Semantics alive and well in Lansing

Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013
Semantics alive and well in Lansing story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The use of semantics in politics is probably right up there with the oldest activities known to mankind.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says the practice is certainly alive and well in Lansing.

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The popular definition of “semantics” is using carefully chosen words to covey one truth to avoid using the obvious words to deal with a higher truth.

With that said, a couple of weeks ago I called Michigan Senate Republicans a bunch of hypocrites for trying to kill Medicaid expansion in Michigan.

Their arguments against it were a collection of stern warnings about the dangers of creating another legacy cost that would get passed on to our children and that it was a part of the dreaded Obamacare.

Essentially, they argued, it was just too expensive.

It was pretty much the same argument they’ve used over the past few years in coming up with one tough solution after another, affecting education, workers rights, charities, teachers, welfare recipients—or as the Michigan lawyer blog puts it: “people with jobs that that don’t pay much. You know—everyone.”

But with Medicaid expansion, which will give nearly a half-million Michigan residents a chance to have actual health care, instead of using ridiculously expensive emergency rooms as doctors offices, the federal government, under the auspices of the affordable care act, would pick up the tab.

One hundred percent of it for four years and then 90 percent after that. A no-brainer.

The beneficiaries are people who work, who have jobs, live just above the poverty line, but have no health insurance.

Their employers don’t offer it and they can’t afford it one their own.

Which brings us to why I referred to senate republicans as a bunch of hypocrites. Two year ago, in October of 2011, this same group of people—this same group—who so passionately argues against health care for poor people—voted to give themselves lifetime healthcare. Imagine that.

At that time, the House had passed a retroactive bill that would have ended retiree healthcare benefits for all legislators who didn’t have six years of service under their belts by January 1 of 2007.

That didn’t sit well with the Senate. So, it passed a bill that protected retiree benefits for all but two Senators, and most House members, who had six years in office, prior to January 1 of this year.

In other words, yes, our state is in financial trouble. Yes, we do have to make budget cuts. Yes, we’ve slashed a lot already and will cut more.

But no, we will not cut our own retirement benefits.

We will cut them for future lawmakers, but not for ourselves.

After watching my commentary, one viewer wrote her Senator, who happens to be Tonya Schuitmaker—by all accounts, a kind, thoughtful, caring legislator.

“I told her,” the viewer said, that “I could not understand her vote on health care for the most vulnerable of our working citizens,” and went on to say she hoped she would be there when the Senator “answered to her God why she voted no,” to extending Medicaid.

And this is where things get to be a matter of semantics.

Senator Schuitmaker wrote her back, and said to me the same thing on the phone this morning: that to suggest that Senators voted to give themselves lifetime health benefits was woefully misleading.

Why? Well, the Senator said, the vote of two years ago, quoting now, “ended that practice going forward.”

Huh? Well, true. In a kind of “I’ve-got-mine-the heck-with-you” fashion, it did end it going forward.

Okay. Compliments all around.

But the undeniable fact is, the vote of two years ago also protected health care benefits for all but two Senators.

It was the crust on the bread. It was carefully worded and carefully done.

Senators of the future won’t get it. But the sitting ones will. Not bad for six years of work.

Not bad for a group of politicians who then have the audacity to turn around and suggest health care for a huge disadvantaged segment of our population is too expensive and not in our best interest.

That’s called hypocrisy. Even with semantics, I can’t think of another way to say it.

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.

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