Archive for the ‘house of representatives’ category

Death Spiral

May 9, 2017

A “go to” line through out Donald Trump’s campaign was to characterize the Affordable Care Act as caught in a death spiral. (House speaker Paul Ryan likes that line too.) The inference was that insurance companies were losing money and would need to raise rates so much that individuals could not afford to purchase coverage. At some point candidate Trump predicted insurance companies would simply stop participating and there would be no insurance available in the exchanges. Hmmm.

As normal for the course, Trump and other Republicans failed to mention that the GOP had consistently opposed any further government aide for insurers, as envisioned in ACA. Now, the use of “death spiral” is serving as a handy crutch to divert attention from the GOP House debacle, the American Health Care Act.

Over the weekend, several GOP Congress members tried to put a positive spin on the House AHCA by pointing out that Obamacare was about to fail (Death Spiral) and AHCA would come to the rescue. When listeners complained about the AHCA’s weakened “pre-existing condition” coverage and huge Medicaid funding reduction, GOP speakers reminded listeners that most Americans would not be in jeopardy of AHCA.

These Congress members said that most Americans had employer provided healthcare (group plans with no denials for pre-existing conditions), Medicare, and Medicaid.
While this is a true statement, I wonder what these Republicans really meant?

  • Does the GOP think Americans shouldn’t worry about the other 20-50 million without healthcare coverage?
  • Does the GOP think Americans are naive enough to overlook the possibility that even if employed today, in a recession or just normal course of business, they might be furloughed and suddenly have no healthcare insurance?
  • And what exactly does the GOP think are “pre-existing conditions”?

Libertarian GOP members are intellectually the most honest GOP faction. Libertarians reject government welfare in all forms and providing at tax payers expense healthcare insurance just doesn’t cut it with real libertarians. Then again, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid don’t make the Libertarian cut either. Hmmm.

The GOP is moving into dangerous voter territory. While not of their making, the continued, rise in healthcare costs (greater than the rate of inflation) will not suddenly change if Republicans prevail and pass the watered down AHCA.

The US healthcare delivery system is seriously flawed. EpiPens did not increase 400% in price due to the Affordable Care Act. Mylin’s decision to raise prices was a pure exercise of capitalism in the healthcare market. And Mylin’s actions are not an isolated exception. Almost all drug companies are driving up prices to see what the market will bare. And why is it one can buy the same prescription drugs substantially cheaper in Canada than in the US?

As frustration continues to mount, sooner or later, Americans are going to ask, “do other countries have this same cost problem?” Most Republicans know this, yet many Republicans continue to march further out on a limb, probably blinded by the tax cut appeal associated with the repeal of ACA.

ACA has opened Americans eyes to how precarious their insurance coverage is and how the widening income distribution inequity combined with rising healthcare premiums are putting the American dream further out of reach.

Will the current fight over ACA be a death spiral or a rebirth of hope for universal healthcare?

A Collision Of Ideological Views

March 9, 2017

Repeal and replace Obamacare is not about healthcare. Rather GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with some other healthcare package provides camouflage for drastically different views on the role of government. Obamacare’s fiercest opponents care nothing about healthcare but get up each morning dedicated to ending any and all entitlements and reducing federal government spending to defense and a handful of other functions such that income taxes vanish and any remaining taxes become flat taxes.

Strong language?

Sure, and the first paragraph is intended to get the readers attention. The Trump crowd and at least one half of Congressional Republicans are zealously working to truly shrink the Federal Government and in the process liberate the tax responsibility from America’s most well off.  Far from a noble goal, the small government advocates are totally self serving.

How is such a caper possible?

Over a sustained period of time, “limited government” groups (like Koch funded ones) have worked at the grass root, State level and succeeded in gerrymandering enough districts to increase control at the State level and then applied this advantage to House of Representative seats. By selecting various freedom and religious sounding issues, hand picked candidates have been elected without ever declaring these elected officials were surrogates for the “no tax” champions.

