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
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
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.