidate to win, and they’re trying to tear me down in order to make that happen.”
Thompson will face former congressman Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald in a Republican primary. GOP state Senator Frank Lasee is also said to be considering a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl. The winner would face congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Madison, the only announced Democrat this far. “I don’t talk about my opponents,” said Thompson, “I’m talking about my vision for America. A vision that’s going to be a conservative one, that believes in lowering taxes and creating jobs.”
Thompson covered a variety of topics during a nearly 45 minute Q&A with Jeff Mayers of WisPolitics. Thompson, who originated Wisconsin’s innovative BadgerCare program and who served as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, spoke at length about Medicare. “Medicare . . . is going broke,” said Thompson. “I believe it’s going to be going broke and bankrupt in 2018. It’s about $400 billion. And that means elderly people will not have Medicare to fall back on.”
The candidate gave credit to a fellow Wisconsin Republican’s proposals for Medicare. “I think Paul Ryan is going at it in the right direction. I support Paul as far as he went but I believe there are other things that need to be done. I would set it up so that individuals, when they reach age 55, would have a choice. If they want to stay in the Medicare system, let them stay. But if they want to go into a new system, let them go in and get subsidized to the extent that they can buy their own personal health insurance.”
Thompson also spoke candidly on the role of end of life costs play in the Medicare budget. He said costs incurred in the last six months of patients’ lives account for 28 percent of it. “What happens? Mother or father or grandpa and grandma, you’ve been away, you haven’t done very much. Children come home, mother or father’s on their deathbed, they feel guilty because they haven’t being paying attention to mother or father. Let’s face it. So they say “let’s do everything we can for mother or father. Don’t spare the costs.” I’m not talking about denying anybody anything. I’m just saying let’s let mother and father have their wishes. They may not want to be on a respirator the last six months of their life.” Thompson said people need to have durable power of attorney to ensure their wishes are known, and he also said the nation’s medical schools need to start talking about death.
A politician who’s had his own experience with keeping his weight under control, Thompson also addressed the issue of chronic illness, particularly diabetes. He reminded the audience that 26 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes and 51 million more are pre-diabetic. “If we don’t change, we are going to have close to 80 million Americans that are Type 2 diabetic.” He said chronic illnesses make up more than three-quarters of the costs of health care.
Regarding healthcare reform, which he referred to throughout his remarks as Obamacare, Thompson said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the law’s constitutionality prior to the 2012 presidential election. “I think a good share of the law is going to be held constitutional. I think overall Obamacare should be eliminated, and I think things should be done to replace it.”
Asked to comment on this year’s wave of state Senate recalls and the prospect of a recall against Governor Scott Walker, Thompson was highly critical, saying the efforts add to the state’s economic uncertainty. “There’s nothing more onerous and more spiteful. It engenders uncertainty and distrust, and when does the election get over. You have recalls because of malfeasance in office. You don’t have recalls because you don’t like policy that a governor or a legislature passes.”