Obama's 'Dignity' Ad isn't Dignified (Or truthful)

Although he’s not yet in the league of Al “I invented the Internet” Gore, Barack Obama’s new campaign ad, “Dignity” contains several exaggerations about his role in getting tax and welfare reform legislation passed during his tenure as a State Senator in Illinois. His push to expand “health care for kids” also shows something most of us already assumed, namely that his goal to socialize health care and spend taxpayer money trumps any desire for fiscal responsibility.

The thirty second ad, which can be seen HERE, spends 10 seconds of black-and-white footage, describing how Obama “worked his way through college and Harvard Law, turned down big money offers…”

Apparently not enough of them for Obama to fail to get a remarkable deal on a $1.65 million home, possibly with the help of now-convicted Tony Rezko. And just after the ad says Obama “turned down big money offers”, the footage cuts to pictures of small row houses discussing how Obama “helped lift neighborhoods stung by job losses.” If he couldn’t actually lift a neighborhood, at least he found a way to lift himself into a better one.

And now the Washington Post reports that in addition to a discount on his house, Obama received a suspiciously good deal on his mortgage, paying a below-average interest rate, no origination fee, and no points at Northern Trust, a bank where he had no prior relationship. The post also notes that "The Obamas have since had as much as $3 million invested through Northern Trust". Ah, the dignity of turning down big money offers.

The ad moves to specific issues, beginning with “he passed a law to move people from welfare to work, slashed the rolls by eighty percent.” But these bills were passed in the Clinton years, before Obama came to the US Senate. And, while in the Illinois legislature, he reportedly said he would have voted against the Clinton welfare reforms. So how is it that he’s claiming credit for them? Maybe those in the Illinois law?

As far as Obama “passing” the law, even the Washington Post recognizes that “Obama sponsored or co-sponsored — but did not ‘pass’ — the welfare and tax measures he takes credit for” in this and prior commercials. The welfare reform law at issue here, which was Illinois HB 204 in 1997, did indeed have Obama as a “chief co-sponsor”, a position he took along with four others. But he welfare reform passed in Illinois was in response to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act (officially titled the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996”) which forced states to substantially change their welfare systems.

So where’s the innovation, the courage and the glory? In passing a federally-mandated bill.

Although Obama said during the State Senate’s discussion of the bill that he “probably would not have supported the federal legislation”, it is true that he worked with the chief Republican sponsor of the bill to come to an agreement acceptable to both sides. Overall, Obama was involved in the process of negotiating the final bill, but even he recognized that “there hasn’t been too much political heat around this issue”, and the idea that Obama “passed” the legislation is a substantial exaggeration.

“Dignity” then claims that Obama “passed tax cuts for workers”, referring to a bill, originally Illinois HB3939 in 2000, which created an Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) in Illinois. The bill passed 59-0 in the State Senate on April 14th, 2000. The next day, Obama, along with 20 other State Senators, added his name as a co-sponsor. He was not a chief sponsor: he was a follower.

When Illinois Governor George Ryan signed the bill, which “put about $50 in the pockets of poor workers”, he “credited Illinois Democratic Senate Leader Emil Jones with its passage”. According to the same article, “Jones said he pushed this EITC program during the recent budget negotiations”.

The bill which passed the Illinois Senate established a state EITC rate at 5% of the federal EITC rate. Although Obama voted for the bill in the end, he was a chief sponsor of a failed attempt to implement Illinois’ EITC at 10%, with it increasing to 15% and then 20% within three years.

In other words, Obama went along with but did not sponsor the bill which he now takes credit for “passing” and failed to pass the bill he wanted.

The “Dignity” ad then moves on to Obama’s claim to have passed “health care for kids”. Obama was indeed the chief State Senate sponsor of Public Act 93-0063 which passed on a 42-13 vote in March, 2003, and became law in June, 2003.

According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, “The measure expands KidCare, the state’s health insurance program for uninsured children….It also expands FamilyCare, a program providing health insurance to uninsured parents whose children are insured under Medicaid or KidCare…. The bill also makes the KidCare program, set to expire Tuesday, permanent. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Sandra Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) will cost about $26 million this year, the governor said, adding the state will get $48 million from the federal government for the program.”

There was an interesting discussion (see pages 98-100 of PDF) between State Senator Obama and State Senator Steven Rauschenberger just before the vote on the bill. Rauschenberger opposed this expansion of government for fiscal reasons: “We’ve got extraordinary financial circumstances in the balance of the ’03 fiscal year. I think we’re now talking maybe in the range of 1.3-billion-dollar meltdown in the fiscal year we’re in. We’re projected by the Governor’s own numbers to be looking at a 3.6-billion-dollar hole…. I think it’s the wrong time to expand eligibility, to make those kind of promises when we don’t have the wherewithal to pay for ‘em.”

Obama’s reaction, which could be a bigger indictment of our entire system than of Obama, is that because of an available federal match on money spent, “we get more bang for the buck…it doesn’t make sense for us to leave this money on the table.” Illinois Governor Rod (“Rezko who?”) Blagojevich agreed with that sentiment: “The beauty of this program is that for every 35 cents the state invests in KidCare and FamilyCare, the federal government has to match the remaining 65 cents on the dollar.” I feel much better about it now, don’t you?

Not surprisingly, when there’s a free lunch, people come to eat. A press release from Blagojevich’s office in August, 2004, noted that “Illinois increased the number of working parents covered by the Illinois Department of Public Aid’s (IDPA) FamilyCare program by an astonishing 227 percent, far outpacing all other states. The report said Illinois was second in the nation from June to December of 2003 in terms of increasing the number of children covered by KidCare, known nationally as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).”

In case the Nanny State wasn’t growing fast enough, Illinois later removed income requirements for children to participate in these programs. Again, that’s no surprise when the Governor says “To me, health care isn’t a privilege – it’s a right.” Today, FamilyCare covers children of “all Illinois families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level”, or over $85,000 for a family of four, and the Governor seems proud that “its medical costs will grow by only 7.4% this fiscal year.

Although Obama wasn’t in the state government when the income requirement was removed, his current positions on health care make it clear that he supports “expanding eligibility” for government programs. In other words, ObamaCare will be nearly identical to HillaryCare.

The one piece of legislation that Obama’s new ad correctly claims he had an important role in passing was the most expensive. This expansion of “health care for kids”, which the state now proposes to fund by a new tax on employers who don’t spend more than 4% of payroll on health care, will probably not keep socialized medicine from eventually bankrupting Illinois just as Medicare will bankrupt the nation if it is not addressed soon.

Obama’s commercial ends by saying that Obama will “never forget the dignity that comes from work”. I wonder just how much dignity there is in working under a President who rewards your efforts by raising income taxes, payroll taxes, and capital gains taxes, requiring a penance from us for having more “dignity” than others. No, Obama doesn’t mean there’s pride in work. He means there’s a gold mine for him in the work of others.

Dignity. Right.