On the January 21 edition of ABC's World News Sunday, ABC News White House correspondent Geoff Morrell stated that President Bush is "reaching out to Democrats" with a new health care policy he will reportedly announce during his State of the Union address on January 23. In saying that Bush is "reaching out," however, Morrell mischaracterized Bush's plan and ignored the fact that Democrats oppose Bush's proposal specifically because it would raise taxes on certain workers.
The Washington Post explained Bush's plan in a January 21 article:
President Bush will propose a deep tax break for Americans who purchase their own medical insurance and would finance it with an unprecedented tax on a portion of high-priced health-care plans that workers receive from their employers, according to the White House.
The initiative, which the president briefly previewed in his radio address yesterday, has a dual purpose: It would create a financial incentive for the estimated 46 million to 48 million Americans who lack health insurance to buy it. And it would rein in the soaring cost of health insurance by encouraging workers in high-priced plans to seek more modest coverage.
The proposal, which Bush plans to fully unveil in Tuesday's State of the Union address, marks a sharp departure for a president who has been criticized for advocating tax cuts that disproportionately benefit higher-income Americans.
Administration officials familiar with the plan say it reflects the new political order in Washington, where Democrats now control both chambers of Congress. They refuse to characterize the plan as a tax increase because it raises no new money for the federal government. Instead, it would add a new tax on employer-provided health-care plans worth more than $15,000 to subsidize those who buy modestly priced plans out of their pockets.
On World News, however, Morrell reported that Bush's plan would tax health plans purchased by families and individuals -- not employer-provided health plans:
MORRELL: The president wants to make health insurance taxable income. Any family paying more than $15,000 for health coverage, or individuals paying more than $7,500, would pay tax on the excess. And anyone spending less than that would get a big tax break. The White House hopes this will encourage more of the 47 million uninsured to buy coverage, while also reining in the rising cost of health care.
Morell then claimed that the new plan amounts to "reaching out to Democrats":
MORRELL: Indeed, more and more GOP lawmakers are breaking from the president on Iraq. But rather than come up with proposals that would shore up his base, Mr. Bush is reaching out to Democrats, and he is trying to change the subject from Iraq, which the president will only touch on briefly in Tuesday's speech.
In contrast with Morrell's report, on January 21, The New York Times noted that Bush's "proposed plan is a startling move for a president who has repeatedly vowed not to raise taxes. And it is certain to run into opposition from business groups, labor unions and, most of all, the Democrats who now run Capitol Hill." The article continued:
"It's a bad policy," Representative Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House committee that writes tax legislation, said in an interview Friday night. "We are trying to bring tax relief to the middle class. The president is trying to increase their tax liability. This proposal is inconsistent with what the majority is seeking in the House and the Senate."
In a January 21 article, the Los Angeles Times quoted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) also criticizing Bush's proposal:
On Capitol Hill, prominent Democrats issued statements saying they were glad Bush was talking about healthcare but were skeptical about his plan.
"To the extent that the president is now recognizing that all Americans need health coverage, that's positive," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles). "But it clearly cannot come at the cost of undermining comprehensive health coverage for those who do have insurance."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he questioned "why the president thinks the way to solve this problem is through the tax code."
Media Matters for America has documented (here and here) other examples of media figures claiming that Bush was "reaching out" to Democrats after the November 2006 elections despite evidence to the contrary.