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Waste! Fraud! Abuse!

One thing that occurs to me about this S-CHIP business is the extent to which the Republican leadership appears to be mean-spirited. This isn’t anything new; it certainly goes back to Ronald Wilson Reagan and his attitudes towards welfare. The rhetorical pose (which seems to coincide pretty well with their policy positions) is vituperative outrage that someone, somewhere is getting some sort of benefit that they don’t deserve. In the case of S-CHIP, there are essentially two drawbacks to the program: the possibility of future generosity, and the possibility of non-poor children moving from employer-based to government-subsidized health care.

The first is particularly nasty, to me. The legislative package allows the federal government (I believe the executive, but I am not an expert on this stuff) to approve state expenditures to move the eligibility line up beyond twice-the-poverty-line to thrice-the-poverty-line or even (potentially) four-times-the-poverty-line. Now, for this to kick in, the state in question would have to be willing to supply large quantities of its own money to fund it, and then get approval from the federal government (which of course would not be forthcoming under the current administration) to mix the existing federal dollars in this larger state pot. Realistically, this is not going to happen between this authorization and the next; the bill could be signed without there being a chance of undue generosity before the next chance to veto or kill the bill. But it is being presented as a valid reason to veto.

This, bye-the-bye, is the $80,000 figure that gets bandied about. The bill that Our Only President vetoed does not provide funding for families with $80 large a year, but it does not explicitly deny funding to such families, and theoretical circumstances exist that would result in funding going to such families, and we can’t possibly take that chance, now, can we?

The second is less theoretical. Under, f’r’ex, a Husky plan with all the S-CHIP funding they want, my family would be eligible (I believe that our children will be eligible under the partial funding that Our Only President may be willing to sign). There may be some premiums. Our family would have to decide whether our current, employer-based health plan is better than the Husky plan. It isn’t absolutely clear to me that it would be better, but it isn’t absolutely clear to me that it would be worse. At any rate, some families will take it up. Now, that seems to me to be a Good Thing, with lots of potential benefits. For one thing, I can afford to go to an employer that chooses not to offer health insurance for dependents, or one that offers a better plan than I could get through Husky. It opens up options for the employer and the employee, both. And, if a lot of people do dive into the Husky pool, the Husky negotiators grow ever huskier, and the state saves some money there. And then there’s the public health benefits (and the state saves some money there), and the benefit to our fine local insurance industry (which benefits the state’s coffers, too, I suppose).

I’m a liberal, of course, so I do see that a conservative, particularly a small-government type, would have a different view of the benefits of having lots of non-poor children in the government health care pool. But surely, that’s the point of the legislation, the benefits and costs thereof, and they could be discussed as a policy measure.

Rhetorically, though, it seems to me that the Republican leadership is saying that people will weasel their way into health insurance on the taxpayer dime. Not unlike the famous welfare queen, who weaseled her way into a Cadillac on the taxpayer dime.

My own attitude is that if a particular policy can do a great deal of good to people who need help, while simultaneously providing benefits to some felons and weasels, well, on the whole, it’s worth it. The famous waste, fraud and abuse should be kept to manageable levels, but they are a cost of doing business. We can look at the ten kids we help, and overlook the one rich cheat, and one of the nice things about being the richest nation in the history of history itself is that we can afford it. You see, it’s a liberal way of thinking, that we can be liberal with our money. Get it? Liberal? Oh, never mind.

The opposite of liberality is of course stinginess, meanness, penuriousness, pinchpenny miserliness, not to say misery. I am not saying that Conservatism is by nature mean, because I don’t think it is. I am saying that the Republican leadership is mean, and the Republican leadership of the last generation has been mean, and they have tried to make us a mean nation. I’m surprised how well it worked. But then, they have not really had much rhetorical opposition to that aspect of their positions, have they?

