Great Scott!

mooneyham.jpgThe Insider’s Scott Mooneyham takes advocates for children to task today in a column just released to newspapers around the state for publication.  He makes two main points.  First, that since the Senate funded current health insurance programs for children then not funding a sliding-scale premium kid’s health insurance expansion may not be that bad.  Second, since children’s advocates – and many other public interest advocates – make so much noise about their issues perhaps they all ought to be quiet so “we” can figure out who is right.  Here’s an edited excerpt since the full column hasn’t been published anywhere yet:

 This year, the House and Senate have each agreed to that the state should put another $7.5 million toward NC Health Choice to meet a projected 6-percent enrollment increase.  Nonetheless, there's still plenty of teeth gnashing going on by the same folks who would be melting down by now down had legislators decided not to provide that money to enroll more children in the NC Health Choice program. 

 Their present-day consternation stems from the fact that the Senate's budget plan puts only a token amount of money toward a proposal by Gov. Mike Easley to create another level of health insurance for children. …. Listening to some advocates, you'd think Senate leaders had tossed little kids in front of school buses….But legislators have to make tough decisions. Where government benefits start and stop among the populace is a big part of that decision-making process….

 Dozens, or even hundreds, of advocates and lobbyists in Raleigh could have been cited. They all see it as their responsibility — no matter what benefits their clients or causes already receive in the state budget — to yell and yell loudly….If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the squeakiness around the Legislative Building creates an earsplitting cacophony this time of year. The deafening noise makes it difficult to sort through who has a legitimate beef.

 I couldn’t disagree more with Scott on his first point.  Democrats, who control the Governorship, House and (although sometimes it’s hard to see it) Senate, make health insurance accessibility and affordability a top priority both statewide and nationally.  It should simply be expected that they would not cut health insurance for children in NC and I don’t think they deserve any credit whatsoever for not doing so.  It would be like giving Gandhi credit for not advocating for war.

Scott’s second point is actually one I teach in my policy and politics class at UNC.  It’s certainly true that for the public at large sometimes the competing claims of advocacy groups can join to confuse the public more than help the debate.  Even so, I think Scott misses a larger truth that I also teach my students.  Public interest advocates don’t play the money game that is increasingly so important in Raleigh these days.  They don’t help raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to run for even the most mildly contested legislative seat.  They don’t make the calls for mega contributions and bring home the critical cash in the closing days of a legislative race. 

 If you aren’t in the money game you don’t have the same access and influence that you do if you pay to play.  It’s just that simple.  So, one of the main ways public interest groups try to compensate is to raise their voices and try and make a splash in the public arena where they do still have access.  Pundits and legislators might not find that comfortable sometimes but until the money system gets reformed I expect we’ll continue to see an increase in the use of the “deafening noise” of the public campaign.  It’s often the only way public interest groups can get the action they need in the General Assembly.

3 Comments

  1. Middle Road

    June 6, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Would agree that an “earsplitting cacophony” is part and parcel of democracy, a messy process that is still the best path. If Scott finds that sound irritating, he’s clearly working the wrong beat.

    However, I think you’re a bit uncharitable in arguing that legislators don’t “deserve any credit whatsoever” for increasing funding for NC Health Choice. You may want them to do more, but if you’re right about “money politics” driving everything (an issue I’d like to debate some time), then legislators must be showing at least some courage to shift resources to a group that clearly isn’t ponying up big political contributions.

    Being snarky doesn’t win you any friends on Jones Street or advance the progressive agenda.

  2. CT

    June 7, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Adam, here’s a question…

    Given the current resources of the state government, is it better to increase funding for NC Health Choice, which covers kids up to 200% of FPL or create a new program (NC Kids Care) to expand coverage to people in the 200-300% FPL range?

    Shouldn’t the money proposed to go to Kids Care be used to fully fund Health Choice?

  3. Adam Searing

    June 8, 2007 at 10:28 am

    False premise – if we can’t find $7 million a year in a $20 billion budget to guarantee that every parent in North Carolina can afford to buy health insurance for their children, then we really have our priorities screwed up. Both House and Senate budgets have millions in funding going to different priorities and I think this is one that should be at the top of the list.

    Finally – if our “current resources” can’t meet the needs of our state then the answer is not to play one critical need off against another but to find the money we need to do the job right. $2 cigarette tax anyone?