- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Frustrated by their inability to persuade Congress to pass Hillary Rodham Clinton's national health-care program while her husband was in the White House, supporters of a government takeover have resorted to incremental plans to achieve their goals. Their aim is to persuade individual states to adopt one-size-fits-all schemes to expand government control of health care. But, if the debacle that took place earlier this month in Oregon is any indication, the advocates of such big-government plans are in trouble.

On Nov. 5, voters rejected by a 79 percent to 21 percent margin a ballot initiative called Measure 23, which would have increased taxes and state spending to pay for creation of a government-run, single-payer system. At first glance, few states in the union would appear to have been more fertile ground for implementing such a program. Oregon voters have a longstanding tradition of supporting increased spending for social programs. Measure 23 was supported by a left-liberal coalition that included NOW, the NAACP and the American Federation of Teachers. It would have replaced private, employer-provided health care with a government-run system that would be managed by a 15-member board five appointed by the governor, and two elected from each of the state's five congressional districts.

For a while, Measure 23 supporters appeared to be within striking distance of victory. One independent poll taken in the weeks leading up to the election found the ballot initiative trailing by just a 47 percent to 40 percent margin. While it is true that opponents outspent supporters of the measure by a substantial amount, the unpleasant reality is this: Support for Measure 23 plummeted as liberals began to take a closer look at the higher taxes and loss of jobs that would result from enacting the measure.

The Portland Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the state (with a reliably liberal editorial page), was scathing in its criticism of Measure 23, describing it as a "tax-guzzler" and a "prescription for financial ruin." Sounding a bit like Barry Goldwater during his 1964 presidential campaign, the newspaper observed that the ballot initiative "would attempt to replace private health insurance in Oregon with a system of socialized medicine. Its covered expenses would include alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic care and massage therapy….It would eliminate co-payments, deductibles and out-of-pocket drug expenses." In order "to finance this utopian vision," the Oregonian noted, "businesses would pay payroll taxes of 3 percent to 11 percent. The top personal income tax rate would rise from its current 9.5 percent to as high as 17.5 percent."

The leadership of the Oregon AFL-CIO voted overwhelmingly to oppose the measure. A local representative of AFSCME, while describing himself as a strong supporter of a single-payer system, denounced Measure 23 in the strongest possible terms.

While this was taking place, businesses of all shapes and sizes warned that, if the ballot initiative passed, companies and jobs would be leaving Oregon, while people with serious illnesses would flock to the state in the hope of receiving free health care. In the end, 79 percent of the voters rejected Measure 23.

The fact that large masses of voters in a liberal state like Oregon rejected this initiative is yet another sign of skepticism with Great Society-style big government sent by voters on election day.


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