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Republicans Defend Big Tobacco From Sick Children

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Posted on Jul 31, 2007

By Marie Cocco

WASHINGTON—In keeping with Oscar Wilde’s adage that one cannot be too careful in the choice of enemies, congressional Democrats have chosen wisely and well.

    Are there two industries in America toward which the public has more animosity than tobacco and managed-care health insurance? They make money either by making people sick (tobacco) or by limiting treatment for those who already are (managed care).

    The logic of raising tobacco taxes and curtailing well-documented overpayments to managed-care companies that cover some Medicare patients, then using the funds to provide insurance to children in poor and working-class families, is better than politically perfect. It boosts public health by reducing smoking. It spares taxpayers billions now wasted on propping up corporate insurers rather than treating Medicare patients.

    Which is, perhaps, one reason President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress are opposing with increasing stridency what started out as a bipartisan no-brainer: An expansion of coverage under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that was long envisioned to be part of the reauthorization of the program this summer.

    Bush began the ideological war against the children’s insurance program—which was crafted in part by Newt Gingrich and passed in the 1990s with broad bipartisan support—a few weeks ago. The president declared SCHIP to be a scary step toward “a federalization of healthcare” that would lead to “worse medicine.” In fact, states—not the federal government—run the children’s insurance program and typically contract for care with private managed-care insurers. These are the very same private insurers on whom Republicans lavished billions in taxpayer subsidies when they wrote the Medicare drug legislation and sundry other schemes to give the insurers more Medicare business generally.


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    But put aside, for a moment, this breathtaking inconsistency. Because that isn’t the whole story.

    Just as it is hard to find two industries that have put profits ahead of the public welfare more consistently than Big Tobacco and Big Insurance, it would be difficult to find more loyal Republican campaign contributors. Though tobacco companies now give far less to congressional candidates than they have in years past, the industry still donated about $3.5 million in 2006—with 73 percent of it going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks contributions to federal campaigns. Likewise, 60 percent of the $7.6 million in contributions from health services companies and health maintenance organizations went to Republicans in 2006. 

    With friends like these, why worry about a few million kids who don’t have insurance?

    What started out as the president’s ideological bomb-throwing has escalated with the usual Republican complaints about taxes and the alleged Democratic assault on “free-market Medicare plans.” House Republican leader John Boehner accused Democrats of “hiking taxes on working families,” though the only families affected would be those that include smokers.

    The House bill on children’s insurance would finance the increase in coverage in part with a 45-cents-a-pack hike in the current federal cigarette tax. In the Senate measure, the tobacco tax would be increased by 61 cents a pack. Confiscatory? No, healthy.

    In May, the Institute of Medicine said that “increasing taxes on cigarettes is one of the most effective ways to decrease smoking, particularly among adolescents.” The institute recommended that Congress increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes “by at least $1 a pack, and index the tax to inflation.” Hiking cigarette taxes not only would help cover kids without insurance. By reducing smoking, it would also make other kids—and adults, for that matter—healthier. And it would save taxpayers billions in future Medicaid and Medicare expenses to treat smoking-related diseases.

    As for reducing excessive payments to private Medicare managed-care plans—proposed by the House, but not the Senate—that, too, is better than shoveling billions into the coffers of the private insurance industry. Since the start of managed care in Medicare, proponents have argued that private plans would reduce costs. But the opposite has proved true. According to both government and private studies, Medicare managed care now costs taxpayers about 12 percent more per patient than it would to treat the very same patient through traditional, government-administered Medicare. Managed care in Medicare is no “free market,” as Boehner contends. It’s a free lunch.

    And it also happens to be just the sort of donor indulgence voters sought to stop when they put the Democrats in charge.   

    Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)   

    © 2007, Washington Post Writers Group

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By don ricardo, August 9, 2007 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Get over this nanny pansy anti-tobacco crusade and mind your own business. Alcohol destabilizes more families and kills and maims more people in this country than tobacco, but nobody seems to talk about that.

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By John Borowski, August 2, 2007 at 6:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One thing I find amusing is the price of cigarettes. When I last smoked back in 1970 a pack of cigarettes was twenty cents. You could get a carton of cigarettes for one dollar at the army PX and two dollars at a civilian place of business. When I decided to quit I simply crumpled up the empty pack and threw it in the wastebasket. The only annoyance was in a tense situation.(Bases loaded and no outs) I would reach into my empty shirt pocket. The other thing I notice was how warm my fingertips were. I would never go back to smoking since now I believe it is a curse, not a pleasure.

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By yezbok drahcir, August 1, 2007 at 10:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Smokers want a cigarette most, when they are stressed.  A period of extra stress is not the ideal time to consider quitting, but now millions of financially challenged smokers are constantly stressed by the high cost (excessive “drug lord” taxation) of cigarettes.

