Alibi V.14 No.6 • Feb 10-16, 2005 

Ortiz y Pino

Making Sense at the Legislature

Wilson abandons Bush's crusade

Here's a riddle for you: If you call someone who sees a crisis when there isn't one there, “Chicken Little,” and you call someone who yells about crises just to get attention, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” what do you call someone who makes up a phony crisis while ignoring a real one biting his butt?

According to Congresswoman Heather Wilson, we call such a misguided individual “President George W. Bush.” And she's absolutely correct. In remarks to a joint session of both houses of the state Legislature last week, Wilson offered her views on what ought to be drawing lawmakers' attention. And it wasn't social security, even though that's the White House's domestic crusade now that Wilson's chief executive, George W. Bush, has been given a second term.

It doesn't take much political acumen to recognize that if Bush's plan to privatize social security hasn't caught fire with Republicans in Congress like Heather Wilson, it isn't going to do much more than smudge away unpleasantly for a few months before being finally doused.

Recognizing this, Bush has begun another in his now patented “reframings” of reality. You know the pattern because it's getting a little time-worn.

First you say (for instance) “Our enemy has weapons of mass destruction!” When that proves untrue, you simply slide into “Our enemy has plans to produce weapons of mass destruction!” And when that is proven to be just the teensiest bit of a bald-faced lie, you segue seamlessly into “Our enemy would have liked to have had plans to produce weapons of mass destruction!”

That is supposed to justify actions taken based on the first lie. It's a massive example of outright propaganda, of course, but hey, it worked in Iraq, so who can blame Dubya for trying the same thing with social security. I mean our lazy press corps doesn't seem up to the task of pinning down his mendacity, so who's going to stop him?

Thus, “Social security faces an imminent crisis unless we act right away!” when demonstrated totally false, is morphed into “Social security faces a crisis in 13 years unless we act right away!” And when even that argument begins leaking like a sieve, you simply fall back to “Social security might someday have a financial crisis unless we act right away!”

Three completely different scenarios—each in turn are used to justify the most extreme form of intervention.

Wilson, to her credit (yes, I know, the Alibi isn't prone to giving her credit for much) attempted to refocus our attention away from the bogus “crisis” that Bush is prattling on about and instead raised some genuine concerns about another critical piece of the federal social safety net that is being riddled by Neocon moths: Medicaid.

And since Medicaid, unlike social security, is administered by states (with mostly federal money), it is a program that potentially could bring New Mexico and all 50 states, to the brink of ruin. Here again, Wilson broke ranks with her Lider Maximo. The word out of Washington is that Bush plans to block grant Medicaid, a step tantamount to mandating massive cuts in benefits or eligibility in health care for the poor.

Albuquerque's congresswoman distanced herself from this misstep. Instead, she urged a complete revisiting of the program, particularly focusing on how it has become the very expensive bail-out mechanism for the federally run Medicare program.

She's right—it is a genuine crisis that we face with Medicaid, one that is beyond the ability of any single state to solve. If a fraction of the energy Dubya is wasting on the hopeless effort to privatize social security were being expended on solving the very solvable Medicaid crisis, we could actually get somewhere.

Wilson also said something else that needed to be said, though I don't think she's going to gain any support from within her party for the suggestion. She said (quite correctly) that one of the biggest problems confronting Medicaid is that while the program was designed for the low income among us, it is increasingly being taken advantage of (completely legally, through a loophole a Mack truck would have no trouble navigating) by middle and even upper-middle class families as a way to finance long-term care for their elderly parents.

Not surprisingly, fully 40 percent of Medicaid expenditures this coming year will be for long-term care, something the Medicare program doesn't cover. So myriad strategies for turning resources over to children have been plotted by clever lawyers; steps that can convert even the best-heeled granny into someone eligible for care as an indigent. Legal, yes; kosher, no.

Listening to Wilson last week, it was clear that our health care system is rapidly approaching the point of complete implosion. Seventy-five percent of New Mexico's medical bills are paid for through the government sector, only 25 percent through insurance or patient pay. Yet that tail is wagging the dog, blocking meaningful reforms and exerting an influence far out of step with its contribution.

Her suggestion is a national commission to study the problem and make recommendations. Mine is to substitute a true single-payer system for our current inefficient hodge podge. George Bush, meanwhile, isn't even talking about it. Instead, he's busy trying to fuzzy up the social security picture. Wilson will be proven very smart for jumping ship.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. Ortiz y Pino is a state senator representing District 12 in Albuquerque.