Free Markets, Free People

legislation


Judge Kessler: Mandate Constitutional Because of “Free Riders”

There is a new opinion from U.S. District (DC) Judge Kessler ruling that the individual mandate imposed by ObamaCare is constitutional. The primary importance of the ruling is that it is squarely at odds with the Judge Vinson opinion from the District of Florida on one key issue: that deciding not to purchase something is an “activity” that can be regulated under the Commerce Clause. I’m still going through it, and will have more to say, but a few things really leaped out at me.

(1) Kessler places a lot of emphasis on the “free riders” who consume medical services but don’t pay for them. According to the judge, these free rider problems are illuminated by the congressional findings found in the Affordable Care Act (at pp. 39-40):

The findings on this subject could not be clearer: the great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured consume medical services they cannot pay for, often resulting in personal bankruptcy. In fact, the ACA’s findings state that “62% of all personal bankruptcies are caused in part by medical expenses.” ACA § 1501(a)(2)(G), as amended by § 10106. Of even greater significance to the national economy is the fact that these uninsured individuals are, in fact, shifting the uncompensated costs of those services–which totaled $43 billion in 2008–onto other health care market participants, as well as federal and state governments and American taxpayers. See ACA §§ 1501(a)(2)(F), (G),as amended by § 10106; Thomas More Law Ctr., 720 F.Supp.2d at 894.

Because of this cost-shifting effect, the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage. According to Congress, the uncompensated costs of caring for the uninsured are passed on by health care providers to private insurers, which in turn pass on the cost to purchasers of health insurance. “This cost shifting increases family premiums by on average over $1,000 a year.” ACA §1501(a)(2)(F), as amended by § 10106. Thus, the aggregate effect on interstate commerce of the decisions of individuals to forgo insurance is very substantial.

There are many problems with these “findings” chief among which is an innumeracy problem. According to the first two quoted sentences, we are supposed to infer that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are made up of those “who remain uninsured” and “consume medical services they cannot pay for.” Indeed, according to Kessler’s understanding of the findings, the foregoing population is the “great majority of Americans who remain uninsured.” The only problem is, even if we assume that the 62% statistic is correct (which is a stretch), the number of personal bankruptcies every year does not even reach 2 million. Indeed, 2009 saw personal bankruptcies soar by 32% … to 1.41 million. Sixty-two percent of that is just 874,200, which is far, far fewer people than the “great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured.”

(2) Another glaring issue is that the “cost-shifting” complained of is entirely the fault of the federal government, not “free riders,” thanks to Congress passing EMTALA in 1986, pursuant to which practically every hospital in the nation was forced to accept any and every patient who requested “emergency services.” In short, Congress created the free riders with this legislation.

Now let’s follow the logic here: (a) hospitals refuse to treat patients who can’t afford their medical services, therefore Congress must force hospitals to treat regardless of ability to pay (i.e. costs shifted to hospitals); (b) Patients who can’t afford the medical services, but who hospitals must treat, raise costs of medical services, which are mostly paid by insurers who raise their rates and pass them on to paying patients (i.e costs shifted to service-providers, then insurers, then paying patients); (c) insurance costs are entirely too high because uninsured patients, who can’t afford insurance or medical services, but whom hospitals must treat anyway, which drives up the costs of services and therefore the costs of insurance, and therefore Congress must force everyone to buy insurance (i.e. costs shifted from paying patients to those who can’t afford services or insurance); (d) because some people can’t afford insurance, they must be subsidized in their mandated purchase of insurance by taxpayers (i.e. costs re-shifted back to paying patients).

Putting it all together, according to Kessler’s opinion, Congress must be able to force individuals to purchase insurance because individuals who can’t afford insurance, but still consume health services (thanks to Congress), are causing the health insurance market to become distorted. (Oh, and by the way, those who can afford insurance are going to have to subsidize those who can’t and are therefore responsible for this whole mess in the first place.) Does that make any sense?

(3) The one other thing that really struck me as worrisome is Kessler’s emphasis on the infamous Wickard v. Filburn case (at p. 40):

In this case, the link [between the activity and the market being regulated] is strikingly similar to that described in Wickard: individuals are actively choosing to remain outside of a market for a particular commodity, and, as a result, Congress’s efforts to stabilize prices for that commodity are thwarted. As Wickard demonstrates, the effects of such market-distorting behavior are sufficiently related to interstate commerce to justify Congress’s efforts to stabilize the price of a commodity through its Commerce Clause power.

