Sweeping healthcare legislation in Congress includes money for walking paths, streetlights, jungle gyms, and even farmers' markets. While supporters cite their importance for preventative health, critics see the billions of dollars for such provisions in the Senate and House versions as pure pork.
The Boston Globe reports: "Critics argue the provision is a thinly disguised effort to insert pork-barrel spending into a bill that has been widely portrayed to the public as dealing with expanding health coverage and cutting medical costs. ... But advocates, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, defend the proposed spending as a necessary way to promote healthier lives and, in the long run, cut medical costs."
The paper notes: "The Senate health panel's bill does not specify how much would go to the community projects. A Senate staff member said the amount of spending will be left up to the Obama administration. A House version of the bill caps the projects at $1.6 billion per year and includes them in a section designed to save money in the long run by reducing obesity and other health problems. It is not clear yet how the money would be allocated. The legislation says that grants will be awarded to local and state government agencies that will have to submit detailed proposals. The final decisions will be made by the secretary of Health and Human Services. The proposal was inserted at the urging of a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Trust for America's Health, which produces reports about obesity and other health matters. Part of the group's proposed language for the community grants was inserted into the Senate (Health) bill."
The Globe continues, "The idea of using the healthcare bill as a vehicle for preventing diseases has bipartisan appeal. President Obama has called for 'the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that's one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.' ... But there is disagreement about the best way to do that" (Kranish, 7/9).