Betsy McCaughey

Betsy McCaughey
Betsy McCaughey
McCaughey in 2008
Lieutenant Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1995 – December 31, 1998
Governor George Pataki
Preceded by Stan Lundine
Succeeded by Mary Donohue
Personal details
Born Elizabeth Helen Peterken
October 20, 1948 (1948-10-20) (age 63)[1]
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political party Republican 2010-Present
Democratic 1997-2010
Spouse(s) Thomas K. McCaughey,
(m. 1972 - div. 1994)
Wilbur Ross, Jr.
(m. 1995 - div. 1998)
Children Three
Alma mater Vassar College (B.A.)
Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.)
Profession Political commentator,
U.S. Constitutional historian
Religion Episcopalian
Known as Betsy McCaughey Ross (1995-2000)

Betsy McCaughey (pronounced /məˈkɔɪ/; born Elizabeth Helen Peterken, October 20, 1948), formerly known as Betsy McCaughey Ross, was the Republican Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1995 to 1998, during the first term of Governor George Pataki. She unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for Governor in 1998.

An historian by training, with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, she has, over the years, provided commentary on healthcare policy. She came to national attention in 1993 for her attack on the Clinton healthcare plan which was considered to be a major factor in the defeat of the bill, and which brought her to the attention of Pataki, who then chose her to be his Lieutenant Governor running mate. In 2009 her criticisms of the healthcare plan then being debated in the 111th Congress inspired the slogans "death panel" and "pulling the plug on Grandma", which nearly defeated the legislation.

She has been a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and Hudson Institute think tanks, and has written numerous articles as well as newspaper op-eds. She was a member of the boards of directors of Genta, a medical supply corporation that focuses on products for cancer treatment from 2001 to 2007, and Cantel Medical Corporation, a company that produces and sells medical equipment, until she resigned in August 2009 to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over healthcare reform legislation.


Early life, education, and family

McCaughey and her twin brother William were born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Albert Peterken, a factory janitor, and his wife, Ramona.[2][3] The family moved around the Northeastern United States for six years before settling down in Westport, Connecticut,[1] where McCaughey's father did maintenance, and later engineering work at a nail clipper factory.[4][5] McCaughey recalled her parents' difficulty in affording medical treatment, "my brother was a serious asthmatic as a child. I remember my parents sitting at the kitchen table wondering if they could afford to take [him] to the hospital."[1]

McCaughey attended public schools in Westport through the 10th grade, spending much of her free time at the library.[5] After receiving a scholarship, she transferred to a private Massachusetts boarding school, the Mary A. Burnham School, for her last two years of high school, rarely visiting home, either then or during her college years.[5]

She received a scholarship to attend Vassar College where she majored in history.[5] She wrote her senior thesis on Karl Marx and Alexis de Tocqueville,[5] won several fellowships, and received her B.A., with distinction, in 1970.[6] McCaughey went on to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, earning her M.A. in 1972 and her Ph.D. in constitutional history in 1976.[6] She won Columbia's Bancroft Dissertation Award in American History in 1976[7] and her dissertation was published by the prestigious Columbia University Press in 1980 under the title, From Loyalist to Founding Father: The Political Odyssey of William Samuel Johnson.[8] She also contributed a chapter about William Samuel Johnson to the 1979 book, The American Revolution: Changing Perspectives by William Fowler and Wallace Coyle.[9]

While completing her Ph.D., McCaughey trained in the corporate banking department at Chase Manhattan Bank, and served as a lending officer in the Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Division.[10] She also took courses in accounting at Columbia's School of Business.[10]

In 1971, McCaughey's mother, an alcoholic, died of liver disease at the age of 42; her father had died one year earlier at the age of 60.[5][11] In 1972, she married Thomas K. McCaughey, a Yale graduate she had met in college and who was then moving up as an investment banker.[12] The McCaugheys separated in 1992 and divorced in 1994 with McCaughey and her ex-spouse sharing joint custody of their three daughters.[13] In January 1993 she filed an affidavit in her divorce proceeding in which she said she had no annual earnings from employment during most of the 18 years of her marriage to Thomas, and had never earned more than $20,000 per year, except in 1990, when she "sold an idea to Fox television for a windfall once-in-a-lifetime sum of $75,000".[12][14] She married wealthy investment banker and prominent Democratic Party fundraiser Wilbur Ross, Jr. in December 1995;[15] he filed for divorce in November 1998.[16]

