Friday, December 24, 2010

Shepard Smith Goes Nuclear on GOP “Grinches” Over 9/11 Health Bill

Calvin Freiburger

Many outlets, including the Huffington Post, Mediaite, and the Examiner, are increasingly taking notice of Fox News anchor (and longtime left-wing drama queen) Shepard Smith for his alleged courage and principle in distancing himself from the rest of the channel’s right-wing propagandizing. He’s currently being lauded for having taken up the cause of a controversial bill to provide medical care for 9/11 first responders, angrily unloading on Republican Grinches who would dare steal Christmas from American heroes: We’re able to put a 52 story building so far down there at Ground Zero, we’re able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them and it’s not going to stimulate the economy. But we can’t give health care to Ground Zero first responders who ran right into the fire? Went down there to save people? Do people know what this city was like that day? People were walking over bridges, they were covered in ash, they were running for their lives, they were crying, their family members were dead. And these people ran to Ground Zero to save people’s lives. And we’re not going to even give them medicine for the illnesses they got down there? It’s disgusting, it’s a national disgrace, it’s a shame and everybody who voted against should have to stand up and account for himself or herself.

The Examiner’s Elliot Levin compares Smith to several of his Fox News colleagues, including Sean Hannity, who has endorsed the bill’s purpose but expressed reservations about the particulars, such as concern for potential abuse by illegal immigrants, suspicion about the Democrats’ refusal to pass it via simple majority in the House when they had the chance, and scorn for Rep. Anthony Weiner’s unwillingness to allow that reading a bill might be an important prerequisite for supporting it. Levin says:

While Fox’s primtime lineup of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and to a lesser degree, Greta Van Susstren, are all card-carrying Republicans and openly use their shows to press a conservative agenda, Smith, who anchors the 3pm and 7pm shows, is well-known and liked throughout the TV news world for his passionate and apolitical perspectives.

He has also broken away from the typical conservative line in the past on issues such as torture.

Smith is at his best when it comes to hard news stories, such as car chases, wars, and natural disasters, but when he steps into politics he epitomizes the Fox News slogan of ‘fair and balanced,’ speaking his mind regardless of what his fellow anchors may be saying or believing.

Smith’s caterwauling certainly makes good on the “balance” part of the Fox promise, but “fair” is questionable. He characterizes bill opponents as soulless monsters, who cannot possibly have legitimate reservations. But their reservations are indeed valid. At Politico, James Richardson explains:

Republicans objected not to the compensation fund, rather to the way its coffers were filled. As usual, Democrats wanted a program paid for by a new tax — in this case, one on foreign-registered firms operating within the United States.

As a matter of policy, Republicans oppose entitlement programs, both old and new, though ideological rigidity here takes second to honoring and caring for these emergency responders. For the Republican caucus, the key problem was the pay-for tax increase that Democrats engineered for the $7.4 billion measure.

The GOP’s more wonkish members were concerned the tax increase might force closures of foreign-registered but domestic-operating firms that employ Americans. Others, were uneasy that the bill was not means tested.

At Human Events, John Hayward points out that Smith-style emotionalism masks the fact that we have very good reason to tread slowly when entrusting Congress with the task of spending large sums of money:

Nothing about the situation demanded the creation of an unlimited entitlement, or abandoning precautions against waste and fraud. One of the first orders of business for the lame-duck Congress was shoveling another billion dollars into the Pigford fraud, where thousands of bogus claims have been filed. [NRB: see here for more on Pigford.] Maybe they should have saved that billion for the heroes of 9/11 instead.

On top of Pigford, we’ve seen billions wasted in Medicare fraud, millions paid to convicts filing phony tax returns, and California Republican congressman Darrell Issa’s recent report that $125 billion in taxpayer money disappeared through “improper payments” over the past year. I can’t find any reason to blindly trust this government to carefully manage a few billion more, especially when those demanding it maintain that no patriotic American can question them in any way.
And in the biggest blow to the Republicans-as-Grinch meme, Sen. Tom Coburn (whom Shep has called out by name over this) on Tuesday released an extended explanation of his position, which reveals, among other things, that 9/11 responders aren’t simply being left out in the cold in the absence of this particular bill:

Twelve days after 9/11, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 became law. This program was intended to compensate any individual (or the personal representative of a deceased individual) who was physically injured or killed as a result of the attack. The filing deadline for claims was December 22, 2003.5

· Of the 2,973 eligible families of dead victims, 2,880 filed claims—97 percent. The average award for families of victims killed in the attacks exceeded $2 million.

· Seventy people chose to file law suits naming airlines and government agencies and thereby rejected the federal government’s offer of millions of dollars in compensation. Twenty-three eligible families of dead victims took no action. These families are no longer eligible to receive compensation from the fund.

· In addition, 2,680 valid injury claims were filed and processed. The average award for injured victims was nearly $400,000.

· The overall payout of the program was more than $7 billion.Congress also passed the Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act of 2001, which excluded victims’ income from federal taxes for the year in which they died and also for the previous year. The law also exempted VCF awards from gross income.6

Finally, Congress established the World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company to indemnify New York City and construction companies against $1 billion worth of 9-11 health related tort liability.7 Earlier this year, 95 percent of a group of 10,563 victims agreed to an $815 million settlement out of the Captive Insurance Company.8

This bill reopens the VCF, which had processed every last claim made prior to the late 2003 deadline. It will be nearly impossible for the new administrator to determine whether new claims are a direct result of 9/11—particularly those who present in the year 2031—30 years after 9/11.

Coburn offers an equally-compassionate, yet more fiscally-sound, alternative:

If there is a real gap in coverage for real 9/11 heroes, we should authorize the existing discretionary program, appropriate the necessary funds, and continue to provide rigorous oversight to ensure effective use of the funds. Such an approach would be much more cost-effective and make far more sense than an open-ended entitlement that will cost taxpayers $10.4 billion,

Veterans and those in the military have their programs funded through appropriations. Why should we place the non-responder residents of NYC on higher footing than our men and women in uniform?

Yesterday, Coburn reached a compromise with Senate Democrats, allowing the bill to move ahead in exchange for modifications, including a price decrease “from $6.2 billion to $4.2 billion,” “closing the Victims Compensation fund in five (instead of twenty) years, and setting caps on lawyers’ fees.”

Not only are these reasonable concerns, they’re exactly the sort of questions we pay our elected representatives to ask. Asking these questions in no way denigrates the heroism and sacrifice of those who saved lives on September 11, nor does it doom them to suffer their ailments unaided. And those pilloried for doing the asking have solutions of their own. So the next time Shepard Smith gets the urge to ask how conservatives can look themselves in the mirror, he’d do well to stop by Sean Hannity’s office; he desperately needs the same smack-down Hannity inflicted on Weiner:

Why don’t you guys take out the controversial positions, help the people that need the help, and get—it doesn’t matter where the 218 votes come from, and stop the petty bickering? […] Unlike Democrats, and other members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, I don’t comment on bills ‘till I read them fully, and I haven’t read the bill fully. But I agree in concept […] I’m not a phony like you!


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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