Rick Santorum’s “Bi-national Health Insurance”

In an earlier post I argued that Rick Santorum is a hypocrite for arguing in a Republican presidential debate that odd things must be going on in Texas schools if vaccinating kids against the virus that causes 70% of cervical cancers is a worthy cause. While a member of the U.S. Senate, Santorum co-sponsored the “National Hepatitis B Act” with Diane Feinstein, and even though you can’t contract Hepatitis B from playing on the schoolyard jungle gym, many states (including Santorum’s Pennsylvania) require kindergarteners to be vaccinated for it.

Today Kevin Williamson pointed out that Santorum pulled a similar stunt during yesterday’s presidential debate when he criticized Rick Perry for pursuing “bi-national health insurance,” claiming that’s something Barack Obama wouldn’t even attempt. What Perry tried to do was change Texas health insurance regulations to address a problem experienced by people who live on one side of the Texas-Mexico border and work on the other: they’re forced to buy separate health insurance policies for Texas and Mexico because it’s impossible for one company to write a policy that covers both. By removing this restriction Perry was trying to create a market that would lower health insurance costs. It would also encourage people covered by these policies to obtain cheaper treatment in Mexico, which is why Perry’s proposal ran into opposition from U.S. physician’s groups.

I don’t know if Rick Santorum is uninformed or if he’s purposefully mischaracterizing Perry’s policy proposals, but primary voters would be better served if he got his facts straight and tried telling the truth.

Texas and In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

After reading criticism of Texas Governor Rick Perry for signing a bill that provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants attending state schools, I decided to read the legislation and learn how it works. Several recent articles and op-ed pieces pointed to Texas House Bill 1403, which passed in 2001. I read that bill, but after investigating further I learned the legislation that’s in effect today is Texas Senate Bill 1528, which amended HB 1403. SB 1528 passed the Senate unanimously in 2005, and passed the House by a voice vote (it’s odd how often potentially controversial legislation passes the Texas House that way). Governor Perry subsequently signed it. SB 1528 permits an illegal immigrant to pay in-state tuition if:

  1. He/she graduated from high school or received an equivalent to a high school diploma (e.g. a GED).
  2. He/she lived continuously in Texas for at least three years preceding high school graduation.
  3. He/she signs an affidavit stating that he/she will apply to become a permanent resident as soon as he/she is eligible to apply.

Note that there’s no provision in the law stating that the illegal immigrant must be eligible to become a permanent resident under existing U.S. law – the moment when he/she becomes eligible may never arrive. Also, the law requires that schools collect affidavits, but as this flyer from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) points out, there’s no mechanism to verify that students actually apply for permanent resident status, assuming they become eligible to do so. If you’re an illegal immigrant who graduated from high school, if you’ve lived in the state for the three years prior to graduation, and you’re willing to sign a largely meaningless affidavit, you’ll receive in-state tuition. The THECB flyer states that during the period of summer 2008 through the fiscal year 2009, 14,292 people qualified for in-state tuition this way (0.9% of all students). The state paid schools $17.1M to educate these kids, plus it paid an additional $6.5M in financial aid (yes, these students are eligible for financial aid). The students paid $9.5M out-of-pocket for tuition and fees, which is much lower than the $27.2M sticker price thanks to private and public financial aid.

The articles and op-ed pieces I’ve read that defend this law often list these reasons for their support:

  1. It’s only fair.
  2. Texas is required to offer a kindergarten through twelfth grade education for illegal immigrants (via a Supreme Court ruling), and this should carry forward to in-state tuition for college.
  3. We shouldn’t punish the children for the sins of their parents.
  4. It’s better to educate these students so they can obtain good-paying jobs, rather than become wards of the welfare state.

Governor Perry frequently cites reason #4 for his support of the law. Meanwhile critics complain that:

  1. We’re rewarding/subsidizing illegal behavior and lack of respect for U.S. immigration laws.
  2. Since there’s no path to citizenship for most of these students, the notion that they’ll land a good-paying job and start living the American Dream is false – they won’t be eligible to legally work in the U.S.

Since the state does nothing to verify that illegal immigrants who apply for in-state tuition have a path to citizenship and the state doesn’t follow up on the affidavits signed by those who do have such a path, I’m with the critics – the law is an attempt to pander to the state’s Hispanic population at election time.

Go Home, Michele

After I wrote last night’s post, Michele Bachmann appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s show and claimed the Gardasil vaccine is dangerous and causes mental retardation – because a woman in last night’s debate audience told her so. Ace shot this full of holes. Personally I think this gambit makes Bachmann about as well qualified to be President as Jenny McCarthy is. The Texas Tribune conducted an extraordinary interview with Dr. Ronald DePinho, the president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and from his description of the vaccine and its benefits, Bachmann is doing a tremendous disservice to the country by criticizing it out of ignorance.

