October 14, 2010

Link between fire in Tennessee and Montgomery County?

When a Tennessee family watched firefighters arrive at their burning home and refuse to lift a hose to fight the flames because the family had neglected to pay its annual $75 fire protection fee, we thought it was time to send The Post's Michael Laris out to see what was what. Laris's report in today's Washington Post draws a connection between the Tennessee case and the decision voters in Montgomery County must make at the polls next month, when they vote on whether to approve a county initiative that would impose a fee for ambulance service.

Here's how Laris's story describes the link between the two cases: [The Tennessee case] has resonated across the country as either an extreme example of how personal responsibility should be the basis of American democracy or a nightmarish incident that proves how far the country has strayed from its purpose as a place where people care for one another. Next month, Montgomery County voters will decide whether ambulance service should be included in taxes or paid for by health insurance. The proposal, approved by the County Council this year, would not deny service to the uninsured, but opponents say the plan nonetheless violates the compact that has defined the American system at least since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal: the idea of a safety net that supports all. But county executive Ike Leggett, along with some journalists at The Post, thought the connection between the two cases was too tenuous. As Leggett is quoted saying in the story, the connection is "reaching for straws and a desperate argument to try to confuse the public."

In fact, as the story takes pains to point out, the Montgomery initiative would not result in anyone being denied ambulance service, and the fees would not be paid directly by residents, but rather through their health insurers. Still, opponents of the fee say those distinctions are only points on a spectrum, and the essential fact behind both cases is that some want to pull Americans away from the New Deal-era notion--a theory of American government that traces all the way back to Benjamin Franklin's advocacy for volunteer fire companies--that the public obligation is to provide a safety net for all. SOURCE: Washington Post

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