Supercenter this!

Wal-Mart turns Idaho into Michael Moore country

Published January 20, 2006 12:08AM (EST)

It's one thing when a state legislature in which both houses are controlled by strong Democratic majorities takes a big whack at Wal-Mart, passing a law requiring the company to boost its healthcare spending. In recent years, Wal-Mart has become a top organizing issue for labor unions and other stalwarts of the left, and there are clear political points to be scored by taking on the company. But when the Republican speaker of the house in a state that is as conservative as any in the union starts making similar noises, then one really has to wonder about the long-term prospects of the United States' biggest private employer.

That's what's happening in the Republican bastion of Idaho, where House Speaker Bruce Newcomb has been considering legislation similar to the Maryland bill since as far back as last July. Listening to some of Newcomb's quotes in recent days and months inspires through-the-looking-glass confusion. This isn't Idaho -- it's Michael Moore country!

Wal-Mart "is eating everybody else alive. They come in and suck the town dry. I resent that."

"Wal-Mart's blowing people out of the water, and if they're doing that by having the public sector subsidize their health care, that's wrong. That's really wrong."

"Rather than taxpayers subsidizing the wealthiest family in the world, maybe the wealthiest family in the world ought to reimburse Medicaid."

Newcomb has asked the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to conduct a study similar to one completed in Georgia in 2002, which found that for every four Wal-Mart workers, one dependent child was enrolled in the state healthcare program. According to a news report this week, Newcomb says the research will be completed soon, but no legislation is likely this session.

Regardless, Ayn Rand must be turning in her grave. And guess what -- she is! A "Letter to the Editor" currently being circulated by the Ayn Rand Institute declares that "Maryland's lawmakers have acted arbitrarily and unjustly in passing a law designed to force a single company -- Wal-Mart -- to increase its health benefits. The government has no place dictating to companies what health benefits they offer, period -- let alone targeting a single scapegoat company for punishment."

I will confess I too was a little bemused at the news of Maryland's action. It seems to me that there ought to be better ways to fix the healthcare mess in this country than going after individual companies, state by state, law by law. There lies madness. But I can't shed any tears for Wal-Mart -- when you become as big an economic force in the world as the Arkansas company has, there will, eventually, be pushback. And when the shoving starts taking place in Idaho, there's probably a pretty good reason for it.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization Healthcare Reform How The World Works Wal-mart