On the fringes of the fringe

ON THE FRINGES OF THE FRINGE…. I like to think I’ve kept up on the major arguments against health care reform, but Slate‘s Tim Noah (a Monthly alum) highlights what he considers to be the four “loopiest” allegations thrown around by unhinged critics. I have to admit, I hadn’t heard about most of them.

Some of the nuttier ideas fall into the tin-foil-hat category — some conservatives have argued that there’s a provision in the Affordable Care Act about implanting microchips in Americans — but my personal favorite had to do with playground jungle-gyms.

A few weeks ago, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was video-ambushed by someone demanding to know why the health care reform package gives “$7 billion to fund jungle gyms.” When Franken questioned the premise of the question, the conservative noted that the provision in question is on page 1,184.

True? Not so much.

Need I mention that jungle gym is yet another phrase that appears nowhere in the bills? … The page Mattera referred to concerned federal “Community Transformation Grants” to state and local governments and to private nonprofit organizations to promote preventive health. Grants would require approval from the Centers For Disease Control and “may focus on (but not be limited to)” seven specified goals, one of which is “creating healthier school environments, including increasing healthy food options, physical activity opportunities, promotion of healthy lifestyle, emotional wellness, and prevention curricula, and activities to prevent chronic diseases.”

The project may entail “a variety of programs, policies, and infrastructure improvements,” which suggests it might possibly involve building something (though given the liability issues, I wouldn’t bet that the result would be a jungle gym). Where Mattera got his $7 billion figure is anybody’s guess. The health care bill authorizes “such sums as may be necessary,” and the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Community Transformation Grants’ cost at zero, which probably means it had no idea how much Congress would eventually choose to appropriate for the program. If the figure did happen to be $7 billion, that would pay for all the Community Transformation Grants, not just grants to schools.

So the claim that the new law spends “$7 billion to fund jungle gyms” is wrong about the $7 billion, and wrong about the jungle gyms.

Something to keep in mind when your right-wing relatives demand an explanation.

By the way, the person who insisted to Franken that this claim was legit? That was 26-year-old conservative Jason Mattera, who was recently hired as the new editor of Human Events, a strange, hard-right magazine.