More "Ask the White House" shenanigans

Monday, May 08, 2006 at 05:16 PM

I've written before about the use of the "Ask the White House" web page to spread admin propaganda.

My complaint then was that the Q&A was obviously contrived to get out the White House message.

New complaint: sometimes it simply ignores what appears to be a real question, and STILL contains contrived questions designed to spread the talking points.

Take the recent "Ask the White House" page where ordinary Americans were invited to interact with John Snow, Secretary of the Treasury.

One question from "Timothy, from Commerce, Texas" seems legit to me:

With the cost of oil, natural gas and electricity on the rise and with this increase it is being passed on to consumers either at the pump or at the checkouts will the people who make minumum wage be seeing an increase?

Snow's response:

Thanks for raising the issue of gasoline prices, Timothy - they are a concern. That's why the President has presented a four-part plan that includes making sure consumers and taxpayers are treated fairly, promoting greater fuel efficiency, boosting our oil and gasoline supplies, and investing aggressively in alternatives to gasoline, so we can eliminate the root cause of high gas prices by diversifying away from oil in the longer term.

I know that high gas prices act like a tax on families and businesses, and we need to ease the pain to the extent it is possible. But the good news is that our strong economy has proven so resilient in handling these headwinds to this point. Pain at the pump is unwelcome, but we are fortunate that there is plenty of good news on American's standards of living at the same time, from homeownership to increasing real disposable income, lots of job creation and overall economic growth.

Okay, John, I can take a hint from your total failure to address the question; I take that as a "no."

Nor is that the only instance of ignoring the question.  For example, Carol, from Green Bay, WI" writes:

As a woman-owned small business, I am finding the cost of healthcare staggering. What can you do quickly to alleviate the strain small business owners like myself are feeling. There are moments when the cost of healthcare is so large that it is difficult to pay all the vendor bills and salaries.Thank you, Carol

And Mr. Snow nonresponds:

Thanks for this question, Carol. I know, and the President knows, that small-business owners are really feeling a financial pinch when it comes to health-care costs. It's an issue of real concern and we're working hard to bring you some relief. One of the President's accomplishments in this area was the creation of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). HSAs are a savings product paired with an insurance product - a high deductible health plan (an HDHP). I think you might find quite a bit of financial relief in these products if they are right for you and your employees. I encourage you to talk with your insurer about HSAs. Here's how they work:

Individuals and/or their employers can contribute, tax free, to the accounts to save for future medical expenses. Contributions can be made to them as long as the account-holder has an HDHP, a comprehensive health insurance policy with deductibles of at least $1,050 for self-only coverage and $2,100 for family coverage. Withdrawals from the HSA can be made, tax free, at any time for qualified health expenses, which includes most out-of-pocket medical expenses. Thus, someone with an HDHP can contribute, every year, an amount equal to the deductible to his HSA and use those funds, which are exempt from income taxes, to meet the deductible. Any amount remaining in his HSA at the end of the year is rolled over to future years, to be used for future health care expenses. You can learn more about the mechanics of HSAs at

Choosing an HSA over traditional insurance plans puts you in charge of your health-care purchasing decisions, and that's why their creation was so important. Similar to retirement-saving tools like IRAs, HSAs were designed to help individuals take more control over how their health care dollars are spent and save for future medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis. For all these reasons, I'm pleased that more employers are choosing to offer HSAs to their employees every day, and I encourage all employers and individuals to consider them as an attractive alternative to traditional health insurance.

Thanks again for bringing up this critical topic, Carol. I hope that you consider HSAs for you and your employees.

But, the White House being the White House, you have to expect some questions that are so perfectly designed to convey a talking point that you have to believe they're made up.  Witness "Michael, from Powell, TN":

What happens to the economy if there is a tax increase?

Having just written the question (or had a minion do the dirty work), Mr. Snow just happens to have a politically handy response:

Michael, you've asked a question that I hope members of Congress are asking themselves right now! The answer, to me, is clear: tax increases hurt the American economy. I always tell people that it's this simple: Anything you tax more, you get less of. And anything you tax less, you get more of.

When the President and Congress lowered taxes on incomes and investment, our economy pivoted into recovery and then into strong growth. Job creation, rising business investment, high productivity and so many other positive economic developments can be directly traced to the enactment of tax relief. The President and I are urging Congress to act quickly to agree on legislation that will extend these lower tax rates that are so important to the health of the American economy. Congress needs to act to avoid a tax increase.

Ahh, your government at work, slaving away to provide you the answers it wants you to believe, while dodging any and all questions that might actually serve some useful purpose.  That's what government web sites are all about, right?