Columns » Max Brantley

Tim Griffin's photo op

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Tim Griffin image

Seventeen words from my congressman, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock, sent me into orbit last week.

Said the Republican congressman, in his Twitter feed: "I am currently touring Arkansas Children's Hospital and learning more about the incredible work being done here."

His tweet was dutifully regurgitated by the Arkansas Republican Party and, I'd guess, other elements of the right-wing electronic echo chamber.

What's not to like? Who doesn't like Children's Hospital and the miracles it performs?

Answer: The Republican Party, if policies count more than a Twitter post intended to wrap a politician in the warm gauze of sympathy for sick children.

Eight months ago, Griffin voted in lockstep with a budget proposal crafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan that would have gutted Medicaid as a guaranteed health insurance program for poor people. It would have turned it into a block grant program. Had the legislation not been defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate, it would have reduced Medicaid spending by almost $800 billion over 10 years. It would have allowed states to cut back services to the disabled, children and the elderly.

Without Medicaid, Children's Hospital doesn't exist as we know it. Sixty-five percent of its patients are covered by Medicaid. Though Republicans wouldn't cut it all at once, it's easy to guess some of the first casualties.

Intensive care and emergency services would continue at some level, but would vital early childhood intervention programs, Head Start and basic primary care continue? The odds would not be good.

I had a personal window last week on the value of such a simple thing as an encounter with a Children's Hospital primary care physician. The only medical problem facing one young patient was head lice. But it was an outgrowth of deeper problems in her home, problems that began being addressed thanks to a call from the concerned Children's Hospital physician. Cut Medicaid and you can soon forget such luxuries as this timely intervention that kept a home intact and a child in school.

Ryan has not given up on his budget plan. He'd still like to cut taxes of the wealthy, at the expense of poorer people, and reduce Medicare and Medicaid outlays. He'd give poor people vouchers to help buy insurance, yes, but the vouchers would be supported by only about a quarter of the federal money now being provided, says the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Faced with rising health costs and insufficient insurance, poor people would go without. The big new Children's Hospital buildings that Tim Griffin toured and touted? They'd be emptied of sick children and caring staff in favor of enriching the wealthy.

The National Association of Children's Hospitals has told Congress that the hospitals are already strapped by decreasing Medicaid support and the burden of uncompensated care. Cuts in spending are also a guarantee of greater costs. Children who need attention, but don't get it, will experience worsening, more expensive conditions.

Polls show American people prefer elimination of tax breaks for the rich and tougher regulation of banks over cuts in spending on vital programs, looser government regulations and no tax increases.

By his past votes, Tim Griffin indicates he doesn't believe the polls. Or he believes that photo ops and lip service at the local Children's Hospital will cover his support for the Republican assault on government-supported medical services for the poor, from children to elderly.

In 2010, many voters voted against self-interest. It could happen again — certainly if no one runs against Griffin. He's currently unopposed.

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