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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Brookings on Bush vs. Kerry


The Brookings Institution presented a panel discussion yesterday titled "Assessing the Merits and Costs of the Candidates' Domestic Agendas." It's apparently part of a broader effort to evaluate Bush's and Kerry's policy proposals. It's a very interesting effort: Brookings is certainly honest, and houses a lot of smart and knowledgeable people. I'm sure this project will be worth keeping an eye on. But can you trust their spin?

As you may recall from previous posts, Brookings is a moderate think tank. I count six panelists mentioned, four of whom are Democrats (3 Clinton administration officials), one who works at a conservative think tank, and one who I suspect is a conservative but can't be sure based on his brief bio. In addition, representatives of the Bush and Kerry campaigns attended.

Despite this seeming tilt towards the (moderate wing of) the Democratic Party, the event summary (no transcript has been posted yet) seems to me to be slanted towards Bush, or at least towards more neutrality than Bush deserves. Consider health care:
Thorpe said that Kerry's proposal would provide health insurance to roughly 95 percent of the population by expanding Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and by also using the tax system and federal law to encourage greater health care enrollment among businesses and individuals. Thorpe praised as innovative a Kerry proposal that would have the federal government assume partial responsibility to pay for the health care coverage for workers with catastrophic illnesses.

So far, so good.

I had no idea that Bush has a health care proposal too (for $1,000 tax credits). He doesn't seem to be promoting it much, and I suspect it's not a big priority of his. The Brookings description makes it sound pretty good:
Bush's plan, which Thorpe estimates would cover 85 percent of citizens, would use a refundable tax credit and create tax deductions for expensive private health plans.

Thorpe is one of the former Clinton officials. I'm sure that what he's saying is true. But notice that the summary makes no mention of the current percentage with health coverage. Without this figure, the difference between 85% covered under the Bush plan and 95% under the Kerry plan doesn't seem so big. Kerry covers 10 percentage points more people, but Bush has a plan too! They both cover the large majority of people (as I'm sure we'll hear when they debate).

It turns out that the current percentage of people with health insurance is about 84%. Bush would increase health coverage by less than 1 percentage point (2.4 million people) and Kerry by 10 points (26.7 million people). You get no hint of this from the Brookings description of the event.

This isn't the only questionable implication I see in Brookings' coverage. Perhaps they need to find someone better to write their summaries.
 
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