Political Profiles: Jeb Bush

By Scott Novak and Jordan Almazan

Jeb Bush at Rollins College 2014.  Winter Park Institute. Photo: Scott Cook

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush spoke at Rollins College last month as  part of the annual speaker series organized by the Winter Park Institute. Bush is the only Republican governor to ever be reelected in the state of Florida, and after hearing him speak, it is easy to see why. The man possesses an eloquence that his brother was often lacking as President, and compared to the radical Tea Party Republicans, his moderate stance is a breath of fresh air.

In addition to giving a public talk entitled, “America’s Promise in Uncertain Times,” Bush also held an open forum for Rollins students to ask him questions. What follows is a brief summary and commentary on the quotes and ideas expressed by Bush during both his public and student sessions. First. here are the three major points Bush outlined in his public talk:

  1. Immigration Reform

    Bush’s plan for immigration reform focuses on improving border security while at the same time providing more opportunities for immigrants to come to the United States legally. In his speech, he also called for an expansion of work-based visa programs and increased retention of STEM-trained (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) college students.

    “Immigrants are an engine of economic vitality,” Bush said. He noted that immigrants work hard and create many new businesses, so a better immigration system is simply good economics.

  2. Energy

    Bush highlighted the economic benefits that would result from producing more natural gas. “We ought to approve the [Keystone] XL Pipeline,” he said. Bush also stated that although fracking should be regulated, the practice is an excellent way to increase America’s energy independence. Additionally, there must be more incentives for conservation.

  3. Education

    Bush advocates for an education reform that raises academic standards for both students and teachers. “This notion that kids in poverty can’t learn. . . Florida has blow that through the roof,” he remarked. Bush also supports programs that would focus on increasing childhood literacy rates and said that teachers should be paid based on their performance. 

On healthcare:

Bush, like many Republicans, is for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In the student session, Bush called the new healthcare reform, “a dysfunctional solution to a dysfunctional problem,” and claimed, “it’s going to create a death spiral.”

Bush shared that his current healthcare plan is not ACA compliant. “I’ve had substandard insurance my whole life,” Bush said. “My doctor seemed to like it. It’s substandard because it doesn’t have all of these mandated benefits that would increase the cost.” Just five days before Bush’s talk, President Obama extended the deadline for people to keep their substandard insurance policies until 2017 – three years longer than originally anticipated.

Bush also noted that the number of young people who signed up for insurance was below what was expected and stated that premiums will skyrocket. “Most of these plans, if not all of them, will have losses,” Bush said. “And the losses will require 40 to 50 percent increases in premiums. When 2015 premiums are announced, many insurance companies will drop out, or people will drop it, because it is too costly.”

Unfortunately, there is not yet enough information available on the effects of the healthcare reform to substantiate such strong claims. In some states, premiums have gone up, and in others, premiums have gone down. Overall, states have had a huge disparity in how well they have implemented the reform, and because of this, it is nearly impossible to determine if and how much premiums will rise or fall.

On pre-existing conditions:

When addressing the part of the reform that prevents healthcare companies from not covering pre-existing conditions, Bush said, “That sounds wonderful. What if you don’t work out? What if you have a Big Mac for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? You’ll get a pre-existing condition pretty soon, because you’ll get a heart condition. Should society pay for that behavior? That’s a question that the ACA ignores.”

Bush argued that pre-existing conditions should be defined as conditions that people cannot control, such as having genetic challenges at birth. “These are things a compassionate society should focus on, not rewarding bad behavior, not penalizing people who live healthy lifestyles to pay for that,” he said. “Ultimately, this is about better healthcare outcomes, and so we should reward healthy lifestyles.”

The question Bush ignores here is whether society makes it difficult for vulnerable populations to access affordable health coverage. The pre-existing conditions Bush refers to primarily afflict those with lower socioeconomic status, who cannot afford a gym membership or pricey health food. Raising premiums for these individuals would potentially limit access to insurance and further widen coverage disparities. Rather than increase the price of coverage for already marginalized populations, Bush should consider supporting policy that would make healthy food more accessible and would raise the health standards of fast-food chains, effectively creating an all-around healthier America.

The Republican plan:

Bush said that Republicans do have a plan for healthcare reform, even though they have yet to propose one in Congress. His version of a Republican healthcare reform would be to make healthcare more consumer directed, with high deductibles, benefits that are not mandated, and more options for the types of insurance people can buy. Unfortunately, this plan sounds a lot like the healthcare system we had before.

The cost of the baby boomers:

In the student session, Bush noted that group of people between age 56 and 70 will create enormous entitlement and healthcare costs in the future, with the ratio of workers to retirees continuing to decrease. “Probably only 10 percent of Americans have saved enough money to retire without government benefits,” Bush said. “You guys are in for a serious generational problem here. You’ll be transferring your future income to pay for their retirement.”

On revising Stand Your Ground:

In reference to the trial of George Zimmerman (the man who shot Trayvon Martin), Bush said, “First of all, just to remind everybody: Stand Your Ground was not used by the defense as part of the case, although you wouldn’t know that if you were watching cable news at the time.” He went on to say that if a law is not being applied in the way it was originally intended, then it is the duty of the legislature to make modifications.

Bush doesn’t think Stand Your Ground should be repealed altogether. “Florida’s a lot safer today than it was a generation ago by every indicator. All of the crime index numbers have shown dramatic decreases, and you can’t just assume that this is happening because people are more peaceful . . . these tougher laws have made an impact on reducing crime.”

(You can learn more about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law here)

On whether or not America will ever overcome Islamophobia:

“I think we’ve pretty much overcome it,” Bush said. “I think there’s a difference between extreme Islam carried out by a handful of people and law-biding people who are as American as I am.”

While there is certainly a difference between Muslim extremists and most of the Muslims present in America, it seems like a bit of a stretch to claim that this country has overcome Islamophobia. Have we already forgotten about the public outcry that occurred when a proposed mosque was being built near Ground Zero, or Reza Aslan’s interview with Fox News? It seems there is still much work to do on this issue.

Is America’s declining religiosity causing the nation to fall apart?

Bush said, “America’s success isn’t that we are all driven by a similar faith, but I do think that as Americans, we should strive to have a set of shared values. You don’t have to be a Catholic to have a set of values about compassion, about determination.”

Bush observed that our society is not as united as it once was in these shared values. “If you’re a Democrat, you can live a comfortable life validating your beliefs,” he said. “You can watch MSNBC, I can watch Fox . . . We’ll be more righteous about our views because they’re always validated, and we’ll likely be less tolerant of other people’s views, because when you get validation like this, it makes it harder to understand the other side. I try to challenge people to think: what are the set of shared American values that have created this incredible country, and do they exist today to the extent that they did? I’m not certain about that.”

In a time when religion is all too often brought into American politics, Bush’s response to this question was refreshing.

Unscientifically predicted chance of another Bush running for office: 80%

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