Editor's Note: American Morning's Tuesday audience was filled with political interviews and opinions on health care reform. Debate continued over who should pay for health care, with mixed opinion on taxing the “rich.”
Health care – Against Taxing the Rich
For Taxing the Rich
Who should pay for health care? Is it fair to tax those who have more money? Do you believe the “rich” are paying their fair share of taxes now?
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/21/cho.state.auction.cnn.art.jpg caption="Cartons and shelves of surplus goods up for sale at government auctions online."]
We drove past a heavily fortified prison and psychiatric ward while heading to our destination – New Jersey's Distribution Center located in the capital of Trenton.
It's the hub from where supplies (like boxes of printer paper) are shipped across the state. Long tractor trailers move in and out of the large warehouse on a daily basis.
But once a month, that warehouse becomes a money making hot spot for the state – the Government Vehicle Auction. You can bid on anything from former police cars to seized vehicles, Chevy Suburbans to Dodge Stratuses.
Jacob Olearchik, who runs the vehicle sale lot, said the state is putting more items on the auction block, and people are coming to find deals.
“This car right here,” said Olearchik as he pointed to a green Ford Escort, “if you go to a used car lot, they'll put a $4,000 price tag on that car, maybe a $3,500 price tag on that car. Right now you can buy that car here tomorrow for $1,800 or maybe less.”
Never before has so much money gone out the door so quickly and that makes it incredibly important to track how this money is being spent.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/21/jennieo3.art.jpg
caption="Stimulus cash is being spent in diverse ways, such as turkey for food banks and soup kitchens."]
The $787 billion economic stimulus is starting to work its way into the economy – by most estimates, about 10 percent has gone out the door.
So where it is going? You can see for yourself on www.recovery.gov. The diverse uses of your money are, well, tantalizing.
How about $5,378,600 for Jennie-O turkey? And $16,784,000 for canned pork?
Stimulus cash for meat? Recovery.gov doesn't specify what the contracts are for, but a quick call to USDA confirmed that stimulus funds are purchasing $100 million worth of food for food banks and soup kitchens.
And for the record, USDA tells us it is paying $1.99 per pound for the pork and is also purchasing 837,936 pounds of mozzarella.
The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, says "This program will help reduce hunger of those hardest hit by the current economic recession."
We found a small contract for $251 to a company called Workingman's Family Store in Huntington, West Virginia. The money is for work boots for jobs created by the stimulus package, jobs for park rangers, patrol officers and contractors.
A manager for the store told us she didn't even know the store was a recipient of stimulus funds. Because of provisions against using the stimulus this way, the Army Corps of Engineers tells us they are refunding the purchase using general funds instead.
Finally, more typical of the types of stimulus projects – we found $783,776 to paint a bridge in Fort Riley, Kansas – given to a firm called OCCI Incorporated. The bridge spans the emergency spillway of Tuttle Creek.
Watch this space. The money is starting to move.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/21/jindal.cnn.art.jpg caption="Governor Bobby Jindal says the House Democrats' health care proposal would put the government between doctors and their patients."]
Key House Democrats are being summoned to the White House today for some not so subtle arm-twisting on health care reform. President Obama's looking for every vote that he can get to push health care reform through Congress by the August recess. Republicans, though, are fighting him every step of the way.
Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has been a vocal critic of the president’s plan. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
John Roberts: You penned a rather scathing editorial for Politico.com on the Democrats' health care proposals. But your state ranks dead last in the United Health Foundation survey of overall health. It also had the fourth highest Medicare cost per patient in the country from 1996 through 2006, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Some people out there might be wondering if you're the best person to be criticizing the administration's plans for health care reform?
Bobby Jindal: Well John, a couple of things. We've actually got a very aggressive waiver in front of the federal government allowing us – asking them for permission to allow us to revamp our public health care programs to put more of an emphasis on outcomes. Louisiana's a great example of what's wrong with many of our government-run health care programs. You look at Medicare – the Dartmouth data shows that higher spending doesn't always correlate to better outcomes.
Here's my concern with the House Democratic proposal, what's being discussed. You know, they say that if you like your health care, you can keep it. But that's not what this plan does. They say they're going to control costs, but even their own budget office says their plan doesn't do it. They say they’re going to expand access. Look at what their plan really does: Increases the deficit by nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars. You’ve got a plan that in reality, their own budget office says, doesn't reduce costs. It increases taxes at a time that we may be in one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. No economist thinks we should be increasing taxes right now on employers, on small businesses, on families that don't want to participate in this health care program.