This is the reasoning underpinning Kessler’s holding (at p. 38) that “[b]oth the decision to purchase health insurance and its flip side–the decision not to purchase health insurance–therefore relate to the consumption of a commodity: a health insurance policy.” In this view, any decision made about an arguably economic subject, even the decision not to participate in a market concerning that economic subject, is subject to regulation by Congress.

Accordingly, should Congress decide to regulate the market for U.S automobiles, your decision to not purchase a vehicle can be regulated and even penalized by federal law. In fact, if Kessler’s view of the Constitution is correct, then Congress could require that you purchase a GM or Chrysler vehicle in order to stabilize the price of that commodity. Or perhaps, because of free rider problems, you can be penalized for choosing not to have children who would grow up, enter the labor force and pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes necessary to support you in your older years. If Kessler is correct, then the only limit on Congressional power is the inability to conjure up a market to be regulated, since any decision (participate/not participate) will have a substantial effect on that market when considered in the aggregate.

I would submit that this cannot be the correct view. The Commerce Clause power has already been distended far beyond what was intended when it written. If the Supreme Court adopts this decision, or something similar, the Congress would effectively have carte blanche to regulate whatever it desires.

In any event, those three things stood out to me. I’ll try to have some more on the opinion itself by tonight.


Who is winning the public relations fight in Wisconsin?

Rasmussen says it’s Republican governor Scott Walker:

A sizable number of voters are following new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s showdown with unionized public employees in his state, and nearly half side with the governor.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers. Thirty-eight percent (38%) agree more with the unionized public employees, while 14% are undecided.

Additionally:

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of voters think teachers, firemen and policemen should be allowed to go on strike, but 49% disagree and believe they should not have that right. Thirteen percent (13%) are not sure.

And finally:

Public employee unions have long been strong supporters, financially and otherwise, of Democratic Party candidates, so it’s no surprise that 68% of Democrats support the union workers in the Wisconsin dispute. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans and 56% of voters not affiliated with either of the major political parties side with the governor.  [emphasis mine]

The bold line is key.  I find nothing particularly surprising about either of the percentages from Democrats polled or Republicans.  But again this indicates that the Democrats have lost the independent vote and lost it significantly.  Public opinion, based on this poll, is definitely with the Governor.

What is playing out in Wisconsin has been recognized by unions as a hill they must die on or suffer the probably irreversible consequences of losing political power.   They also understand the potential reaches far outside Wisconsin.  If Wisconsin goes, others could follow:

“Some of the labor people are saying, ‘It’s the beginning of the fight back,’” said a top labor official. “But if the labor movement rallies and gets run over in Wisconsin, it opens [the gates] in every state” for governors to start pushing harder to curtail labor rights.

“Not every state’s going to roll back collective bargaining,” the official — who, like many, spoke off the record to avoid undermining the protests — added, but said it could open the gates for union losses on various fronts, like benefits.

Don’t be fooled – this isn’t just about “benefits”.  It is about power, politics and money.  The mix of those three have given public sector unions a synergy that has allowed them, in many places, to hand pick Democratic representatives, have them elected and then have them do the union’s business.  It is a pernicious and non-competitive arrangement that is finally, because of the financial downturn, coming to light.

But the unions have a problem.  They haven’t been able to sell the emotional argument (benefits) and they certainly aren’t about to try to explain the real reason they’re fighting this (power and money).   So what they’re having to deal with the the public’s perception, formed over many years in Wisconsin, that the public sector costs too much, has to be cut and that includes public sector employee benefits as well:

But this fight isn’t at the time or place of the unions’ choosing. Hostility to public-sector workers, including teachers, is at an all-time high amid a recession and a new national mania for curbing the tide of fiscal red ink. Walker appears to have a firm legislative majority on his side.

And labor is struggling to explain — and convince a voting public that has inched away from the concept of unions as a bedrock American institution over the years — that while it’s willing to be flexible on Walker’s demands for cost control, his attempts to change the rules governing public unions are a matter of institutional life and death and union principle. Labor hopes the public will see Walker’s attempt to use a budget gap to reshape labor-management relations as an overreach. But for many people watching from afar, the details of what Walker wants to accomplish have gotten lost, and the fight is playing out as yet another in a long string of recent state-based brawls over the high cost of the public sector.

So public sector unions have a heck of a PR problem not only in Wisconsin, but if the Rasmussen poll is to be believed, throughout the US.  Nationally that could mean this:

Bradley Tusk, a former Illinois deputy governor and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign manager, said that if Walker succeeds in the fight, “this will be portrayed as a major change toward fiscal sanity and protecting taxpayers.”

