Friday, February 26, 2010

Obama Pushes Ahead On Health Care – 2010 Outlook: “I See Red States Where None Existed Before”

Obama and Biden Asleep at the Switch - Clearly Not Listening to the Public - photo: drudge report

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans are against the Presidents Brand of Health Care Reform, (Gallop), the President plans to push ahead, with or without GOP support of his proposal.
Yesterday’s Health Care Summit, characterized as “seven-hour gabfest” by Politico, showed a President who had no use for bi-partisanship, as he spoke over Republican lawmakers, cutting off John McCain when he brought up legitimate points regarding elements of the plan such as special deals with States, accusing him of using “talking points” and reminding McCain that he had won the election. Although ideas were brought to the table, and a clear effort was made by the GOP to put forward ideas that were centered more on private industry reforms, rather than growing the Government’s role, hours before the summit, Democrats had plans in place to ignore the outcome of the meeting. The plan to hold the Summit was, in effect, a hoped-for set-up of Republican Lawmakers, which would have given the President the ability to use the standard “talking point” that the GOP is the “Party of No”. That plan failed, as the GOP brought ideas to the table in a cordial and respectful manner, with the only dust ups coming from the President, when GOP lawmakers brought up points that had more to do with what the people wanted, rather than the President.

From Politico:

Democrats plan to take up the president’s comprehensive, $950 billion plan — referred to on the Hill as “the big bill.” The alternative would be a smaller — or “skinny” — bill that would provide less coverage and cost less. But that would amount to starting the complex process over.
“It’s probably the big bill or nothing,” said a top Democratic aide. “If we don’t get the big bill, I am sure some will push for a skinny bill.”

The process that will be used in the Senate, simply put, is to attach the Health Care Reform Bill to a Reconciliation Bill (a bill designed to reduce the budget), which, according to Congressional rules, requires only 51 votes in order to pass – in other words, the Democrats will use an option that is nothing more than a loophole. Regardless of which Party uses the procedures, which came under fire by then Senator Barrack Obama when the Bush Administration used Reconciliation - it is clearly an available option.

However, is it the right option at a time when the Democrat Brand has suffered under the very legislation they are attempting to push through against all odds? The recent the ghosts of New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts hold the key to that question – given the fact that, particularly in New Jersey and Massachusetts, the voters sent a clear message regarding Health Care Reform, and that message was no. The election of Chris Christy and Scott Brown, hailed as anomalies by those in the main press, were more predictive of a future where the majority will take a stand at the ballot box in November. Should the Democrats move forward this week, and push the “big bill” on health care legislation through as law, it might be difficult to find a state in the union (outside of say, may Hawaii) that does not go scarlet on the first Wednesday in November of 2010.

Some keys to consider: Unemployment continues to rise, economic forecasts are grim through 2010 and Job Bills, although well-intended, are historically failures when attempting to put the nation in recovery, as the primary focus is always public sector jobs, with a bone thrown in to the private sector, largely inadequate, and a drop in the bucket. Add to his scenario, rising inflation, and the proverbial nails are in the coffin of the Brand.

It is not, as they say, a done-deal, the President, Pelosi and Reid, must first convince those Democrats who fear their constituents, and possibly the usual Republicans (Snow and Collins come to mind, as well as the new Senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown) to climb on board should they lack even the 51 necessary votes for passage. What remains to be seen is will those Democrats who are on the fence, waver in the face of what is right for the people, rather than what is right in the mind of Barack Obama.

Time will tell, however, when it comes to cutting Medicare Benefits, increasing the public debt, and totally revamping a system that would have been better served by few tweaks suggested by the GOP, and dismissed out of hand by the President, how big of a backlash can be expected in November. Once again, add in the factors of jobs and inflation. Would the President not been as thick-headed, and arrogant to believe his way or the highway was the only way, and had listened and possibly incorporated some of the ideas brought to the table (including the idea favored by most American’s – start over and revamp), the outcome may have been different.

As it stands now, with current polls available at Real Clear Politics races polled thus far, show a great deal of “red” over the previously preferred “blue” – one can anticipate that there are congressional races in play that are not listed, where incumbents in States where the automatic “Safe Democrat” is applied, will be joining the others when it becomes clear that Scott Brown’s election was more about what the people wanted of their government than about party politics. Brown’s election was based on his stance on independence, and most importantly, his pledge to vote against Health Care Reform. Those concerned with this massive legislation designed to destroy private industry (insurance), force cuts in Medicare, tax everyone and everything in sight in over to cover part of it, and should that fail, try to grab more from the already bankrupt Social Security System, can take some heart. Bills, no matter how far into a process, can be repealed, in this case the wait is short, it will begin with the 2010 elections, and it will end in 2012. Obama’s wish to become a One-Term President (he injected the words “really good”), will be fulfilled.

Hillary Clinton 2012? photo riverdaughter blog

Who would Barrack Obama face in 2012? The lone voice of reason at the moment appears to be Hillary Clinton who spent yesterday blasting the U.S. Deficit, citing it as a national security concern. It is quite possible that should she run a again, Super-Delegates, desperate to salvage what is left of their party, will finally give Clinton the nod she deserved in 2008. She was by far the better choice, and remains the only hope to allow the shattered party, to move forward with some dignity. It would be a stretch to think that her candidacy would succeed, given the climate at this time, but it would go a long way toward rebuilding a seriously damaged brand. She would, en effect, be "taking one for the team" a second time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Live on C-Span, Obama Health Summit – Options Abound, Will Party Politics Trump the Needs of the Public?

Will the President Set Aside Ego and Party Politics for the Public? Obama Health Care Plan Logo - image "thisainthell blog

The Presidents Health Care Forum will be broadcast on C-Span today beginning at 10 AM. One can watch the proceedings online at The forum, designed to be a show of bi-partisanship, will showcase the Presidents Health Care Plan, a copy of which has been available at for the past week is an outline, with pdf downloads available showing “key highlights” of what Obama envisions for the Public. C-Span has both the House and Senate versions, with a comparative analysis by the Kaiser Foundation here All three proposals include hefty increases in taxes – they have kept the CBO busy trying to calculate the scale of the costs of each proposal - in the instance of the President’s plan, there is, apparently, no way to actually project the expenditures.

The clash will come from Party politics, in part, because Conservative Republican’s have been kept out of all meetings, in both houses, to date. It is not so much that Republican’s do not have solutions; it is that their solutions do not include 10,000 pages of entitlements, jargon and impending government bureaucracy. Due to the simple nature of the cost savings measures proposed by Republican lawmakers, Democrats who thrive on government spending, have, to date, refused to listen and have dismissed solid ideas out-of-hand. One of which is to start-from scratch, to work on a true bi-partisan measure – something the President is loath to do. It would, in essence, be a further delay in passing legislation on health care. More likely, it would no longer be the “Presidents” plan, which, either through arrogance or ignorance is preferred.

Would it not be better to take Health Care Reform back to the drawing table, listen to ideas from all sides, and come up with a program that would benefit the public, without breaking the bank? There are options available that would cut costs – and they come from both the public and private sector – yet, no-one can cut through the haze of self-important party politics long enough to get anything done. The later, in this case, may not be a bad idea.

Some stunningly simple examples of how to control costs come from both sides of the aisle, and should be considered and implemented – a pared down approach that would expand coverage, and decrease costs. Hillary Clinton’s plan, as explained during an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, would expand the coverage currently offered to the members of Congress, as well as those civilian employees and retirees that work for the government to the general public. During the Town Hall Meetings, Representative Nikki Tsongas was asked why she would be exempt from the plan proposed by Congress and be allowed to maintain her current coverage, the same coverage Hillary Clinton would extended to Americans in general (article with Clinton’s interview and plan here )to which the representative replied that she had a wide range of options. Exactly Clinton’s point – in fact if that coverage were made available to the general public as an option it would have the effect of widening the risk pool and driving pricing down further. (So much for super-delegates.)

Republican proposals include simple tort reform (which will limit mal-practice awards, some of which are ridiculously high, which will lower physician’s costs, ultimately passing savings down to the consumer), and allowing carriers to sell policies across state lines (which will increase competition and again, drive down costs to the consumer).

An op-ed in the Orange Country Register written by George Patos, a former deputy undersecretary of Commerce, former general counsel to the Self-Insurance Institute of America and current Executive Director, Healthcare Performance Management Institute suggests the putting technology to use so that companies can better streamline health care costs and take better control over their health care expenses. Mr. Patos’ full article is available here at

It is not for lack of better ideas, rather unwillingness on the part of the administration and the majority in Congress to accept ideas that are at once simple and will actually work, without increasing the deficit. This schoolyard mentality that has evaded Washington politics for far too long is to benefit a Political Party, not the public. It has not gone unnoticed. Current polling on Congressional job approval has dropped to a stunning 10%, 51% of American’s actually Fear the federal government more than insurance companies and a CBS News Poll reports that 55% of American’s disapprove of the Presidents handling of the Health Care Reform Issue. One would think that a true show of bi-partisanship from both parties on this issue, taking it back to the table with all plans laid out and choosing the most cost-effective, viable pieces from contributions both public and private, would best serve the public. If it took a year or more to get this most important legislation passed and get it right, so that any reform has almost full public support, it would be worth the time and trouble. It would also, possibly save a few jobs in Congress. That said it is doubtful that today’s summit will be nothing more than a show of party politics, pitting us and against them, in that ever mind-numbing “Shining city on the Hill”.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Barney Frank (D-MA)Seeks Second Stimulus – Spending Till The Chickens Come Home to Roost – 2010 Re-election Strategy Unhinged

Barney Frank, Chair of House Finance Committee, Up for Re-election 2010 - image bilerico

The Boston Globe’s, report on one of their favorite political sons, the 4th Districts, Barney Frank speaks to the need for a second stimulus in order to “create jobs and avoid a double dip recession”. Frank, who is the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, brought out economists to speak on behalf of the necessity for a second stimulus, one from a company, Moody’s, suggested that the first stimulus did not go far enough.

Frank, understanding that he is up for re-election, has not proposed any legislation, rather used his time to lay out a case for a second stimulus, bash the Republican Party, and talk about job creation. The fact of the matter is that the first stimulus, saved public sector jobs, and created public sector jobs, however, little evidence exists that the Stimulus has created private sector jobs, which are vital for economic recovery. One reason, CBS News 2-18-09) only 23% of the first stimulus will be spent through 2010, with much of the monies targeted for projects that will not be in place for years. Therefore, a second stimulus seems hardly wise in this instance, but it does pull at the heartstrings of those voters who are living in the hard-hit 4th District.

Frank must have missed the Jobs Bill that was agreed to move forward yesterday, in the Senate. Should the Senate vote today to pass the bill, which would add an additional 13 billion to the already top-heavy budget. One can bet the house that Frank will be behind the President’s Health Care Reform package that the CB0 can’t even begin to calculate costs. (New York Times) Should the Senate push this version of Health Care through with a “simple majority”, no one knows how big the final price tag will be for the continually suffering public.

Frank, who has seen multiple contenders come out of the woodwork in recent weeks, including members of his own party, will have his hands busy the next few months, defending his positions on a variety of issues. The populist front runner, Republican Earl Sholley, (website) had run against Frank once before, in 2008. In that election, Sholley had entered the race late, a virtual unknown, who managed to receive 70,000 plus votes. It should be stated that there are not 70,000 Republican’s in the 4th district. Giving those observers a clue that Frank did not, at the time, did not have complete trust from the electorate. Times have changed and the economy, under Frank’s watch (literally), has turned for the worse. Key cities in the District have higher than average unemployment rates, (The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a 13.1% unemployment rate for that city in year end 2009) and suggesting a second stimulus when a first has hardly touched the district (private sector), may not be enough to save Frank’s job in 2010.

Sholley, at first glance, does not appear to be the “perfect candidate”, however, he is a staunch fiscal conservative and strict constructionist who makes no excuses and shoots from the hip.

Sholley faces a primary challenge from several newcomers to the race. Those that entered when it was apparent that the 4th district could, indeed, be won by a Republican, include Sean Bielat (website here), recently of Brookline. Bielat, gained some national recognition when interviewed by Huffington Post during his visit to CPAC. The Boston Globe did a piece on Bielat and the fact that he was a “newcomer” who had entered the race against Frank. The Globe used the article in an effort to downplay Sholley’s candidacy, noting that he had run several times without a win. (History Lesson: Several of our most revered Presidents and office holders ran multiple times unsuccessfully before being elected, among them, Abraham Lincoln) The article, using language that speaks to the inadequacy of the challengers paints Frank in a very capable and sympathetic light.

Of course, for a Conservative, running in Massachusetts, regardless of which Democrat one runs against, receiving press of any type is unusual and positive press is non-existent. The Globe, the weekend preceding the special senate election, was still publishing articles praising Martha Coakley and touting her impending win over Scott Brown. Even independent radio talking head, Howie Carr dismissed Brown’s ability to win, until the 9th hour. Carr recently wrote a piece on the 4th district candidates, which sounded alarmingly similar to the Globe’s point of view.

In the final analysis, regardless of which candidates end up running, from Green Party, to Republican, Barney Frank will not have an easy road to re-election, and it is probable that he will be retired in 2010.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Scott Brown (R-MA) – Jobs Bill vote HR 2847 - Betrayal of the People’s Seat or Trojan Horse - Analysis

Scott Brown (R-MA)- image

Yesterday, the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown, joined four of his colleges in voting “Yea” on a smaller version of Max Baucus and Harry Reid’s Jobs Bill, causing a firestorm from those who voted for Brown on a promise of fiscal conservatism. The final version of HR 2847, passed with a 62 to 30 vote with 8 Republican members not voting. The roll call here shows Nebraska Senator, Democrat Ben Nelson, as the only dissenting vote on the Democrat side.

As word spread that Brown had voted on the bill, Brown put the following note up on his Facebook page (twice)

“I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families. This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I am voting for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work... I hope for improvements in that process going forward.”

The individual “likes” amounted to 1231, and the 4149 comments under his posts ranged from enraged to supportive of the Junior Senator. The response was in indicative of the divide between those who would prefer no spending take place at all in Washington and those who are seeking a bi-partisan tone.

Brown, who was joined in this vote by the two Senators from Maine, George V. Voinovich, Ohio and Kit Bond of Missouri, has voted on legislation with both parties since taking office. In his first vote, Brown joined fellow Republicans to block the appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. Becker, a union lawyer and Obama appointee, would have been responsible for certifying unions. This vote was seen clearly as “along party line” and the press was mainly negative on Brown.

Now, with his vote for the advancement of the jobs bill (meaning it now goes to committee), the press has taken a slightly different tone, one that at one point gives Reid Credit (Politico: ”Harry Reid snags victory on $15B jobs bill” to the Washington Post’s ”Analysis: Brown revives GOP moderates' pivot role”

The rub.

All of this ahead of Obama’s Health Care Summit this Thursday. The summit is being touted as an opportunity for Republican and Democrat lawmakers to work together in order to come to some agreement on a plan by the President. It is currently being viewed by some media outlets as a “Trap” , the televised conference being allegedly designed to show the Republican’s as the “Party of No”, (a phrase that the ever campaigning President continues to use. It remains to be seen if the Republican’s joining the President at the summit will be allowed to offer alternate solutions, or if this will be a strict up and down sale of the proposed plan available here at It also remains to be seen if the Junior Senator Brow, who campaigned on the strength of voting “No” on the Health Care Reform Bill, will be at the summit, and if he will offer alternatives that were part and parcel of his campaign, or rubber stamp the President’s proposal.

This particularly dangerous bill includes hefty taxes, a reliance on the already fiscally strained Social Security System as backup, and through hefty regulation of the insurance industry, it is the road to Government Controlled Health Care.

Brown was possibly setting the tone for the Republican’s as the Party of “sometime yes, if it suits us”, ahead of the Summit. According to a John Cornyn, Chair of the NRSC
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and chairman of the national Republican Senatorial Committee, said Brown did not upset the GOP leadership with his vote.
“This was a procedural vote. There was no sort of insistence by leadership that this was a place where we plant our flag or make our stand,’’ Cornyn said.

In the latest push for Health Care Reform, the President’s proposal will only need 51 votes to ensure passage with a simple majority. It does not require the vote of one Republican, however, the “litmus” test will come on Thursday, when the Republican’s meet with the President. As of today, they will be able to point to Brown, and his colleges as showing bi-partisan support if the conditions merit. In the final analysis, Brown either voted his conscious, in which he’ll find a good percentage of his constituents in disagreement, or he voted with the blessing of the Republican leadership, taking one for the “team” so to speak.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Pushes Health Care Reform - Regulating Health Insurance Rates Versus Allowing Insurance Carriers To Sell Across State Lines

A report yesterday from Politicodiscussed one of the options that President Obama will put on the table when meeting with Republican lawmakers today to push his health care reform through Congress. Obama has decided that what the country needs is more oversight when it comes to rates the insurance carriers can charge to consumers. On the face of it, that might not be a bad idea, but a lot will depend which carriers are allowed in the State one lives, and how long those carriers are willing to stay, depending upon the percentage of annual increases allowed under the administration’s proposal. Rates are set based on risk, some of which is assumed. The assumptions come into play specifically in states such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where mandates such as fertility treatments, can push the premiums sky high. Under the Massachusetts model, mandated benefits are applied across the board to all plans, so that, in essence, everyone is paying for certain benefits that only a few will access. Generally these types of benefits, once elective, also come with steep price tags. When insurance companies set the rates for the following year, heavy claims from the previous year are factored in, and in some cases, rates for 2010 have risen upward to 14%. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts raised rates 11%, and by way of example, an 11% increase on a premium paid of $384, has increased $42 per month. Additionally, those that cannot afford the mandated health insurance premiums are slapped with a still fine of up to over $1,000, which if not paid, can result in garnishment of raises and a host of fines and increase by the Commonwealth’s Department of Revue – That too is in the current proposal for the nation.

Obama cited a particular instance in California where an insurance company (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), raised premiums 39 %. However, it is also not noted that California mandates benefits are increasing on average of 20 per legislative sessions. Recent additions include substance abuse treatment and acupuncture. The answer from this administration is to: regulate what the carriers can charge, include mandated benefits, most likely modeled after Massachusetts, and then sit back and watch premiums soar (for those who may not have noticed an acceptable percentage of increase was not in play, rather the president referred only to “egregious” increases. Would a 15% increase be considered “egregious”? Or perhaps even a 10% increase?

Either way the consumer suffers: Once the carriers are mandated, (whenever the word mandated is bandied about, there are forms to be completed, ad nausea, by every single health care provided associated with an insurance plan, impacting the overall cost of health care), should the corporate decision to close, due to continually running the business in the red, then the State will be given fewer choice, and those remaining health insurance carriers will continue to take full advantage of the “allowable increase”. Carriers can stay alive, by virtually downgrading plan options, raising co-pays, and deductibles each year, and finally by stalling claim payments or refusing to offer benefits, until a claim is found to be in compliance with the plan, which can take months. (Again, see Massachusetts)

Here’s the simple fact: Insurance is an industry and as such it is a business. A very simple method of addressing high premium costs, while still maintaining coverage, would be to write legislation that would allow insurance carriers to sell health care plans across state lines. This would then lend to a competitive atmosphere and that drives prices down. Massachusetts recently opened its borders to auto insurance carriers and the end result, lower premiums all the way around, savings to consumers was immediate. The premise is simple, and it works. Imagine if you would, health insurance carries allowed to compete for your business? Similar to any consumer product, once the there is competition, the rates become more favorable.

Mandated benefits, in part, should be reviewed to exclude any benefits that could possibly be considered elective. Elective as in “not medically necessary”, and allow carriers to offer tiered plans, instead of a “one size fits all”; a plan with full benefits, a plan that carriers fewer benefits to fit the needs of the individual (say a couple in the 60’s who might not be taking advantage of infertility treatments), and catastrophic coverage, a plan that would prevent someone from going into bankruptcy.

Finally, offer consumers a real stake in their coverage, by having those who have received benefits, check their statements for accuracy. (This should include Medicaid and Medicare recipients). If an error is found, the consumer should be rewarded, perhaps through a reduction in premium over the following year.).
(Also not mentioned tort reform – which would reduce the costs of hospitals, doctors and any one remotely related to the health insurance field that must carry mal-practice coverage). One can hazard to guess that this type of "watch dog" incentive might discover more fraud, than the current bureaucracy.

Common sense solutions (some of which have been offered, in a much maligned GOP proposal), would better serve the nation as a whole, by decreasing the costs, making insurance coverage more affordable, and at the same time, with tort-reform lifted, increase the numbers of physicians willing to practice in certain states.
The Toyota executives may have said it best (from a presentation to Congress over the recall of Toyota autos): (Politico):

The “Activist Administration & Congress – increasing laws & regulations” is listed as one of “Toyota Challenges,”

Toyota, as a note, produces autos in the United States.

In closing, some regulations make sense: regulating our borders by enforcing existing laws, for example. Making some preventative health screenings mandatory on plans (eliminating the need to more costly treatment down the line) and helmet laws for motorcyclists. To regulate our health care industry to the point of no return is not, in this humble opinion, wise in the least.

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