Amazingly, the limited government folks who hyperventilated about how many government agencies exist or how many federal regulations were being generated, were really aiming at sharply reducing entitlements and in the process eliminating Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (the size of government was really about government expenditures and the taxes which would be necessary to balance the budget).

For the religious base, there was pandering on issues such as abortion, family planning, and school vouchers. Conservative politicians believed (correctly) that most of these self proclaimed religious voters were in fact tribal in nature and would follow whatever their “chief” (for example religious leader) proposed, and if done skillfully this meant more votes for conservative office holders, regardless of whether the ultimate blow back was morally offensive or otherwise damaging to this block.

Most Americans do not support either Donald Trump’s or the conservative Republican Congressional majority’s goal of small government. Most Americans rather support the role of government and seek a well working set of federal agencies. Regretfully, most Americans have been disillusioned over the efficacy of the Federal Government and the true intentions of elected Congress members. Following 8 years of “just say no”, including government shutdowns, the public is understandably suspect of Government.  Crippling Obamacare is just another step in discrediting government.

Repeal and replace could be a place to begin voter wake-up. Americans must smell the coffee and realize that under the Republican plan, employers no longer need to provide healthcare insurance to their employees. What will happen when Wall Street’s demand for earnings persuades some employers to drop coverage and pass the savings onto investors?
Those previously recipients of employer provided healthcare insurance will now get to experience the joys of a “free market” which is not very free.

Or, what will older Americans do when their premiums cost 5 times what a younger American pays and there is no government subsidy? Tax credits as proposed fall well below Obamacare subsidies. Hmmm.

And, the elimination of the 3.8% Obamacare tax on investments will put a nice piece of change in the pockets of the very well to do while the less well off struggle to meet the higher cost of healthcare insurance.

There is a higher level of thinking about healthcare than just Obamacare. Begin with the notion of two children, one from a wealthy family and one from a very poor one. Should a country which claims to be the greatest in the world, allow the child of the poor family to not receive the same basic healthcare as the rich one?

What about someone who experiences devastating illnesses (for example diabetes). Should this person be denied life saving medications because these doctors and drugs cost too much? And what about an average middle class family whose bread winner is suddenly laid off and is unable to find work (especially work with healthcare), should the children (not to mention the adults) be denied healthcare services over the lack of affordable premiums?

If one does not see healthcare as a “right”, there is not much more to say. One could say look around the world to modern countries like Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, or Canada (to name a few) and ask the question, why do these countries provide basic healthcare to all their residents and how can they afford it when Americans are being told healthcare is too expensive?

For most Americans who do not see healthcare as a right, the answer too often comes to “I can buy my own insurance, so should you” or “I get my coverage through my employer… so these people without should just get a job”. Hmmm.

Small government advocates see Obamacare as an inconvenient obstacle in their crusade for lower (especially progressive) taxes. They will surround the replace debate with words of more choice, patient centered, and getting government out from being between you and your doctor. These emotional terms are intended to neutralize opposition and keep the discussion away from taxes. Why?

There are no free lunches. Healthcare must be paid for in some manner. There are better methods than Obamacare but strangely Obamacare has insured more people and better controlled the overall healthcare cost than any previous plan. A universal, single payer system is the answer the rest of the world has settled upon and most of these healthcare systems utilize a national sales tax (or VAT). Instead in the US, business (which bare most of the healthcare cost burden) build healthcare cost into the price of the products they sell making these products immediately less competitive (especially on the world market) than they need to be. Hmmm.

At the end of the day, the debate around Obamacare is just about a step in the process to significantly reduce how much tax wealthy Americans pay. Americans, for their own wellbeing need to look around, see how others treat healthcare, and hold their Congress member accountable should healthcare take a step backwards.

One, Two Punch

March 7, 2017

November’s Presidential election has bequeathed Americans with two jewels, a President temperately unfit to lead and a Congressional majority so wedded to the very wealthy that they are unfit to govern. How could Americans get it so wrong?

Yesterday, Congress stepped out from President Trump’s shadow and revealed its healthcare colors.  Billed as Obamacare “repeal and replace”, the proposal was short on the replace portion.

The proposal calls for ending funding sources like the “individual mandate” and other Obamacare taxes, for example the 3.8% tax on investment income for higher earners.   On the good side, the Republican plan will also keep the provisions for insuring children under 26 and good but less good, keeps the “pre-existing condition” exclusion. True to form, the GOP will allow insurers to raise premiums for pre-existing conditions if there is a break in enrollment (like if someone is laid off, fired, or decides to leave a job providing healthcare coverage).  What’s wrong with a simple “no exclusions for life time limits or pre-existing conditions?

Under the GOP plan, direct subsidies are gone and in their place will be tax credits. I wonder how long Republicans thought about tax credits since most of those seeking healthcare premium subsidies do not report enough income to benefit much fom tax credits.

As predicted previously, the Republican plan will insure fewer Americans (especially the most vulnerable), do nothing to halt overall healthcare premium increases, and deliver a handsome tax reduction bonus to the very wealthy (who do not need the tax cut). Republican spokespersons speak of giving Americans greater choice, access to the doctors of their preference, and the unspecified benefits of a healthcare free market. Hmmm.

Anyone who thinks the healthcare market is suitable for “free market” principles is dreaming. Look at where the US is now, premiums are increasing two times the rate of inflation, insurance companies would reimpose life time limits and pre-existing conditions exclusions if they could.  And how many Americans do you know who could shop among different doctors or hospitals for a good deal?

One Republican spokesperson cited a heart procedure which costs $150,000 in the US but in India, the same procedure goes for $15,000. Assuming this is true, there is no way “free market” causes this. Doctors, hospitals and drug companies simply are paid less in India.

Interestingly when one looks around the world, one sees the US spends twice as much as two dozen other modern countries and despite what the US spends, it experiences poorer health outcomes. In all these other countries, doctors, hospitals, and drug companies cost less than in the US. Hmmm.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect any action to “make America great again” would also demonstrably produce healthcare outcomes equal to or superior to world class standards?

Trumbo Not Trump

January 31, 2016

Dalton Trumbo is a name most people might not recognize. Trumbo the movie, however, will be a movie many will remember. This memorability, hopefully, will be tied to disgust over the shameful past associated with the Congress’ “House Un-American Committee”.

HUAC is a testimony to wanton disregard for the individual protections embodied in the Constitution. Regrettably, HUAC is written indelibly into our past. Or is it?

Dalton Trumbo was a prolific (and successful) Hollywood screen writer in the late 40s and 50s, just as the cold war began. Trumbo had been a member of the Communist Party and was an unashamed believer in socialism. Following World War II and the great fear which the axis “Communism versus Capitalism” was generating, the US political stage was set for hypocrisy, demagoguery, and self serving fear mongering.

And on this stage many including Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and in the Hollywood world, Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, all danced to tunes designed to reinforce fear, and maintain status quo.

HUAC used subpoena powers to accuse Americans from all sorts of backgrounds with the famous question, “are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party”. Those subpoenaed were ask to “name names” when in fact the names were already known.

HUAC goal seemed to be characterizing certain fellow Americans as somehow untrustworthy if not outrightly a danger to the greater country. There were even proposals that these “communists” be rounded up and put in interment camps. Hmmm.

Slowly Americans grew resistant to the constant fear mongering and began to see both the injustice and the outright lies which HUAC was spreading. Screen writers like Trumbo, writers like Arther Miller, and entertainers like Pete Sieger were once again recognized for their talents and not their past (legal) political affiliations. A great sigh could almost be heard across America as the 60s broke.

And now, a relatively short time later, we are seeing and hearing the use of fear and convenient Constitutional ignorance return. As in the past, fear provides a political crutch to many who seek a greater role in governance. To be sure they seek “governance” their way with Constitutional adherence optional.

Donald Trump has offered the most polished and effective populist rhetoric, but he has been closely followed by the rest of the GOP field. For at least part of the American voter segment, Trump’s tirades work. Draped in the American flag, these Americans cheer when Trump promises to deny basic Constitutional protections to many Americans simply based upon religion or ethnicity.

Trumbo, the movie, shows us the problem is not with the hypocritical, demagogical, fear mongering politicians, rather it is with a weak and unthinking public. The time is approaching when Americans can muster strength from just thinking, and reject the HUAC past.   When Americans visit the voting booth, they can speak loudly and clearly.

Hmmm.

Breaking The Gridlock?

January 25, 2016

Late last week, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed he was considering (again) a run for President as an Independent. The Wall Street Journal reported that Bloomberg is studying the situation and will not run unless he believes he could win. I wonder what that means?

The Bloomberg “best case” scenario would pit Donald Trump (or Ted Cruz) against Bernie Sanders (or a wounded Hillary Clinton). In such a general election matchup, Bloomberg’s “fiscal conservative, socially liberal” positions could appeal to many independents as well as significant portions of both Democrat and Republican Parties. Hmmm.

The path to a Bloomberg Presidency would not be easy. He would need to win enough States’ popular and electoral college votes outright in order to gain a majority in the Electoral College. Popular vote totals alone simply do not translate into Electoral College votes. With the Electoral College majority hanging already upon a handful of States, Bloomberg’s candidacy raise also the chance the election being decided by the House of Representatives instead of the national vote. I guess this is what pundits call a “high risk, high reward” strategy.

One obvious take away is there could be a candidate who appealed to both Democrat and Republican voters. (So oil and water can mix?)

Even more to the point is that a fiscal conservative, social conservative candidate has lost the last two Presidential elections.  General election voters preferred a fiscal liberal, socially liberal candidate. I wonder why Democrats and Republicans have not figured out that social conservatism (lack of inclusiveness, religion driven social policies) is a fast track to defeat on a national basis.  Fiscal conservatism is much harder for the general population to understand but economic policies that raise all boats will attract voters.

Congress has demonstrated well where fiscal conservatism combined with social conservatism leads… gridlock and unresponsive policies.

A Mike Bloomberg candidacy might spell out the fast track to end gridlock. Hmmm.

The Evolution Of Political Sanity

January 17, 2016

The Republican Presidential Primary process has once again tested the limits of commonsense. In 2012, Republicans fielded a group of candidates which resembled more a Vaudeville act than a serious contest to pick the most qualified. Never the less, the GOP did select Mitt Romney who was certainly both qualified and heads and shoulders a better choice than the likes of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, or Herman Cain. The elephant in the room in 2016 is who or will anyone emerge who can be viewed as a serious candidate?

Supporters of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio see their preferences as the inevitable nominee, while Chris Christie and John Kasich’s fans are sure their pick will be the last person stranding and gain the nomination. Ben Carson and Jeb Bush’s clubs are gently sleeping, while Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul are secretly hoping a natural catastrophe sweeps all the others aside. And as if nothing each of these candidates have promised is relevant, House Speaker Paul Ryan has now announced the Republican controlled House of Representatives will construct the GOP Presidential platform. Hmmm.

I wonder who is taking who seriously?

Mainstream media is gradually changing its tone on Donald Trump. After a succession of polls have steadily boosted Trumps standing versus the rest of the pack, the media is now beginning to suggest Trump might win the nomination outright and save the party from a brokered convention. This recognition must be tough for the legitimate press given the widely unconventional campaign tactics and outrageous statements Trump has used so far. Can you think of one sensible and well articulated domestic or foreign policy position that Donald Trump has articulated? But I bet you can recall any number of inflammatory and relatively meaningless charges and counter charges he has made to gain personal attention.

Up to this point, the GOP candidates have been eating Donald Trump’s dust. As a candidate gained traction and rose to challenge Trump’s leadership position, the glare of the public spotlight revealed critical weaknesses in each.

Jeb Bush (with an exclamation mark) was the first to rise and fade. He was followed quickly by Ben Carson. While Carson is finished, Bush still could become the nominee in a brokered and exasperated convention. Both Cruz and Rubio are now receiving the blow back from the Donald. IMO while both Cruz and Rubio are mortally wounded by their own position statements when it comes to the general election, they are also looking weaker when compared to Trump.

Christie and Kasich are still low enough in the polls that they are not drawing Trump’s daily attention and are neither being helped or hurt by any comparisons. Both are trying to find some niche where their political and executive experience can be shown superior to Trump’s “smartest guy in the room” approach. Both of these men must be hoping for a brokered convention.

Florina is another issue. On paper she is intelligent, someone with proven executive experience, and of course is a women at a time when one of Hillary Clinton strongest appeals is her gender. Fiorina, lacks political experience and her work experience showed an arrogant leader, with a sort of rock star persona, a more “go it alone” person. So far in the primary process, Carly has not shown a warm, be my friend side. She is not likely to overcome this and attract a larger following.

Huckabee, Santorum, and Paul offer nothing that will attract a majority either in the primaries or in a brokered convention. They are just spending money and taking up space.
So what will the GOP do?

“Deer in the headlights” comes to mind. After 8 disastrous years with George W Bush and another 8 years with candidates running on anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, balanced with pro-wealthy, pro-evangelicals, and pro-extreme conservative platforms, it is no wonder the GOP has drifted into a party of extreme views representing small segments of the electorate which individually cannot get along with each other.

The GOP top guns have dug themselves into a huge hole and don’t know what to do.
Consequently each candidate is trying to call out the other candidates for the silliest of contradictions while they smugly look in the camera and say “I’m more qualified than that bozo”. Hmmm.

The shenanigans the American public is witnessing reflects personality, not genuine policy differences. Trump is Trump, Cruz is Cruz, Rubio is Rubio, etc. If one steps back and thinks about the GOP of Regan, or George H W Bush’s day, there would be no confusing them with Democrats or Democrat Party policies.  These past GOP Presidents would have stood upon a rational, far more moderate, and inclusive Republican Party platform.

It is hard to see how the GOP can stop digging and get itself out of this dysfunctional evolution of political sanity.

A Suspension Of Common Sense

November 19, 2015

The blood bath that took place in Paris last Friday truly would qualify for the moniker of “a suspension of common sense”. What possibly could the terrorists have thought was achievable by their suicidal acts?

There is no way the Western world will walk away from Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and cede the land to a radical Islamic regime bent on using theology to accumulate personal wealth for its leaders. They will not be satisfied with a little, they will want it all.

There is no way “Shiite” Iran will allow it either. And even “Sunni” Saudi Arabia cannot condone ISIS behavior. In short, sooner or later, ISIS and its current group of leaders, just like Osama ben Laden or Mullah Mohamed will cease to lead and in all likelihood be followed by other opportunists.

Money has a funny way of bending the minds of otherwise sane people.

But Paris isn’t the only place where there appears to be a suspension of common sense. Look no further than Washington DC and the GOP Presidential primary candidates.

The GOP has seized upon the vanishingly small risk associated with accepting Syrian refugees and in just days have build it into a do or die issue with President Obama. Governors (all but one Republican) have pompously announced they will not accept any Syrian refugees. House Republicans are now rushing new legislation through Congress to codify what would qualify as a fully “vetted” refugee. A procedure which no requires 18-24 months would become prohibitively long. Hmmm.

These are the same people who claim while beating their breasts that America is an exceptional country. Hmmm.

Occasionally, there will be a documentary about the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent during World War II. The move, which was clearly unconstitutional, stands as a stain on America and separates the US from Nazi Germany only in that the Government never intended to exterminate Japanese citizens.

By labeling Syrian refugees potential terrorists, the GOP is reaching back to the World War II xenophobia which took hold of the American spirit. Instead of exceptional, American now looks vulnerable and frightened.

Apparently the GOP doesn’t care and sees fanning these flames as a sure way to garner votes. Hmmm.