“The average voter will never feel any pain from it,” he added, “so the high ground shifts away from labor. That puts Obama and other Democrats in the position of being forced further to the left, or moving more toward the GOP position and risking losing support from labor. … This almost creates some of the problems that a primary forces on the challenger.”

And the union’s “winning strategy” to counter that?

As a broader issue, in other states, national union officials think they’ve found a winning strategy in shifting the fight off government and slamming Wall Street, armed with repeated polls that show anti-financial industry sentiment at an all-time high.

Apparently, however, union officials don’t understand that it isn’t an “either/or” situation.  The public blames both for different reasons.  But more importantly, the public realizes “what is, is” and you deal with it.  Whether they believe (or not) that Wall Street is to blame, that doesn’t change the fact that the problem (budget deficit) has to be confronted and solved and part of the solution has to be borne by public sector employees.

Norman Adler, a longtime lobbyist for public sector labor unions in New York, says the unions have to fight – that this is not something they can walk away from.  And, if they lose in Wisconsin, they “have to reconfigure their tactics and move on.”  But, he says:

“Labor pretty much lost the PR fight a number of years ago,” he said, suggesting the true targets of opportunity at the moment are state lawmakers who are “on the fence,” and can be swayed because they’re worried about getting elected back home. “And I think their position is that they have to show political muscle here.”

Translation: this could get even nastier.

Watch for it.

~McQ


NYT screams for adults while acting like a child

Reading the first paragraph in an NYT editorial gave me a rather cynical chuckle this morning

Are there any adults in charge of the House? Watching this week’s frenzied slash-and-burn budget contest, we had to conclude the answer to that is no.

Really – is that the answer?  Or is the answer there haven’t been any adults in charge for years – decades even – as evidenced by the horrendous fiscal mess we’re in today.

The NYT’s answer?  Apparently the status quo is alright with the Grey Lady.  Check this out:

First Speaker John Boehner’s Republican leadership proposed cutting the rest of the 2011 budget by $32 billion. But that wasn’t enough for his fanatical freshmen, who demanded that it be cut by $61 billion, destroying vital government programs with gleeful abandon.

Here we go … speaking of acting like adults, it would be nice if the NYT would try it.  As Rand Paul pointed out, $32 billion is about 5 days of government spending.  $61 then would be about 10.  And the $81 billion they’re now talking about – tack on 4 more days. The NYT wants you to seriously believe that eliminating that pittance would destroy “vital government programs”?   We’re talking a multi-trillion dollar budget here guys.  Until we’re talking trillions in cuts, we’re not talking about serious cuts.

In fact, what the NYT is worried about is cuts to some programs it considers to be vital but apparently others don’t. 

If the Republicans got their way, it would wreak havoc on Americans’ lives and national security. This blood sport also has nothing to do with the programs that are driving up the long-term deficit: Medicare, Medicaid and, to a lesser extent, Social Security.

Well here’s the bad news for the NYT – to get the budget back on a sustainable track, it is going to require a little “havoc” within the budget and certainly a dramatic lessening of spending.

Obviously I agree that the programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have to be addressed.  But that doesn’t exempt the other areas where spending may be less in terms of those programs but just as wasteful, unnecessary or unneeded.  You aren’t going to address the problems of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in a Continuing Resolution – that’s a ‘red herring’.  The fact that the big 3 haven’t been addressed yet doesn’t mean they won’t be nor does it mean discretionary spending shouldn’t be.

So, if the mean old Republicans end up cutting $81 billion out of the 7 month Continuing Resolution to fund government (since the Democratic Congress didn’t do its primary job and pass a budget) what will that mean?

Several credible economists have said that an $81 billion cut could result in up to 800,000 layoffs throughout the American economy.

The House freshmen seemed even less concerned about the effect of their budget slashing. “A lot of us freshmen don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about how Washington, D.C., is operated,” Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican of South Dakota, told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. “And, frankly, we don’t really care.”

Frankly, he shouldn’t.  My guess is government will trundle along without a hiccup if the worst case (and you know that’s what is going to be presented here) scenario of 800,000 layoffs materializes.   It won’t, of course.   We all know how this works – if in fact the cuts were to cause layoffs, most would come through attrition and early retirement packages vs. being “let go”. 

No, this is the usual “if they do that, the baby ducks will die” rhetoric in which any cut is countered with the worst imaginable scenario whether feasible or not.  Government’s job is not providing employment.  It is doing the people’s business and protecting the nation.  And it should do that in as lean a posture as possible.  That’s what an adult would say.

Of course Obama has bowed up and claimed he will veto any such “job killing” measure.  If I were the GOP I’d be saying “go ahead, make my day”, because it then becomes a matter of explaining that the GOP attempted to cut spending and the size of government, but Big Government Obama, who depends on the votes of public service unions to win reelection, opted for them over the will of the people.

~McQ


Lord save us from the nannies

Jacob Sullum at Reason brings us the following.  It just never ceases to amaze me (although given the proliferation of such legislation I suppose it should) what some people think the purpose of a legislature is:

The Food and Drug Administration can ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as Four Loko, but it cannot stop bartenders from mixing Red Bull with vodka, coffee with Irish whiskey, or cola with rum. Fortunately, Iowa state Sen. Brian Schoenjahn (D-Arlington) has proposed a bill that would close this dangerous gap by making it a misdemeanor for any business with a liquor license to "manufacture for sale, sell, offer or keep for sale, import, distribute, transport, or possess any caffeinated alcoholic beverage." The bill defines "caffeinated alcoholic beverage" as "any beverage containing more than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume, including alcoholic liquor, wine, and beer, to which caffeine is added." Hence it apparently applies not only to drinks with a noticeable caffeine kick but also to coffee-flavored liqueurs with detectable amounts of the stimulant, such as Kahlua or Tia Maria, and any cocktails made with them, such as a Black Russian or a Mudslide. In addition to jail time and fines, violators would face revocation (not just suspension) of their liquor licenses, and therefore loss of their livelihoods—a pretty harsh penalty for following the instructions in a Mr. Boston book.

Another in a long line of those who would tell you what to eat, who you can love, what is “best” for you and remove all choices they find incompatible with their vision of how your life should be lived.  And they’re willing to put you in jail if you don’t agree.

Remember, freedom equals choice.

~McQ


The return of the monster 2,000 page debt-fueled bill

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nyone who remembers the recent passage of ObamaCare remembers the size of the bill – over 2,000 pages – and the fact that almost no one knew what was included in its pages.  Nancy Pelosi infamously said, “we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in the bill”.

There was very little if any debate on the bill and it ended up being rammed through Congress under the reconciliation process.   We’re still finding out all of the little poison nuggets in that mess of a law.

Then November shows up and the American pubic spanks the Democrats for doing business the way they did, taking away 63 seats and a majority in the House in a bloodbath of an election.  Quit spending like drunken sailors and focus on jobs and the economy the people said.

And the Democrats learned what?  Nary a freakin’ thing.  They’ve never passed a budget for government this year in Congress – one of its main functions – but instead have passed a series of continuing resolutions to keep it funded.  That last continuing resolution is about to run out and – back up to their old tricks — Congressional Democrats have advanced a 2,000 page, 1.1 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill that is designed to fund government (and lard out the pork) through 2011.

Instead of bringing up a straight spending bill that funds government at its current levels (or, here’s an idea, maybe 2008 levels so they could show the American people they’re serious about cutting spending?  Nah.), we get 1.1 trillion in pork, payoffs and profligacy.

Same old Democrats doing the same old thing as though November never happened.

And they’re not alone:

Despite strong opposition from Thune and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), several Senate Republicans are considering voting for the bill.

“That’s my intention,” said retiring Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) when asked if he would support the package.

Bennett said earmarks in the bill might give some of his GOP colleagues reason to hesitate but wouldn’t affect his vote.

“It will be tough for some, but not for me,” he said.

GOP Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and Susan Collins (Maine) also told The Hill on Tuesday they would consider voting for the omnibus but want to review it before making a final decision.

And there you have it.  If Bennett wonders why he’s soon to be unemployed, it couldn’t be more plainly obvious than his remarks about this.  And as for the other “usual suspects”, apparently they don’t much care about the November message either (and if you happen to have one of those people as your Senator, you might want to remind them of that message).

This is the “business as usual” nonsense that has to stop and stop now.  This Congress has all but abrogated its budget responsibilities for the entire year and now, on the eve of a government shutdown and the end of their session, they decide to act. But not with a continuing resolution to keep essential government services funded until the new Congress can meet to take up the budget, but with a 2,000 page pork laden, 1.1 trillion debt-fueled monstrosity that will be allowed little debate and passed without most knowing what the hell they’re voting for.  On that principle alone, I’d vote “no”.  “No” until I can read and consider the bill, debate it, amend it and do what is supposed to be done before passing legislation.

