The campaign press is seemingly content to cover the 2004 election as if it were reporting on the antics of two playground bullies and their pals in the peanut gallery yelling out insults. Thus, the appearance of a well-reported enterprise story about a significant issue that looms large on the horizon after November 2 is welcome.

In today’s Detroit News, Jeff Plungis writes of the move afoot by the Big Three automakers to win government help in reducing industry health care costs, which in 2003 totaled $9.9 billion. Plungis reports:

As part of a debate over a wide-ranging corporate tax bill earlier this year, the Big Three and the United Auto Workers floated a plan to provide tax credits to companies that offer health care.

The proposal would have transferred part of their health care costs — up to $5 billion over 10 years — to the federal government.

But when Republican members of Congress found enough support for the bill without the health care relief, they dropped it from the bill.

Plungis lays out some compelling statistics: “GM alone spends $4.8 billion — $1.3 billion just on prescription drugs — for 1.1 million workers, retirees and their dependents. The world’s largest automaker estimates health care costs amount to $1,400 for each vehicle it sells in the United States, and that number is rising.” In comparison, Toyota Motor Corp.’s health care costs per vehicle “average about $300, GM estimates.”

The News story serves as a welcome — yet worrisome — reminder. There are a lot of issues out there awaiting serious debate by the campaigns, which at the moment seem far happier hurling silly epithets at each other, confident that the media will capture every mindless detail.

Susan Q. Stranahan

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.