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Monthly Archives: July 2009

           Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to HR 3200, the so-called healthcare reform bill.

            It is clear that this bill will ( raise taxes / kill jobs / kill puppies ).  This bill, which the Democrat majority hopes will move us toward ( socialism / fascism / homosexualism ), is just an effort to make the government take over ( your health / your house / your dreams ).  The Democratic agenda has failed us thus far.  When we look at the record stimulus passed earlier this year, I ask you, ( Where are the jobs? / Where is the money? / Where is the beef? )

            What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle need to understand is that Republicans represent ( small businesses / middle-class families / the insurance conglomerates that finance our campaigns ).  They say that we have no solution. Our party does have a solution: ( cut taxes / cut taxes and increase spending / cut taxes, increase spending, and blame any problems on the Clinton administration ).

            This health care bill will do one thing only, and that is to enlarge our country’s ( debt / bureaucracy / prostate ).  Democrats say that universal healthcare will cost one trillion dollars.  One trillion!  That is enough to buy ( three F-22s / one unnecessary war in the Middle East / every single member of Congress and their staffs ).

            My constituents don’t want a government takeover of healthcare.  They don’t want us to turn into ( Canada / Europe / Nazi Germany, circa 1939 ).  But that’s right around the corner, folks.  I urge my colleagues to vote against this bill, because it is ( too much, too soon / too little, too late / too big to fail ).

            Republicans are trying their best to kill health reform and extinguish President Obama’s credibility.  They say they want to improve health care—just not in its current form.  Well, folks, they have had fifteen years to prepare for this moment, and were in charge of Congress for the majority of them, so I’m not sure why they are acting like the new healthcare bill is broadsiding them.

            Today on the House floor, at least two congressmen made the astonishing claim that the bill would abolish private health insurance.  They invited their colleagues to look at pages 16 and 17 of the bill (which shows how far they got in reading it before deciding that they had had enough).  The claim, though, had already been made a few weeks beforehand by right-wing activists: to wit, “Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal,” wrote Bill Dupray of the DC Republican Examiner.

            Well, it turns out that that is NOT what page 16 says.  I invite you to look at HR 3200 for yourselves.  The provision in question is part of the short section on people who have coverage now and will be grandfathered into the healthcare system once the bill is passed.  These people will keep their coverage (which is the exact opposite of what Republicans are saying) and will even be able to add dependents.  Only if the terms or premiums are changed will they enter the healthcare exchange—the new marketplace created for those looking for coverage.

            Now, there are two explanations for this discrepancy: either Republicans are reading the bill differently from everyone else—and as lawyers, I’m sure they are used to twisting words to find loopholes—or they are lying.  I’ll let you decide.

            The other tactic Republicans are using to misrepresent the healthcare bill is this chart (large version).  I’m sure it has the desired effect on C-SPAN, where the viewer can only see boxes and lines.  But once you read it close up, it’s less outrageous and more commonsensical.

Healthcare

            Now, take a look at this version.  I haven’t done extensive research on this topic, but off the top of my head I have highlighted in white those parts which directly would pertain to you, a current policyholder, if the bill should pass.  Highlighted in green are those agencies, programs, and officials that already exist and may have a peripheral effect on your coverage.  In purple is that which also exists currently and would have no discernable effect on your coverage.  And in yellow appear the apparent creations of the new plan, not all of which are necessarily bad or would lead to rationing or increased costs—inspectors general, ombudsmen, office of civil rights, etc.

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            Don’t be fooled by demagoguery.  Learn about it, think about it, and have a reasoned debate about it.  Talking points will be the death of this much-needed reform effort.

            Poor Tim Kaine: the recession has gotten so bad that he has had to get a second part-time job—as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

            It turns out that Kaine’s instinct was correct when Barack Obama first broached the subject with him last year.  Kaine said that taking up the new post would not comport with his job as governor.  Yet, he still managed to accept the position, where he has supposedly been serving a weekends-and-evenings role in traveling for party business.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as Virginia matters take precedence and his time/money/staff are not used inappropriately.

            Last month, when requests for Kaine’s travel records arose, he told the press, “If anyone wants to know where I am, all they have to do is ask. . . . There’s nothing covert about it.”  Yet he delayed for weeks in releasing the reports, only relenting when the Virginia State Police (which provides his security) decided that they had to release their own records of travel.  The information provided shows that Kaine, from the beginning of March through the end of June, traveled outside of Virginia on thirty occasions, fifteen of which occurred in June alone.

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            Now, leaving the state to give speeches and campaign for candidates is obviously not the most egregious activity in which a governor could partake (see: hiking the Appalachian Trail).  Nor is Virginia—which, like many other states, is seeing its budget deficit widen as tax revenues fall short of projections—in any special crisis (see: California).  Further, there is not undue national scrutiny on our state political antics (see: New York, Alaska).

            The General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session in February, so it’s a bit disingenuous when part-time Republican lawmakers are chastising Kaine.  House Speaker William Howell said that “During this, the worst jobs environment for working families since the Great Depression, Virginians deserve a hands-on, full-time governor.”  In fact, Kaine was the first governor in the country to call for a special legislative session in August to address the Supreme Court’s recent ruling requiring lab analysts to give testimony at criminal trials.  So, I think it’s fair to say that he’s pulling his weight as much as the assembly is pulling theirs.

