Saturday, June 27, 2009

H.R. 2454 (aka Cap and Trade): the next step

The House of Representatives passed a 1300+ page bill yesterday by one of the narrowest margins in legislative history. A handful of votes was all that it took to overcome strong objections, from both Republicans and Democrats, to a bill that increases both taxes and regulations on energy production, one of the country's and the world's most precious commodities.

Advocates of the controversial bill insist that passage of it was necessary to prevent long-term damage to the environment, and to redirect the nation's efforts in domestic energy production towards a more "green" philosophy. Without its passage, proponents argue, the country would lose its chance to become a leader once again; this time in new technologies and environmental protection.

Opponents of the bill argue that estimates don't show much of a change in the environment, even if every provision of the hastily presented and voted-upon bill is implemented. They point out that the president's statement that the increased burden to the taxpayer will be an average of around forty cents a day is only one estimate, and that the increase could amount to thousands of dollars more in gas and electricity bills. They also say that for every job the bill creates over the next ten years, two will be lost, which is particularly troubling in the middle of a Depression.

Even if the increase is, as the president says, the equivalent of a postage stamp a day, there is still the cost to businesses to consider. Not only will every business in America have to pay higher electricity bills, but under the provisions in a three-hundred page last minute amendment, almost every building in America will undergo some sort of rennovation to comply with the new standards. This includes private homes, which would affect prices of houses, both old and new, which could seriously depress the already struggling housing market; apartment buildings, which would necessarily raise their rates in response to the demands of the bill; and all businesses, which would be forced to raise prices on consumer products to meet not only the cost of increased standards, but also the cost of moving goods all across the country when trucking companies find their burden increased at the pump.

A few posts ago, I reminded everyone that the government's main source of income is the American people. When businesses fail or flounder, the government has two options: lower taxes on businesses so they can keep their doors open (not likely, considering they're currently in the process of raising taxes on businesses), or raise taxes on Americans. That would not be much of a stretch, considering that Congress and the president are already considering raising taxes on everything from entitlement benefits (which is rather counterintuitive by itself) to soda pop.

When does it end? When you tell Congress to stop. Write to your Senators, call them on the phone, visit them in person if you have to, but make it very clear to them that H.R. 2454, also known as the ACES Act, the Cap and Trade Bill, and the National Energy Tax, is not acceptable. Tell them to vote no; and tell them that if they don't, then they won't have voting privileges for much longer.


Dear Senator,

The ACES Act which passed the House of Representatives yesterday is one of the most troubling pieces of legislation I have yet seen considered by Congress. It combines yet another increase in government bureaucracy and oversight of the private sector with higher taxes and regulations on businesses. And whatever the estimates of the cost to the American taxpayer, whenever the size of government increases or the cost of business rises, the taxpayer shares the burden. I'm sure you understand this principle.

Senator, the government has already enacted massive spending and regulatory practices this year, including the CARD Act, the new tax on cigarettes, and a stimulus bill that was rushed to a vote before any member of Congress had time to even read the final language, let alone explore the implications. The result of that passage by itself has been mixed at best, and at worst, completely ineffective, with members of the Administration and Congress already talking about another stimulus bill.

We, and by we I mean the American people, cannot keep seeing our burden increase. With all the new regulation, increases in executive and legislative authority, higher taxes and penalties for both the public and businesses, plus all the legislation we KNOW about that Congress will consider this year, "the price of a postage stamp a day" may just be the straw that breaks the backs of businesses AND taxpayers; especially for passage of a bill that, by almost all accounts, will not even effect a significant improvement on the environment.

I do not want this bill modified, Senator; I want it defeated outright. It passed the House by a mere two votes, which in this particular political climate is a statement all by itself about what a disaster it would be for America. I await your decision.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grover Norquist on fiscal responsibility and conservative leadership

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. In this interview with Newsmax's Ron Kessler, he talks about leadership, both inside and outside of Washington.

It's a good interview. He discusses the history of politics in Washington, the roles that the various "players" in the capital are taking, and the true impact of stimulus spending on the country, both theoretical and actual spending. He draws contrasts between states like Texas and Florida, that have no income tax, and states with very high income taxes, like California and New York, pointing to the results of the different tax burdens on each states' economies.

He even touches on the potential trap of "bi-partisan compromise". As Mr. Norquist points out, it's better to not have your fingerprints on 100% bad legislation than to have a hand in passing 80% or even 60% bad legislation. The first step is to say no to bad ideas; the second is to present good ideas.

Once you have good ideas, of course, you need to sell them. In politics, it's called campaigning. You won't convince people by simply repeating over and over and over that you're right and other people are wrong. Mr. Norquist reminds us that the customer is always right. That doesn't mean that leaders have to do whatever their followers want them to do; but if you're going to change minds, then you need to do more to persuade people than simply telling them they're wrong.

