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Here's something I don't remember hearing about on the Barack Obama 'Yes We Can' campaign tour...
The Democrats in Congress have proposed a 61 cent increase to the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The measure has already passed the House Of Representatives by a vote of 289-139, with 40 Republicans joining the Dems in voting for it (in other words, most Republicans voted against it). The purpose of the cigarette tax increase is to expand the SCHIP program, which was originally created (by Republicans) to provide health care coverage for children whose families were poor, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. About 7 million children currently get health care coverage through the SCHIP program. The expansion sought by Obama and the Democrats would add another 4 million children to SCHIP. President-elect Obama is asking for quick passage of the expansion, which was proposed before and vetoed by George W. Bush in 2007.
Obama said he hoped the Senate acts with the "same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am president...In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens."
Anyone have any problems with this ? After all, it's only those nasty second-class smokers who'll have to pay for it (estimated cost of SCHIP expansion: $32.5 billion over 4 1/2 years).
No problems ? Let's dig a little deeper and ask, who are these 4 million children who will be covered by the SCHIP expansion ? Here's the answer:
Most of the children who gain coverage live in families with incomes of less than twice the federal poverty level _ $42,400 for a family of four, analysts said. However, some states have expanded their programs to cover families with more moderate incomes, as much as three times the federal poverty level _ or $63,600 for a family of four.
It turns out that many of these children already have health care coverage:
Republicans pointed to budget office estimates that the bill would shift 2.4 million children currently with private coverage to government-provided care. "The priority of SCHIP should always be to serve those children most in need of assistance, not subsidize those who already have access to private insurance," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Some Republicans also believe the 61 cent tax would not be enough, that further tax increases would be required. Other Republicans objected to the 300,000-600,000 children of legal immigrants being included in the coverage.
I think both Republicans and Democrats are missing a major point here, because they aren't taking into account just who these smokers are that will be paying the big excise tax. Numerous studies have shown that poor people smoke at much higher rates than affluent people, so the brunt of the cigarette tax increase will be borne by the poorer elements of our society. The Obamites are creating a situation where the poor would be paying the health care costs for the children of those who are better off than they are, those making between $42,400-$62,600 per year. Obama and company may see themselves as progressive folks, but that's a regressive tax if I've ever seen one.
Now, some of you anti-smoking Nazis, I mean, health conscious folks, may be saying to yourselves, "Hey, so what ? Maybe this will cause a lot of poor people to quit smoking, which would be good for them."
Yes, perhaps it will, but then - the SCHIP expansion WILL be underfunded, and further tax increases will be necessary. Smoking rates are already diminishing, so the Republicans are probably right about the tax being insufficient. And is it really the government's place to FORCE people to quit smoking by taxing them into submission ? 'NO' is the correct answer for a free society.
The upshot of all this is that Obama's very first tax increase is aimed largely at the poor, and will largely benefit the non-poor. How's that for 'Change We Can Believe In', suckers ?
And Obama has the audacity (of hope ?) to call this a "moral obligation." Wow. Words fail me.
There's your first step toward universal health care coverage. How do you like it so far ?
And fear not, much more is coming:
"This is only the beginning of the change we will achieve with our new president," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
That's just fab, Nancy. I can't wait. Maybe your next program can undo all the damage you'll be doing with this one.