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DENY THE CHILDREN WELL! Bush philosophizes about health care—and we recall the history: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 19, 2007

DENY THE CHILDREN WELL: Uh-oh! It looks like being compared to Tolstoy has gone to President Bush’s head! In this morning’s Washington Post, Christopher Lee reports the blowback; Bush has said he objects “on philosophical grounds” to a bipartisan Senate plan to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Or, as Lee puts it in his opening sentence: Bush “rejected entreaties by his Republican allies that he compromise with Democrats on legislation to renew a popular program that provides health coverage to poor children.”

The SCHIP program is ten years old. At present, it provides insurance to 6.6 million low-income children. The program expires on September 30. Just to summarize Lee’s reporting, here are some basic facts:
Recent cost of the program: Over the past five years, the federal government has spent $25 billion on the SCHIP program.

Current CBO estimate: Due to rising health care costs, it will cost $39 billion over the next five years to maintain the current program.

Bush’s proposal: Bush proposes spending $30 billion on the program in that same five years.

Bipartisan senate proposal: Would spend $60 billion over five years, expanding SCHIP to cover 3.3 million new children.
It’s that senate proposal which Bush has rejected “on philosophical grounds.” (For the philosophical reasoning involved, see Lee’s full report.) For the record, the senate plan is authored by one Democrat and two Republicans. Max Baucus is the Dem; Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch are the Reps.

This morning, we thought it might be worth recalling Bush’s history with the SCHIP program.

Back in April 1999, Lou Dubose penned a detailed report in The Nation on Bush, the GOP’s emerging presidential front-runner. And sure enough! In his own state of Texas, Bush had grappled with the (new) SCHIP program. Dubose spelled it out in this passage:
DUBOSE (4/26/99): While Bush and his staff were pushing the oil-and-gas tax bill through the legislature, they were also fighting to hold the line on health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase private health insurance. There are 1.4 million children in Texas who have no health insurance. If eligibility were set at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, more than 500,000 of them would qualify to purchase low-cost insurance policies. Bush insisted, however, that the line be set at 150 percent, eliminating 200,000 children in a state second to California in the number of uninsured children and second to Arizona in the percentage of uninsured children. “It shouldn’t even be a fight,” said Austin Democratic Representative Glen Maxey, adding that Republican governors in Michigan, California, Florida and New Jersey all agreed to their states' participation in the program. "Christine Whitman is even going to 300 percent," he noted.

That is how the 76th Legislature began in Texas, with the governor flogging a tax break for oil-well owners while limiting a children's health insurance program that brings the state a three-to-one match in federal funds. The two bills illustrate Bush's dual welfare policies: expanding benefits for clients of the corporate welfare state while imposing harsh restrictions on people in need of help. They are also consistent with most of what Bush has set out to achieve since he was elected in 1994.
The federal government was paying three-fourths of the cost of the new SCHIP program—but Bush had fought to restrict its use. More specifically, he fought the Texas legislature and won, thereby “eliminating 200,000 children [from the program] in a state...second to Arizona in the percentage of uninsured children.”

Bush’s philosophical feelings already seemed to be running strong. But so what? As we noted, Dubose’s detailed report appeared in April 1999. Two months later, Bush kicked off his White House campaign, dubbing himself a “compassionate conservative” and a “different kind of Republican.” And the press corps went into a script-reading frenzy. Even major “liberal” columnists affirmed the governor’s pleasing slogans—and paid little attention to the actual actions he had authored in his home state.

The most laughable swooning occurred on Brian Williams’ eponymous MSNBC program. (For one tragicomic example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/99). But this morning, Bush’s history with the SCHIP program is missing from Lee’s otherwise informative report. We don’t know how much attention this matter will receive in the weeks ahead. But Bush, a deeply philosophical man, has pondered these matters before.

SEMANTICS ALERT: And yes, you’re right—it could happen! Bush wants to spend $30 billion—on a program it will cost $39 billion to maintain. This could raise a philosophical question: Is Bush proposing a “cut” in the program? Or is he just “slowing the rate at which the program will grow?” He would, after all, spend a bit more in the next five years than we’ve spent in the past five-year period.

What a conundrum! But let’s pray that this question doesn’t arise if the SCHIP proposals get debated at all. From 1994 through 1996, the GOP pimped this imponderable concerning the “growth” of the Medicare program. And the press corps never did figure it out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/99). This time, let’s hope we’re all spared. Let’s hope that they don’t even go there.

THE CASE OF THE PATAGONIAN TOOTHFISH: All week, we’ve been on a trivia tour (links below); tomorrow, that tour will come to an end. But in the meantime, read this piece from Digby and recall the key, basic point. Increasingly, our political discourse is made up of trivia—trivia without any end.

Before you go read it, remember the framework: Journalists seize some point of trivia; bungle the facts; then deliver a sweeping judgment about “character.” In this case, it’s ABC’s Jake Tapper, denouncing Al Gore. Because of the menu at his daughter’s rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner staged by the in-laws.

“Ferchrist’s sake,” Digby writes. “I can't believe we have to deal with this nonsense.” But we’re going to have to deal with this nonsense until we find a way to stop it—until we develop a straightforward “code” and promote it so well that the average citizen instinctively sees right through this garbage. So go ahead! Go watch as Digby is forced to waste her time explaining the facts of the Chilean sea bass. But high-flying pundits will peddle this crap until we find ways to make them stop. Tomorrow, as we finish our trivia tour, we’ll offer a brisk code of conduct.

Meanwhile, why not review each day of our tour? So far, here’s the itinerary:
Day 1: Foser knows trivia—but then, so does Mik. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/07.

Day 2: The press corps continued its trivia tour as Edwards tried to talk about poverty. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/17/07.

Day 3: Campaign fund-raising reports were released—and the Washington Post loved the trivia. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/18/07.
Tomorrow: How to react?

THIS IS TRUE: An excellent comment responds to Digby’s plaint: "I can't believe we have to deal with this nonsense."
COMMENTER: i can.

these people are nihilists. they sit around in their offices laughing about this shit. it's a big crackup to them. they absolutely do not give a damn about anything, nor do they know anything, or want to. they have the intellectual capacity of sand dollars, and a moral capacity quite a bit lower than that.
The evidence supports this view—although they do care about their careers and their salaries. But this all leads to a basic question: How do we deal with their trivia?