And then finally, finally you've got a plan – the House Democratic plan – that puts the government in between doctors and their patients. That's no way to improve quality. And so, if they were actually doing what they said they were doing, that'd be one thing, but that's not what their plan does. At least you've got to give Senator Kennedy credit. In Newsweek this past week, he admitted that his ideal had been to have a single-payer, government-run health care system. I don't think that's the answer for our country. I think we should actually do what the rhetoric says. Let’s focus on reducing costs. Let’s focus on increasing quality. Let's not expand the government's role in running our health care.
There are some disturbing claims of racism in the Philadelphia Police Department. African-American officers have filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the department allowed fellow officers to post "blatantly racist, anti-minority, and offensive content” on a popular Web site used by police officers.
Rochelle Bilal is a Philadelphia police officer and the president of the Guardian Civic League, an African-American police organization. She and the league’s attorney, Brian Mildenberg, spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
Kiran Chetry: Michelle, just set the stage. This Web site is called domelights.com. What is it?
Rochelle Bilal: It's supposed to be a forum where police officers can discuss the ills of society.
Chetry: All right. And what has it sort of turned into? When did you notice it turned into a site where there was a lot of racial bashing going on?
Bilal: Probably when they kicked me out after I went on to try to discuss some of the things that was going on and I was kicked out. From that point I haven't went on it.
Chetry: Brian, you have been monitoring this Web site for ten years? Did you bring it to the attention of the department that you thought perhaps there were some things written on here that were not in the best interest of a lot of the police officers on the force?
Brian Mildenberg: We haven't been monitoring the site for ten years. The site has been up for ten years. My law firm investigated the site for the past year. And there have been racist postings on this Web site from day one by the active duty Philadelphia police sergeant who created this Web site. The Web site contains very racist postings like this one, which says “guns don't kill people, dangerous minorities do.”
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/21/pelosi.health.care.getty.art.jpg caption="Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on the health care reform bill July 17, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC."]
In the 1938 film version of "The Adventures of Robin Hood", Prince John asks if there were "any objections to the new tax?" The reaction among the Saxons was to embrace Robin Hood as he and his Merry Men went about stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
As for that proposed tax on national health care, could this possibly be construed as a 2009 version of Robin Hood? Will the rich really be soaked to pay for a health care plan that disproportionately helps the poor?
Well, it may depend on what the definition of rich, is. What about $350,000?
The current House bill would tax families making $350,000 and up – and that has more than a few people very upset. Congressmen have gotten so much heat from some of their wealthier constituents that a large group of the legislators, all freshmen, made a beeline to the White House last Friday to express their concerns. Many of them were upset about the effect that the proposed tax would have on small businesses. Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., who led the group, happens to represent a congressional district that boasts some the wealthiest people in America.
Even Nancy Pelosi, who didn't become speaker of the House by championing the cause OF the rich, seems to have gotten the message. Her office told CNN and Politico.com that she's considering changing the House's health care surcharge so it no longer affects the rich – only the really, REALLY rich. That would include families that make $1 million or more.
The speaker told Politico.com, "...you hear '$500,000 a year,' you think, 'My God, that's not me...'"
All of which leads to the question, does any of this really matter? Will taxing the rich, whatever your definition, provide enough to pay for expanded health care?
It turns out it might not matter, says University of Maryland business professor Peter Morici. He says there's not enough tax money to pay for all the president's proposals. "We simply can't reform health care," he says, "and do all the other domestic initiatives he wants to undertake by simply taxing the top 5% of the population." And restricting a health care tax to people who make $500,000 a year, which is less than 1% of all taxpayers, won't even come close to paying for the program.
President Obama sees it differently. He's looking at costs as well as revenues. On Monday the president said once again that huge savings can be made by streamlining health care and cutting unnecessary expenses. "The bill I sign must reflect my commitment and the commitment of Congress to slow the growth of health care costs over the long run… Let's fight our way through the politics of the moment. Let's pass reform by the end of this year."
What do you think? Tax the rich to pay for health care? How do you define "rich" in the U.S.?