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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Volume 8, Number 20

Time Reporter Alleges Bush’s Tax Cuts Harmed Texas Tots

Correspondents for Time magazine have often been critical of tax cuts, disparaging them as either welfare for the wealthy or the ineffective crutches that conservative politicians lean on when they get into political trouble. But in the magazine’s October 9 issue, Michael Weisskopf pulled out all of the stops, linking state tax cut measures successfully championed in 1997 and 1999 by Governor George W. Bush with the alleged plight of hundred of thousands of uninsured Texas children.

Here’s the first paragraph of Weisskopf’s story: "George W. Bush had a simple fiscal policy as Texas Governor: he called for meeting the people’s basic needs and returning what’s left to the hands who earned it. But it didn’t work that way for Ray Haros, a poor kid from Austin’s barrio in need of health insurance. While Bush delivered $2.7 billion in tax relief, Ray got left out of the equation."

According to Weisskopf, Ray suffers from attention-deficit disorder and depression, and his mother only makes $5.35 per hour working at a candy factory. Thus, the little boy qualifies for Medicaid, "but, for reasons all too common in Bush’s state, Ray receives nothing from the federal and state insurer of the poor. Like 734,000 other uninsured Texas youngsters who live in poverty, he relies on the uncertain charity of free clinics and social workers who scrounge for medicine to help him."

The article alleged that Bush’s office took too long in applying for federal aid under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Time implied that the shortfalls in children’s health spending were contrived to enable tax cuts. "The delay freed Texas from having to spend billions of dollars in matching state grants, leaving enough money for Bush to pass $1 billion in tax relief in the 1997 legislative session. Two years later, he set his sights on even bigger tax cuts. To make the numbers work, Medicaid spending had to be contained," wrote Weisskopf.

If that was too subtle, the headline explicitly charged, "Tax Cuts Before Tots," while a color photo of six-year-old Ray, looking sad, cut across the first page of the article. The photo’s caption: "Without Medicaid: Ray Haros qualifies, but doesn’t receive it." Off to the side, a small photo of Bush, accompanied text which said in part, "He helped secure tax cuts by underfunding Medicaid, causing a $400 million shortfall in the program."

The impression left by the story is much stronger than what it actually says. First, Weisskopf argues that children like Ray are without "health insurance," not without health care. According to the Texas State Comptroller’s office, the average uninsured Texan received nearly $1,000 worth of health care in 1998, paid for by both by federal, state and local agencies, plus a wide number of charitable organizations. That’s why Weisskopf wrote the sentence the way he did: "[Ray] relies on the uncertain charity of free clinics and social workers who scrounge for medicine to help him." If you ignore the loaded terms "uncertain" and "scrounge," it’s clear that even Weisskopf agrees that Ray gets his medicine.

It’s also worth paying attention to the fact that youngsters like Ray Haros lack insurance even though they’re qualified for Medicaid. The implication is that such shortfalls are Bush’s fault because he wouldn’t spend the money needed to tell people they were covered under the program. According to Weisskopf, "When Bush took over in 1995, Medicaid officials failed to reach about 30% of eligible children, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan Washington group." Actually, it is a liberal group which advocates heavier government spending on social programs, and Time should have said so.

"The percentage grew as Texas families, forced off cash assistance by new welfare laws, were not told that their children still qualified for Medicaid. Nevertheless, Bush put an emphasis on tax cuts rather than spending to expand eligibility and break down barriers to enrollment," wrote Weisskopf.

But according to the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, many parents don’t enroll their children in Medicaid because it’s troublesome and not necessary to obtain decent health care: "In all major Texas cities, Medicaid patients and the uninsured enter the same emergency rooms, see the same doctors and are admitted to the same hospital rooms. Those who have signed up for government insurance do not get more care, faster care or better care."

There was only one brief quote from a source defending the Texas Governor, and it was tucked in the beginning of the article’s ninth and final paragraph: "Bush campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett said the Governor places a ‘high priority’ on child health, as seen in his support of CHIP, and that the state is considering, among other things, making it easier to stay on Medicaid by eliminating in-person interviews every six months." Compare that with two quotes in the same article from Democratic state lawmakers, including state Rep. Garnet Coleman’s flamboyant complaint that "we’re literally discriminating against the poorest of the poor."

Not only does this unbalanced article smack of a political hit job, but by insinuating that pressure for tax relief puts needy children at risk, it follows Time's pattern all year of undermining arguments on behalf of tax cuts. Back in April, James Carney and John F. Dickerson raised suspicions that, in contrast to campaign pledges of a ‘compassionate conservatism,’ a Bush presidency would hurt the poor: "Actually installing the Bush program of tax cuts and caring will require the kind of fiscal discipline Washington has never displayed. If Bush does keep within budget boundaries, claim Democrats, he will be certain to cast aside his sweetness-and-light spending programs to fund a Bush tax cut that, as written, would most benefit higher-income Americans."

Then in August, Amanda Ripley described Bush’s tax cut as Gore would: "Bush’s tax cut...heaps most of its benefits onto wealthy Americans. Bush offers a couple of middle-class goodies — doubling the existing $500-per-child tax credit and reducing the marriage penalty — but since the thrust of his plan is an across-the-board cut, the wealthy folks who pay the bulk of the taxes would enjoy the greatest gains (the top tax bracket would drop from 39.6% to 33%)."

Ripley further blasted that "Bush does nothing for the millions of poorer people who do not pay taxes because their incomes are so low. Under current tax law, a family of four doesn’t owe taxes until it earns $24,900. Bush’s plan doesn’t try to help them make ends meet." Actually, in addition to his tax cut, Bush has proposed various spending programs aimed at the poor, but they evidently haven’t been enough to convince journalists that he’s not just another one of those soak-the-poor Republicans.

By Time’s reasoning, tax cuts would be postponed until every social need was met. That’s the view of many liberals, of course, but that excludes the conservative argument that citizens’ wages and income rightfully belong to them, and that money which remains in the private sector is invested more productively and with greater social benefits. If voters were reading magazines such as Time looking for a balanced review of the candidates’ records and plans on taxes, they were out of luck last week.

Rich Noyes


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