It is legal for tobacco companies to market cigarettes that are enhanced with illegal drugs, which the sorry smokers feel powerless to escape.  Now the government will further drive them into the grave with financial stress, while screwing with their psyches by placing ugly warning labels on cigarette packages.

Smokers need financial help to ease their minds, so that they can afford to go on a peaceful retreat, or even go see a movie, or purchase healthy foods, items, or materials to keep themselves busy in their own relaxing stress-free way, so that they can eventually escape from the shameful government-endorsed and richly taxed shackles of cigarette addiction.

Republicans are the big tobacco merchants.

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By DHFabian, August 1, 2007 at 7:48 am Link to this comment

Using excessive taxation as a fine against smokers is wrong, and will do nothing to reduce health care costs or the incidence of pulmonary diseases.
  Probably the worst thing about more cigarette tax hikes is that, like so many policies today, it disproportionately hits low to middle-income Americans, primarily to “lift the tax burdens” from the rich.  It isn’t “big tobacco” that profits from the cost of cigarettes. Over the past 25 years, the price of a pack of cigarettes has gone from about 50 cents to over $4.00, nearly all of it going into taxes, and those taxes go into general revenues, not
“smoking-related health care”. This makes it more appropriately called a “scapegoat tax”.  After gov. has collected billions of dollars of cig. taxes, the non-rich today have LESS chance of obtaining real medical care.
  We know that the most carcinogenic smoke is that which contains oil particles, such as produced by your car every time you turn the ignition. Under 19% of Americans smoke, and restrictions on smoking are so stringent that few people are exposed to even a whiff of cigarette smoke. By contrast, nearly everyone has daily exposure to motor vehicle pollution. The incidence of pulmonary disease and childhood asthma have been skyrocketing. Putting those facts together, it is clear that we are targeting the wrong cause of the problems,and putting the burdens on the wrong group. Cigarettes are but one of America’s costly health habits (the medical costs resulting from epidemic obesity are far greater than those caused by smoking).
  Targeting the few is common in the US, but is bad policy. It takes attention from the greater problems by focusing on a small, powerless group. Scapegoating smokers removes public attention from auto manufacturers and businesses that don’t wish to be burdened with the costs of pollution controls.  A government dependent on oil dollars won’t look for alternatives to gas-burning motor vehicles. And as long as the public maintains it’s scapegoating/
better-them-than-us approach, we will accomplish nothing toward reducing breathing-related disease or clearing the air.

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By Anatole France, July 31, 2007 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I watched Sen. Jim Bunning’s testimony before Congress today as he championed his State’s tobacco industry and thought “This is genuinely obscene!” 

Obscenity may be hard to define, but I know it when I see it!

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By WykydRed, July 31, 2007 at 7:01 pm Link to this comment

I am so sick and tired of smokers and tobacco being held as the ill for all. lies it’s ass off, we’re looked down upon, refused jobs because we’re tested for “tobacco use”, fired from jobs, have OUR children taken away from us by courts and then told we are not allowed to smoke in our homes and no one says shit about “The New Niggers” as several people have put it. And now, smokers are to be reviled and taxed even more highly than they are to (use snotty, nasally whine here) “save the children”. Thanks to everyone falsifying data and otherwise, the smoking rate has gone from 130 million to 156 million because it’s just sooooooooo taboo kids HAVE to have it.

Listen, you want to give kids health care? Do it. Some other way. Because no one is going to quit smoking because they’re forced to. It ain’t the bad guy in this world and it won’t cure any ills by raising rates. We are all at the point where we’re saying screw “the children”. Let ‘em die. Immortality is NOT an option people and you’re creating a class of abused who are abusing back.

Enjoy your non-smoking restaurants. We’re the ones putting feces and other interesting, non-food related substances in your food for your snotty attitudes.  We’re the ones not saying a word when a returned soldier punches you in the face and puts you in a coma for not allowing them to smoke in a country that’s supposed to support them. They can and do smoke freely in Iraq.

Find money elsewhere to fund these sick children or just let them die and clear out the population, because the adults are utterly convinced that it is their right to live indefinitely. It isn’t. Start forcing the rich to pay their full share of taxes, start forcing businesses to pay their full share without the loopholes, take away the millions of dollars retired politicians receive every single year for the rest of their lives even after they’ve only served 2 years, and for crying out loud, take away the money politicians serving JAIL TIME still get despite being criminals.

Asthma and cancer are just Nature’s way of saying you’re genetically defective and need to die and get out of the way.

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By Douglas Chalmers, July 31, 2007 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment

That’s right, just keep on “staying the course” in Iraq .....and drop a few bombs on Iran. You’ll be sure to make friends in all the wrong places need to worry about choosing your enemies!

What’s more, you’ll never be able to afford the costs of rebuilding after hurricane Katrina never mind the next one ....nor the infrastructure upgrades and replacements long overdue around the country.

