Amy Ridenour
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Do people on the dole have a reasonable expectation of privacy vis-à-vis their financial affairs?

No.

That question, though not always my answer, is coming up frequently as defenders of the Democratic Party's $35 billion SCHIP expansion proposal condemn bloggers and talk show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, who have examined the statement penned by aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and delivered as the official Democratic Party rebuttal to President Bush's weekly radio address by 12-year-old Graeme Frost, that the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is for "families like mine."

The questioners' question: If Graeme Frost's family isn't all that low-income, then maybe the SCHIP program doesn't need to be expanded by $35 billion to cover millions of extra families with even higher incomes than the Frosts apparently have.

Rather than address the core question, some say it is inappropriate even to consider the Frost family's circumstances, even if the people doing the considering are helping the Frosts raise their kids. This assumption reverses a thousand years of philanthropic practice.

Throughout history, charity has typically been given out voluntarily and to people whose circumstances were directly known to the donor. Donors usually knew, or could learn, if a recipient genuinely couldn't meet his own needs. As population growth and industrialization led to fewer people living in small towns, charity grew more impersonal. Then the growth of the welfare state made “charity” mandatory. And finally, hastened along by certain wrong-headed Supreme Court decisions, helped by activism by welfare advocacy lobbyists, an assumption developed that people who receive handouts are due privacy along with the help.

The obligation to be self-sufficient when possible had been reversed: Now the self-sufficient are obligated to assist those who are not, and it is considered bad form for the donor to question if the charity is misplaced.

There's more involved in the Frost case, of course, namely the fact that the family itself put its financial condition in the public square by agreeing to serve as the public face of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi's $35 billion public health expansion. Once you let your son go on a national broadcast to ask Americans to consider your financial situation, you ought not be surprised if a few of your fellow Americans do just that. Nor should you be surprised if some of them conclude that in some ways your life seems more prosperous their own, and they don't expect other people to pay for their health insurance, so why do you?

And maybe some of these people will note that Graeme Frost's argument -- that his family needed help -- was irrelevant to the issue at hand anyway, because the present SCHIP debate on Capitol Hill is between those who want to expand SCHIP by $5 billion dollars (President Bush) and those who want to expand it by $35 billion (mostly Democrats and Senators Grassley and Hatch). All other things equal, the Frost family gets taxpayer-financed health insurance either way.

What's regrettable about the SCHIP debate is not that the Frost family received national attention after seeking it out, but that so many important parts of the debate are being glossed over. Nothing in the Reid-cum-Frost radio presentation, for instance, mentioned that the Reid-Pelosi $35 billion SCHIP expansion plan is underfunded.

The big-spending expansion proponents urge Congress to adopt a 61 cents per pack cigarette tax increase to pay for expansion. But as Michelle C. Bucci and William W. Beach of the Heritage Foundation have pointed out, there aren't enough smokers to pay the SCHIP expansion tab. Bucci and Beach say new tobacco tax funds may be sufficient for no more than two years' worth of the expansion, and certainly not much more. What will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi do then? Start running public service announcements asking people to take up smoking, because the Frost family needs help?

Reid and Pelosi aren't telling the full truth about the price tag of their big baby, either. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, $35 billion is the price tag for extra spending for just five years. As the Journal put it, "come 2012 Congress will either have to pass new spending or kick kids off the rolls. The chances of the latter happening are approximately zero..."

Another inconvenient truth left out of the Reid-Frost presentation is the bitter little fact that whatever funding a tobacco tax increase provides will be highly regressive -- even as the SCHIP expansion makes that program less regressive. As David Hogberg in his paper "SCHIP Expansion: Socialized Medicine on the Installment Plan" for the National Center for Public Policy Research pointed out, if the expansion plan is adopted, "it is not inconceivable that a parent with one child with an income of $13,690 will be funding benefits for two children in a family of four with an income of $82,600."

12-year-old Graeme Frost probably doesn't know the SCHIP expansion he's fronting for would tax the poor to fund the middle class. What's Harry Reid's excuse?

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