The 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.