By Howard Gleckman
Once upon a time, there lived a woman named Jane. She was an independent voter from Tennessee who voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential election because, well, because she liked him. He was a pretty down-to-earth guy, and that compassionate conservatism he talked about sounded pretty good. And, besides, she couldn't stand that stiff, Al Gore.
Jane was a waitress who made about $20,000 a year. At least she did until she hurt her shoulder carrying heavy food trays. Her boss had planned to buy some special carts to help her deliver the food. He was going to get that gear so he could comply with new rules the government wrote back in 2000 that were supposed to protect workers from injuries just like hers. But when the Bush Administration scrapped those new ergonomics rules, Jane's boss canceled the order. Besides, with the economy getting shaky, he couldn't afford the new equipment anymore.
Jane's shoulder ached so much that she was taking pain medicine three times a day. And each time, she'd drink a nice tall glass of tap water. About that water: Thanks to a mining operation upriver, Jane's drinking water was laced with arsenic. In late 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency wrote new rules that would have required Jane's local utility to add some extra filters to reduce levels of the chemical. But the Bush Administration cancelled the new standards. Besides, with the economy softening, her town couldn't really afford the new gear anyway.
So Jane started feeling ill. Well, at least she had health insurance. Thank goodness for little things -- or so she thought. Trouble was, her company's HMO wouldn't pay the cost of her shoulder surgery, not to mention the expensive new tests for arsenic poisoning. So she felt she could no longer work. And eventually, Jane lost her job.
Soon, Jane found a lawyer who told her she might be able to sue that HMO under a new law Congress was about to pass. The bill, which had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans, was supposed to give patients like her new rights to appeal such decisions by insurance companies. But President Bush didn't like the bill, and his opposition sunk it. He said he would propose a version of his own, but it never went anywhere. So the idea died on Capitol Hill.
Now, poor Jane had no job and no money to pay her medical bills. Well, she thought, as much as I hate to do it, at least I can declare bankruptcy and start fresh. Well, actually, Jane couldn't do that, either. Not since Bush signed that new bankruptcy law that would block people like her from restructuring her debts.
Had she been one of a handful of millionaire investors in Lloyd's of London, she might have gotten special treatment in that new law. An amendment was written just to let rich folks get out from under huge debts they owed when Lloyd's got in trouble a few years back. But the only insurance Jane had was the policy she had on her 1991 Ford Tempo. No relief for her there in the bankrupcy bill.
Oh, Jane did eventually get a tax cut. It came to about $200. Of course, after she lost her job, she wasn't paying any taxes anyway, so the tax cut didn't really help a lot. So when Jane went to vote for President in 2004, she found she didn't like George W. quite so much anymore. She couldn't quite put her finger on why. But one thing she knew: She wasn't living happily ever after.
Am I making this fairy tale up? Yes, but there's a moral to the story that the Bush Administration best heed.
Gleckman is a a senior correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau. Follow his views every Tuesday in Washington Watch, only on BW Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht