Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Familiar, and Familial, Arguments for Common Decency

Liberal Alert: As a heads up, I feel I must inform you that this is a leftist political rant. Feel free to skip it if you think you'll angrily disagree.
Two weeks ago, our MN legislature overwhelmingly passed an extension of General Assistance Medical Care. For those of you outside the state, I'll explain. In MN, the GAMC program provides for our state's poorest citizens. They make less than $8,000 per year. They do not have children, and many do not have permanent housing. They don't qualify for Medicaid, and they would face a four month waiting list for any procedure under Minnesota Care. At any given time there is an average of 35,000 of them on the rolls. The program was set to expire March 1st. The legislature rallied to the aid of these people, many of whom survive on $203/month for their housing and food, and have mental illnesses that make it difficult to locate their bootstraps, much less pull themselves up by them. A sixteen month extension of the benefits was passed with some alterations, so we would have time to create a permanent fix without throwing these people to the wolves in the meantime.
The senate approved the measure 47-16. The house, in an amazing show of bipartisanship for the common good, blasted the measure through 125-9 (an aside: the nine who voted against it are listed here. I did some math at the U.S. Census website, and the approximate median income of the cities and townships in which they live [in the 2000 count] is about $60K. The median poverty level for individuals over the age of 18: 1.9 percent). They were both sturdily veto-proof majorities. We all felt good.
The day that it passed and was presented to our anti-governor Tim Pawlenty, he faxed a veto letter from Washington, where he was speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Okay, we all know he's a prick, but they were veto-proof majorities, remember? This should be a piece of cake! Last Thursday the senate voted to override the veto. The result: 45-21. Done. Then, yesterday the house voted. Remember the house vote numbers? 125-9. You'd think this would be easier than falling down a flight of stairs. The override vote tally: 86-47. Fail along straight party lines. So it would appear that all of these worthless empty suits on the other side of the aisle (38 of them in total) couldn't be bothered to stick to their guns as soon as our globe-trotting village idiot weighed in with his own political posturing (recall what happened when his veto of a gas tax was overridden last year in my previous post).
Here's my rant. I don't understand how anyone with half a heart can look at someone making less than $8000 in a year and say, "sorry, but you don't deserve to get better." I also don't understand how anyone with half a brain can look at that same person and say, "no, I won't help with preventative care - you should wait until you need ER care. Then you can bill me through higher premiums."
For a while now I have found the tired Anti-Tax argument of “when families have to tighten their belts, so does government,” really offensive. After all, when families are tightening their belts, whom do they rely on to pick up the slack? Why do we have GAMC or Medicaid or WIC or EBT or even Unemployment Insurance if not to take care of those that can’t take care of themselves for whatever reason? When my belt is tightened by circumstances out of my control (Full disclosure: I made $17K and change last year, so I’m not destitute, but still not quite A-OK), I expect government to step up and say, “Do not worry – we shall catch you and put you back on your feet.”
But that old argument I hate so much seems entrenched, so let’s explore it: If we’re running government as a family, we’re running society as a family – government, by definition, governs society. You don’t get to decide who is and isn’t part of the American Family. We all are here, and we all have needs. What do you do with a nephew who can’t quite make ends meet? If you have the means, you help him out. When your granddaughter gets sick and can’t pay the bills, you don’t let her languish in an E.R. until she can be seen by a doctor – you make the changes to your own lifestyle that you must to help her out and get her healthy. When your niece gives birth to a child with developmental problems who can’t attend regular public schools, you make whatever sacrifices you can to help that child attain the quality of life you would expect of a relative.
Fine. Let’s think about government in these terms (I’m looking at you, Taxpayers’ League). Times are tough. The family (the American populace) is in financial trouble. Not all of us cousins can keep getting by. As such, we expect the rich uncle (or grandparent) to carve a little apartment out of his or her six-bedroom suburban estate for us to have a roof over our heads. We expect the executive who drives on the same potholed roads we do to step up and make sure we don’t unduly suffer from a pre-existing medical condition that an actuarial formula has decided is too risky for the bottom line to insure. You would never want your progeny to take an hour-plus bus ride through a dangerous part of town to go to two jobs that barely pay the bills and don’t carry health insurance, so if you treat government as a household how do you forget these people?
I’ve always thought of government as both a security blanket and a benevolent safety net for those who hit misfortune and can’t catch themselves. Why else would we have a centralized, federal government if not to insure both military security of the country’s citizens, but also the livelihood of the nation’s people? As such, I personally don’t think government should be run like a household, but if you insist it be so, then I too am your cousin and I can’t be ignored. I too must be cared for.
(By the way, I will return to a de-politicized discourse with my next post, so those of you annoyed by my recent rants can come back and enjoy the historical nerdiness. I just needed to get this off my chest.)

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