Sen. Terry Rice stands by statement that Medicaid expansion "enslaves" our children | Arkansas Blog

Sen. Terry Rice stands by statement that Medicaid expansion "enslaves" our children

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RICE: Stands by "enslaving" comment.
  • RICE: Stands by "enslaving" comment.
Last week, we noted that Sen. Stephanie Flowers took exception to Sen. Terry Rice's statement during a committee debate about the state's decision to continue the Medicaid expansion. Said Rice: "We are enslaving future generations, our children and grandchildren — to debt that we are irresponsibly putting on their credit card. That to me is ... unbiblical."

The conservative blog The Arkansas Project posted on the matter and Rice took to the comments to say that he stood by his statement, adding that we have been "politically correct for too long." Here's his comment in full:  

ENSLAVE: cause (someone) to lose their freedom of choice or action. synonyom’s [sic]: subjugate, suppress, tyrannize, oppress, dominate, exploit, persecute.

Note, I said “WE are enslaving future generations….” . I included myself in this generation and did not say by this one program even though it is the largest expansion of government in Arkansas history. I noted WE are approching [sic] a national $20 trillion deficit [sic]. When we hit the wall and come crashing down, all should realize WE were politically correct for to [sic] long. I stand by my statement. 

So Rice is worried about the national debt. What does all this have to do with Medicaid expansion? Here's the situation: The Arkansas legislature has no control over whether or not other states accept the Medicaid expansion. It does, however, have control over whether Arkansas expands Medicaid. And it is indeed the case that accepting federal dollars while the government is running a deficit means, by definition, incrementally more federal deficit spending. While Obamacare —the entirety of the federal health care law — includes pay-fors and actually lowers the long-term debt on net according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, it's true enough that an individual state deciding to refuse the Medicaid expansion would lead to less federal spending (the pay-fors, including money flowing out of Arkansas, happen no matter what).

But scale matters. The decision to continue with the Medicaid expansion in Arkansas over the next five years would increase the national debt by around 0.0004 percent. I think a helpful exercise here is to imagine that I proposed a tax increase that would lower the debt by that less-than-a-rounding-error amount and called it a measure to save our children from debt slavery. No one would take me seriously! And that includes the hawkiest of debt hawks. That's because none of the stuff that debt hawks worry about (we'll leave the question of whether they're overstating these worries for another time) — interest rates, inflation, long-term growth, confidence, future income tax rates — none of that would shift an inch if the debt is, say, 23 trillion dollars versus 23.001 trillion. That's why debt reduction plans, when they come along, involve many orders of magnitude more money. Maybe Congress will take measures to curb the long-term debt and maybe they won't, but whatever they do will completely swamp the fiscal impact of the Arkansas Medicaid expansion, which has no meaningful impact on the long-term debt picture one way or the other. 

Under the circumstances, I think that Sen. Rice's analogy of enslavement — as it happens, an actual historical practice that victimized more than 10 million men, women, and children over the course of hundreds of years in the colonies and the United States of America — was inapt. On this, as on other topics, we shall agree to disagree. 

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. 


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