I don’t really agree with most of this David Brooks column on S-CHIP, and I certainly don’t agree with his implication that the S-CHIP expansion bill is a bad thing on net, but this is true:
Third, it creates a fund-raising mechanism cowardly in the extreme. Politicians in Washington like to talk in the abstract about shared sacrifice. They could go to the American people and say: We need to insure more children and to do that we’re going to raise broad-based taxes slightly.But that’s honest and direct, and therefore impermissible. Instead, this program is funded by raising taxes on smokers, who generally are much poorer than average Americans and much less educated. High school dropouts smoke at roughly three times the rates of college graduates.
Now Brooks tries to deploy this factoid into an effort to convince us, I guess, that the Republicans standing against this expansion are doing so out of earnest concern for the well-being of the American working class. And that, of course, is ridiculous. It is, however, quite true that it’s very hard to really make sensible policy in this country within the constraint that everything has to be financed through gimmicks and whatnot rather than through broadish taxes. Now, of course, Brooks has conveniently left out the part of the story where the conservative movement of which he’s a part has worked assiduously to try to convince people that it’s simply not possible for the benefits of any non-lethal government program to exceed the cost of financing it through taxation, which — rather than some characterological predilection for dishonesty — explains why politicians now resort constantly to these sort of tactics.