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Posts Tagged ‘Health Care’

On Republican Victories that Weren’t

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I often like to think about what might have been. I’m not going to contemplate a world without partisanship. I’m not going to ponder a world where everyone works together and sings kumbaya. Those are nice ideals, but within the reality of one-upsmansmanship and party message control, I can still see clearly a very different political path from 2009 to now; a path that starts with Republicans claiming a victory that was rightfully theirs, and would drastically change the political landscape in which we currently live.

It starts with a simple story of an idea: the individual mandate. As outlined here by FoxNews, the individual mandate made it’s way from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in 1989, into Republican-sponsored health care bill proposals in 1993 (by current mandate opponents such as Chuck Grassley), enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, and finally into another congressional bill proposal in 2007 co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. Mitt Romney even referred to the rule as his “personal responsibility mandate.” In short, this idea was entirely of Republican origin and remained a popular means of reforming health care and reducing costs within the Republican party until very recently.

Let’s now think back on the 2009 health care debate. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but did not quite have a filibuster-proof majority. They desperately wanted to have a public option in their health care legislation. Ultimately, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the strong opposition and threats to join Republicans in a filibuster by Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman crushed that plan. The end result is that a massive health care bill focused around Republican ideas and modeled after a Republican governor’s plan passed through the Democrat-controlled congress without having a public option attached. Just imagine if that’s how the story played out in the messaging.

Imagine that Republicans, seeing the embrace of a conservative ideal, participated in the framework and negotiations structuring the law. Imagine that upon the failure of the public option, a bipartisan bill was passed with Republicans claiming victory for the bill and their role in its success. Their idea had won the day. They had defeated the public option. They had, in effect, hijacked the President’s attempt at a signature piece of legislation. They had brought him along to an individual mandate he opposed in his primary against Hillary Clinton. What if what is now the signature polarizing piece of legislation of Obama’s administration was instead spun, messaged, and ultimately viewed (Republicans are pretty good at message control, after all) as a strong Republican minority exposing the President’s weakness. What if Obamacare was Boehnercare? What if, in 2012, Mitt Romney ran partly on the platform that the President’s greatest accomplishment was simply piggybacking off of his largely successful Massachusetts legislation? Might he have looked stronger? Maybe even won the election? Would Democrats still be clamoring for enough seats and votes to add a public option to the bill?

Certainly, we would not be here. Certainly, Republicans who embraced health care reform and undercut the President by taking most of the credit for it would not be orchestrating a government shutdown as a last-ditch effort to defund a bill based on a long history of their own conservative ideas.

Then again, if the Republicans didn’t shift the current debate to Obamacare, Democrats would probably be pressing them to undo the “sequestration” cuts in the new fiscal year. As it is, the Democrats are offering a “clean” continuing resolution, accepting the funding level reductions enacted by sequestration as the new status quo…. yet another Republican victory for which they are too partisan to notice and accept credit.

On What I Don’t Like About Barack Obama

October 1, 2012 4 comments

This is part 1 of a 3-post, pre-debate series on my feelings about each candidate and why I am voting the way that I am voting this November. Part 2, “On Why I am Not Voting for Mitt Romney,” can be seen here. Part 3, “On Why I am Voting for Barack Obama,” can be seen here.

This post could actually be much longer than many would expect, so I’m going to try to limit it to some bullet points with a short explanatory paragraph (or three). I think these might be in order of importance, but if you were to ask me tomorrow, the order might be different.

Health Care

This is a common complaint about the President, but my issue here is not the reform law itself. Assuredly, I think it is a flawed piece of legislation but it will do much more good than harm, and my opinions on the legislation could fill an entire post (and probably will later). But what I take issue with is the timing of and decision to pursue this bill. In my opinion, that decision has tainted and derailed Obama’s entire presidency.

In short, the economy was bad and the stimulus was a step but it was not a jobs bill. The country was in crisis and the Democrats had a lot of political capital. They could have passed a bill very similar to Obama’s jobs bill that was deemed too little, too late before dying in Congress. They could have passed some proposals mentioned by Bill Clinton, as well as others, to reduce the friction between the unfilled jobs and unemployed workers. They could have passed any number of bills that would get the economy moving. And once the economy moved, they would have the political capital to do other things.

However, Obama and the Democrats passed a health care bill that doesn’t fully go into effect until 2014. They passed a health care bill that was a legislative battle played out in the public. And they spent every ounce of political capital that they had to do so. Even if it does well, the results will be too far down the line to re-earn any of that lost capital. If the biggest legislative achievement of 2009 led to a better economy in 2010, then the Democrats likely could have passed whatever health care bill they so chose when they continued to pick up seats. Instead, we have a controversial bill that is the rallying cry of the opposition and a slower-than-possible recovery.

The Treasury/Federal Reserve

I have now read enough about the financial crisis to know that there were, in fact, many credible economists, regulators, and even bankers who understood that the subprime mortgage bubble was going to be a problem, and who had been trying to get the attention of everyone they could to warn about it. In the wake of the crisis, Obama opted for continuity and insider knowledge in his Treasury and Federal Reserve appointments instead of for fresh faces who would bring a brand new philosophy. I cannot understand walking into a mess, finding out who watched over the mess being made and then asking them to watch over the clean up. I was very disappointed with this.

Indefinite Detention

I don’t think that I need much of an explanation here. Obama signed a law allowing indefinite detentions, along with a statement that he would not use them. A lot of good that will do when someone else is in charge and the law of the land now allows such great potential for abuse.

Leading from Behind

This oft-quoted and repeated phrase (I believe John McCain said it first) generally is considered nothing but a right-wing talking point. However, I sort of agree. My outsider observation is that especially in the first 2-2.5 years, Obama liked to stay “above the fray” on several controversial issues, allowing the fight to play out in Congress. Then, Obama would swoop in and try to reconcile what seemed to be irreconcilable differences. This allowed Obama to appear as the adult in a room full of children, but it also allowed for a heightened tone of division and tensions both in Congress and in the media. Eventually, as the grown up in a room, you want to get to the point where the kids are breaking up their own fights; that can only happen with superior leadership. I understand that the congressional Republicans are obstructionists. I understand that they announced in 2010 that the top priority was to make Obama a 1-term President. But I think there is a form of leadership that would have worked better over the past 3.5 years than the one Obama took. I think Obama too often let the fights go too far before stepping in.

Drone Strikes

I have mixed feelings about this. I applaud the ability to win on the battlefield with minimal risk to American troops. But if we’re going to make liberal use of such technology, we better be certain that we can keep our own skies 100% safe by the time our enemies get similar technology.

The Campaign

This campaign has been ugly. The Obama camp has been as grossly misleading as the opposition on several occasions, and therefore, lost the ability to more forcefully call out the similar ugly moves and out-of-context statements made by the Romney camp.

The Debt

I fall into the category of thinking that complaining about the deficit during a recession is akin to complaining about the water bill while putting out a fire (I think I got that line from Paul Krugman, but I can’t be sure). So I understand that the debt was going to rise through this time period. However, I cringe when I hear “deficit reduction,” because by definition, it does not go far enough. The deficit must be eliminated in order to reduce the debt, and that’s more where my heart is. I don’t think that’s even on the to-do list of an Obama administration. And so while I understand much of the failings in this regard during the first term, my inner debt hawk won’t let this issue go unmentioned.
Read part 2, “On Why I Will Not Vote for Mitt Romney,” here.

On Lying and Social Media and… Just Stop It.

April 6, 2012 1 comment

This wounded Marine through no fault of his own has become the literal poster child for lying for political gain. I’d bet he’d be so proud

Ok, this is a big one for me.  This speaks to so much that is wrong with society.  I’ll say it up front and then I’ll back up: Stop thinking that it’s ok to lie to make your point.  Ok, now let’s dig in.

About a year ago, I saw a preponderance of facebook statuses and received a couple e-mails about the fact that July had 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and that this would occur only every 823 years and how lucky that was or how rich that would make me.  It took me only a second to realize that something about that statement didn’t seem to make sense, and it wasn’t just the luck and the money.  So I simply copied the phrase into google and pressed search.  Immediately, I was greeted with the information that such a thing actually happens, on average, approximately every seven years. It’s actually 6 years, 5 years, 6 years, 11 years, and then repeats.  Here’s a link, if you want it. It’s from a website called snopes.com. Now, I don’t work for google or snopes. You can use any search engine you like, and I’m sure there are numerous other fact-checking sites out there–though snopes specifies in viral internet rumors. The point is that this information search was very quick and nearly effortless.

This information seemed harmless enough. Just a little chain letter with modern technology (though some chain letters are illegal forms of fraud). The point is, while I’d greatly prefer that people do a 25-second search engine fact check before they pass on useless urban legends and superstitions, I couldn’t really see the harm in mindlessly copying and pasting them. Back then I couldn’t see it. Then, it appears that many other people noticed the propensity for people to copy, paste, re-post, “like,” forward, repeat, and even believe anything that is put out there. Smart people noticed it. Smart people with bad intentions. And so they started lying to all of us…because they could.

Not long ago, I saw for the umpteenth time a facebook link about how the military pension program pales in comparison to the Congressional pension program. You’ve probably seen it. It talks about how a one-term Congressperson receives 100% of their salary for life, while the wounded Marine pictured would receive so little.  Now, there certainly is a case to be made that the military retirement program could use some work, and there are some proposals being floated around that a lot of my Army buddies are none too pleased with. And the article in the popular link seems to completely ignore that the wounded Marine would earn far more in disability than in retirement (and he earned that and more, for certain). But that’s not the issue here.

The first issue is that the information in the link, almost from top to bottom, is completely false. It is written to take advantage of the anti-Congressional sentiment in this country and the time-honored tradition of complaining about government waste to advance a cause. Congress does not get 100% salary in their retirement. And it CERTAINLY does not get anything even close to that after only one term. Here’s a link to the Congressional Research Service’s report on Retirement Benefits. Or for those who don’t want 18 pages of legalese, here’s the wikipedia page on it. What you’ll find is that there is an incredibly generous pension plan for Congress. One whose actual facts might make you want to take a second look and to work toward Congressional pension reduction.  But those facts are nowhere near what is reported in the oft-re-posted link.

The second issue here troubles me even more. Not only are there a whole host of people who will blindly repeat and believe the lies that they are told. But there is an entire subset of people who know that these are lies, don’t care, and pass the message along with all the appropriate outrage of someone who thinks these messages to be true.  I first experienced this with the aforementioned link about Congressional pensions.  I thought that it would be beneficial to inform this poor, misguided person that the link they had re-posted was, in fact, entirely fictitious.  I did so respectfully and without condescension (at least, as best as I could). I simply summarized the actual pension program briefly and went about my day. The response from the poster was that I was failing to see the “big picture.”

I immediately realized that the actual big picture, which he and so many others are failing to see is that you are knowingly lying to people to evoke an emotional reaction. The big picture is that you think that’s perfectly acceptable. The big picture is that if your point is so strong, you shouldn’t have to lie to make your case.

I have an older family member. I don’t want to call anyone out here, so we’ll just call him that: an older family member.  In the past month, I have received a couple e-mails from him. The first was about the dangers of the new Health Care bill–the Affordable Care Act. It said some pretty outrageous things. Things so outrageous, that I decided to apply my 25-second fact check. I copied and pasted the title into google and within seconds, I was greeted with a thorough background of the chain e-mail. I was informed that many of the statements were based on pieces of legislation that were not in the passed law, and that nearly all of the statements grossly misinterpreted the law. This was not an opinion piece, nor was there only one public debunking. This was a fact check. This was proof that the e-mail was a fabrication.

I was troubled that I had a relative that thought those things to be true, but I was hesitant to respond.  A week or so later, I talked to my mother to ask her if she thought that relative would be open to a response. She said that she thought he probably would.  So when I received a second e-mail, this one explaining that President Obama had “canceled” the National Day of Prayer, but that he had sponsored a Muslim prayer gathering instead, I decided to respond, as cordially as possible, with the results of my fact check. (For those scoring at home, there was not an ounce of truth to this e-mail, either, but if you’re curious, here’s the snopes entry about it). I told my older relative that I understand that he has some doubts, fears and misgivings about the religion and motives of our president, but that there is a website that you can quickly and easily check for accuracy before you pass along such a message. I figured that an older person probably doesn’t know the ins and outs of the internet that well, and so this would be a useful tool. I didn’t want my relative to be scared by these lies that, if true, could certainly scare an older person in need of health care… and who apparently doesn’t want a Muslim president (a whole different issue). I made sure to include some personal anecdotes, so as not to come off as combative.

