PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: Media Tests Candidates’ Claims
While neither Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) nor Vice President Al Gore "fundamentally distorted" the facts on health care during Tuesday's presidential debate, both candidates offered some misleading claims, the Baltimore Sun reports. Gore criticized Bush's record as governor of Texas, citing the state's lagging numbers in insuring children, "which is widely accepted as true." While Bush did not "challenge" Gore on the charge, he said that Texas "was moving quickly" to improve health care (Weisman, Baltimore Sun, 10/12). Bush said that the state provides more than $4.7 billion to the uninsured for health care. According to a report by the state comptroller's office, however, while uninsured Texas residents received $4.7 billion for health care in 1998, "only part of the [funding] was state money," with the remainder coming from the private sector and local governments (Jackson/Lee, Dallas Morning News, 10/13). On the question of children's health insurance, however, the Sun confirms that "as Bush said, the state's slow implementation of [CHIP] has a lot to do with the fact that the Legislature meets every other year" (Baltimore Sun, 10/12). But Bush said "incorrectly," according to U.S. Census numbers, that the percentage of uninsured Texas residents had dropped while the percentage rose nationally; although the percentage of uninsured Texas residents dropped by a tenth of a percent from 1994 to 1999, the percentage of uninsured Americans overall also dropped from 16.3% in 1998 to 15.5% in 1999, the first decrease since 1987, according to recent census figures (Dallas Morning News, 10/13). Still, a Dallas Morning News editorial maintains that "Democrats must share responsibility for the state's failures, many of which existed before ... Bush entered politics" (Dallas Morning News, 10/12). Bush also offered a "distortion" when he "asserted" that the Clinton-Gore administration has "done nothing" to help the uninsured, the Sun reports. While President Clinton's "grand plan" for national health insurance "failed spectacularly" and the number of uninsured Americans has risen from 39 million to 42 million since 1992, the administration has developed "successful" programs to allow workers to retain their health insurance when changing jobs and to insure most low-income children (Baltimore Sun, 10/12).
One Point for Gore
Gore's "solid body shot" on Bush's health care record in Texas scored points with voters and remained "the only point in the ... exchange when Bush looked wounded and unable to counter effectively," an Austin American-Statesman editorial argues. While Texas has had a "poor record" of providing coverage to the uninsured "long before Bush took office," the editorial notes, "he is vulnerable on the issue and he looked it" (Austin American-Statesman, 10/12). The Sun also reports that Gore "was able to punch some holes" in Bush's record by attacking his record on health care for children (Germond/Witcover, Baltimore Sun 10/13). According to the Washington Post, when Gore launched his "rigorous criticism" of Bush's record, he "began to score points," and Bush could not "fully rebut the charges" (Balz, Washington Post, 10/12).
All Part of the Plan
Gore's criticism of Bush's record as governor of Texas goes beyond the debate: In ads and on the campaign trail, the vice president has painted Texas as "a state overrun by Third World conditions. Poverty. Pollution. Pestilence," according to a Dallas Morning News editorial (Dallas Morning News, 10/12). E.J. Dionne writes in a Washington Post column that Gore's attack on Bush's health care record "is no accident" but part of the vice president's "Texas offensive" (Dionne, Washington Post, 10/13). Gore campaign Chair William Daley said that Bush's "failed leadership" in Texas on providing health care for the uninsured will appear "squarely on the table" during the remaining month of the campaign. "His failed leadership is going to take center stage. As the vice president mentioned, (Bush) chose tax breaks for the oil companies over health care" (Hall, USA Today, 10/13). At a recent campaign stop in Milwaukee, Gore said, "[Bush's] record in Texas gives us an important window into where his priorities are," reiterating his charge that Texas ranks "first in industrial pollution but last in health care for children." The Gore campaign will also "hammer home" the theme in its ads, and running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) will travel to Texas today "to attack the Bush record on health care" (Wall Street Journal, 10/13).
NPR Goes to Texas Too
Also focusing on health care in Texas, NPR reporter John Hamilton this morning examined the problems facing the uninsured in Laredo -- a border town where many workers still cannot afford health insurance even though unemployment dropped dramatically after the North American Free Trade Agreement "unleashed a torrent of commerce." In a segment on Morning Edition, Hamilton interviewed the father of a chronically ill girl who was covered under Medicaid until her mother started working. After the girl no longer qualified for Medicaid, her parents could not afford to cover her through their employers. The family's plight is common in Laredo, Hamilton reported, because most new jobs in the community are low-paying and employers are "doing little to expand coverage." Meanwhile, many people entering the workforce no longer qualify for Medicaid. Hamilton reported that teachers, firefighters, and even hospital and clinic workers cannot afford to cover family members through their employer plans. The CEO of one community clinic lamented his inability to cover his employees' families, saying he knows firsthand the "risks" that people take when they are uninsured. Hospitals in the community bear the financial brunt of the problem, Hamilton said; one hospital spends $25 million a year on caring for uninsured patients in the emergency room. Hamilton reported that Texas has "long shied away from big government programs," although Henry Cuellar (D), Laredo's representative to the Texas legislature, said that even though the problem of the uninsured is not being covered by the media, it is still a top priority in communities such as his. Hamilton reported that only 20% of children eligible for CHIP in Texas are enrolled in the program, which has the potential to help many working families in the state. The father of the chronically ill girl recounts how he enrolled his daughter in CHIP after he learned about the program from a television advertisement, saying, "CHIP just came down from heaven" (Hamilton, NPR's Morning Edition, 10/13).