Finally, he discusses the Republican Party's chances of taking back power in Washington. As an independent, I don't really care who has power; as long as they don't have enough of it to become "too big to fail". If the Democrats are in charge, then so be it; but I'd be more comfortable with a strong opposition party keeping them from running amok with their newfound authority. Right now, that opposition is the Republicans.

I encourage everyone to watch the full interview here.

Just another example of media bias

Dear Newsweek,

Last month, Senator Tom Daschle and Governor Mitt Romney offered opposing viewpoints on public versus private health coverage. It was a reasonable, balanced effort to present both sides of the argument, and I was personally encouraged by your magazine's effort to avoid bias. However, with Congress under more pressure than ever to produce significant health care reform, and with the president's own recent push for the public option, I was greatly disappointed that you chose to abandon your non-partisan stance.

Jonathan Alter's article, subtitled "Obama must make insurers compete (emphasis mine)", was a naked partisan effort to promote an agenda. In the second paragraph, he refers to insurance company stakeholders as "annoying creatures" that the president should "[slap] around". From the beginning, he strikes a hostile tone, and spices it up throughout the article with dashes of dismissiveness and even ridicule of some of the alternatives to a public plan. From what he writes, there can be no reasonable or practical alternative to a public plan.

No opposition to his point of view is offered. There is no rebuttal from any free market advocate or conservative lawmaker included. The dual articles by Daschle and Romney gave the sense of a reasoned debate, with facts and arguments presented for the reader to judge. In Alter's article, there is no argument; only a conclusion.

This is exactly the sort of biased reporting that will keep me from renewing when the time comes.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

"Pickles in her corn flakes"

Probably not one of my most straightforward blog titles. I assure you, though, it'll make sense by the time you're done reading.

For those who don't know, H.R. 2454 will be voted on in the House of Representatives tomorrow. This is the so-called Cap and Trade Bill. It's official name is the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Sounds nice and innocuous, doesn't it? Like it's designed to clean the environment, boost energy production, and secure America in a new era of energy independence. That's certainly how it's being sold, of course.

In reality, though, there is no Utopia. If you wonder why Congress never passes good bills, it's really not because politicians are evil. Politicians, in fact, are very self-serving. If there was a good bill out there, then every politician would vote for it just so they could tell their constituents, "Hey, I voted for it, so keep re-electing me". The truth is, there is always a cloud accompanying the silver lining. In the case of Cap and Trade, the cloud is a massive new burden placed squarely on the backs of every American, and not just "the rich".

When I was a child, I saw a commercial that's always kind of stuck with me. It was trying to illustrate that usually, when the price of one itemin a supermarket is lowered, other prices are raised. The commercial showed a woman who opened her cereal, her coffee, and even her bananas to find pickles in them; the point being that, while her supermarket was having a special and had lowered the price of pickles, she still paid the difference in raised prices on the other items she bought.

The same principle applies to the Cap and Trade bill, which basically amounts to a new tax on energy, one that will eventually be paid by every American. This is not a partisan perception, by the way. Even some Democratic congressmen have spoken out against the bill, characterizing it as a tax that will cause energy prices to "skyrocket". President Obama and Speaker Pelosi passed a tax cut for the middle class earlier this year; but to pay for all the new initiatives they have been pushing for years now, they are raising and seeking to raise taxes on everything that the middle class, and indeed every American, uses each day.

Do you use anything powered by electricity? Do you drink soda, or smoke cigarettes? Does your car run on gasoline, even in part? Do you have health insurance? Do you want health insurance? Everything the government does, it needs to fund. And the government has only one source of income: you. If you said yes to any of the questions I just asked, then you'll find "pickles" in your expenses with every bill the government passes and signs into law.

It's time to recheck the price tag. And it's time to write to your Congressman.

Dear Congressman,

It may be too late to change your vote on H.R. 2454, but I want to encourage you in the strongest possible terms to vote no.

Congressman, Virginia has an opportunity this year to lead the country in any number of areas. Energy is one of those areas. You represent a district characterized by job growth and creation of new businesses. H.R. 2454, the so-called "Cap and Trade" bill, will not only raise the cost of doing business, which will depress the new energies market in the commonwealth, but it will also strangle new businesses that will not be able to meet their energy payments initially. This bill will seriously hamper new industries here in Hampton Roads.

It will also, as I'm sure you've heard, raise energy costs for families prohibitively at a time when most are still struggling to stay in their homes. Apartment complexes will raise their rates to meet the new tax, which will shift the burden onto the lower middle class who will scrape along to make rent each month.

Congressman, members of your own party have voiced their concerns about this bill. I'm sure you have your own, as well. I have written to you before, urging you to do the right thing, and I will continue to do so. When the time comes to vote on this bill, say no. We're all depending on you to represent our best interests.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Sunday, June 21, 2009

CPR

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee and one of President Obama's choices for Commerce Secretary, has outlined a new proposal for universal health care; one that doesn't rely on government-run care to insure every American, and that has a good chance of not bankrupting the federal government in the process. His proposal is dubbed CPR, meaning Coverage, Prevention, and Reform.