Academic work

McCaughey taught history as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Vassar College in 1977–1978, was a Lecturer at Columbia University in 1979–1980, and an Assistant Professor at Columbia University between 1981 and 1983, teaching two classes per year. Between 1983 and 1984 she had a National Endowment for the Humanities post-doctoral fellowship.[12][14] From 1986 to 1988, she served as a guest curator at the New-York Historical Society and was responsible for the museum's exhibit commemorating the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.[17] She also authored a book, "Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution" that cataloged the exhibit.[17]

Think tank scholar

In the late 1980s McCaughey briefly considered a career in television journalism,[5] but opted instead for a position as a senior scholar at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, serving from 1989 to 1992. There, she wrote an article, book reviews, and a guest editorial for its journal, Presidential Studies Quarterly (PSQ),[18] and an op-ed in USA Today advocating reform of the Electoral College method of electing the U.S. President.[19] She testified at a July 22, 1992 hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution,[20] and helped produce a report suggesting constitutional amendments to fix flaws in the Electoral College.[20][21]

McCaughey also wrote op-ed columns that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today, in which she opposed plans involving local and state redistricting to comply with the Voting Rights Act,[22] and criticized court ordered desegregation of schools in Connecticut and New Jersey.[23] She also supported the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that he would not bend the law to match his conservative beliefs;[5][24] supported a tobacco company in litigation before the Supreme Court;[25] and praised the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey U.S. Supreme Court decision restricting abortion.[26]

In February 1993, the John M. Olin Foundation funded a fellowship at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, for McCaughey to write a book on race and the legal system to be titled: "Beyond Pluralism: Overcoming the Narcissism of Minor Differences". McCaughey wrote op-eds over the next six months in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, in which she supported the 1993 selection of a jury from predominately white Republican white rural counties for the Memphis retrial of African American Democratic U.S. Representative, Harold Ford, Sr.,[27] and praised the 1993 Shaw v. Reno U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of five white voters who said their rights had been infringed by redistricting that had been done to comply with the Voting Rights Act.[28]

Influential critic of Clinton healthcare bill

On September 22, 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered a nationally televised speech about his healthcare reform plan to a joint session of Congress. From September 28–30, 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton, the architect of the universal health care plan, testified about its details before five U.S. congressional committees. The cost of providing insurance for the estimated 37 million people who were then uninsured was to be covered in part, by new taxes on tobacco.[29] On the last day of Hillary Clinton's testimony, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by McCaughey, who said she had read and reread the 239-page draft legislation and had concluded that the plan differed markedly from the White House's public statements and would have "devastating consequences".[30][31] Citing words and phrases from the draft, she argued that 77 percent of Americans now covered by insurance would see a downgrade in their policies—most would not be able to keep their own physicians and would be forced into price-controlled Health maintenance organizations (HMOs), which would provide only the most basic of care.[31] According to McCaughey, the HMO plans would not pay for visits to specialists or for second opinions, and most physicians would be driven out of private practice.[31]

In late November, 1993, the Clintons' Health Security Act bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress as a 1,342-page document, (in large print and double-spaced), and was also distributed to the press and made available to the public. The Wall Street Journal then published an op-ed by McCaughey in which said she had pored over the entire bill and concluded that it had price controls that would cause rationing, and that in her opinion the bill was dangerous.[32][33]

McCaughey expanded her op-eds into an article for The New Republic (TNR) at the request of Martin Peretz, the owner and editor-in-chief of the magazine, who opposed the Clinton health plan. McCaughey's five-page article, "No Exit", was featured as the cover story in the February 7, 1994 issue, published a few days before President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union address.[34] An internal memo by tobacco company Philip Morris, dated March 1994, indicated that representatives of Philip Morris had collaborated with McCaughey when she was writing "No Exit", stating:[35][36] "Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."[36][37] (When the memo was discussed in a 2009 story in the Rolling Stone, McCaughey declined to comment.)[29][35]

McCaughey's "No Exit" article was quickly used by conservative officials and commentators seeking to discredit the Clinton plan.[38] Senator Bob Dole, in the Republican Party response to the President's State of the Union, used some of McCaughey's arguments of less choice for you and your family, less quality and more government control.[39] Bill Kristol's Project for the Republican Future quickly launched television advertisements featuring quotes from McCaughey's two Wall Street Journal op-ed columns and herTNR article. Newsweek columnist George Will used McCaughey's writings as a basis for predicting the Clinton health plan would kill patients and make it illegal for patients to pay doctors directly for care—with 15-year jail terms for patients who tried to do so.[40][41]