During the debate, Rich Santorum followed Bachmann’s lead by saying, “Unless Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum, then there is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government.” A quick check reveals that Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania requires a Hepatitis B vaccination for kindergarteners, so if Texas “has a very progressive way of communicating diseases,” then Pennsylvania kindergarteners must be mainlining heroin and sharing their needles. Since we suspect that’s not true, Santorum must be campaigning to remove Hepatitis B vaccination requirements, right? No, he co-sponsored the “National Hepatitis B Act” with Diane Feinstein back when he served in the U.S. Senate.

So Bachmann must have fought Hepatitis B vaccinations when she served in the Minnesota state legislature, right? According to Ben Howe at RedState, she didn’t. Color me surprised.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin piled on during an appearance on Van Susteren’s show, supporting Bachmann and decrying Perry’s alleged corporate cronyism. Bryan Preston turned up the fact that Palin’s administration accepted federal funding to provide free Gardasil to Alaskan girls and issued a press release full of breathless enthusiasm. True, it wasn’t a mandatory vaccination, but Preston’s finding was still enough to provoke a reaction from Michelle Malkin, reinforcing my claim that she’s jumped the shark. Rush thinks Bachmann has joined her.

Michele Bachmann managed to dominate an entire news cycle. So what news stories received less coverage than they would have thanks to Bachmann’s antics?

  • White House emails leaked to ABC News show that the Obama administration was deeply involved in securing $535M worth of loan guarantees for Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer. The FBI raided the homes of Solyndra’s executives after raiding their corporate headquarters. Those executives cancelled an appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at the last minute. I wonder why.
  • The U.S. Energy Department promised $1.2B in loan guarantees for another solar project. I’m sure this one will go much better than Solyndra. Not.
  • More solar companies are expected to go bankrupt as “stimulus” dollars run out.
  • Obama plans to campaign for his “Stimulus 2: Electric Boogaloo” package at a North Carolina company that is creating jobs – in Costa Rica.
  • So far no House Democrats have had the temerity to formally submit the “Stimulus 2” bill that Obama waved around the Rose Garden yesterday.
  • The House and Senate negotiated a transportation bill in secret, which the House passed on a voice vote.
  • The U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010 (the highest rate since 1983) and median family income declined 2.9% from 2009.

So, Ms. Bachmann, your vaccination conspiracy theory experiment diverted attention from several truly important stories. Thanks a lot. It’s time you headed back to Minnesota. Your presidential campaign is done.

Bachmann, Perry, and the Gardasil Vaccine

I watched some highlights of tonight’s Republican presidential candidate debate on CNN. Michele Bachmann tried to score points against Rick Perry over the Gardasil vaccine issue and Perry didn’t handle it effectively. I suspect many parents don’t understand what vaccines their kids receive and why. In rebuttal, Perry should have turned the tables on Bachmann:

Perry: I believe the Congresswoman has five children, correct?

Bachmann: Yes.

Perry: Is the Congresswoman aware of the vaccinations her children are required to receive in Minnesota?

Bachmann: Yes.

Perry: Is the Congresswoman aware that a Hepatitis B vaccine is required in Minnesota? I know it is because I looked it up.

Bachmann: Yes.

Perry: Is the Congresswoman aware that Hepatitis B is spread primarily via sex and intravenous drug use?

Bachmann: Mmmm, yes.

Perry: So is the Congresswoman saying that she opposes all vaccinations that are mandatory on public health grounds? Or does the Congresswoman believe that Hepatitis B is worth preventing via vaccination but cervical cancer is not? Does the Congresswoman not believe that cervical cancer is a public health issue?

Bachmann: (Changes the subject.)

Perry has admitted many times that he was wrong to require the Gardasil vaccine via executive order even though there was an opt-out provision for parents. There’s an interesting discussion to be had here over the trade-off between individual liberty and public health, but we’re not going to have that discussion if Bachmann continues demagoguing the issue.

Obama, the Senate, and Free Trade Agreements

A recent tweet from Mark Knoller, the White House correspondent for CBS radio, reminded me that President Obama and congressional Democrats have been criticizing the Senate for failing to approve free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. That criticism is disingenuous because Obama hasn’t submitted those agreements to the Senate for approval. As Senator Harry Reid told the press earlier this week, submitting the agreements for approval is contingent on both houses of Congress expanding “Trade Adjustment Assistance” (TAA) programs, which spend federal money to retrain workers who have lost their jobs to foreign competition. On one level Obama wants TAA programs expanded so he can pander to the unions that bankroll his and other Democrats’ election campaigns – he’ll be able to say he submitted the evil free trade deals to the Senate and signed them after approval, but only after the federal government agreed to spend more money to “take care of” displaced workers. On another level, Obama has a personal connection to federal job training programs – his first “success” as a Chicago community organizer was establishing a job training center with federal funding via the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). You wouldn’t know this if you sourced your news from the mainstream media – their failure to investigate Obama’s background in advance of the November 2008 election is well known. If you read Stanley Kurtz’s Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, you’ll learn a lot about this period of Obama’s life. Here are a few key excerpts:

The center Obama acquired for his neighborhood was funded in significant part by the federal Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). While national politicians of both parties have pushed JTPA and similar employment training programs for decades, there is a remarkable amount of agreement among policy experts on both the left and the right that JTPA never worked. Conservative and liberal experts alike dismiss JTPA as an expensive charade that makes politicians appear to be doing something to cure unemployment, when in fact the programs achieves next to nothing. In fact, the least successful parts of JTPA were the sections designed to find jobs for disadvantaged young people—exactly what Obama wanted to accomplish.

Even left-leaning policy wonks note that JTPA programs serve primarily as local patronage money, especially for urban Democratic politicians. When the major studies revealing JTPA’s failure were issued, legislators simply ignored the findings and renews the spending anyway. The advantages of divvying up the job-training money were simply too great to resist, whether the spending actually worked or not.

This politicized use of federal jobs-training money was supposed to have been eliminated by JTPA, which de-funded “public service employment” and restricted spending to “public/private partnerships” instead… Nor was politicization entirely eliminated, since sympathetic local officials could always cut community organizers into JTPA’s “public/private partnerships.” So with the right sort of political pull, community organizers could continue raiding federal job-training money to fund their own hyper-political activities.

It’s likely that in Obama’s view, expanded TAA programs not only boost his standing among the unions who will invest heavily in his re-election campaign, but they also benefit community organizers.

Not Helping

I appreciate Texas State Representative David Simpson’s commitment to his conservative ideals and the the fight he put up on behalf of his bill criminalizing the Transportation Security Agency’s groping fetish (see my reaction at the time here). That bill failed to pass in the last legislative session thanks to maneuvering by House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, but even before the bill met its end I hope Rep. Simpson had begun to question his course of action when he found himself allied with Alex Jones. I also largely agree with Rep. Simpson’s opposition to the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, if only because there’s significant potential for abuse of government-directed funds that invest in the private sector. I was not at all pleased to discover another instance of Rep. Simpson supplying ammunition to a liberal hit piece that uses the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to target Governor Rick Perry, this time at Bloomberg (Simpson previously contributed quotes to a Wall Street Journal op-ed hit piece). It’s one thing for Rep. Simpson to stand up for this beliefs and another thing to become a tool of the liberal media. In the former case Rep. Simpson is part of the solution (communicating a conservative viewpoint), but in the latter he becomes part of an ongoing problem (the liberal media’s continual character assassinations of conservative candidates for office). I wish Rep. Simpson would be more careful. This latest Bloomberg article is an especially egregious bit of lazy journalism:

  1. The author is happy to quote multiple liberal watchdog groups (in addition to Rep. Simpson) that are critical of the funds, but there are only a few brief quotes from Gov. Perry’s spokeswoman. Money paid out by the funds has to be approved by House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in addition to Gov. Perry, but there are no comments from them or their spokespersons. Labeling them all as “Republicans” is apparently enough to condemn all of them.

  2. The author points out deals where the recipients of state fund money failed to create the number of jobs they planned to, and leaves it at that. A Google search would have turned up cases like this one where a company that failed to hits its employment targets had to repay at least part of the money it received. An inconvenient fact, to be sure.

  3. The article implies that if you make a contribution to Gov. Perry’s campaign, you can pick up your briefcase full of fund cash. If the author bothered to read the contracts involved, like this one from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, it’s not so simple. There are a lot of strings attached to the money. I’d argue that on a scale from “money falling from the sky” to “borrowing from Vinnie the loan shark,” the terms of a Texas Emerging Technology Fund deal are much closer to loan shark end of the scale. If you’re a businessperson trying to start a new technology company, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund should not be at the top of your list of potential investors.

  4. The author may not have noticed, but the economy sucks, and it has since 2008. The Texas economy has performed better than other states, but it’s not immune to the larger economic climate. The article should have noted that it’s not surprising that there’s been an uptick in investment failures by the funds. Unfortunately there’s been an uptick in business failures, period.

By assisting lazy journalists to write articles like this one, Rep. Simpson is not helping his professed causes of transparency and laissez faire markets free of crony capitalism. Instead he’s damaging the conservative cause and, frankly, his credibility. I hope he thinks twice before repeating this mistake…again.

Update: A few hours after I posted this, Rep. Simpson did it again, this time for a