Analyzing Palin’s Special Needs Policy Address

palinspeech2.jpgSarah Palin delivered her first major policy address today, promising to care for “children with special needs [who] have been set apart and excluded” and to “fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Like most Palin events, it was difficult to watch. Gone were the baseless political smears and innuendos, but the deception remained. And while Palin’s devotion to special needs education and care is genuine, her speech betrayed intellectual dishonesty and opportunism.

McCain’s health care plan excludes millions of Americans with preexisting conditions or disabilities from coverage. It fractures employer-based risk pools and leads individuals into a wrestling match with insurance companies. It undermines in-state consumer protections that guarantee coverage for mental health parity, general mental health, well-child care, home health care and autism. It leaves the parents of disabled children to seek-out an insurance company willing to take-on a child who will require a tremendous amount of care and treatment.

But what hope is there that an autistic child will find coverage in the individual market if 7-month old baby Cecilia was denied insurance because she spit up milk? Nine out of ten Americans can’t find affordable insurance when they subject themselves to the rigorous process of medical underwriting, to say nothing of disabled Americans who require more expensive treatments and care. They are the true-uninsurables who, in not contributing to an insurance company’s bottom line, are typically denied coverage.

Palin is a confident and compelling spokesperson for special needs children. But what the campaign gains in charisma, it loses in credibility. Palin promised to “fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” explaining that “this is a matter of how we prioritize the money that we spend”:

We’ve got a three trillion dollar budget, and Congress spends some 18 billion dollars a year on earmarks for political pet projects. That’s more than the shortfall to fully fund the IDEA. And where does a lot of that earmark money end up? It goes to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France, or a public policy center named for the guy who got the earmark. In our administration, we’re going to reform and refocus. We’re going to get our federal priorities straight, and fulfill our country’s commitment to give every child opportunity and hope in life.

Prioritization aside, in his 28 years in the senate, McCain has repeatedly voted against IDEA funding and other special needs initiatives. In fact, according to the National Education Association, McCain’s plan to freeze discretionary spending would reduce authorized federal grants for Special Education by $12,525,218,429. Mark Schmitt points out that “fully funding IDEA, while implementing a spending freeze on that category would require cutting every other domestic program by an average of 6.4 percent. That would include Pell Grants, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, WIC, clean-energy research, Section 8 housing — dozens and dozens of programs.” Moreover, his recent call for Medicaid cuts will surely have a negative impact as states grapple with budget shortfalls.

Palin’s dismissal of all earmarks is similarly disingenuous. In fact, a simple search of Office of Management and Budget website revealed at least 19 autism-related projects in the 2009 budget:

– $100K to Marywood University, Scranton, PA, for campus-based autism education programs

– $250K to Parents as Teachers National Center, St. Louis, MO, to develop research-based materials and training for home visiting professionals for families of children with autism

– $200K for Southern Penobscot Regional Program for Children with Exceptionalities, Bangor, ME, for services for families with autistic children

All earmarks are not created equal, and neither are priorities. McCain and Palin routinely run around the country scaring Americans about the dangers of expanding SCHIP and Medicaid for poor and sick children, but the great threat of socialism is avoided when the government funds medical research or other special needs initiatives.

In short, Palin’s rhetoric is tough to square with her record, McCain’s individual market-centric health care plan, and penchant for gutting all forms of government programs.