There are a few things that have leaked out concerning what is in the bill:

The 1,924-page bill includes funding to implement the sweeping healthcare reform bill Congress passed earlier this year as well as additional funds for Internal Revenue Service agents, according to a senior GOP aide familiar with the legislation.

Obviously that doesn’t cost “1.1 trillion”, so there’s an awful lot more (I wonder if the IRS agents mentioned are those whose job it will be to enforce health insurance compliance through the tax system?).

So here we are again, faced with a debt-fueled, pork laden 1.1 trillion dollar last spending fling by Democrats and you have 4 Republican Senators thinking about supporting this nonsense in contravention of the will of the people.  For those like Bennett, Bond and Voinovich (both of the latter  I believe are retiring) there’s probably nothing that can be done to punish them or change their mind.  That’s the problem with the lame duck session of a Congress.  And it is, as I’ve pointed out before, a major problem.  There is no accountability mechanism for those who’ve been defeated or are retiring so they can do pretty much what they wish.  This is their last fling and they’re going to go out as they’ve always been – earmark addicts and debt spending fanatics who really don’t give a rip about what Americans have said they want. 

Collins, of course, is always ready to side with those who spend like fools and have gotten us in the shape we’re in.  And unfortunately Maine GOP voters have yet to ensure Collins understands their new priorities.  She’s not up for re-election again until 2014.  With that cushion and no apparent pressure from her constituency, she appears to feel free to proceed as usual.  However, we can’t afford “as usual” anymore.

Many think that stopping this bill and insisting that it be a clean, clear continuing resolution to fund government is a priority.  I’d be one of those.  But the GOP worries that if it does so, and government gets shut down right before the holidays, they’ll be blamed and suffer for it as they did when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton went toe-to-toe one year over spending and shutting down government.

I’m not so sure, given the current conditions, that Democrats would enjoy the same wide-spread support now that they did then.  Not given the midterms, not given the message very forcefully sent by the electorate and certainly not given this deficit building monstrosity of a bill being considered.

~McQ


Michelle Obama “We can’t just leave it up to the parents”

That’s a quote from Michelle Obama during the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act.  It is also a quote out of context.   So let’s be fair – here’s the entire quote:

“But when our kids spend so much of their time each day in school, and when many children get up to half their daily calories from school meals, it’s clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well,” Mrs. Obama said. “We can’t just leave it up to the parents.  I think that parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway.  I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards.”

Unlike it is being characterized in some places, she’s essentially claiming it is the job of government to aid parents in ensuring that children are properly fed at school.

Hate to be a party pooper, but in reality it isn’t the job of any government our founders envisioned.   It is a job that government has assumed because a) it put itself in charge of schools and b) it decided it had to feed children while they are at school.

In fact, as benign as you may consider that, it is just another indication of the creeping reach of government.  Michelle Obama is using the force of law to do what she and the legislators who approved this bill have decided constitutes “good nutrition” regardless of what parents think.  The fact that it may actually be “good nutrition” and a benefit doesn’t change the fact that parents wishes or desires aren’t a part of this at all. 

In fact, what most parents think they have a “right” to is deciding what their children will or won’t do, eat, participate in or undergo.  Somehow government constantly wedges its way into this “right” and attempts to usurp a lot of those decisions.  And it is when it finally establishes that position of power that it begins banning things like bake sales in schools and the like.

I know that most are going to view this law as a “good thing”.   But looking at the following, you tell me what say parents are going to have concerning this program:

The law increases spending on school nutrition programs by $4.5 billion over ten years and encompasses a range of provisions, including offering qualified children breakfast, lunch and dinner at school, as well as meals during the summer. It also includes a pilot program for “organic foods.”

No one wants hungry or malnourished children.  But for the most part, given the other food programs that are available to single mothers and low income families, I would guess the problem is vastly overstated.  This is feel good legislation that lets the do-gooders pat themselves on the back and adds yet another layer of government intrusiveness.  It also assumes more and more responsibility for the children of others while requiring less from the parents.  In essence, and as we all know, there is going to be a certain segment of the population that abrogates their responsibility to feed their children – when they’re perfectly capable of doing it — to take advantage of such a program when in fact they could (and should) shoulder the responsibility themselves (not to mention the bonding benefits of the “family dinner”).  And it thus becomes just another dependency welfare program at that point.

People who agree with this sort of interventionist government program are going to claim the usual – $4.5 billion is but a drop in the budgetary bucket and it is “for the children”. 

