Bush Gets It Right IX: More Congressional Correspondence About SCHIP


Author: Norman Kjono
Article Published: 16/11/2007



On Friday Forces.org published my correspondence with Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) concerning stalled legislation for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Bush Gets It Right VIII: Correspondence with Congress About SCHIP. I copied Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) through her Web form E-Mail. I received a response form Senator Murray the today, which appears below the text of my reply to her.

 

The Social Marketing campaign to keep special-interest anti-tobacco in its unwarranted and intrusive place at the SCHIP bargaining table continues. As should be apparent from the below E-Mail exchange, however, the tobacco control mantra is wearing thin --  as is public support for its discriminatory policies.

 

What is at issue is that many members of Congress apparently feel free to put considerable gains for the SCHIP program that have been achieved with no new cigarette taxes at risk, to accommodate tobacco control. With SCHIP now in its second temporary extension since its authorization ended September 30, 2007, it is past time for many our elected representatives and tobacco control to stop holding children’s health insurance hostage to achieving special-interest advocacy agendas.

 

Norman E. Kjono

 

The previous commentaries in this series are:

 

September 23, 2007, Bush Gets it Right: Vows to Do the Right Thing

October 10, 2007, Bush Gets It Right II: A Look at Reconciled SCHIP Bill

October 19, 2007, Bush Gets It Right III: SCHIP Veto Upheld

October 22, 2007, Bush Gets It Right IV: Democrats Push For Pharmaceutical Subsidies

October 26, 2007, Bush Gets It Right V: Seeking Republican SCHIP Converts

November 5, 2007, Bush Gets It Right VI: Dick Morris Promotes Hillary Health Care

November 10, 2007, Bush Gets it Right VII: The People Get It About SCHIP

November 16, 2007, Bush Gets It Right VIII: Correspondence with Congress About SCHIP

 

-----Original Message-----
From: Norm Kjono [mailto:normkarl@earthlink.net]
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2007 12:45 PM
To: 'Senator@murray.senate.gov'
Cc: 'Congressman Jay Inslee'; 'Maria_Cantwell@cantwell.senate.gov'
Subject: RE: Response from Senator Murray

 

Senator Murray,

 

Thank you for your response to my E-Mail of yesterday concerning the State Children Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). I appreciate that you took the time to write.

 

I agree that the SCHIP program as previously enacted was meritorious and successful. I certainly agree that there should be a health care safety net for children in lower income families.  In fact, SCHIP as currently approved provides those services, which is laudable. It is due to the importance of that program and my concern about its continued success that I write to express my strong objection to the current path being taken by members of Congress for reauthorization of SCHIP.

 

It is also evident that President Bush would sign – not veto -- legislation to continue SCHIP, including a modest expansion. Accordingly, the issues that we address in our correspondence are not, and never have been, about continuation of SCHIP. It is equally clear that President Bush’s veto of H.R. 976 was not based on a rejection of health insurance for children in lower income families. As I mentioned to Rep. Inslee in my response to his E-Mail about SCHIP, the common sense political approach at this point is to capture the gains already achieved for SCHIP (including positive changes in the percent of federal funds that may be used for Washington children’s health insurance) by passing a bill that President Bush will unquestionably sign. Unfortunately, that common sense solution to the current impasse is made impossible by accommodating tobacco control’s unwarranted intrusion into this important legislation.

 

Yes, to date SCHIP has been publicly funded, which is to say it is funded by all the people through broad-based federal taxation. It is now clear, however, that Democrats have decided to change the public funding structure of SCHIP. The $35 billion (140 percent) expansion of the $25 billion SCHIP program is to be financed by discriminatory taxes on Democrats’ apparent “Target Group” of choice, persons who lawfully consume legal tobacco products. With that change, SCHIP will no longer be publicly funded; under H.R. 976 and variations thereof SCHIP will become a “Target Group” funded program. That change in financing structure for this very important legislation puts continuation of the SCHIP program’s services for children’s health at long-term risk. Who will finance SCHIP when tobacco control achieves its comprehensive long term nicotine policy to replace highly-taxed cigarettes with ZERO-TAXED pharmaceutical Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) delivery devices? Do nonsmokers in fact confront an undisclosed stealth tax increase on them to accommodate tobacco control and fund continuation of SCHIP in the longer term?

 

Significant beneficiaries of the funding scheme currently proposed by some members of Congress for the expansion of SCHIP through higher cigarette taxes are NicoDerm CQ manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (through its ALZA Corp. subsidiary) and the product’s distributor, GlaxoSmithKline. As tobacco control advocates artificially inflate the cost of cigarettes through higher taxes Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) manufacturers and distributors raise the price of their products charged to consumers by similar amounts. For example, Washington cigarette taxes increased by $12.00 per carton 2001 to 2005 and, on a per unit basis, the cost of a box of Nicorette gum (now also part of Johnson & Johnson with its 2006 acquisition of Pfizer consumer Healthcare) increased by $12.06 during the same period. It should therefore be no surprise to taxpayers that the source of at least $84 million in grants to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which aggressively promotes nationwide higher cigarette taxes, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks among the largest institutional shareholders of Johnson & Johnson.  As of June 30 Yahoo finance reported that the foundation owned more than 51 million shares of JNJ with a market value in excess of $3 billion. We therefore trace the direct economic benefit money trail on this issue to a subject that is of great and abiding concern to voters and taxpayers: the undue influence of corporate special-interest agendas in financing health care for we the people.

 

Since NRT products are charged no federal excise tax, artificial inflation of cigarette costs through the Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids’ cigarette tax advocacy, when coupled with parity pricing of NRT products, becomes a taxpayer-financed cash subsidy of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for those products. What is a federal excise tax that tobacco manufacturers must pay to government becomes pure-profit revenue increases for ALZA Corp., Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline. Will nonsmokers be forced to pay artificially inflated taxes that provide pharmaceutical subsidies in the near future, when tobacco control achieves its comprehensive nicotine policy to replace highly-taxed cigarettes with ZERO-TAXED pharmaceutical Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) delivery devices?

 

My son is currently doing well as a junior at the college of his choice, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I raised my son as a single dad from age 5. Through his years at home we often could not afford health insurance, nor can I today. My income for the majority of the past 15 years would have readily qualified my son for SCHIP at less than 200 percent of poverty level. We did not ask that automobile or cheese burger consumers finance our health care, we attended to matters as they presented themselves. Through it all we held it together, committed ourselves to the idea that my son would enjoy better opportunities than his father had, and worked diligently toward those goals for many years. We did it together and cast out on our own, due in large part to the impact of special-interest tobacco control advocacy. It is now a continuing source of encouragement and comfort to me to observe my son and so many of his fine peers confidently stepping forward to secure their place in life, too, through diligence in studies and personal self-reliance. It is an abiding commitment of this dad that my son and his generation will not be confronted with discriminatory public policy that can diminish their career or health care prospects based on special-interest political agendas unrelated to the diligence or merit of their work. I am certain that millions of other parents throughout our great nation share similar commitments.

 

Perhaps it would have been nice for my son and I to have those who could afford to purchase a SUV, a Lexus or a Mercedes chip in their “fair share” to support our well-being, through a federal excise tax about equal to the manufacturer’s cost of such cars, as you and other Democrats seek to now impose on cigarette consumers. After all, don’t SUV owners impose major pollution costs on the rest of society? Shouldn’t those who can afford a new Mercedes pay more taxes than those who are only able to finance a used Chevy? There are Global Warming advocacy groups today who I am certain would be pleased to present to Congress myriad “facts” as to why that would be “sound” public policy. In addition, anti-obesity advocates such as Kelly Brownell at Yale University have promoted new taxes on cheese burgers and other food items for the past several years.

 

However, as with the current approach to SCHIP under the advocacy of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, such approaches to public policy are at once fatally-flawed and morally repugnant. They are fatally-flawed because if the tax works to eliminate the “undesirable” consumer behavior the revenue to support the programs they finance predictably disappears. Such approaches to financing public programs are morally repugnant because they necessarily embrace orchestrated intolerance of a state-defined “Target Group” that is often based on the lowest of special-interest Junk Science to “justify” the taxes levied. In the case of the current SCHIP financing proposal, consumer insult is added to discriminatory tax injury as we observe billions in taxpayer-financed subsidies flowing to Johnson & Johnson plus GlaxoSmithKline. Consumer insult becomes an enduring commitment to change when we observe major shareholders of those corporations, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, enjoy capital appreciation on and dividend revenue streams from their multi-billion-dollar stock holdings in corporate beneficiaries of special-interest tax advocacy.

 

Voters who are asked to approve “Target Group” taxes are presented with a choice of assuaging their personal intolerance of target citizens by approving a new tax on a stigmatized minority or, in the undesirable alternative, going without public services they feel they are entitled to. That choice as defined by politicians and special-interest advocates is, in and of itself, reprehensible. Why should any citizen be forced to contend with such a choice? It is a remarkable and positive testament to the good will and common sense of American voters that in now three states (California, Missouri and Oregon) voters have rejected that choice by increasing margins within the past year. Meanwhile, in states where such taxes have been levied corporate executives, such as those with Johnson & Johnson, laugh at taxpayers all the way to the bank with their subsidies extracted from target consumers. The fact that such subsidies are extracted through legislative actions by compliant and willing recipients of their campaign donations does not go unnoticed.

