| HEALTH CARE
Bush Vetoes Kids
“America’s children must also have a healthy start in life,” President Bush declared on the campaign trail in 2004 while running for reelection. “In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs.” But now, instead of living up to his word, Bush has become the one man standing between 9 million low-income children and their health insurance. Bush threatened again this week to veto legislation that will renew and improve the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which provides health coverage to low-income, uninsured American children who do not qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot afford private health insurance. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, nearly 1 million American children will lose their health insurance if the veto blocks reauthorization. Yet Bush says he cannot support it, citing “philosophical differences.” He told reporters Wednesday, “My concern is that when you expand eligibility…you’re really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government.”
SCHIP WORKS: The United States spends more on health care every year than any other country, and yet nine million American children remain uninsured. SCHIP, which this year marks its 10th anniversary as a bipartisan, federal-state collaboration to improve the nation’s health coverage, has put a significant dent in that number. Bruce Lesley of First Focus calls SCHIP “the one major healthcare success story over the past 10 years” for providing “cost-effective health coverage to millions of children with coverage that the private market by itself has been unable to provide.” Along with Medicaid, SCHIP has “reduced the proportion and the number of low-income children who are uninsured by about one third since 1997.”
ADMINISTRATION MISLEADS TO SPIN BUSH’S VETO: At a recent press conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt characterized the SCHIP legislation as “a Washington-run, government-owned plan, where government makes the choices, where government sets the prices, where government then taxes people to pay the bill.” This is a total fabrication. In fact, both SCHIP and the Medicaid program “use private doctors and private health care plans.” Moreover, “it is the states, not Washington, that set the income limits, contract with providers and set provider reimbursement rates, and determine most of the particulars of the health care benefit packages in these programs.”
THE TAX SCARE RHETORIC: The increased health coverage for kids would be paid for with an increase of the federal tobacco taxes, from the current 40 cents per pack to one dollar. With the support of tobacco lobbyists, Bush said this week, “If Congress continues to insist upon expanding healthcare through the SCHIP program — which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people — I’ll veto the bill.” But the American people actually support using tobacco taxes to pay for children’s health coverage, by a margin of 67 percent to 28 percent. Additionally, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has pointed out, tobacco taxes were used to fund the SCHIP program when it began a decade ago. Such taxes have additional positive effects: according to the American Medical Association, “for each 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, youth smoking is reduced by 7 percent, and overall consumption by 4 percent.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: If the SCHIP legislation currently on the table were signed by Bush, roughly 4.1 million children “who otherwise would be uninsured would have health care coverage by 2012,” according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Many of these children will manage to maintain some insurance even if Bush wields his veto — it will just mean a massive additional burden on their state governments. But another 800,000 children “will end up uninsured under the ‘budget baseline’ (because states would have insufficient federal SCHIP funding to sustain their existing programs).” Also, “[i]nadequate federal support could mean increased costs to states that do not consider scaling back on children’s coverage an option. Private health insurance costs could increase from the cost shifting of uncompensated care and, eventually, Medicare costs could rise as children with unattended health problems become seniors with chronic diseases.”
ETHICS — GOVERNMENT WATCHDOGS RAISE CONCERNS OVER ANOTHER ALASKA SENATOR’S LAND DEAL: On Dec. 29, 2006, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) purchased 1.27 acres of land on the Kenai river from real estate developer Bob Penney for $179,400, the assessed value of the land in Jan. 2006. Days later, “the Kenai Peninsula Borough reassessed the property at $214,900.” After purchasing the land, which has a market value of roughly $300,000, Murkowski did not include the transaction in her Senate financial disclosure forms, citing a clause in the ethics manual which says “property which is held or maintained solely for recreational or personal purposes does not have to be reported.” Watchdog groups say Murkowski should have reported the sale. The law “would seem to indicate a pretty air tight requirement to report the sale,” said Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation after examining the relevant federal law. “Even if Murkowski is living in the woods, I don’t think that would qualify as a personal residence.” The low price of the deal is raising ethics eyebrows as well. As Laura McGann of TPMmuckraker.com, who broke the story, notes, “U.S. Senators cannot accept gifts worth more than $250. Based on the $179,400 Murkowski paid for the wooded lot versus the $300,000 locals and real estate agents say the land is worth, she received a gift of at least $120,000.” Penney, who has contributed $10,500 to Murkowski since 2003, recently “testified before a grand jury about his cozy relationship with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK),” who is under fire for his own questionable land deal. Ken Boehm, the chairman of the anti-corruption National Legal and Policy Center, has said “he is considering filing a complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the U.S. Justice Department” about Murkowski’s land deal.