Of course it takes many drops to fill a bucket, and no one said creeping tyranny wouldn’t come cloaked is seemingly benign programs.  Personal responsibility, of course, is not one of the virtues this sort of a program encourages.  And that is a virtue that government should be stressing instead of further inserting itself in our lives.

~McQ


Are the chances for bi-partisanship real or imagined

Before we proceed today, let’s take note of a couple of things.

One, President Obama has made an executive decision to freeze federal payrolls for 2 years at a savings of $5 billion over those two years. Good for him. Of course the left is outraged, disingenuously claiming this will adversely effect jobs and the economy. Hardly.

While that money won’t be available to be spent by federal employees, it won’t be borrowed either. Or, it won’t be taken from the pockets of taxpayers who can now spend it directly on creating jobs or buying goods.

"Saving" the money doesn’t make it disappear, it simply means federal employees won’t be spending it (those who earned it will) or we don’t add $5 billion to the deficits of those 2 years.

Bigger political question? Is this actually an act of triangulation? Are we seeing this as the first indicator of an administration attempting to move to the center by getting out in front of the GOP on something?  Doing this before the big bi-partisan meet today between Obama and the GOP gives Obama the advantage of saying "OK, I’ve done something to reduce the deficit, what about you" (to which the GOP can say "earmarks"). Whether this is a political anomaly, just gimmickry or an actual move toward the center remain to be seen.

And two, on the GOP side, and in front of the meeting today, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell got their talking points out in an op/ed in the Washington Post. In sum they say the overwhelming message from the election says focus on jobs and the economy.

Perhaps the most important paragraph in the piece was this:

Despite what some Democrats in Congress have suggested, voters did not signal they wanted more cooperation on the Democrats’ big-government policies that most Americans oppose. On the contrary, they want both parties to work together on policies that will help create the conditions for private-sector job growth. They want us to stop the spending binge, cut the deficit and send a clear message on taxes and regulations so small businesses can start hiring again.

I think that’s mostly right. Cooperation for cooperation’s sake isn’t what is being demanded. Cooperation with a focus on jobs and the economy is. And it is also clear, as Boehner and McConnell state, that the American public wants some sort of workable plan to stop the huge deficit spending and to settle the business climate to the point that corporations and small businesses feel confident enough in it to begin hiring and expanding again. That means settling any number of outstanding issues like proposed tax increases.

Bottom line?  Don’t expect much cooperation from either side on things like energy, immigration, health care and the like except at the very margins.  However, there seems to be some signaling from Obama that he may be interested in more substantial cooperation when it comes to the jobs, economy and government spending/taxation.  If so, it would mean that Obama has set his cap for reelection in 2012 and believes that this is the route to accomplishing that (engage the GOP, give a little here and there, do high profile things like freeze government worker pay, and hope the economy and unemployment improve fairly significantly in the next 2 years so he can claim credit).

My guess is he now realizes that his agenda items are DOA.  But I also think he’s satisfied that what he has managed to get passed (ObamaCare and the like) is probably pretty safe from GOP meddling.  So he’s defining the area in which he’ll work and essentially demanding the GOP cooperate.  It will be difficult for the GOP to refuse that.

It is going to be interesting to watch the two sides maneuver over the next two years.   In ‘94 much the same sort of situation existed.  Bill Clinton was deemed irrelevant.  He came roaring back via smart politics and GOP mistakes to be reelected easily. 

We’ve already talked about the new narrative the left is trying to impose – the “GOP in charge” narrative, in which the GOP will be tagged with every failure of government even though Democrats still control the Senate and Executive branch.  But that won’t matter if the GOP House moves aggressively to do what Boehner and McConnell outline in their op/ed.  Make Democratic Senators defeat GOP House legislation.  And if it manages to get through the Senate, make Obama veto it.

Obama claimed that the difference between ‘94 and ‘10 midterms was “you’ve got me”.  That led to the worst “shellacking” in recent memory and much worse that ‘94.  Another difference between ‘94 and ‘10 is the new media.  If the GOP sticks with its guns, makes every attempt to carry out what it said is the people’s message and is thwarted by the Democrats, that story will actually be told. 

It will indeed be interesting to see how the big meeting goes today.  I don’t expect much in terms of substance, but if Boehner and McConnell are smart they’ll essentially relay their op/ed message to Obama and then stand back and see how he chooses to react.

For the moment, popular sentiment is on the side of the GOP.  They need to retain it by actually doing something.  If they don’t and the left succeeds in painting them in a negative way, 2012 could see the backlash from hell, 4 more years of Obama and possible Congressional gains by Democrats.