The e-mail I received in response floored me. Shortly, my relative explained to me that he knows what snopes is–of course. And thanks for “the note.” My own relative–the one who I feared was being scared by these lies and seemed to be passing them on out of genuine fear–was perfectly aware of the 25-second fact check option. He was probably pretty aware that these were lies that he was passing on. And he didn’t seem the least bit remorseful.

I read an article for a class not long ago, about the plagiarism epidemic in colleges. The crux of the article was not that students were necessarily lazier or more deceptive, but that students had no concept that taking someone else’s words and thoughts and repeating them was wrong. The whole notion of intellectual property or the “ownership” of ideas and words is foreign to many in the “sharing” society that has cropped up thanks to social media. I see this as a highly related problem. In taking another’s words as your own without verifying them or researching them or vetting them in any way is no longer seen as an immoral act, then it becomes all too easy for unthruths to be passed around virally.

But your words are your own, and your thoughts are your own. Those words will be attached to you. You will be judged based upon them. And when you let someone else’s words and thoughts become associated with your name, you are also passing along their intent. And their intent is often not in your–or anyone else’s best interest. So when you read something with which you agree and want to share, take the time to do a 25-second fact check. Heck, you might even let it turn into a 10-or-20-minute research project. And then craft your own thoughts and share them. And for the love of society, stop lying.

On Mandates and Partisan Worldviews

April 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Much has been said and written about the contemptuous oral arguments that were made last week in regards to the “individual mandate” aspect of the Affordable Care Act (that’s Obamacare for those of you who don’t know). Now, I’m not a Constitutional law expert, nor am I experienced in the health care field (I promise to learn more about both), so maybe my opinion is less valid than many that have already stated their cases. And for the record, I don’t personally know if the ACA will work or if it’s good legislation (due to that lack of experience in the health care field). But if you bear with me, I want to walk through some of the facts here and see if I don’t wind up making some sense.

Justice Kennedy, considered a swing vote, stated that the mandate for citizens to purchase health care would “fundamentally change the relationship between the individual and the state.” Justice Roberts continued down that train of thought by asking if the government can make citizens buy a cell phone to facilitate the use of emergency services.

Color me stupid, but I don’t understand the “fundamental change.”  The government already forces me to purchase services–even from private companies. I am forced to pay taxes. Those taxes pay private companies to carry out a number of services that I do not directly have any say in, ranging from military contractors to private intelligence agencies to the construction companies that build a road. By virtue of the tax money I provide, a number of services that the government has deemed essential are funded by me and provided to me.

Now it is easy to point out that paying taxes to the government is different than paying a fee to a health insurance company.  However, given that the government transfers my tax payments to private companies on a regular basis, it seems to me that the primary difference is simply that of who collects the money.

And this brings me to the second half of my title, the partisan worldview.  Ignoring for a second that the health insurance mandate has been supported by numerous Republicans in the past, it seems to me that the Republicans and the conservatives have now placed themselves into a strange ideological box on the topic:

If the government can provide necessary services itself with public money, and if the government can use public money to purchase services from private entities, then the Republican argument against the mandate seems to indicate that the law is unconstitutional not because it is government overreach, but because the government is not involved enough. It may seem like I’m playing at semantics here, but I am not.

If the government were paying for this service through a federal tax, its constitutionality would not be up for debate (though Republicans and other conservatives would hate it even more).  By streamlining the payment process, and removing government as a financial intermediary between the citizens and the insurance companies, this has become an argument not about taxation, but about being compelled to enter a private market by the government. And so, small government Republicans have found the means to argue against the constitutionality of a law on the basis that the government itself does not collect the money and instead outsources a task to private companies.

It seems strange, when you think about it, that additional government intervention would satiate the conservative argument against constitutionality, but these are the mental games you must play when partisan politics are the dominant force instead of ideas and reason.