Surviving climate change and looking after the needs of citizens is what government is all about? Oops, no… salute the flag and keep on with the illusory “war on terror”!

That was whay tobacco and alcohol were originally all about - they were the drugs of choice for centuries when the road to glory was worshipped instead of looking after the folks at home. Bullshit!

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By farmertx, July 31, 2007 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

The mention of campaign contributions seemed to imply that those contributions were connected with the Republican’s stance on the issues.
Hmmm, maybe that means its time to demand that campaign contributions be limited to those people who are eligible to vote for that candidate and then only up to $2000.
A meaningful penalty, say 10 years playing drop the soap with Bubba and Leroy plus forfeiture of the money, would be needed as well.
Maybe then, the Congress Critter’s would see their way to represent the constituent’s rather than special interest’s.

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By KISS, July 31, 2007 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

Repugs are on a collision course with the public that may well end the party.
As for managed health care, Dr’s are turning down Medicare patients with alarming frequency. If HMO’s are monitored more closely they will help seniors, but in this climate who will do the monitoring..FDA is a miserable paradigm of a government agency in free-fall.
I love Michael Moore’s proposal for the politicos:
“Give up YOUR free Medicare, until everyone has free Medicare”. So far only one or two takers. When I querried Senator John McCain about his universal free medical care for his skin cancer and asked if he supported that for everyone…not an answer.

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By Skruff, July 31, 2007 at 5:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The logic of raising tobacco taxes and curtailing well-documented overpayments to managed-care companies that cover some Medicare patients, then using the funds to provide insurance to children in poor and working-class families, is better than politically perfect. It boosts public health by reducing smoking.”

I have a strategy for the Republicans to win the White House in 2008. 

1; Go back to being the party of “smaller government” Stop spending billions on folks who hate us. 

2: Dump the Xtian thing, and concentrate on advancing business issues, particularly in the area of small business which provides more than 3/4ths of all employment in the USA.

3; Get the government out of the business of sticking their noses into the private concerns of citizens, for an instance stop using the tax laws to regulate personal behavior.

4: Repudiate crooks even those within the Republican party, and run a Ferillo LaGuardia campaign.

5: Use the McKinley Campaigh map and dump the “southern Strategy.

There’s more, but the point is people are tired of being treated like inmates in some giant institution.  We need a party that knows what “FREE” means!

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By John Borowski, July 31, 2007 at 5:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is only one of the evils Bush and his right wing Republicans foist on the American people. The credit rating industry rates two types of people as deadbeats. The first breed is the type that will always pay his monthly credit card bill in full all of the time. The second type of deadbeat is the one who simply does not borrow money for anything and as a result never pays any interest of any kind. The reason the credit rating industry rates these pariah types is that the credit industry makes little or no money on these two. Their first love is the type that has a very bad credit history. You would think that this is an oxymoron, but it isn’t. They can legally charge these poor souls twice the amount of interest they can charge good payers. The credit card industry knows that some of these poor payers will add credence to their poor credit history. The amount of poor payers that do pay can make them a fabulous profit even if it means the poor payers will have to water down their baby’s milk bottle. I was shocked to discover I was in the camp of the latter deadbeat type rated above. In NJ, I have never been delinquent in paying my bills for anything since the early 1960s.I purchase a car at that time for credit and soon after, I was laid-off from work. This taught me a lesson that I resolved to fix. If you can’t fight them, join them. I put my money into investments that would flood my pockets with interest, not theirs. When I moved to PA from NJ, I was in for a surprise. When I requested telephone service from Verizon, it was immediately installed because I had Verizon in NJ. When I requested Internet from AT&T, it too was installed without question because I had AT&T in NJ. When I requested electric service from PPL in PA, it was denied unless I bring all kinds of proof to them, which included my birth certificate. I also supplied them with canceled checks payable to Jersey Central Utilities for one year each month on time. Despite all of the proof that I was John Borowski and paid my bills promptly, they wanted more proof, and requested I produce a fax from Jersey Central to confirm my statements. At this stage, my patience with them was satiated and I paid them a couple of hundred dollars security to have the electric installed. After a year, my security was refunded by debiting my monthly bills because I paid them on time, every time for the previous year. The only annoyance was frozen money for a year. If I should move to another state, I expect the same problems to ensue. The moral of the story is you are pariah if you pay your bills on time or don’t use their credit. They also try to entrap credit card holders by enticing them to borrow money that they know the person will have difficulty paying back and as a result will incur penalties.

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By THOMAS BILLIS, July 31, 2007 at 4:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms Cocco now that the power structure in Congress has changed the money that was going to republicans will now go to democrats.The no1 democrat receiving funds from medical insurance companies is Hillary Clinton what does that tell you?If you people out there think the democrats are going to do a better job without constant pressure from us please send me what you are smoking.

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