~McQ


Obama talks about pared down legislative agenda

Is this a tacit admission that despite all the whistling past the graveyard that many Democrats are doing by "guaranteeing" they’ll win in November, the White House expects a GOP majority in at least one chamber of Congress?

If they’re not smoking the same thing as Joe Biden, then yes, it is. 

What would that agenda look like?

They are talking about a new, more incremental approach, championed by former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to fulfilling campaign promises on energy, immigration and on closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The new White House chief of staff, Pete Rouse, is far more steeped than Mr. Emanuel in the culture of the Senate, where comprehensive approaches to some of these issues have fared poorly. White House officials hope Mr. Rouse’s expertise will help navigate smaller measures through the chamber.

"We weren’t able to do a lot of those other things even with this Congress. That obviously calls for a new approach," one White House official said.

Ya think?  If indeed the GOP is able to take the House and narrow the majority in the Senate, they’ll run into a new obstacle – the GOP legislative agenda.  And most expect that agenda to butt heads on everyone of the issues outlined above as priorities for the administration.

Energy will most likely be limited by Republicans and climate change will probably not be a part of any such legislation.  As Ryan Lizza points out in The New Yorker, Obama and the Democrats stood on the dock and watched that ship sail a while ago.  And most believe it hit an iceberg and sunk, never to be seen again or until the next all Democratic Congress and administration manage to get themselves elected to office – which ever comes first.

Immigration will also most likely not see a comprehensive plan offered.  Instead, whatever the administration wants will run smack dab into the “secure the border first” demand from the GOP.

Same with GITMO – the GOP and many Democrats are not going to be happy or comfortable moving terrorists into the homeland from Cuba.

Then there’s the real priorities that one hopes the GOP will focus on instead:

Retiring Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.), the longtime chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said nothing would get done on immigration and climate change until the economy has fully recovered, and that the incoming class of Republicans would be in no mood to compromise on economic measures.

And that’s precisely the way it should be – in fact, must be, considering that lack of focus on what concerns the people out there in fly over land as reflected in town hall meetings and Tea Party protests says "it’s the economy stupid". The GOP had better heed the point and act.

The underlying question of interest is what Obama will we see when and if the GOP have a majority in the House?  Will he be more conciliatory, drop the anti-GOP rhetoric and be prepared to try to work with Republicans?  Or will he turn harder to the left, whine about obstructionism and use his bully pulpit to further demonize the opposition in hopes of garnering enough sympathy votes to squeak him through the 2012 election?

At the moment I’m inclined toward believing the latter is much more the real Obama.

Anyway, it appears reality is beginning to settle in a bit now.  I’m sure Joe Biden is exempted from that since he’s rarely seen reality much less recognize it.  But this announcement seems to point to some understanding that the window is almost closed to the grand, costly and socialistic programs that the liberal side of the spectrum holds so dear.

~McQ


Mickey D and health care – an exception to the rule?

Over on Memeorandum, there’s a frenzy of writing about a Wall Street Journal report that says McDonalds may drop its health care plan as a result of the impact of ObamaCare.

Note the operative word – "may". It doesn’t say it will, it doesn’t say it might, it says it "may" drop it because of the type of health insurance it offers and the impact of new regulations governing what amount of money must be spent by insurance companies for care. Specifically:

The requirement concerns the percentage of premiums that must be spent on benefits.

[...]

Last week, a senior McDonald’s official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain’s insurer won’t meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care.

It is called the "medical loss ratio", but in reality it is government telling a business how it must spend its money. What the business is telling the government is, given the type of insurance offered by the business, driven primarily by the type of business it does, it won’t be able to comply with the regulation and will have to drop it’s present coverage altogether.

Of course this is bad news for the administration which is still out there pushing the lie that if you like your insurance nothing changes and you get to keep it.  Naturally this flies right in the face of the lie and it’s such a high profile company that, well, something has to be done.

Like, make them an exception to the rule maybe?  You know, special interest government.  If you’re big enough and you can cause us enough embarrassment, we’ll “except” you from that which we require all the other drones to comply.

And that appears to be exactly what’s in the works if Jonathan Cohn is to be believed:

By this morning, both McDonalds and the administration were saying the story is overblown. McDonalds says it has no plans to drop the coverage and that it’s been in discussions with the administration over how to make sure it can keep offering the policies. The administration is saying much the same thing–that it’s aware of the issue, has been talking to industry representatives, and has already made clear these plans will be exempt from some of the early regulations on insurance.

