Tag Archives: Health Care Reform

This is Fiscal Responsibility?

U.S. soldiers tour the Saint Elijah Monastery ...

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The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a defense authorization bill to spend $690 billion dollars yesterday. That’s odd because they still haven’t given themselves permission to raise the debt limit to pay for the stuff that they already agreed to buy in the past. That’s funny because the Republican’s are screaming about how bad the deficit is, and yet they are still signing checks that will overdraw their account. That’s funny because they are increasing spending more on defense than the Obama administration requested. It’s funny because the Republicans are the ones who say that we need to balance the books by cutting spending without even considering doing anything to bring in more money.

Republicans talk about how sacrifice is needed to solve our debt problem. That’s funny because so far the only people who they have expected to sacrifice are citizens who traditionally don’t vote for them; they still want their pet projects and their base to keep receiving goodies from the government.

The Republicans claim it is the President and the Democrats who are playing politics around the deficit.  That’s funny because  they are the ones holding the solvency of the U.S. hostage to their own special interests. That’s funny because they are the ones who attached provisions to this $690 Billion bill to prevent us from dealing with Guantanamo detainees in a way consistent with our constitution and in a way that is consistent with the liberties for which we fight wars. That’s funny because they have also attached a provision that prevents us from reducing the number of nuclear weapons we have.

The Republicans insist that the only way to fix the deficit is to make people pay more for their healthcare, and they say the government should subsidize private health insurance rather than be in the business of providing healthcare. That’s funny because this bill also reduced the amount that the Secretary of Defense suggested was the military’s fair share to pay for its own government-provided healthcare costs.

Many Republicans complained that Obama did not flex our military muscle adequately to support the Libyan rebels. It’s odd that they also passed a bill to prohibit the Commander in Chief to use any money to put ground troops in Libya. It’s funny that they want to give the military more money, but they don’t actually want our president to be able to use it as Commander in Chief. That’s funny because the last president the Republicans gave this country started two wars for very dubious reasons.

So why am I not laughing?

Yet it is the Republicans who claim to be fiscally responsible, and the Tea Party elected them to eliminate political games in Washington.  Now, that’s funny!

A Mandate By Any Other Name

Newt Gingrich

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Newt Gingrich opened a can of worms when he was asked about the Republican plan passed by the House which radically changed Medicare. Gingrich called it “right-wing social engineering.” More importantly his comments brought to my mind and to others the uncomfortable contrast between the Republican plan and what they have been saying about the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Republicans have been egging on the states to sue the government claiming that Health Care Reform (ACA) is unconstitutional because it mandates people to buy health insurance.

There’s the rub. The Republican plan does the very same thing, except in a bigger fashion. The Republican plan takes money that would fund your healthcare and uses it to subsidize your private health insurance premiums.  In other words, the only way you’re getting any of that money that you’ve spent your life paying into Medicare is for you to buy health insurance. Government financial rewards for buyers of insurance is precisely what the Republican plan offers, and it is precisely what they’d like to claim is unconstitutional about the Democrat’s plan.

Now, I have read some conservative commentators who write that this comparison is not fair. (see: National Review) However, on page 46 of Paul Ryan‘s “Path To Prosperity” it states, “This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost” (italics mine). I don’t get it. Is there a difference between a voucher and a deal that pays premium-support money to a service provider rather than directly to you?

What I do get is that words matter. In politics, it isn’t as important what you are saying as how you say it. But it is the job of the electorate to see behind the curtain and to call out politicians who are trying to use words to mislead. To me Ryan’s plan calls for replacing Medicare healthcare with a voucher to buy insurance from a private insurer. And if his plan is taking money that currently is designated to fund my healthcare and directs it in a way so that I cannot receive its benefit unless I buy insurance, then that sounds to me like a mandate to buy health insurance.

Republican Army of the Gullible

Republican Party (United States)

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Here’s the good news: the number of birthers (people who believe that Barak Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.A.) has declined from 20% to only 10% of the population following the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate.

Here’s the bad news: the number of people who believe that Osama bin Laden is still alive is sitting at 20% of the population.

So what’s going on here. Why do so many people believe things that facts show are false? Many theories abound. Maybe it’s part of the wave of the internet–where anyone can broadcast whatever bogus information they want. Maybe it’s because people are so suspicious of authority. Maybe it reflects a decline in public education.

I think there are many reasons, but I believe that one of the primary reasons has to do with politics, plain and simple. After losing the last presidential election so significantly, the Republican Party adopted a strategy as outlined by Rush Limbaugh, who famously said that he hoped that Obama would fail. After winning a majority in the House during the mid-term elections, the Republican Speaker of the House echoed Limbaugh by naming his top priority as defeating Obama. It was no longer about what was best for America, or even what was good for America, it had been reduced to a purely political calculus: the Republicans just want to be in power.

Obama identified this tactic last September when he commented “If I say the sky is blue, [Republicans] say ‘no.’ If I said fish live in the sea, [Republicans would] say ‘no.'”

Because Rush Limbaugh has been inoculating millions of listeners against truth and fact for a generation, the Republicans have a gullible core of people who are primed to disbelieve and dislike Obama regardless of who he is or what he does. This sets Republicans up to make their strategy effective. They can oppose even dire needs of our country (like fixing the financial system or not defaulting on our governments obligations) because it works to the benefit of their political party. If the economy tanks, that’s great news because they can blame it on their bogey man, Obama. If Americans die because they can’t go to the doctor, that’s great news because they can blame it on Obamacare.

And every time Obama outshines his Republican predecessor (as in actually finding Osama bin Laden), then they’re ready with their whisper campaign of doubts to sway their army of the gullible.

Ryan’s Path To Prosperity

Paul Ryan (politician)

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has a plan. He calls it “The Path to Prosperity.” In it he proposes solving the U.S. government deficit problem by privatizing Medicare.  He wants to take the money that the government receives from payroll taxes, and instead of using it to provide health care for seniors, he wants to give it to financial institutions in the form of health insurance premiums for those seniors.  He is not proposing that seniors be given the money to pay for their own health care; this money must go directly to insurance companies.

I can imagine how the health insurance industry will respond to this windfall.  You can bet that whatever premiums they quote to seniors will be at least as much as whatever the maximum amount the government is willing to pay.  They are not about to leave money on the table that they have an opportunity to grab.

But I wouldn’t bet that the policies they offer will necessarily cover the medical needs of those seniors. Insurance companies are masters at excluding costs based on medical history.  They are famous for denying claims and cancelling policies as soon as customers actually start needing coverage.

Ryan’s approach is curious and its embrace by his fellow Republicans is remarkable considering how much saber rattling they have been doing about the PPACA health care reform bill.  They screamed that it was unconstitutional because it fined citizens unless they purchased health insurance.  So now they want something instead that “fines” seniors much, much more unless they buy health insurance.

It is also strange considering that their Tea Party base of voters were furious with Washington for bailing out financial institutions.  Will these same people be happy to see this gigantic earmark for that very same financial industry?

Ryan’s path to prosperity may indeed make some people prosper: owner’s and executives of insurance companies. True to form, the Republicans have found one more way to transfer wealth from the pockets of the poor and the middle class to benefit those who are already prospering in America.  This may turn out to be Ryan’s own personal path to prosperity as the corporate contributions roll in.

People Power

Madison Protest

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Who would have believed that an uprising in Tunisia would start a domino effect of disenfranchised uprisings around the world. It is still too soon to know whether any of them will turn out well for those whose energy have fueled them. Each of today’s series of protests have been countered by “protests” from the other side of debate. There is a history of such uprisings being hijacked by more powerful forces so that what at first seemed like a genuine revolution faltered.

Interestingly, the U.S. protesters of the past few years (the Tea Party) are the counter-protesters today in Wisconsin. The Tea Party claims to represent ordinary citizens, and yet so do those who are protesting in Wisconsin.  In a sense, I believe both of them. The Tea Party has many ordinary people as members, and the streets around the capitol in Madison are also filled with ordinary people.

Both of these opposing groups long to claim the mantle of being part of a “grassroots” movements.  Consider some of the differences, and you will see why I think what we’re seeing in Wisconsin deserves being called “grassroots” more than the Tea Party.  The Tea Party movement started slow, and it took many months to garner the sort of numbers that the Madison group has achieved in a matter of days.  The Tea Party movement was egged on by media types such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  The Billionaire Koch brothers helped “‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters.” The Tea Party rallies were planned out.  They appeared at a pre-planned location on a pre-planned date. The protesters in Wisconsin showed up and they keep showing up, and no one really knows when it might end.  Many figure this was all organized by labor unions, but I see little evidence at this point that this was orchestrated in any way like the Tea Party rallies were.

The key piece of evidence for me is to follow the advice of “Deep Throat” in the movie “All The President’s Men“: follow the money.  If you follow the money, you can tell who is behind something.  In the case of the protesters in Wisconsin, they want to see money NOT flow out of the pension funds of school teachers. In the case of the Tea Partiers, they at first wanted to see money NOT flow into banks in the form of the bail-out, but later they seemed to change direction by wanting to protect the flow of money into insurance companies (by opposing Health Care reform) and into banks (by opposing Wall Street reform).  They want to see money NOT flow out of Big Energy and Industry (by opposing cap & trade, alternative energy development, global warming legislation, etc.)

