SOTU Will Focus on Global Warming and Health Care
Unbelievable. Eager to change the subject from Iraq (where every new poll shows even less support for the president), Bush will plunge into the health care crisis and global warming in his State of the Union address tomorrow night. These are topics he has studiously avoided for six years, except to promote the non-solution of Health Savings Accounts for the former and to undermine scientific evidence as to the latter. In tomorrow's speech, however, each topic will receive the full Bushification treatment.
As to health insurance, it's more On-Your-Ownership Society. Bush is expected to propose a standard deduction on federal income taxes for health insurance ($7,500 for individuals, $15,000 for families), coupled with treating employer-provided health insurance as taxable income rather than a non-taxable fringe benefit. Thus, people with health benefits worth more than the deduction would pay taxes on it, in theory paying for the tax benefits otherwise doled out. The deductions are expected to encourage those without health insurance to go and buy it. In other words, the government would tax those with insurance to encourage other people to get some. "Bad policy," declared Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee that writes tax legislation. Back in 1986 Rangel led the opposition to a similar scheme proposed by Reagan.
On the whole, another ineffective and poorly reasoned approach. Most low and middle-income families just don't have enough income to purchase health insurance even with tax breaks. "Tax deductions do little or nothing for those people who are uninsured and devastated by high health care costs," said Bill Vaughan, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union. "When an individual family policy for decent health coverage costs about $11,000 a year, tax credits of $1,000 to $3,000 to buy insurance are almost meaningless."
Bush is also expected to praise states that have implemented or proposed plans to achieve universal health care coverage (Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania), which is anther way of saying that the federal government won't be getting into that arena.
On the global warming front, Bush is expected to call for higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, lower emissions standards for power plants (but not as aggressively lower as Democrats want), and tax incentives to encourage the use of renewable energy sources. Fuel efficiency standards for cars haven't been raised since 1995 and increasing them is long overdue, so that part is welcome news. However, Bush's proposals will be far too weak to significantly impact the global warming problem. What is needed is a true crisis mentality and strong mandatory regulation, and that is simply not to be expected from a president who has talked up energy independence before but never backed it up with real change. (The percentage of oil that the U.S imports has increased from 53% to 60% since Bush took office in 2000.) Significantly, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is downplaying any real impact from tomorrow's State of the Union Address on energy policy. Barton said he expects the president to add fresh "nuances" to his energy policy but not to risk economic damage with drastic pollution reducing measures. "I don't think that you're going to see any great change in his position," Barton said.