[ OUR OPINION ]
Bush gives new meaning
to senior discount
SHUFFLING numbers to fit your goals is a common Beltway maneuver, but the Bush administration's recent policy that devalues the lives of older Americans steps over the line. The procedure appears to be a device to skew the benefits of environmental regulations from which the administration seeks release and raises ethical concerns even within the president's conservative political base.
An administration procedure pegs the value of older Americans below that of younger people and causes a stir.
In addition, Christie Todd Whitman's assertion this week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency she heads will not apply the policy seems disingenuous since the EPA -- the testing ground for the policy -- has already done so in Bush's signature "Clear Skies" proposal.
In calculating advantages of laws and programs, such as reducing pollutants from power plants, government agencies assign a uniform value to each human life the change would save. For the EPA, the value is set at $6.1 million, a figure established under the administration of Bush's father. However, under the current Bush's policy, a 70-year-old would not be worth as much as, say, a 10-year-old, because the child obviously has a longer life expectancy.
"Clear Skies" puts the value of older people at $96,000, with the EPA assuming inexplicably that every elderly person suffers from heart disease and would live only six extra months if air pollution were to decrease.
The lower valuation of such individuals, in turn, lowers the benefits of a program when compared to its costs -- and the closer the two figures, the easier it is to reject the program's worth.
It would seem, then, that the new policy would undermine Bush's own initiative. However, in presenting "Clear Skies" publicly, the administration used the old method, claiming $93 billion in health benefits vs. $6.5 billion in costs. Meanwhile, in its presentation to Congress, the EPA also employed the new policy, calculating just $14.1 billion in benefits as an "alternative," Whitman said, but the dual numbers serve to confuse and obscure.
Moreover, the new policy could be used to discount proposals for other protections if extended to such issues as food labeling and government health plans.
Although opposition is coming primarily from advocates for the elderly and from environmental groups, it is also disturbing to religious conservatives, who are among the president's strongest supporters. Marking differences in the value of human life by age and health contradicts their belief that only God has that power. In addition, it conflicts with their stance against abortion, in which the life of a fetus is valued as much as the life of a mother. If a lesser value is placed on an undeveloped fetus, abortion advocates might be able to use that to push their agenda.