 

Contrary to what some members of Congress apparently believe, US voters do not travel to voting booths in turnip trucks. We the people do get it. Continuation of the otherwise meritorious SCHIP program, even with modest expansions, has been put directly at risk by politicians who insist that the pharmaceutical special-interest tobacco control agenda to increase discriminatory tobacco taxes and thereby provide pharmaceutical subsidies be accommodated. It defies reason that our elected representatives would do so, given the rapidly-declining public support for tobacco control’s tax, ban and mandate agenda, as plainly illustrated in my recent column Bush Gets It Right VIII: The People Get It About SCHIP. The simple fact that as of today we are now on a second life support extension of SCHIP due to tobacco control’s unwarranted intrusion in this important issue should be alarming to you and a clear message that the current approach to reauthorizing SCHIP is on the wrong track.

 

The above-mentioned problem of the current impasse about SCHIP can and should be easily resolved: simply remove the unwarranted intrusion of tobacco control and its discriminatory taxation agenda, then produce a bill with a modest SCHIP expansion that is truly funded by all of the public through broad-based federal taxes. We the people understand how readily President Bush would agree with that position and sign the bill into law. With due respects, Senator Murray, representatives of we the people who persist with support of the massive expansion for SCHIP on the backs of a consumer “Target Group” boldly proclaim their personal support for divisive and discriminatory Social Marketing agendas over common sense legislation that captures the gains already achieved.

 

Elected representatives do not, and are not, “Saving the Children” by accommodating tobacco control’s divisive and hurtful agenda to “De-Normalize” lawful consumption of legal tobacco products. My personal view is that elected representatives who continue to include tobacco control’s intolerance-based agenda in SCHIP legislation raise serious questions about their fitness for continuation in public office: first, they conspicuously support deliberate disenfranchisement of about 46.5 million American consumers of legal products; second, they put the current substantive and tangible gains achieved in SCHIP directly at risk to accommodate pharmaceutical Nicotine Replacement Therapy subsidy special-interests; and third, they do so in blithe and cavalier disregard for the overwhelming public rejection of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ mercantile tax scheme, as evidenced by voter response in now three states (California, Missouri and recently Oregon) as well as numerous recent surveys. When elected representatives embrace intolerance, put important children’s health programs at risk to accommodate that hurtful choice and special-interest subsidies, and do so in defiance of strongly expressed public opinion to the contrary, it is once again time for a change.

 

Please tell the Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids, Johnson & Johnson, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to butt out of SCHIP and immediately cease with their holding children’s health insurance hostage in pursuit of more pharmaceutical subsidies financed by their “Target Group” of choice.  Once you have removed special-interest tobacco control from the SCHIP equation you will be amazed at how readily Congress can enact responsible health insurance measures to “Save the Children.”

 

Whatever your choice, you will make a strong public statement about your personal values and beliefs as a representative of Washington constituents through your vote about SCHIP.

 

We the people will take it from there in November 2008.

 

Respectfully,

 

Norman E. Kjono

Redmond, Washington

(425) 497-8187

 

-----Original Message-----
From: Senator@murray.senate.gov [mailto:Senator@murray.senate.gov]
Sent: Friday, November 16, 2007 7:49 AM
To: normkarl@earthlink.net
Subject: Response from Senator Murray

 

Dear Mr. Kjono:

 

Thank you very much for contacting me regarding the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It is good to hear from you.

 

I believe that all American children should be able to access care when they are sick. CHIP is the largest publicly funded effort to provide health insurance to children since Medicaid was enacted in 1965. The highly successful program provides funding to programs in every state that together enroll 6.6 million American children.

 

This Congress, I was proud to help pass the CHIP bill (H.R. 976) in the Senate with a bi-partisan vote of 67 - 29. This legislation would strengthen CHIP by increasing funding by $35 billion over five years, expanding health insurance to an additional 3.8 million low-income children and children of middle class families that cannot afford care. This bill reaffirms that all children deserve a healthy start in life, and that no family should have to worry about whether they can afford to take their child to the doctor when they are sick.

 

Unfortunately, President Bush vetoed this bill, ignoring the majority of the American people and the majority of Congress. By vetoing CHIP, President Bush denied nearly four million American children the health care that was within their grasp. After months of negotiation to produce a widely-supported, bipartisan bill that would provide millions of children with the care they need, I am very disappointed with the President's decision. As healthcare, housing, and insurance costs rise for American families, it is more important then ever that we extend and expand this program that promises children a healthy start. Please know that I will continue to fight to pass this critical legislation.

 

Washington State has a proud tradition of leading the country in healthcare coverage, and I will continue to fight to expand coverage for America's children and encourage my colleagues to address this critical issue in the 110th Congress.

 

Again, thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Please keep in touch.

 

I hope all is well in Redmond.




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