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Tag Archives: Democrats

            President Obama has always been very clear on what he wants to see in healthcare reform: 1.) ensure that all Americans have insurance that will provide them with the care they need. 2.) Make reform deficit neutral.  And 3.) bring down the costs of healthcare expenditures for families, businesses, and the government in the long term.  Being a pragmatist, Obama has remained open to different methods of accomplishing these goals.  If the answer lay in a single payer system, he would probably support that; if the answer required as little government intervention as possible, that would be acceptable to him also.

            However, there came a point at which universal healthcare has turned into “incremental” healthcare—out of concern for fiscally conservative Democrats and Republicans.  But now, each passing week that the Senate Finance Committee cannot come up with an outline for a new system is time in which town hall protestors, Fox News commentators, and the general dynamics of next year’s midterm elections may prevent reform from occurring at all.

            Obama has given the Finance Committee negotiators until September 15 to come up with a bipartisan bill, at which point he presumably will press for action without the Republicans.  While I worry that imposing such a deadline may alienate any GOP senators who are thinking of supporting reform, there comes a point at which thoughtful deliberation turns into purposeful obstruction.  There is no point in watering down reform in order to meet Republicans at some imaginary middle point where they will say, “Okay, that’s good enough for us.”

            That point probably lies somewhere to the right of insurance cooperatives—a proposal that the small-state senators in charge of the negotiations have proposed in lieu of a public option.  Critics on the left say that co-ops will be too small to be effective competition and will have to negotiate rates with healthcare provides like private insurers.  Critics on the right, like Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) are calling co-ops a “Trojan horse” that are just disguising a planned government takeover of healthcare.

            If GOP senators feel that even a concept as weak as a cooperative is too much government intervention, then I think that it is time to pull the plug on bipartisanship and return to the public option commitment.  The public plan is a compromise that liberals made after a single payer system was taken off the table.  What exactly have conservatives compromised?  The fact that they seem not to be willing to support anything other than the status quo is hardly a commitment to improving the healthcare system.

            To be fair, some Republicans are taking the reform effort seriously.  Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) was the only Republican on the Finance Committee not to draw a line in the sand in opposing a public option.  Like the president, she remains open-minded on the means to the overall end of accomplishing the three key goals.  Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio may also be open to the Democrats’ plan.

            Realistically, the Democrats have 60 senators; they do not have 60 votes, however—meaning support from GOP moderates is key.  But in looking at the record of the current Congress, the most important votes were taken with almost solid Republican opposition: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January, the stimulus package in February, and Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation in August.  Although I don’t believe in the helpfulness of drawing strict lines, President Obama should seriously enforce the September 15 deadline.  Otherwise, he may not have another opportunity to build momentum to pass this crucial legislation.

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         I am in favor of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.  I believe that carbon emissions from human behavior are warming the planet and will cause drastic climate changes in years to come.  I want our car-centric society to move towards a reliance on public transit and smart growth communities.  I want people to reduce, reuse, and recycle in order to mitigate their footprint on the environment.

         But I am absolutely opposed to the extension of the Cash for Clunkers program.

         On Friday, the House added $2 billion to the program which has run out of money months before its November deadline—after many people doubted whether the original $1 billion would be spent entirely.  The original law was tolerable, in that it provided some economic stimulus, allowed people to purchase more environmentally-friendly cars, and gave hope that the ailing auto industry would somehow benefit from a bump in demand.

         It’s no longer cute anymore.  All this law does is subsidize manufacturers and dealers—one of the most egregious forms of protectionism, in that all states have laws to mandate transactions through dealerships.  In reality, we should be moving toward a “demand-pull” model in which consumers can order their cars directly from the plant, reducing excess inventory and eliminating the middlemen who can take advantage of non-savvy buyers.

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         Furthermore, with such a limited definition of what a “clunker” is and the modest fuel efficiency standards that a new vehicle must meet, it is doubtful whether this bill will be a boon to the environment.  Given that it takes a good deal of carbon to manufacture a new car (about 6.7 tons, by one analysis) and that a new car need only receive at maximum 28 mpg—which is only slightly above the corporate average fuel economy—for the purchaser to receive the full $4,500 rebate, it will take about four years for the driver to “repay” the carbon cost of the new car.  That isn’t a bad thing, but in four years we will hopefully be looking at hybrid and electric cars with even greater fuel efficiency at a more reasonable price.  So in that sense, it might be more beneficial to hold onto one’s car a little longer.

         Another way in which this act caters to the auto industry is that there is no provision for used cars.  All traded-in clunkers must be scrapped.  The $4,500 credit cannot be administered to charities or recyclers if car owners were to donate their clunker.  And many people who are driving heavy-emissions vehicles may not be in the position to afford new ones, in which case a mere $4,500 would not help them to finance a new purchase.

         To add insult to injury, the $2 billion extension is being diverted from the stimulus bill’s loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects.  That is an awful misuse of resources given that many states estimate that blackouts will occur in the next few years if grid capacity is not increased.  Plus, urban development and transit expansion will need clean energy sources to maximize effectiveness.  And need I mention the national security imperative of having a network of transmission to our homes and businesses that does not require kowtowing to petro-dictators overseas?

         We need to help our struggling auto industry to reinvent itself; we also need more fuel efficient cars.  What we don’t need is a half-life support/half-token gesture to environmentalists when this money could be used more effectively for other purposes.

            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.