I follow Alfred P. Doolittle here. For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. Doolittle, the most original moral thinker of his day, he placed emphasis not on the deserving poor, but the undeserving poor. “I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more.” Our friends with the large R in front of their addresses would rather see every man, woman and child of the deserving poor starve and be buried in potter’s fields than see Mr. Doolittle get an undeserving drink. I would rather see Mr. Doolittle lying peacefully under the table every night on the public tab than see one poor child die because he couldn’t get to a doctor in good time.

I put it to my countrymen: which side are you on?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'd appreciate policies that recognize everyone's humanity rather than bifurcate our population into "deserving" and "undeserving." Financial cutoffs and income limits are appropriate tools to decide how to distribute limited benefits, but they have been twisted by modern conservatism into moral evaluations. That's not a new idea, but it should no longer be an American idea.

"well, it's no surprise he doesn't want to guarantee our kids' health. he's also against public education."

There are two reasons why "being liberal with our money" isn't as great as it sounds. One reason is that it's great to be liberal with your own money, but in this case what you're really talking about is being liberal with other people's money, which is not as great. The other is that the bad thing about giving money to people who don't deserve it isn't "undeserving people get that money", the bad thing about it is "deserving people somewhere else don't get that money". Giving people things they don't deserve isn't nearly as as bad a taking things away from people who do deserve them, nu? (And these two go together, because it's a lot easier to focus on where the money's going, and gloss over where it's coming from, if it's coming from someone else, especially someone else you don't like.)

Oh, and a third thing: Being willing to spend a lot of money on something is sometimes hard to differentiate from not caring how much something costs, which tends to cause the price of that thing to rise.

Some of these people may still be mean, but there's more to "let's not waste money" than being worried about the money going somewhere bad.

...what you're really talking about is being liberal with other people's money...
Sort of. What I’m really talking about is being liberal with the State’s money. Or, rather, what I’m really talking about is rhetorical positioning for persuading people to elect those who will be liberal with the State’s money. The idea that the State’s money is not actually the State’s money, but somehow adheres to individuals has never made very much sense to me. When I budget my household, am I spending my employer’s money? It was my employer’s money, before I persuaded said employer to give it to me. Yes, the State uses coercion (although a good deal of State revenue is not coerced taxes as such), but then we all vote on the State, and my employer doesn’t get a vote on my household budget. If I were arguing that our government should secretly spend such money, or that it should spend such money no matter who the populace elects, that would be one thing, but I am arguing (a) that we as a nation should elect people who espouse such liberality, and (2) that the people elected should make such liberality policy. So the thing about other people's money doesn't seem to come into it.
the bad thing about it is "deserving people somewhere else don't get that money".
But surely that’s my point. If we have a program such as S-CHIP, which gives lots of deserving people money and also gives a handful of undeserving people money, and we reduce that program or close it altogether, then deserving people don’t get that money. Right? Are we in agreement, or am I confused?
[Subsidy] tends to cause the price of that thing to rise.
That is, to some extent, true, although the empirical data seems to restrict that to some sorts of goods and not others. Houses, for example, get more expensive the more they are subsidized, but food stamps don’t drive food prices. Measuring this stuff is difficult, and is not always exact, and people do not, on the whole, act the way they are supposed to. For one thing, the theory seems (to YHB) to apply best to stuff a person would buy anyway; If I’m buying widgets, then a subsidized widget budget would let the widget-makers charge more while I buy the same amount, and I’m happy. In the world, however (according to such economics as I have read), the reverse is true; subsidies in “extras” such as house-owning, college tuition and cable television correlate better to the “price” than to cost—that’s not right, I mean that correlations subsidy-price and subsidy-cost in extras compared to the same correlations in basics seems to show that price elasticity works backwards. But my reading in quant and macro is ten years old at least; I doubt that things have changed much, but things do change.

The difference between persuasion and coercion is an important one. Your money doesn't become my money when I lift your wallet, at least not in the 10% that matters when you're talking about right and wrong.

My point about taking things away from the deserving is that if the State stops paying $1B to buy health insurance for a mix of deserving and undeserving children, that $1B doesn't just disappear, it gets spent on something else -- if not by the State, then by the people the State coerced it out of. Whether that actually improves the situation is debatable, but "giving more money to deserving people always makes things better" is obviously untrue, which suggests that giving less money to deserving people sometimes makes things better.