The Clinton White House press office issued a response to McCaughey's "No Exit" article, arguing that it contained "numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements."[42] McCaughey responded that the White House criticism had failed to address specific passages of her original article, and that her claims were accurate and factual because they came "straight from the text of the bill".[43] Supporters of the Clinton plan questioned McCaughey's claims, including her statements that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," and that "doctor[s] can be paid only by the plan, not by you", by pointing to the text of the legislation such as[38] Section 1003 that said: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting ... An individual from purchasing any health care services." — House Bill 3600. February 4, 1994.[44]

According to The Washington Post, the "No Exit" article, the White House response, and the ensuing television and radio interviews with McCaughey made her a star, and, "Her toothy good looks, body-conscious suits, Vassar BA and Columbia PhD reduced right-wingers to mush".[12] The bill stalled and died in Congress in 1994, and the next year Clinton was reduced to asking Congress for a series of small, incremental reforms to the healthcare system.[45] The "No Exit" article won the National Magazine Award for excellence in the public interest. Andrew Sullivan, then the editor of The New Republic later acknowledged he was aware of flaws in McCaughey's article, but said he ran it "as a provocation to debate."[46] In 2006 a new editor recanted the story as part of an effort to return "the magazine to its liberal roots."[47]

Political career in New York

Following the national attention McCaughey received in the healthcare legislation debate, George Pataki, a one term state senator who was running for governor of New York, chose her as his lieutenant governor running mate. Though she was political novice whom he did not know, he perceived she was popular among conservatives, and was a candidate who could appeal to independents and women.[48] Regarding her status as a political rookie, McCaughey said, "Many New Yorkers see that as a plus."[6]

She said she accepted the nomination believing she would be Pataki's "point person on health policy".[49] After winning the election, Pataki told The New York Times, "she would not get lost in his shadow like some lieutenant governors and would have 'very real and significant responsibilities.'[50] McCaughey was initially tasked by Pataki to work on education policy and on reducing the Medicaid budget.[6] By January 1995 she had produced a set of recommendations that required cost cutting by hospitals and nursing homes, so that the poor did not have to bear the entire burden of balancing the Medicaid budget.[1] However, her recommendations were mainly ignored.[51] After Pataki refused to give her permission to conduct a study into child abuse, she did one anyway, and announced the results.[6] She was publicly critical of the governor's proposed cuts to Medicaid, and gave a pro-choice speech without getting his permission.[6] In March 1996 The New York Times reported that she was locked out of the governor's inner circle because she had violated the unwritten rules of the lieutenant governor's job—which required staying in the governor's shadow, following his orders, and setting personal ambitions aside.[6] In the spring of 1997, Pataki announced that McCaughey would not be his running mate in 1998, later selecting State Supreme Court Justice Mary Donohue to replace her.

Though she had always voted Republican in presidential elections, McCaughy then switched her party affiliation, officially becoming a Democrat, and soon announced her plans to run for governor against Pataki.[5] McCaughey was the early frontrunner for her new party's nomination[52] in part because of her statewide name recognition and financial support from her wealthy husband.[53] During her campaign, she was criticized for firing a succession of aides and political advisers, and for possibly changing her core political beliefs.[5] As her poll numbers sank, her husband withdrew more than half of the campaign funds he had provided. She was defeated in the nomination race by Democratic New York City councilman Peter Vallone, who lost the general election to Pataki 54 percent to 33 percent. McCaughey had earlier received the nomination of the Liberal Party for governor and stayed on the Liberal ticket. The party attracted little support and McCaughey received only 1.65 percent of the vote in the general election.[54]

Career since leaving office

McCaughey has worked on patient advocacy and healthcare policy issues since leaving office in 1999. She was senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute beginning in 1999, then an adjunct senior fellow beginning in 2002.[10] She was a member of the board of directors of Genta, a company focused on the delivery of innovative products for cancer treatment from 2001 until she resigned in October 2007.[55] She was also a member of the board of directors of the Cantel Medical Corporation, a medical device manufacturer, from 2005 until she resigned in August 2009 to avoid the appearance a conflict of interest while she was engaged in advocacy on healthcare reform legislation.[56]

