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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
21 January 2002

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 3, No. 3

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Kennedy's Call for Bipartisanship Is Less than Candid

Last week, Senator Kennedy said we needed a bipartisan approach but proposed a partisan series of tired, big-government solutions and belittled his opponents.

by Jerome F. Winzig

Speaking before the National Press Club last week, Senator Edward Kennedy said we needed a "bipartisan" approach to our nation's pressing problems. He spoke of working "not just for one political party or the other" and asked, "Why can't we come together"? In the end, however, his speech was no clarion call for bipartisan solutions but rather a vigorously partisan advocacy of a greatly expanded role for the federal government.

Instead of presenting a bipartisan approach to health insurance, he denigrated those who believe the country cannot afford prescription drug coverage. Instead of explaining how the nation could afford it, he baldly asserted we needed "prescription drug coverage for all senior citizens." Instead of offering a plan that crossed party lines, he warned ominously that "the plight of the elderly" must not be used as a "pretext for a partisan plan which disguises yet another attempt to privatize Medicare."

Kennedy said we needed to fashion health insurance legislation "on a bipartisan basis." But he endorsed a mandatory expansion of the employer-funded approach to health insurance that has become increasingly costly since it was first introduced over 50 years ago. While acknowledging that health care costs were rising, he belittled efforts by HMOs and insurance companies to control costs, demanded passage of the so-called "Patients Bill of Rights," and failed to mention the windfall this would bring to class action lawyers.

Instead of acknowledging that tying health benefits to jobs is increasingly problematic in an economy in which people frequently change employers, he called for legislation that "will require employers with more than 100 workers to be good corporate citizens and provide basic health insurance for their workforce." He did not explain how, with health insurance premiums easily exceeding $5,000 a year, a small 101-person company could afford a half million dollars a year without raising prices, cutting quality, scaring investors away, or laying people off.

He asserted that the "[l]ack of health insurance is the seventh leading cause of death in the nation today." While there doubtless is some effect, the Centers for Disease Control lists no such cause of death in its annual statistics. The only source of this claim -- one that is often repeated by Democrats in Congress -- seems to be a single 1993 article by three researchers. Two of those three researchers have also written that a person's skepticism about the value of conventional medical care may be a serious risk factor for early death that is affected only slightly by the person's medical insurance status.

Even though increased government spending on social problems does not necessarily alleviate those problems but can instead make them worse, Kennedy advocated extending the federal government's reach to the cradle by developing "the capacity to assure that every child has access to quality early education, starting at birth." Astonishingly, he failed to even mention the role of parents.

Kennedy seemed to believe that parents are unable to parent unless the government compensates them. He said, "Parents should have the right to leave work to care for a sick child or participate in a parent-teacher conference. New parents deserve assistance so they can afford leave to care for their newborn or newly adopted children."

Kennedy called for unspecified "[e]ffective action against international poverty" but failed to address the trade tariffs and quotas -- particularly on textiles -- that penalize poor people in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East while raising prices for American consumers. He said we had to protect Social Security but proposed spending programs so large they will continue the practice of spending the Social Security surplus. And he dismissed in advance the criticism that we cannot afford these programs merely because such criticism is as inevitable "[a]s night follows day."

Kennedy said there was "a new understanding that we are all in this together." But after repeatedly lambasting "the wealthiest taxpayers," "the wealthiest Americans," "the wealthy," and "the wealthiest," he called for tax increases on families with joint incomes of $130,000 or more. Then -- apparently because of such families' great wealth -- he asserted that it " not a matter of high principle" to oppose such tax increases.

Kennedy concluded with this disingenuous thought: "I look forward to...the dialogue ahead." Unfortunately, Kennedy's disappointing rhetoric doesn't leave much room for dialogue or problem solving.

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