Some of this does presuppose that taking money away from some people in order to give it to others is at best a necessary evil. If you think it's downright virtuous to take money away from some people to give it to others, then it's easy to argue that you should do as much of that as possible. But you don't have to be mean in order to argue that it's usually wrong to take people's money and give it to someone else.

My guess is that food stamps aren't a very large fraction of the money spent on food, at least not compared to the fraction of money spent on health care or college tuition that comes from subsidies. (I don't know as much about subsidized mortgages or cable television.)

if the State stops paying $1B to buy health insurance for a mix of deserving and undeserving children, that $1B doesn't just disappear, it gets spent on something else
Well, that isn’t quite true, since money doesn’t so much exist, then, yes, sometimes money that isn’t spent doesn’t exist. Still, the point is on the whole fair, and is a good reason to (a) spend a little money to keep the undeserving’s share down, and (2) take a look at the program as a whole, deserving and undeserving, and as much of the effects as we can guess. My point is that the rhetorical power of a family making $80,000 will get a benefit seems far too big, and it is far too big (I submit) because of the dominance of mean-spirited rhetoric by the Republican leadership and the near-absence of liberal-minded rhetoric by Democratic leadership. Some programs really are boondoggles, and we certainly don’t need to defend those. But if the State stops paying $1B to buy health insurance for a mix of deserving and undeserving children, and some of those children die, then that $1B had better have been spent on something damned important, hadn’t it?
But you don't have to be mean in order to argue that it's usually wrong to take people's money and give it to someone else.
The idea that our current system of taxation is taking money away from individuals and giving it to other individuals deserves its own thread. It’s very, very common, and it seems to me a very, very bad description of what is going on. Maybe I will get a chance to write it up. Anyway, yes, damnit, I think you do have to be mean to argue that the wrongness of taking people’s money away to give it to other people is even close, even in the same ethical ballpark as letting children (or adults) die without medical care because of failing to redistribute money. You can argue without meanness of any kind that the redistribution will not widen access to medical care, although doing so appears to contradict all the empirical evidence, but your point is that it isn’t mean, and you are correct, it isn’t. But it is certainly mean to accept that the redistribution will widen access to medical care, and still argue against it because there will be some people who take unfair pecuniary advantage of it.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, the cost of Iraqistan is approaching $430 billion, and a great deal of that seems to be going to people who are taking unfair pecuniary advantage of it.

So, you know, fiscally conservative? This administration ain't. If they say they are? They're lying.


The bill that Our Only President vetoed

Wait -- he vetoed a bill? I thought that there would have been enough hoopla around him ending his record veto-free streak that I would have noticed.

Not that anyone's polling me about this, but given that private sellers and resellers have failed to produce a functional health care system, I'd prefer that individuals of all incomes have a personal stake in seeing state-funded health care do better. Restricting it to those below some "I know it when I see it" line of desert limits the aggregate clout of the system's customers and makes it easier to sell the public a pig in a poke.

Wikipedia tells me he has vetoed four pieces of legislation.


So, you know, fiscally conservative? This administration ain't.

Are they even pretending to be? It's a laughable claim.

Well, my impression was that a stance of fiscal conservatism was kind of the whole basis for not even entertaining the possibility of a federalized health care plan. Is that incorrect?

I mean, I understand that it's REALLY the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies funneling large amounts of money into the bank accounts of politicians that keep that conversation from happening on the public stage in America.

But the STANCE is fiscal conservatism, right?


In some sense, this is my point: the rhetoric is different than the policy. There are several rhetorical options to counter the policy and several to counter the rhetoric, but you have to counter both. I don't think the reponse that These Republican leaders aren't really Conservative is a winner, because it doesn't give people any reason to support Democrats (or anybody else, for that matter). Now, it's important to know that they aren't real Conservatives, and that may be one rhetorical line to pursue among others, but I would like my Party to attack the rhetoric as well as the policies.

