Gross asks: Why is Tony Snow's 401(k) empty? It turns out it's empty because Snow didn't put any money in it. But Gross doesn't see it that way.
And yet Snow's own life in many ways symbolizes the downside of the ownership society—and suggests how much a government role in health and retirement benefits is necessary.Clearly then, the government should have stepped in and made sure that Snow took advantage of his 401(k). Or Fox should have a traditional pension plan. Or the government should provide a lavish retirement plan for Snow because he's incapable of managing his own affairs.
When Snow came to the White House after several years at the Fox News Channel, it was clear that he had relied entirely on others to save for his retirement. Snow conceded: "As a matter of fact, I was even too dopey to get in on a 401(k). So there is actually no Fox pension. The only media pension I have is through AFTRA [a union]." Even though his employer provided a 401(k) and would have matched contributions, and even though he was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, Snow had not shown either the interest or financial capability to manage his own retirement benefits.
Then Gross takes Snow to task for putting a positive spin on the economy, when Snow himself couldn't afford to live on his salary.
As part of his press secretary job, Snow had to spin economic news to make it seem as if the typical American was doing well in an economy in which gains have been distributed unevenly. A report issued by the Census Bureau last month showed that median household income, at $48,201, hasn't budged since 1999. Snow admitted to feeling pinched on his salary of $168,000, which is about 3.5 times the median U.S. income. "We took out a loan when I came to the White House, and that loan is now gone," he said. "So I'm going to have to pay the bills."I'm no expert money manager, but I'm pretty sure I could manage well on a salary of $168,000. And just because Snow was unable, as an individual, to pay the bills on that salary doesn't mean that he doesn't believe that the economy isn't doing well. Nor does it mean that the economy isn't doing well.
Maybe it means the Snows are spendthrifts. Who can say? It might just mean that a man with serious health concerns dropped out of a public service job because he could make much more money in the private sector. A man with a chronic disease who might want to leave a little something to his wife and children should he die before his time.
Snow's cancer is another cudgel with which to beat the administration.
Snow survived colon cancer in 2005, but earlier this spring it returned to his liver. Snow is fighting it valiantly. "I finished chemo two weeks ago today," he said last week. "We did CAT scans and MRIs in the last week and it indicates that the chemo did exactly what we hoped it would do, which is hold serve. The tumors that we've been tracking have not grown. … We'll be doing what's called a maintenance dose of chemotherapy just to keep whacking this thing." He also noted that he'd be having scans every three months, "just to stay on top of everything."Let's skip over the fact that Snow's first bout with cancer came when he was working for Fox so the taxpayers had nothing to do with that treatment. And since Snow left public employ, the taxpayers won't be footing the bill any longer. Snow can opt for a temporary continuation of coverage, but it'll cost him.
That's great news for Snow and his family, and we wish him much success in his battle. But such treatment is enormously expensive and only available to people who have good insurance—like the kind taxpayers fund for public employees such as Snow. If Snow had owned his own benefits, or approached health care as a consumer, as the administration wants people to do, he'd certainly be singing a different tune. Had Snow stashed a few thousand dollars in a health savings account, which is one of the administration's chief proposals to reduce the rising number of the uninsured, he likely wouldn't have enough cash to afford chemotherapy. According to the Census Bureau, there were 47 million Americans without insurance in 2006, up from 41.2 million in 2001, when Bush entered office. Were any of them to be afflicted with cancer as Snow has been, they'd be largely out of luck—unable to pay the bills for all those scans and chemo doses, and unable to find an insurer willing to cover such a pre-existing condition.
In addition, one can take advantage of a health savings account and still have insurance. Most people who enroll in HSAs, in fact, opt for a high-deductible insurance plan and use the HSA to pay for routine care, like checkups, while saving the insurance for catastrophic events, like cancer.
It's touching that Daniel Gross is so concerned about Tony Snow's well being. But maybe it's just a tad disingenuous to use a man who's leaving a job paying $168,000 for a chance to make hundreds of thousands more.