Of course those plans obviously aren’t yet exempt since one assumes the legal team at Mickey D’s was able to successfully interpret how the new law would apply to them.  So what Cohn is really saying is “nothing to see here citizen, move along, nothing to see” – a fairly routine attempt at spinning a situation in which the administration got caught with its pants around its ankles on the road in front of a school into one that’s “no big deal”. 

But it is a big deal.  And, if “these plans” are exempt, why?  And which plans aren’t exempt.  Is Burger King off the hook too?  How about Taco Bell?

More importantly, where does the government get off telling a business how to spend its money?  Cohn tells us it is because the want to make sure executive salaries and perks aren’t excessive and overhead is kept to a minimum.  I say it is plain and simple unwarranted government intrusion that is becoming all too familiar since this administration has been in charge:

More important, the administration has yet to finalize the rule about how insurance companies spend their money (or what is known as the "Medical Loss Ratio".) It’s entirely possible the administration will phase in the requirement slowly. Most likely, then, McDonald’s employees who like these plans will get to keep buying them, at least for the immediate future.

Good thing we can read the bill now to find out what’s really in it, isn’t it?

~McQ


Congress and the coming lame duck session

If you want to know why we get stuck with bad law, the conduct of the 111th Congress might provide the perfect case study on the subject. On the surface you’d think, with Democratic majorities in both chambers and a Democratic president, that it would work like a well-oiled machine.

But that’s not been the case. While Democrats have consistently tried to blame the problems of Congress on Republicans, most Americans understand that the GOP comes in for only a small part of the blame. Most of the problems with its lack of accomplishment fall directly in the lap of Democratic infighting and disagreement.

Even when Democrats had filibuster proof margins in both chambers, they only passed a portion of their agenda.  Part of it is because they spent so much time and political capital on the health care reform abomination.  That sort of sucked the air out of everything else.  And, the election of Scott Brown to the Senate finally put Democrats there in a position that required they finally consider the opposition when crafting their legislation – a distasteful but necessary added requirement (they’d much rather fight among themselves and blame the Republicans who had absolutely no power to stop anything prior to Brown’s election).

After wasting most of two years, the Democratic leadership is faced with two realities – the probability that they’ll lose their House majority in the upcoming elections (as well as some seats in the Senate) and only a lame duck session remaining to pass legislation they deem critical to their agenda.  That leaves them with about 6 weeks to jam pending legislation through the Congressional process (at the end of the session, any legislation not acted upon is in effect “killed” and must be introduced again in the next Congress).  In the Senate that means these Democratic priorities:

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wants the Senate to consider a package of tax-relief extensions he has been working on all year.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is intent on passing a renewable electricity standard.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, says his cybersecurity bill should also come up for a vote, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called for ratification of the New START arms-control treaty with Russia.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) says he intends to hold Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to a promise to schedule a vote on legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to curb carbon gas emissions for two years.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, told reporters Friday that leaders would also bring up a bill to address Chinese currency manipulation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, hopes Congress will pass food-safety legislation Reid tried to bring to the floor last week. Democratic leaders pulled the bill even though they could have had enough votes to stop a Republican filibuster.

And, of course there’s the Defense Appropriations bill to which Reid has added the contentious DREAM act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, assuring quick passage won’t happen.  None of the legislation listed is “minor”.  All deserve extensive review and debate.  Neither of those things will happen as the Senate leadership tries every parliamentary trick in the book to limit both and push the legislation through before the end of the lame duck session.  The House is no better and actually would add to the legislative backlog in the Senate if it does manage to pass its education bill.

Also remember that this Congress, for the first time in anyone’s memory, will not be passing a budget, but has punted that responsibility (or shirked it if you prefer) to the next Congress.  They have cobbled together and passed a CR (continuing resolution) which will keep government functioning and spending that 7 million dollars a minute it has become so used to spending.

This Congress has been, in my estimation, one of the worst in history.  Not because they didn’t pass megatons of legislation – I’m actually fine with fewer laws and less intrusion.  Instead its about what they did pass and how they passed it.  Additionally its about what they didn’t do (they’re responsible to present a budget but didn’t because of political consideration – that’s shirking your duty where I come from) and what they’re about to do (try to cram mountains of legislation through in a 6 week funnel which will most likely be ill considered, undebated, costly and poor in quality – although if ObamaCare is any indication, not lacking in quantity.

This isn’t how it is supposed to work. It is, however, all the reason you need to change the leadership and majority party.  I remember Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi charging that George Bush was “incompetent”.  Their leadership of the 111th Congress has redefined the word.

~McQ