And, yes, my own preference is for a single-payer system, for a variety of reasons. I think a rhetorical defense of financial liberality as such would help with that goal, but even on a short-term goal of passing the damn' S-CHIP, I want to see us beating all the available rhetorical drumns.


But the STANCE is fiscal conservatism, right?

I think not, at least in this case. The stance here is Free-Market Ideology. The Meanie-in-Chief has claimed that S-CHIP is a slippery slope toward "socialized medicine," which is objected to not because it is expensive (an appeal to fiscal conservatism) nor because it would lead to a decline in quality of care (an appeal to pragmatism), but because it is "socialized" (an appeal to Capitalist dogma). The argument appears to be that if we had socialized medecine, terrible things would happen, because we would be practicing "socialism," which would be BAD. If we start being socialist in little things like health care for children that are superficially appealing to bleeding-heart liberals, then . . .

then before you know it, we’ll be offering health care for adults, and then the bad people who get sick or injured won’t suffer as much as we want them to suffer.

i do not want there to be suffering that i am not present to watch.

Okay, fair enough. I tend to consider Free-Market Ideology the basis of fiscal conservatism, since most fiscal liberals aren't Free-Market Ideologues. But I see and acknowledge the distinction you're making.

hapa - I think you're on a slippery slope towards solipsism there. How far a step is it from "i do not want there to be suffering that i am not present to watch" to "there is no suffering that i am not present to watch."

<Mick Jagger>Solipsism, children, it's just a wish away, it's just a wish away!</Mick Jagger>


PS I'm idly curious whether my mock-HTML will work. Wish there were a Preview function, but you blog with the interface you have, after all.

I take exception to Chris's point. I am a free-market capitalist ideologue, and the current administration is not. I think socialized medicine is a terrible idea because socializing almost anything is worse than having a free market for that thing, and I don't think that there's any philosophical reason or evidence that medicine is an exception to that principle.

But, the track record of the current administration clearly shows that they do not believe in either the moral rightness nor the practical efficacy of the free market. They oppose it for different reasons than Democrats, but they're no libertarians.

we could argue this forever but profiting from helping people pool health care costs seems like a market inefficiency. the pressure on the care providers is very similar, the emergent need of the services strongly biases the system against the buyer, and the scope of the operation offers all the benefits of regulatory capture without the accountability of a public operation.

if people want to pool their money in a wholesale buying group, like a credit union or medicare, that's a buying decision, not government-run health care. it's more like building a road than buying a loaf of bread. public health benefits everyone.

irilyth: Why do you say you take exception to Chris's point? I don't think that anything you said contradicts anything he said. He said that the government's position was an appeal to free market ideologues, and you said that as a free market ideologue, the government's position in this case (if no other) appeals to you. You say that they're no libertarians, and I don't think they would say that, either. They're just saying that since Libertarianism isn't viable as a political party right now, at least you libertarians should vote for Republicans, 'cause they'll throw you an occasional bone.

Of course, some Democrats do that, too (NAFTA, for example).

To keep Our Gracious Host's blog from going up in a flame war, I'm taking the rest of my comment off-list and posting it on my blog.


I take exception to Chris's point. I am a free-market capitalist ideologue, and the current administration is not.

As Matt pointed out, I was not making a general claim about this administration's position: I was commenting specifically on the rhetoric that the administration has used to justify the Meanie-in-Chief's veto of the S-CHIP bill, though they have made an outrageously insincere nod in the direction of fiscal conservatism.

The administration's actual ideology is crypto-fascist (in other words, that of a corporate kleptocracy).

I was not making a general claim about this administration's position

Replace with "I was not making a general claim about this administration's ideological position."

Fair enough; I think I was confused about "appeal", by which I mean that their position might be appealing to free-market folks, but I don't think they're taking that position because they want to embrace the values of free-market folks, if that distinction makes sense. Anyway, I don't think we're disagreeing about that aspect.

Yay consensus!

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