Newsweek's Weisberg Claims 'The GOP Is Gunning for Grandma'

Outraged by Sen. Charles Grassley’s worries that Democratic health care proposals would "pull the plug on Grandma," Newsweek columnist Jacob Weisberg (who also worked as a reporter for Newsweek early in his career) turns the tables and suggests the Republicans are urging the deaths of the elderly in a myriad of ways:

It's not preposterous to imagine laws that would try to save money by encouraging the inconvenient elderly to make an early exit. After all, that's been the Republican policy for years.

It was Grassley himself who devised the "Throw Mama From the Train" provision of the GOP's 2001 tax cut. The estate-tax revision he championed will reduce the estate tax to zero next year. But when it expires at year's end, the tax will jump back up to its previous level of 55 percent. Grassley's exploding tax break has an entirely foreseeable, if unintended, consequence: it incentivizes ailing, elderly rich people to end their lives—paging Dr. Kevorkian—before midnight on Dec. 31, 2010. It also gives their children an incentive to sign DNR orders and switch off respirators in time for the deadline. This would be a great plot for a P. D. James novel if it weren't an actual piece of legislation.

This is not merely hypothetical. Serious economists take the possibility seriously. In a 2001 paper entitled "Dying to Save Taxes," economists from the University of Michigan and the University of British Columbia examined 13 changes in U.S. tax law since 1917 and concluded that benefactors die in greater numbers just before tax hikes and just after tax cuts. A 2006 study done in Australia, which abolished its inheritance tax in July 1979, reached the same conclusion. Statistics showed that more than half the people who would ordinarily have died in the last week of June 1979—and whose heirs would have been subject to the tax—managed to avoid it by surviving into July. Republicans in Congress have created a similar inducement for Grandma not to die before January 2010, but to make sure she is gone by January 2011.

Weisberg is just being silly here. He knows full well that the Bush tax cuts were set to expire so that their "cost" to the federal government was lessened. If liberals wanted to prevent the trend Weisberg implies, they could extend the tax breaks.

But that is nothing like refusing someone an operation. Weisberg does not engage in the cruelest irony of the socialist health care promise: socialists demand a "right to health care," and then can't afford to deliver it. The government ends up deciding who has a "right" to a procedure and who doesn't; and how much of a "right" they have to get it in less than six months.

In all his high dudgeon, Weisberg is not acknowledging one reason Republicans dread the passage of "Medicare for all" -- how Democrats will constantly suggest to fearful voters that Snidely Whiplash Republicans want to turn off the life-saving "Medicare for all" dollars.

Apparently most of the GOP agenda is a death platform:

Other GOP policies promote death for senior citizens with more modest incomes. Take George W. Bush's failed plan to privatize Social Security—a program that has driven life expectancy up and death rates down since it was instituted. It has an especially pronounced impact on suicide rates for the elderly, which have declined 56 percent since 1930. Had Bush prevailed, those who gambled on the stock market and lost would be less able to afford medicine, food, and heating for their homes. In aggregate, they'd likely die younger and commit suicide more often.

Weisberg goes on to suggest that Republican opposition to embryo-destroying stem cell research subsidies, and the last round of "clean air" regulation, which the EPA estimates would have saved 23,000 lives: "it's reasonable to deduce that there are tens of thousands of people who would still be elderly today if Republicans didn't value the rights and campaign contributions of polluters more highly than their lives."

Weisberg concluded: "And do not be surprised if you experience something like the following nightmare: You're in a hospital bed, hovering in a state of partial consciousness. Beneath the mask, that surgeon has a familiar face … wait, isn't that … Dr. Grassley? And who's that with the syringe—Nurse Palin? At which point, if you are lucky, you will wake up in a cold sweat."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis