Another Attack Could Slow Economy Again

April 16, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Congressman Vern Ehlers told the Business Journal last week that he believes the economy is beginning to turn around, but says there could be one fly in the ointment.

“I think there’s a reasonable probability — not a high probability — of a major terrorist incident this year or even in 2003,” he said.

“And if that happens, again it’s going to have the same effect the last attacks did: a loss of confidence among people, a desire to stay at home in a safe haven with family and friends.

“And also it will increase military spending,” he added. “That’s the biggest cause of the deficit next year, in spite of what Tom Daschle says The cause of the deficit is military expenditures, not a tax cut.

“And it doesn’t have to be a big one,’ he said of such an attack.

To illustrate, he noted that the nation’s jitters over anthrax seemed far worse than fears arising out of the carnage of the World Trade Center attack.

“And I think it’s partly irrational,” he said. “Only six people died because of anthrax as opposed to 3,000 in the World Trade Center. And the chances of contracting anthrax are infinitesimal. But anthrax seemed to affect everyone.”

He noted that some of his colleagues in Washington received returned mail that they had sent to constituents. “It was refused,” he said. What those legislators finally had to do was send out mailings from their district offices. “And they had to stamp it, ‘This Was Not Mailed From Washington’”

“When I gave speeches on the science of anthrax,” he added, “you could hear a pin drop.”

The key thing, he said, is that it’s almost impossible to defend the country against terrorism. “As I’ve been saying for three or four years now, any time you have a free, open and developed society, you cannot stop terrorism. I don’t care how careful you are or how prescient you are, it’s going to happen

“The only thing you can do is what George Bush is doing, attacking it at the source and trying to freeze their money supply.

“I can name you a number of good potential terrorist opportunities and it would take an immense amount of money to provide security for them.

“I do think we make a mistake as a nation,’ he added. “Every time something happens, we say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. We have to stop that.’ And we spend billions and billions of dollars to stop attacks on targets that have been hit once, and they’re never attacked a second time.”

Concerns about anthrax, he added, touch on a political issue that is on nobody’s radar screen right now, but that by next November will become an issue that he believes may overwhelm the Republican Party.

That issue, he said, is the persistent inflation of health care costs.

“I have warned about this for some time,” he said. “I think this is the year when lots of employers either are going to drop health care coverage altogether, or require their employees to pay a much larger portion of their health insurance.

“Health costs are going up so much that his will be a major crisis, and I don’t know what anybody can do about it. There just are no simple solutions.”

“Nationalized health care might bring about some efficiencies,” he said, “but I think there would be many more countervailing inefficiencies.”

Ample warning, he said, lies in Canada’s national health care system, which makes it so difficult for Canadians to get timely care that they stream to doctors and hospitals in Detroit.

“The thing that has amazed me,” he said, “is the incredible amount of paperwork in doctors’ offices and in hospitals.” He said he is personally acquainted with physicians whose staff once amounted to a single part-timer and who now must have three full-time workers and perhaps two part-times.

“And it’s all for paperwork,” he marveled.

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