In 2004, she founded the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) in reaction to the alarming rise in anti-biotic resistant staphylococcus aureus and other hospital-borne infections.[57] The non-profit RID is "devoted solely to providing safer, cleaner, hospital care", and McCaughey serves as its chairperson.[58] As the representative of the organization, McCaughey has made the prevention of hospital infections through the use of hygiene protocols and products a prominent public issue, while pointing out to hospitals that they can increase profitability and avoid lawsuits by reducing the number of infections.[10][59] She has appeared on Fox News, CNN and many radio shows to discuss her research and how to prevent infection deaths.[10] Her organization's efforts have led to legislation in more than 25 states requiring hospitals to report infections.[10]

Health policy critic

American Cancer Society

In August 2007 the American Cancer Society dedicated $15 million to a public awareness campaign on inadequate access to healthcare for the 47 million Americans not covered by insurance.[60][61] The ACS claimed that while the U.S. was still experiencing a decline in cancer-caused deaths, there would be an even greater decline if more cases of cancer were diagnosed in the early stages.[60] The society noted that studies had shown that patients without insurance were more than twice as likely to have their cancer diagnosed in the late stages of the disease.[60] One of the cancer society's commercials stated, "We’re making progress, but it’s not enough if people don’t have access to the care that could save their lives."[60]

McCaughey criticized the ad campaign, saying the ACS should drop it and re-focus on educating people about cancer prevention and detection.[62] She argued that evidence had shown that the U.S. had higher rates of cancer survival than countries with universal healthcare coverage [62] due to shorter wait times for treatment, better availability of new drugs for therapy and more frequent cancer screenings.[62] She expanded her argument into a "Brief Analysis" published the following month by the National Center for Policy Analysis, in which she maintained that the U.S. was number one in the world in cancer care.[63] Sources for her analysis included a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research , a non profit, non partisan research organization,[64] and an article in the British medical journal, Lancet Oncology, that analyzed 2000-2002 cancer survival figures from Europe.[65] The ACS responded with information on a study of nearly 600,000 cases that concluded that compared to people with private insurance, uninsured patients in the U.S. were 1.6 times more likely to die within five years of their diagnosis.[66]

2009 stimulus bill

McCaughey published an op-ed on February 9, 2009 claiming that the Obama administration's pending economic stimulus legislation contained hidden provisions that would harm the health of Americans as well as the healthcare sector of the economy.[67] She argued that the bill would establish two powerful new bureaucracies; the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, and the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research.[67] McCaughey said the first entity would monitor patients' electronic medical records to ensure that doctors and hospitals treated patients in a way that "the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective", and that doctors and hospitals that deviate from the government's "electronically delivered protocols," would be penalized.[67][68] She said the Federal Coordinating Council would be composed of appointed bureaucrats charged with a cost-cutting agenda that would slow the development of new medical products and drugs, and ration healthcare for senior citizens.[67][69] She opined that the bureaucrats would use a comparative effectiveness formula that in the U.K. had resulted in a requirement that senior citizens go blind in one eye before the government would pay for a treatment to save the sight in the other eye.[67]

Critics claimed McCaughey's claims were distorted, pointing out that the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology was not new but had been created five years earlier by George W. Bush,[70] and that the 2009 legislation was not about limiting doctors' ability to prescribe treatments, but instead was about establishing a system of electronic records to give physicians complete and accurate information their patients.[71] Factcheck responded that comparative effectiveness research had been funded by the U.S. government for years, but agreed with McCaughey that there would be penalties for health providers that did not use the electronic records system.[72] The effectiveness research council was a new initiative, as McCaughey had said. However, supporters of the stimulus bill provision said the research that would be funded would provide additional evidence to guide treatment decisions, and save lives and money by avoiding unnecessary, ineffective or risky treatments.[73] Critic James Fallows remarked that McCaughey's arguments against the stimulus legislation were similar to the false claims she advanced years ago against the Clinton healthcare bill.[70]

McCaughey's viewpoint was soon echoed and extended by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and multiple Fox News Channel broadcasters.[71][73] Republican U.S. Representative Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana, a heart surgeon, added that he feared that comparative effectiveness research would be misused by federal bureaucrats to "ration care, to deny life-saving treatment to seniors and disabled people."[73] Other conservatives agreed that the legislation could put the federal government in the middle of the doctor-patient relationship.[73] The stimulus bill was passed with the healthcare related provisions still included and McCaughey urged their repeal, so that their impact could be studied further.[69]

2009 healthcare reform bills

McCaughey opposed the enactment of the healthcare reform bills debated in Congress in 2009 and enacted in 2010. She made allegations about certain provisions of the bills that provided for Medicare payments to physicians for end-of-life and living will counseling, and about a particular physician, Ezekiel Emanuel, who was associated with the Obama administration. McCaughey's claims led to Sarah Palin's death panel controversy.[74][75][76][77] The provisions in the legislation that McCaughey advocated against were removed from the bill before it became law.

