Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obama literature appears fair on health care but not on NAFTA; I think he should get rid of it anyway.

I was a bit distressed today to see a story out about campaign literature sent by the Obama campaign in Ohio, which Hillary Clinton is calling 'shameful' and comparing to Karl Rove type-tactics, saying bluntly that the literature falsifies her positions on NAFTA and health care. The Obama campaign has responded that the literature is correct.

Now, I've been clear in my support for Obama, for whom I voted. And I still believe he is the best nominee for our party and would make the best President in the general. But that doesn't mean that I support a sudden shift towards negative campaigning, if that is what this is. Obama will win the nomination if he continues doing what he has been, and if he does then he will need a united party and needlessly antagonizing supporters of Hillary (many of whom are very passionate in their support) would be a serious mistake. At the same time if the literature is accurate and points out a matter of record then she should respond on the issue and not complain about the fact that he is sending it out.

On NAFTA, she takes issue with a line in the literature that says that she was a champion of NAFTA when it was signed but now wants to make adjustments in it. This I believe is an unfair attack. For one thing, when NAFTA was signed she was the first lady and her husband was signing it, and it would be very difficult to gauge what her true feelings were on the subject from public statements she made at the time. First ladies don't undermine their husbands in public, and I wouldn't expect that she would do so even if she didn't agree with it-- she might tell him behind closed doors but neither I nor anyone from the Obama campaign would know whether she did or not. So that line should not be included in the literature.

On healthcare, the charge is that her plan would force people to buy health insurance even if they could not afford it (as opposed to Obama's plan which still gives people the right to not buy health insurance.)

So I decided to test his charge by downloading her plan from her website here it is and I find that he may well be justified in his concern.

On page 4 she states that

• Individuals: will be responsible for getting and keeping insurance in a system where insurance is affordable and accessible. (which she reiterates on page 8).

Of course we knew that already, that she proposes mandates while Obama does not. Further down on page four she indicates that

• Government: will ensure that health insurance is always affordable and never a crushing burden on any family and will implement reforms to improve quality and lower cost.

I'd feel a lot more sanguine about this if it was defined somewhere what a 'crushing burden' is. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and therefore any additional cost at all would be such a burden.

She then goes on to explain how she will do this:

• Provide Tax Relief to Ensure Affordability: Working families will receive a refundable tax credit to help them afford high-quality health coverage.

Something similar is in John McCain's plan as a matter of fact, and he spells out the amount ($5000 per family.) She does not, but given that the cost right now of premiums for an average family exceed $12,000 it is clear that she would need to more than double McCain's proposal (which is disastrously low) to match the cost of premiums. Of course even if this were the case, there are some problems here. Tax refunds (including refundable tax credits) come once per year, and even if the tax credit were given the year before initially, there would be some people who would be unable to pay their premiums because it would be more than the tax credit for them (for example if they are cancer surivors or have a chronic illness or otherwise have much higher premiums.) Also, many people's tax refunds (and presumably refundable tax credits) are tied up in collections, bankruptcy proceedings, old IRS debt, child support and a whole host of other issues. If a family is barely making ends meet but one of the spouses owes child support to a previous spouse (or to the state for payments made to a previous spouse), or has a judgement against them from a creditor or bankruptcy court, then that is where any kind of tax refunds go, and suddenly the family (which may also have children) is stuck being mandated to pay for insurance without having any additional money with which to pay for it. You can rail against so-called 'deadbeat parents' or 'bankruptcy bums' if you want to, but it is a fact that there are millions of people, including current family members of people with a judgement against them who may have nothing to do with the reason for the tax garnishments, but who could be stuck in a situation where this plan would require them to spend money they don't have while the money that is supposed to help them pay for it would be directed by the government and the courts to go to someone else.

Further in the Clinton plan it says

Limit Premium Payments to a Percentage of Income: The refundable tax credit will be designed to prevent premiums from exceeding a percentage of family income, while maintaining consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans.

What percentage? Right now the $12,000 I referred to above is about a quarter of the average family income in the United States. Is 25% the figure that will be used? Will it apply to everyone (i.e. would someone earning $100,000 have to pay $25,000 in premiums so that a family earning $8,000 per year would only be charged $2,000?) There are no numbers here, which causes me to wonder. Obama's plan is similarly short on numbers (there are some) but since there is no mandate that is less of a concern (if you don't like his numbers then you still have the right to decline the option to purchase the insurance.) This is sometimes compared to mandatory auto insurance but the differences are that 1. some people don't have a car (which is a choice for some of them at least, though not all) and 2. the price of auto insurance, especially if you drive a car that is only designed to get you around with no frills is far, far less than what health insurance costs.

So having looked at this, I have to conclude that the Obama campaign's claim is right on target-- clearly there will be some people who would be mandated to buy health insurance by Clinton's plan but who won't be able afford it.

But I still think he should consider pulling the literature and keep on running the positive, uplifting campaign that has made many in the country, including myself consider him the better candidate. She hasn't found a way to beat Obama yet when he does.


froggyprager said...

I don't think she should be so outraged by some liturature that is negative and somewhat distorts the truth. We received two very negative flyers from Clinton on Obama. On the NAFTA think I don't think that one is that off either. While more positive information about your qualifications is better than slamming your competion is better but this kind of thing is standard political campaigning. This article on Clinton's support for NAFTA in the past seesm fairly clear:

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