Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Tobacco vs. Kids

Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, said, “Today’s debate comes down to this: Do you favor big tobacco or children?”[1]

This quote was in reference to the Children’s Health Care Bill recently passed by the House. This is what I don’t like about politicians, Republican or Democrat, here they have an opportunity to do something worthwhile and beneficial for many of the nation’s children and to redirect our priorities and they do it how? As usual by raising taxes, I don’t have a problem with paying taxes. I believe that in order for our society to provide a safety net and to provide vital services we have to pay taxes. The problem I have is that right now we pay enough taxes, having the money is not the problem in Washington. The problem in Washington is how those tax dollars are allocated. So rather than moving some of that money from the bottomless military budget, the corporate subsidies, or any other program that would actually signal a change, they just raise more taxes.

Now of course because they are taxing the evil tobacco companies it should be done without much resistance. The tobacco companies are an easy target and are always good as a whipping boy for politicians, but this belies the problem. The problem is how the money is being raised, not from whom. The taxes you levy against tobacco will not be paid by the tobacco companies; it will be paid by consumers. Since most poor people are under stress, guess who smokes more? So you are taxing the poor to pay for health care for the poor?

By a vote of 225 to 204, the bill passed, with support from 220 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Ten Democrats joined 194 Republicans in voting against it. The bill would provide coverage for more than four million uninsured children in low-income families, prevent cuts in doctors’ Medicare payments scheduled for Jan. 1 and raise the federal cigarette tax 45 cents a pack, to 84 cents.[2]

There is such a lack of courage in Washington today. If I thought there was a snowballs chance that big tobacco would have to pay the increase I would be all over it, but the truth is they won’t and these guys know it. In this way they can look tough on corporations and yet not be doing anything. Everybody knows people are going to smoke regardless, it is an addiction. Raising the cost of it is only putting a hardship on the consumers, not the tobacco industry. But isn’t it a good thing, it will make people quit smoking? No, it is a bad thing just like all the other laws that infringe on our right to choose. I don’t use seatbelts and I shouldn’t have to, if I want to drive that way it is my choice. As long as my choices do not infringe on the rights of others, so be it.

When it was created in 1997, the children’s program focused on families with incomes less than twice the poverty level. But many states have obtained federal waivers to cover children with somewhat higher family incomes, because those families cannot afford private insurance.

More than eight million of the 43 million Medicare beneficiaries are in plans offered by companies like Humana and United Health. Since December 2005, enrollment in private plans has shot up 40 percent.

On average, the Congressional Budget Office says, Medicare pays the private plans 12 percent more than it would cost to cover the same people under the traditional Medicare program. The House bill would eliminate the differential, saving $50 billion over the next five years and $157 billion from 2008 to 2017.[3]

Here are the good parts, it will expand the coverage for children and it will stop the over payments that the privatization of Medicare that Bush and his cronies tried to expand. Its funny how with all the talk of private insurers being more efficient and cost effective, that it costs more to use a private insurer than Medicare. This is a case of more “sound bite” logic that doesn’t pass the smell test. The reason we want to privatize is not for efficiency or savings, it is to give more of our tax dollars to the corporate whores who patrol Capitol Hill. What happened to free enterprise and capitalism? These are the same guys who berate the developing countries for not allowing free enterprise and they get more government handouts than anyone. Sometimes the hypocrisy with these guys gets to the point of the absurd.

Yes, let’s give health insurance to more Americans especially children, but let’s do it with the funds we already have. You’re telling me we can give billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthiest, but we can’t find any money for health insurance for our kids? No Mr. McDermott the question isn’t big tobacco or children, the real question is tax cuts and corporate welfare or children? Stop picking on the little guys and go after the people you were elected to watch over.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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