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Memo to: Texas Republican office holders

RE: Confidential Talking points on CHIP cuts

Our Republican leadership in the Lege has been criticized by the liberal press and interest groups for the 2003 budget savings that, since August of last year, have streamlined the Children’s Health Insurance Program by cutting 147,000 kids. There’s some concern among our leadership team that depriving so-called poor kids of health care makes us look heartless. And while these kids and their parents don’t vote, people who read newspapers do. So we’ve put together these talking points to explain how to celebrate the liberation of hundreds of thousands of kids from government…health care.

Never talk about CHIP by itself. Always discuss CHIP and Texas Medicaid together. We know CHIP and Medicaid are different programs designed for different populations. But that’s beside the point. Use the Texas Medicaid numbers because the program has added roughly 300,000 children to its rolls in recent years, enough to offset the cuts to CHIP. By simply adding the programs together, we provide a picture of a net gain in kids covered. Presto! Problem solved.

Sure, according to the state’s own data, the expansion in Medicaid is mostly due to the state’s population growth. Providing these new Texas children with benefits is just complying with federal law under the feds’ minimum Medicaid standards. Fortunately, most people don’t know that. So remember: The growth in children’s Medicaid is a compassionate victory by our legislative leaders. Texas is actually insuring more kids!

State Rep. and House Republican Caucus Chair Ruben Hope (R-Conroe) showed the way with his September 7 op-ed for the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Those using CHIP to bash state leaders are, intentionally or not, missing a very big part of the Texas children’s health care success story. The truth is more children are getting health insurance coverage from the state of Texas in 2004 than any other year in history. Why the confusion? Because CHIP is not the only taxpayer-funded children’s health insurance program. Children’s Medicaid, another state-federal partnership, gets health coverage to hundreds of thousands of poor Texas kids. Today CHIP and Medicaid serve more than 2.1 million Texas children.” Go Ruben! The “health care success story” line is a particularly nice touch.

Shout outs also go to House Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson), all of whom have really stuck to the script by insisting that CHIP and Medicaid combined cover an average of 200,000 more children now than they did in 2002. Keep up the good work!

Now, what happens, say, if biased reporters point out that the growth in Medicaid doesn’t cover most of the 147,000 kids freed from CHIP coverage? Or that, by the state’s own estimates, more than 111,000 children who lost CHIP will get only emergency health care at three or four times the cost to taxpayers? If those issues are raised, don’t (repeat: don’t!) argue the facts. Simply repeat: “Texas is meeting the needs of its poor children.” Say it enough, and reporters will run it. But if that doesn’t work, blame all the state’s problems on the high cost of health care, which , as we all know, is caused by greedy personal injury lawyers and their lawsuit abuse.

Onward to victory in 2004!

PUSH THAT BOULDER, BURN THAT DVD

“Sometimes you feel like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill,” mused American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero during a recent visit to Austin. “And when you get to the top of the hill, there’s John Ashcroft jeering at you.”

Romero was in Austin for the world premiere of Unconstitutional, the latest in a trilogy of documentaries critical of the Bush Administration from television and film producer Robert Greenwald. Joining Greenwald and Romero at the film’s premier at the University of Texas was Sam Hamoui, a Seattle resident whose Syrian-born parents and sister were detained by federal agents after September 11.

Greenwald urged the audience to share the film with friends and relatives and to get out the message. “You only have to buy one copy,” he joked. “Then make copies. Burn DVDs!”

The documentary focuses on the Patriot Act, which in Romero’s words, went “too far, too fast in restricting important liberties,” changing the character of America. In addition to interviews with lawyers from the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the film features Azmat Begg, whose son, a British national, is imprisoned in Guantanamo; Major Michael Mori, a U.S. Army lawyer representing another detainee in Guantanamo; and former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia. The conservative former congressman, perhaps best-known for his role in the Clinton impeachment, has joined the ACLU to work on privacy and information issues. In Unconstitutional, he criticizes the way in which the final version of the Patriot Act was pushed through Congress. He also criticizes the Administration’s policies in Guantanamo as “symptomatic of the way the government is proceeding in the war against terrorism—basically anything goes.”

Vincent Cannistraro, former director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism operations, is shown in the film seated at a table and surrounded by law books. “What we were doing by all these round-ups,” he says, “is alienating” whole communities, based on stereotypes. “The net result of our profligate use of detention without legal representation has been to make us less safe. It hasn’t uncovered any terrorists.”

But it was Anne Turner, a librarian from Santa Cruz, California, who drew the biggest response from the Austin audience. After speaking against the Patriot Act provisions that would require librarians to turn over patron usage records to federal law enforcement officials, Turner was shown shredding documents. She burst into a smile; the audience burst into applause. Ah, if only it were always so simple to take on John Ashcroft.

ALAN AND ASRA’A

In 2000, Observer photographer Alan Pogue met a young girl who continues to haunt him. Her name is Asra’a Mizyad. On the morning of January 25, 1999, Asra’a, who lived in a village not far from Basra in southern Iraq, was severely injured in a bombing raid conducted by the U.S. military. She lost her right arm, suffered chest and abdominal wounds, and a metal fragment was lodged in her skull. Pogue was determined to help her and in March 2003, traveled to Jordan with hopes of going on to Iraq and getting Asra’a and her father out of the country for medical treatment. Asra’a received her passport on March 18; the following day the war broke out. Her trip would be postponed indefinitely. Last month, Pogue and Los Angeles-based writer Cole Miller traveled to Kuwait. Conditions in Iraq made it impossible for them to enter Iraq, but after weeks of delay, Asra’a and her father were able to travel to Kuwait and were granted visas by the U.S. Embassy. On September 12, they arrived in Houston, where Asra’a will receive care from the Shriners Hospital. Pogue has documented his latest trip in a weblog (www.nomorevictims.org).

On September 11, he wrote: She is a fourteen-year-old girl. She is getting new dresses and lots of good attention. Shriners will fit her for a prosthetic arm and teach her how to do many things she thought she would never do again for herself. Even as this happens I think of the thousands of other children in Iraq who need similar care for a wide variety of health problems … New bombs are being dropped now on neighborhoods. There are over 20,000 families living in shattered homes in southern Iraq alone. But I have done something.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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