Presidential Lip Service to Choice and Competition

Rep. Darrell Issa
National Review
9/15/09

President Obama wanted to set the record straight on his health-care agenda, so he made a trip to Capitol Hill last week. During his primetime address to a joint session of Congress, the president explained that his “guiding principle is, and has always been, that customers do better when there is choice and competition.”

I couldn’t agree more. The integrity of American democracy rests on customer choice and market competition. But many Americans are having a tough time believing President Obama when he announces his so-called “guiding principle.” And if his “guiding principle” sets his health-care agenda the same way it has his education policy, then there’s reason to anticipate a one-size fits all government program that doubles the cost to taxpayers, benefits liberal special interests almost exclusively, and delivers an inferior product to those it was designed to serve. Allow me to explain.

Earlier this year, President Obama signaled his intention to end the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, a program that affords low-income children in high-crime, substandard public schools the chance to choose a quality education. By awarding up to $7,500 per student, the scholarship program has made it possible for 3,000 disadvantaged kids to attend private schools in the District of Columbia. In spite of the program’s demonstrated success and the overall satisfaction reported by both parents and students, President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress want to kill it.

Why? Because the president believes that private schools are a threat to public education. Never mind that the taxpayers’ annual bill is $14,800 per student in the D.C. public school system — nearly twice the cost of the scholarship program. And forget that 75 percent of District residents support the program. And it doesn’t matter that the children are safer and better educated in the schools of their choice. And it’s irrelevant that the Department of Education’s analysis of the program gave it favorable reviews (the report was withheld by the Obama administration until after Congress axed the program).

The message is clear. The president and the teachers’ unions that support him don’t want choices for D.C. schoolchildren or competition for government-run schools. So much for his “guiding principle.”

In May, I joined House Republican Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.) in legislation to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. In July, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn) and Susan Collins (R., Maine) introduced similar legislation and called for an increase in funding. There is clearly bipartisan Congressional support for reauthorization, and intense support among D.C. families and respected community leaders.

When the president tells the American people that he’s for “choice” and “competition” in health-care reform, they should look very carefully at how he’s treated the most vulnerable children in his own back yard. No, the president isn’t really interested in choice and competition, in spite of his televised finger-wagging lectures to the contrary.

And if the president won’t support the opportunity for children to attend schools of their choice, what makes anyone think he supports the right of all Americans to be treated by doctors of their choice?

– Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.