In July 2009, McCaughey claimed that the healthcare legislation "would make it mandatory … that people [on] Medicare [be told] how to end their lives sooner"; calling such protocols "euthanasia for the elderly."[78] When interviewed by former U.S. Senator Fred Thomson, McCaughey said the "mandatory ... language can be found on page 425 of the healthcare bill. "Advance Care Planning Consultation", Section 1233". The fact-checking site, PolitiFact, responded that the end-of-life counseling was voluntary.[79] In August 2009, WNYC's On the Media also addressed McCaughey's claims, concluding that the provision actually mandated that the federal government compensate senior citizens requesting "counseling sessions" on elder law, such as estate planning, "will writing and hospice care."[78] McCaughey's choice of words and analysis were described by The Atlantic's James Fallows as inaccurate and sensationalistic,[78] and earned her a "pants on fire", (least true) rating from Politifact.[79]

McCaughey described Ezekiel Emanuel in a New York Post opinion article as a "Deadly Doctor" who advocated healthcare rationing by age and disability.[77] McCaughey's article was quoted on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Republican U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.[80] Politifact called this claim as a "ridiculous falsehood."[79][81][82][83] said, "We agree that Emanuel's meaning is being twisted. In one article, he was talking about a philosophical trend, and in another, he was writing about how to make the most ethical choices when forced to choose which patients get organ transplants or vaccines when supplies are limited."[84][85] An article on said that Emanuel "was only addressing extreme cases like organ donation, where there is an absolute scarcity of resources", and quoted Emanuel as saying, "'My quotes were just being taken out of context.'"[74] In the late 1990s, when many doctors wanted to legalize euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, Emanuel opposed it, in part because he said that in most cases, the patients who requested it were not in excruciating pain—they were depressed and did not want to be a burden to their loved ones.[86]

McCaughey resigned from the Board of Cantel Medical Corporation on August 20, 2009, "to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over healthcare reform," according to a press release by the company.[56] Other reports opined that she resigned after negative reactions to her performance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, one day earlier.[87][88][89][90][91] After McCaughey's Daily Show appearance, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly described her role in the healthcare debate: "She has brought more misinformation, more often, more destructively into America's consideration of health-policy issues than any other individual".[92]

In an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Meeting on October 6, 2009,[93] McCaughey advocated gradually extending the minimum age for Medicare coverage upward from 65 years of age to 70 in order to keep the Medicare system solvent.

Electoral history

General election results 1994 - Lt. Governor running-mates
share one ballot space with the nominees for Governor.
Governor candidate Lt. Gov. Running mate Party Popular Vote
George E. Pataki Betsy McCaughey Republican,
Conservative Party of NY,
Tax Cut Now
2,488,631 48.8 %
Mario Cuomo Stan Lundine Democratic Party,
Liberal Party of NY
2,364,904 45.4 %
B. Thomas Golisano Dominick Fusco Independence Fusion 217,490 4.1 %
Robert T. Walsh Virginia E. Sutton NY State Right to Life 67,750 1.3 %)
Other parties Less than 1%
General election results 1998[54]
Governor candidate Lt. Gov. Running mate Party Popular Vote
George E. Pataki Mary O. Donohue Republican,
Conservative Party of NY
2,571,991 54.32%
Peter F. Vallone Sr. Sandra Frankel Democratic,
Working Families
1,570,317 33.16%
B. Thomas Golisano Laureen Oliver Independence Party of NY 364,056 7.69%
Betsy McCaughey Ross Jonathan C. Reiter Liberal Party of NY 77,915 1.65%
Michael Reynolds Karen Prior NY State Right to Life 56,683 1.20%
Al Lewis Alice Green Green Party US 52,533 1.11%
Other parties Less than 1%


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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Stan Lundine
Lieutenant Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Mary Donohue
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mario Cuomo
Liberal Party Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Andrew Cuomo

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