The Tea Party movement seems to me to have been a modest movement that gained legs only after big money interests steered them toward advocating for the rich.  The upheaval in Wisconsin is still very young.  Right now it is just a modest movement.  It isn’t as good at playing political games.  In an effort to be reasonable, their demands are modest. They’re willing to allow their governor, Scott Walker to balance the budget on their backs (even though he has already given tax breaks to the rich).  They have only asked to keep the rights to bargain collectively.  Once Walker gives them this tiny morsel, then ostensibly they’re done, and will then go home.  On the other hand, the Tea Party has arrived in Wisconsin with much more strident demands.  They want a recall of every democrat.  This puts them in a much stronger position to negotiate.  I hope that over time we begin to see the main group in Wisconsin begin to demand more from their governor.

A Chat with Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham

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Here in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint are our senators.  One can understand, therefore, why many consider Graham to be a moderate.  Last night I received a Tele-Town Hall call from Graham.  This nifty process allows callers to join a conference call where they can ask questions of their representatives.

I suspect that my number was selected not randomly but rather based on the fact that my father (with whom I share a phone) votes reliably republican.  My suspicion was based on the unanimous adulation for all things conservative from the others on the call.

I wanted to share my situation of not being able to receive health insurance because of a pre-existing condition and to challenge his support of repealing health care reform.  So I pressed zero to queue up to ask a question.  As I waited, another caller asked about “Obamacare.”  She said that although she is not prone to believe in conspiracies she had heard that her husband’s small business would lose its ability to receive a tax deduction for its cost of buying health insurance for its employees.

I was hoping that he would reassure this woman and challenge that rumor.  Graham has a reputation for not always towing the party line.  Earlier in the call I liked that he had not been baited by some residual “Drill Here, Drill Now” folks; instead he emphasized Boone Pickens‘ natural gas program to gain energy independence for America.

Boy, was I disappointed.  He basically said that she was right and that she should believe everything bad she’s ever heard about this bill.  He went on to throw another conspiracy theory on her bonfire: he claimed that the low price of the penalty against companies who don’t offer health care is designed to force everyone onto a public option.

He added that the bill was so long and complicated that it’s hard for anyone to know what’s in it.  I suppose this was his cover for giving misleading information to his constituents.  (I’m one of those who happen to think it is a senator’s job to understand what’s in a bill that s/he is voting on.) I don’t claim to be an expert on this bill, but all of my research suggests that in fact small businesses would receive a tax credit to help them afford health insurance.

Now, even if he wanted to maintain his support for total repeal of health care reform, he could have used the opportunity to tell this woman the truth but explain that there are other problems with this bill that makes him want to start all over.  It would have been an opportunity to press his talking points about what’s wrong with this bill.

This interchange made me so angry, that I decided I was in no frame of mind to speak politely or even rationally, so I disconnected from the call.  Instead, I sent him an email with my thoughts.

Giving The Government Back to the “People” & Making “Tough Decisions”

John Boehner

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John Boehner is the new speaker of the House. He has promised to “give government back to the people” and make “tough decisions” to cut spending.

Based on what we saw from Mr. Boehner in the final few weeks of the lame duck session, he must mean the “people” with whom he hobnobs at fundraisers, because the only “people” to whom he has fought to give the government spoils are wealthy “people.”

He didn’t wrestle with making “tough decisions” about how to pay for his $80 billion gift to his rich friends. When he pushed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthiest “people” in America, he just rang up more debt for the rest of us.

Now he is flip-flopping about the Republican promise to cut spending by $100 billion in 2011. Suddenly he’s not so certain he can manage to save $100 billion for the American “people” after he gave $80 to his “people”.  But no matter. His base doesn’t really pay attention to the facts; they are happy to keep drinking the Kool-Aid from the rabid right moguls that they adore.

The Republicans are probably thanking their lucky stars that they only have a majority in the House. Otherwise all their bluster about repealing the “people’s” health care program might actually pass and cost the “people” an additional $130 Billion in the first ten years and more than a trillion dollars in the next.

Of course their sense of irony and shame has not prevented the Republicans in Congress from breaking two campaign promises with their efforts to repeal the health care law. First, they are exempting this repeal from their pledge to make the “tough decisions” necessary to fully pay for everything they do.  Second, they are ignoring their promise of openness by imposing a closed rule: no pesky amendments will be allowed.  It’s all great theater, and it will be roundly applauded by their adoring fans.