Who Gives A SCHIP?

Yeah, I know I just wrote about the S-CHIP re-authorization and expansion (and Bush’s veto of same) a couple of days ago, but there’s enough crap flying around about it to merit a followup.

First off, “herewegoagain” challenged my number, and cited a Census Bureau report that pegged the number at $48,201. I admit my initial “research” was casual when I came up with the figure $58,832, so I did some digging of my own through the Census Bureau’s own site. It turns out we were both pretty right. According to this page, median HOUSEHOLD income was $48,451, while median FAMILY income was $58,526 — both figures within spitting distance of the numbers we cited.

So, which number is fairer to cite? I don’t really know, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that this program is being pushed as a way to help “poor” children, and it’s qualifying families that make above the national median income. Whether that’s by $3,000 or $13,000 is merely a question of magnitude.

OK, now on for the “meat” of the piece.

One of the biggest laugh lines during the heady days of the 90’s was “we need to do it for the children!” Apparently, one of the best ways to get certain people to turn off their brains and mindlessly comply with suggestions on certain issues is to wrap it around “protecting children.” (Hell, just yesterday it was trotted out to scold people celebrating the Red Sox clinching a playoff berth.)

Me, I have just the opposite reaction. Whenever I hear that something is being done to adults to protect “the children,” I get paranoid. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” and all that. So I started off giving the S-CHIP program a jaundiced eye from the outset — too many people I already don’t trust were too enthusiastic about it.

Let’s continue the diabolical theme of aphorisms here. They say that “the devil is in the details,” and His Infernal Majesty certainly earns his “Prince Of Lies” title with this bill. (Yeah, I know, it’s odd for an agnostic like me to run with this theme, but it’s fun and it fits so well.)

First up, let’s look at how this measure will be paid for. They expansion of the S-CHIP program is expected to cost an additional $35 billion dollars a year, from a hike in cigarette taxes. While, in general, I don’t have too many problems with “sin taxes,” this one offends the pragmatist in me.

As Rob Port noted, cigarette smokers tend to be on the lower end of the economic spectrum. So we’re taxing the poor (through one of their vices) to pay for the poor. Also, note how much money the government spends every year encouraging people to stop smoking. If they succeed in that (through education, advertising, or taxation), then they cut into the funds available for S-CHIP. At that point, will they cut back on S-CHIP to match available money?

Not bloody likely. Rather, they will announce that we need to “bail out” S-CHIP and tap into general revenues.

Also, Rob Port notes that another source of money will be by taking it away from a Medicare program for the elderly.

It’s also been noted that about 40% of the children who would qualify for this already have health insurance. Now, how many parents already providing insurance for their kids will continue to do so once they have the alternative to have the government (and that means “you and me,” because the government doesn’t have any money that it doesn’t take from us) to pay for it? I won’t go so far as to say that this is some grand conspiracy to attack and weaken the insurance industry, making it easier to make health insurance a government responsibility and not that of the private sector, but that certainly will be the effect.

There are those who say that “overall, money is being saved, so what’s the problem?” Well, the money being saved is the overall costs. It’s being done by shifting the burden from those receiving the benefits to everyone else. Thanks, but no thanks.

Finally, a philosophical note (and one I’m plagiarizing from myself), since when did “promote the general welfare” become “provide the general welfare?” The Preamble to the United States Constitution reads, in full:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That spells out the responsibilities of the United States government. ESTABLISH justice. INSURE domestic tranquility. PROVIDE for the common defense. Those are mandates. “PROMOTE” the general welfare is a weaker word, meaning “encourage,” not make certain.

There are certain things that we should expect from the government, as there are certain things that the government can do better than anyone. Justice and defense are two of those areas. I’ll toss in general post, streets and roads, and a few other things as things that are the rightful responsibility of the federal government, but I’m a staunch believer in the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

It’s been my experience that if you want to find the least efficient, most expensive, most inconvenient, and all-around worse way to get something done, put the federal government in charge of it.

I find myself wondering: why do the Democrats in Congress hate poor children (and not-so-poor children) so much, that they want to take responsibility for their health care out of the hands of their parents and into the hands of the same sort of bureaucrats who run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and all the other notoriously inefficient and inept alphabet soup of government agencies?

I’m sure it makes sense to them somehow.

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