ADMINISTRATION — JUDGE DISMISSES PLAME CIVIL SUIT AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: “A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband [Joe Wilson] against Vice President Cheney and other top officials over the Bush administration’s disclosure of Plame’s name and covert status to the media.” The leak of Plame’s identity was apparent retaliation for Wilson’s refusal to support the Bush administration’s inaccurate intelligence in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. While the New York Times inaccurately suggests that Plame “lost” the lawsuit, Plame’s attorney, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explained that the judge did not dismiss the suit on the “merits of the claim.” Rather, the judge, John D. Bates, “dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds,” saying that he “would not express an opinion on the constitutional arguments” of the suit. Sloan said that Plame and Wilson would likely appeal the decision, adding, “While we are obviously very disappointed by today’s decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court.” Lawyers of the convicted Scooter Libby used the occasion to once again smear Plame and Wilson, accusing them of “character assassination.” But as Wilson said in a statement, “This case is not just about what top government officials did to Valerie and me. We brought this suit because we strongly believe that politicizing intelligence ultimately serves only to undermine the security of our nation.” As The Progress Report first noted yesterday, this case marks the second time in recent years that Bates has dismissed a high-profile lawsuit against Vice President Cheney, previously ruling that the Vice President did not have to disclose the participants of his energy task force meetings.
KATRINA — FEMA KNOWINGLY ALLOWED KATRINA REFUGEES TO SUFFER FROM ‘TOXIC TRAILERS’: An investigation of 5,000 documents subpoenaed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reveals that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) received multiple warnings about dangerous levels of formaldehyde in FEMA trailers provided for victims of Hurricane Katrina but refused to conduct testing of occupied trailers because testing “would imply FEMA’s ownership of this issue.” Formaldehyde is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and can cause respiratory ailments, allergic reactions of the skin and eyes, and menstrual disorders, to name a few. In a hearing before the committee, “three people who had lived in the trailers said they believed that exposure to formaldehyde… was the cause of health problems including sore throats, burning eyes and respiratory problems. FEMA administrator R. David Paulison claimed he was not “100 percent sure that it was the trailers” that caused the health problems, but “Mary C. DeVany, an occupational health and safety engineer advising the Sierra Club, testified that the exposure limit of 0.3 parts per million is 400 times the normal limit for year-round exposure set by the Centers for Disease Control.” Furthermore, the documents “show that the agency repeatedly received complaints from occupants about high formaldehyde levels, but brushed them aside.” Several residents complained to FEMA and testified yesterday that FEMA did not warn residents about formaldehyde levels, denied new accommodations, and in one case, said a conference call about the death of a resident due to formaldehyde was “not acceptable.”
Bush administration officials unveiled a bold new assertion of executive authority yesterday, claiming that the Justice Department “will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege.” Mark Rozell, an expert on executive privilege said, “What this statement is saying is the president’s claim of executive privilege trumps all.”
A House Judiciary subcommittee rejected President Bush’s contention that “his claim of executive privilege shields the top aide, Joshua Bolten, from having to turn over subpoenaed documents.” The vote subjected Bolten to possible contempt charges.
“The top commanders in Iraq and the American ambassador to Baghdad appealed for more time beyond their mid-September assessment…but their appeals, in three videoconferences on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon, were met by stern rebukes from lawmakers of both parties.”
70: Number of House members who wrote a letter to Bush stating that they “will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.”
“An appeals court chastised the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday and ordered the agency to pay retroactive benefits to Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and contracted a form of leukemia.”
In a 78-18 vote, the Senate voted to “cut federal subsidies to college student loan firms, such as Sallie Mae, by $18.3 billion, redirect savings to student grants and ease some student loan repayment terms.” The annual maximum level for Pell grants would go up from $4,310 to more than $5,000.
“U.S. troops in Iraq should receive 2,500 to 3,000 special armored vehicles by year’s end if Congress approves $1.2 billion in 2007 defense spending, a top Pentagon official said on Thursday, down from 3,400 vehicles announced just a day earlier.”
And finally: Yesterday, in a “rare public appearance,” U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald “submitted himself to questions as a guest on Chicago Public Radio’s comedic quiz show, ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.'” Although “Fitzgerald flunked the quiz, a (scripted) appeal overturned the answer of the final question, commuting it to a win. When asked by host Peter Sagal why such a tight-lipped public official would come on the show, Fitzgerald said, “Literally, I was trying to get tickets to the show.”
In a 357-72 vote yesterday, the House “rejected President Bush’s plan to eliminate the $420 million federal subsidy for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) and legislators agree “to the broadest overhaul of New York’s notoriously lax campaign finance laws since they were first enacted after Watergate.”
MISSOURI: State Supreme Court unanimously reinstates campaign contribution limits.
MASSACHUSETTS: Gov. Deval Patrick (D) proposes a $1 billion investment in biotechnology, opening the nation’s largest stem cell bank.
THINK PROGRESS: Right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch was “the 24th member of the Blair cabinet.”
ORCINUS: By comparing DailyKos to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly is “seriously downplaying and distorting the kind of hate being spewed by the haters of the racist right.”
FEMINISTE: President Bush’s approval rating in Wisconsin hits a new low of 19 percent, according to a conservative polling firm.
HEALTH 08: “A central hub for resources and information about health policy issues in the 2008 election.”
“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”
— Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman, 7/16/07
“I believe that the debate here on the Hill and the issues that have been raised have been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government and on the Iraqis in knowing that there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise.”
— Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 3/30/07