Commentary: Congress turns a deaf ear to the poor

The Rock Hill HeraldDecember 12, 2010 

Last year, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, caused a stir when he said on the House floor that the Republican alternative to the Democrats' health care plan had two elements: 1. Don't get sick; and 2. If you get sick, die quickly.

Some S.C. Republicans apparently don't care how long it takes people without health insurance to die; they just don't want to hear about it.

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, authored a remarkable commentary article that appeared recently in The State newspaper. In his diatribe against federal Medicaid requirements, McConnell wrote: "If the federal money is not enough to cover the expense of any program, it is not enough, and therefore, the program must stop.

"Agencies simply cannot pretend that the money is never ending and continue to spend, incurring a deficit to pay the next year. The obligation of executive branch agencies, as I see it, under the constitution, is first and foremost to the taxpayers of this state and not to bureaucrats in Washington. The 30 pieces of silver that our state received in the form of federal stimulus dollars should not be enough for us to disregard either our constitution or our oaths of office."

Biblical scholars out there, correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the "30 pieces of silver" the price Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus Christ?

Ironically, Jesus drew the Pharisees' wrath, in part, because he went about the countryside curing lepers, giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. I'm not saying if he were serving in the S.C. General Assembly, Jesus would vote to pay the state share for Medicaid, but McConnell's choice of analogies ought to offend everyone whose religion exhorts its followers to care for the sick.

S.C. Gov.-elect Nikki Haley appears to be the GOP's poster freshman. She was the first newly elected governor paraded out by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill last week.

Haley, whose parents emigrated from India, refuted the suggestion that the Republicans were trying to signal their commitment to diversity. Rather, she said, it was because she campaigned on a promise to oppose the Obama administration's health care plan. "I think the reason they're promoting me is because I was very vocal in my state on how I was going to fight back on mandatory health care," Haley said. "I am very vocal that I don't want the federal government intruding in my state."

Before announcing her candidacy, Haley was considered a close ally of Gov. Mark Sanford. The governor-elect has promised she won't seek to antagonize the Legislature as did her mentor. Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that prior to the revelation of his dalliance down Argentina way, Sanford tried, unsuccessfully, to reject $700 million in federal stimulus funds for the Palmetto State -- an effort both fruitless and pointless. Had he succeeded in turning down nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars, South Carolinians nevertheless were obliged to pay their share of the resulting federal debt.

This is the same stimulus money that McConnell refers to as "30 pieces of silver."

Another brave defender of the Palmetto State against Washington is state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney. He wrote recently: "People are sick of politicians putting faith in government. The way South Carolina moves forward is by empowering individuals to find their own way and allowing businesses to grow in a free market, not coming up with 'fixes' from government."

Isn't it interesting that the noses of those who preach about the dangers of government are also deep in the public trough? McConnell bridles at spending money on the health care of poor people but doesn't hesitate to grab public money to restore a rusty Confederate submarine.

All this anti-government rhetoric tends to ring hollow against fiscal reality. Politicians love to rail against the federal government but neglect to point out that South Carolina consistently receives more in federal money than it sends to Washington -- $1.38 for every $1 in federal taxes, according to the Tax Foundation's recent estimate.

Republican leaders have said they intend to sabotage Obama's health care by blocking funds for programs they don't like. In other words, the 50 million Americans who lack health care insurance shouldn't look to Washington for help.

Those unfortunate enough to live in South Carolina shouldn't look to Columbia either.

The ranks of South Carolina's unemployed, already above the national average, almost certainly will grow in the months ahead as tens of thousands of Americans either see their unemployment benefits expire or lose their jobs as federal stimulus money runs out.

Our elected officials are lying when they say there's no alternative to cutting critical programs. Every equation has two sides. The side they don't talk about is revenue.If the state doesn't have enough money to operate schools or care for people in need, legislators have it in their power to balance the equation. A good way to start would be to restore taxing authority to local school districts and undertake a major overhaul of South Carolina's antiquated, unfair tax system. If the Legislature eliminated tax loopholes, for example, it could eliminate much of an anticipated $800 million shortfall next year.

An alternative is to buy cotton balls for legislators to stuff in their ears. That way they won't have to hear the cries of the poor.

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