            Still, Kaine has to deal effectively with many distractions before his term expires in January: he has to monitor the budget woes, campaign for gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds and House of Delegates candidates, monitor stimulus spending in Virginia, be on call in case a crisis emerges—all while trying to fend off Republican gains on a national scale next year.

            In a sense, Republicans’ concerns are legitimate.  And unfortunately, Deeds will undoubtedly be linked to Kaine’s mini-travel scandal under a larger attempt to smear the national Democratic leadership.  But Kaine has already wrapped up his legacy more or less satisfactorily.  The recession has dominated his last year-and-a-half in office and he was not able to fix transportation in the state, but he did push through a cigarette ban in restaurants, oversaw the groundbreaking for Metrorail to Dulles Airport, and led the state through the Virginia Tech shootings.

            In my opinion, Kaine will have enough of a challenge trying to get a Democratic successor elected in the fall without the need to travel all over the country.  However, as long as he does so transparently and no more than a couple days each month, I see no harm in that.

            It’s not exactly news that Virginia’s General Assembly is a mixture of the dysfunctional, the demagogical, and the dedicated—though in varying proportions.  The shocker is that there are actually some politicians who are willing to delineate the instances of absurdity from the art of statecraft.  Retiring delegates Kristen Amundson and Chris Saxman wrote an opinion piece that gives a juicy glimpse into what we perceive to be our system of  lawmaking.

          While not exactly an airing of dirty laundry (although there is an anecdote about airing one’s laundry), the tongue-in-cheek humor belies the fact that no matter how opaque the process and no matter how egotistical the participants, every once in a while there are good men and women who come together to pass good laws.  I guess that’s the least that we expect, and so it’s the least we are going to get.

        Here is the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/25/AR2009072502014.html

            Members of Congress have one simple responsibility: to make laws.  All the other stuff—cutting ribbons at new train stations, getting their pictures taken with Little League teams—provides a nice ego boost, but is superfluous at best.  Thus it is a bit mystifying why, six months after President Obama’s inauguration and a decade-and-a-half after the Clinton administration’s effort, congressmen are looking to the White House for more guidance and more time on healthcare reform.

            As of now, I believe there are only two committees—one in each chamber—that have yet to finalize a bill.  The main sticking points are how to fund both an expansion of healthcare to the currently uninsured (deficit-neutral) and how to decrease costs over the long run (bending the curve).  House Democrats are concerned about a tax on the wealthy, which some have pointed out as being unfair to small business owners, who apparently have to report their income with their revenue.  The “small business” defense always arises every time the issue of raising the marginal tax rate comes up, so why can’t Congress simply fix the tax code to prevent these people from being snagged by the system, rather than forgoing a legitimate and necessary source of revenue?

            Having said that, I don’t think that only the wealthy should pay for healthcare reform.  Since we are creating a new public good, everyone has to pitch in.  And if that means taxing health benefits for union members and other workers, then that should be part of the solution.  The important part is to just do something—anything.  During the Bush administration, Congress’s will to do stuff atrophied a little, as signing statements, evasions of subpoenas, and blatant disregard for regulation rebuffed the legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch.  Now that Obama has given them free reign, legislators have splintered into 535 different interest groups, each with a Napoleon complex and access to partisan cable talk shows.

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            Being in Congress might be the only field of work in which generous deadlines can be ignored and no one is penalized.  At first, a bipartisan compromise seemed like the ethical as well as the most equitable form of deal making.  But now, with the Democrats feuding among themselves and the GOP determined to kill the still-ambiguous reform plan, it is useless to try talking to all but a handful of Republicans. 

Where Obama can come in handy is in urging Congress not to abandon several decades worth of reform planning.  To do otherwise would be letting him down, letting their country down, and letting themselves down.  But as influential as Obama is, he is not going to be vote number sixty in the Senate or number 218 in the House; Democratic leaders need to instill some discipline in their ranks.

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            Virginia Democratic senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner are no conservatives.  Webb, a former Marine, and Warner, a former business executive, are results-oriented pragmatists who happen to lie left of the ideological center.  That’s why it was strange and disheartening for both men to vote in favor of Sen. John Thune’s (S.D.) amendment to a defense bill that would have irresponsibly allowed concealed firearms to be carried across state lines.

            Warner’s vote in particular is disappointing because he should recognize, being a former governor, the struggles that accompany administration of the criminal justice system in any state, even without external complications such as this one.  Furthermore, the amendment would have given preference to states with the loosest laws regarding firearm possession, in effect depriving state law enforcement of the ability to enforce the regulations which have been dutifully debated, voted on, and signed into existence across the country.

            I’m very comfortable with ensuring protections for gun owners, but it concerns me when our senators are so afraid of getting slapped on the wrist by the NRA that they forget that the Second Amendment still has a long way to go in court before the John Thunes of the world can carry as many guns as they want wherever they want and for any purpose.