When the Story's Got Children, Who Needs Facts?
It’s the perfect combination of sin taxes, nanny-statism and taxpayer-funded welfare – all in the name of the children.
And according to media reports, it’s President George W. Bush vs. Everyone Who Likes Children.
The story now is Bush’s October 3 veto of a massive expansion of the government-run State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The media couldn’t resist scripting the veto as a vote against children. What’s at stake, though, included a proposed $35-billion expansion of taxpayer-funded insurance made possible by a tax increase.
The Christian Science Monitor called a vote against it “a vote against health care for poor children” on October 1.
The bill would have added $7 billion per year to the $5-billion program – a 140-percent increase. Despite government expansion and tax increases to fund it, reporters couldn’t see past the children being paraded in front of them.
“Congress is working to put a dent in the health care crisis,” announced CBS’s Russ Mitchell on the August 3 “Early Show.” CBS’s Thalia Assuras lamented “kids caught in the middle” on the August 1 “CBS Evening News.”
The big bad Mr. Bush didn’t want the kiddies to have health insurance, the media said. Except that wasn’t true.
NBC’s John Yang made it sound as though the legislation in question was just a renewal of the program, not an expansion – and a big tax increase that would hit low-income Americans.
“But President Bush has already made up his mind about a bill that Congress passed this week renewing the insurance plan,” Yang said on the September 29 “NBC Nightly News.”
That summed up the tone of most of the coverage, even though the legislation would have expanded the program to cover the not-so-poor – and despite the fact that Bush was in favor of reauthorizing the program and increasing its funding.
The ones who weren’t providing for the insurance funding? Congress.
“Naturally, however, there's a budget sleight-of-hand,” The Wall Street Journal explained September 28. “Known as a ‘funding cliff,’ the yearly Schip layout increases to $13.9 billion in 2011, then abruptly cuts spending by 65% below current funding levels. This helps ‘score’ the bill as costing only $35 billion over the five-year budget window, but it also means that come 2012 Congress will either have to pass new spending or kick kids off the rolls.”
Media Using Liberal Talking Points
Those media talking points sound familiar because they’re the same ones liberals have used to push for the tax increase that would fund the increase of the program commonly known as SCHIP.
“The president now has the choice: will he help nearly 4 million uninsured children gain access to the health care they desperately need or will he turn his back on them?” said a September 28 statement by Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), a Democratic presidential candidate.
Of course, Clinton has been planning something like the SCHIP expansion for years, as Politico reported October 2.
“Back in 1993, according to an internal White House staff memo, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s staff saw federal coverage of children as a ‘precursor’ to universal coverage,” wrote Martin Kady II. “Under this approach, health care reform is phased in by population, beginning with children,” the memo said, according to Kady.
Meanwhile, politicians and the media lauded the bill’s “bipartisan” support.
The Washington Post September 28 called the Senate vote on the bill “an overwhelming bipartisan vote.” Although it passed with a “veto-proof” majority, only 18 of 49 Senate Republicans voted for it. That’s less than 37 percent of the Republicans in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
And the Republicans who did vote for it weren’t necessarily very conservative. Of the 18 Republican senators who voted for the bill, 15 had a less-than-85-percent rating from the American Conservative Union in 2006.
Interestingly, four presidential candidates abstained from voting: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Joe Biden (D-Dela.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas).
What Congress Would Change
Bush wanted to expand SCHIP by about $5 billion over the next five years (a 20-percent funding increase) as opposed to the bill passed by the Senate and House, which would have added $35 billion over the same period (a 140-percent increase).
The media, however, cast Bush in a heavily biased light. The networks focused on sick children and their parents. The stories left out policy experts who could explain what all of the proposed changes to SCHIP would do – and the poor taxpayers who would have to pay for the massive middle-class welfare program.
After just such a one-sided story about concerned parents, the August 26 “World News Sunday” presented the following setup.
ABC’s Kate Snow: “President Bush said in July, people do have access to health care in America.”
President Bush (clip): “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”
Snow: “Exactly where the Laceys say their children will end up if they no longer qualify for California’s program.”
But “according to the Centers for Disease Control, patients with Medicaid and SCHIP as their source of payment are twice as likely as the uninsured … to visit a hospital emergency room,” noted Dr. John O’Shea, a practicing physician and former health policy analyst.
O’Shea pointed out something else missing from media reports: “The CBO [Congressional Budget Office] reports, for example, that 77 percent of children between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level already have private health insurance.”
The original intent of SCHIP was to provide health insurance for poor children. The congressional expansion, however, would help cover children in families with incomes of more than $60,000 in some cases, even up to $83,000 in extreme cases. To put that in perspective, the median household income is a little more than $48,201.
That means an extension of government-run, taxpayer-funded health insurance to more people.
“As the safety net is cast further up the income ladder, instead of complementing private coverage and reducing the ranks of the uninsured, SCHIP would increasingly become a substitute for it,” wrote Paul Winfree and Greg D’Angelo of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis in a September 20 WebMemo.
And How Do We Pay for It?
As the Business & Media Institute documented back in July, the media have focused on the health insurance portion of the legislation to the exclusion of important facts about the tax increases that would fund a bigger program.
That’s a 156-percent tax increase, to be exact – pushing the federal tax on one pack of cigarettes from 39 cents to $1. And as Charles Babington of the Associated Press reminded readers, that amount is only the federal tax. States can, and do, demand more. New Jersey smokers face $2.57 per pack on top of the federal tax.
Some lawmakers said they thought it would be great if fewer people smoked as a result of the higher taxes. As Babington reported:
"The tobacco tax is a great way to pay for it," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said, "because if you tax people who are smoking and they smoke less, then we have less health problems."
There’s a big problem with that logic: fewer smokers means less tax revenue. And less tax revenue means not enough funding for the SCHIP expansion. To keep up the proposed amount of the health insurance expansion, the government would need more people to smoke – not fewer.
“In just five years, Congress will need over 9 million new smokers,” estimated The Heritage Foundation’s Michelle Bucci and William Beach.
Another irony of the tobacco tax plan is that it would be a regressive tax – not something liberals usually promote.
“Around half of smokers are in families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), so increasing the tobacco tax would burden the families in the income class that SCHIP and Medicaid are trying to help,” wrote Michelle Bucci and William Beach of The Heritage Foundation.