The first area, Coverage, involves requiring every American to purchase coverage. For those who cannot afford it, the government will provide assistance in obtaining it. For Prevention, the plan creates incentives for people and businesses to live healthier lifestyles now so they won't need greater, higher-cost health care later in life. These incentives include first-dollar coverage for early health screenings and immunizations, as well as rewards for participating in employer-sponsored programs such as fitness club options which some employers offer.

Finally, the bill addresses Reform. As the senator points out, health care consitutes about 17% of the U.S. economy. That doesn't sound like much, until you consider how much money the total economy is worth. When you're talking about health care plans being considered that would cost in the trillions (with a "t"), you can't help but ask yourself if the government isn't spending far too much already. Under Senator Gregg's plan, there are several ways to improve the quality, rather than the quantity, of health care which would make it far easier for everyone to pay for coverage. There are several methods listed in the article, and I encourage everyone to read and ponder them.

I've seen some of the health care proposals out there. Frankly, not a lot of them inspire much confidence in me. Of the few that do, Senator Gregg's is right near the top. I hope everyone gives it its due consideration, and support.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Column A, column B, column C ...

Health care reform is all over the place in Congress. There are dozens of bills and literally hundreds of amendments being considered. All sorts of committees in both the House and the Senate have some sort of jurisdiction over reform, and for good reason. We're not just talking about health care for 300 million Americans, after all. We're talking about possibly trillions (with a 't') of dollars being spent over the next ten years.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090618/ap_on_go_co/us_health_overhaul

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_health_overhaul

Overhauling the nation's health care system could mean just about anything at this point. It could mean the government taking complete control, either by taking over the insurance companies or by simply legislating how and when and to whom they provide coverage. It could mean insurance for every American being paid straight out of the federal budget, which will lead to higher taxes for everyone. It could mean a public plan that may or may not cover every uninsured American, or it could mean health care cooperatives as a compromise between public and private plans.

With every possible option being explored, and with the question of how to pay for it always lurking in the shadows, there is no way that any of us can sit idle while the whole matter is settled by a few hundred politicians. If you don't pay taxes, and don't expect to pay any over the next decade, then you can probably afford to not pay attention or get involved at all. If you and everyone you care about are already covered on health insurance, then you can let everyone in Washington do whatever they're going to do. If not, though, then you can't afford to not get involved.

I've written to my representatives. I assure you, it won't be the last thing I do. The question is, what will you do?

Dear Senator,

I'm grateful for all the work you have done to achieve reasonable health care reform for the country. I also appreciate your willingness to work with all sides and hear all opinions. If I could change one thing about politics in Washington, it would be to end the "them versus us" mentality. No one side has all the answers.

Senator, as far as the measures being debated in various committees, both in the House and the Senate, there are still some provisions that are troubling to me, personally. Among these provisions is one that would require businesses to provide health care to their employees. Health care, though, even for big businesses, is a major expense, as I'm sure you're aware. Mandatory full coverage for every employee would create a serious financial strain for any number of businesses, and at a time when businesses and even states are finding it extremely difficult to cut costs and stay afloat.

There's also the provision which would make it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to cover people based on preexisting conditions. While I've never been happy with that refusal, I'm fundamentally opposed to government telling businesses how to run their businesses. This is exactly how sub-prime mortgages came to be. Lenders wouldn't give loans to people with bad credit, but they did so under duress from government officials. Insurance companies won't cover preexisting illnesses because doing so drives up premiums for everyone, and can threaten the ability of the company to continue providing coverage.

And, of course, the public plan. I cannot say enough in opposition to a government health care option, whether it is in competition or conjunction with private insurance. I've read that the Senate Finance Committee is considering a bill with no government competition at all. This is heartening news for me, and I would hope that such a bill would have your support.

I thank you for your consideration, Senator, and I look forward to hearing your decision.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As if the czars weren't enough ...

Dear Senator,

I am, at this moment, watching the president proposing a radical expansion of government authority. I'm sure you're watching as well, and I hope with all my heart that you will oppose the measures he is pushing.

In fewer than six months, the president has created literally dozens of new positions of questionable constitutionality, namely the autonomous "czars", and has exerted governmental control over hundreds of private businesses under the justification that, if they receive taxpayer money, then the government should control how that money is expended. Whether he has the authority or indeed the right to do so is another debate entirely.

But on top of those encroachments into the private sector, he is now proposing an entirely new agency to bring unprecedented executive power to bear on the country's banking industry. This is an appalling display of government expansion, and coming as it does in train with the other measures he's taken, it is a seriously troubling signal of what is to come.

In the middle of an economic crisis, the government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars multiple times, a large portion of which, I daresay, has been a waste of taxpayer dollars. We're currently trying to overhaul the country's healthcare system, an effort that would likely bankrupt the federal government if it was not already so. And the president, fresh from bringing two major auto firms directly under the control of the executive branch, wants to create a whole new agency to exert even more influence on the free market.

Senator, I know you cannot be happy with what the president is doing. Even if the proposed measures would help, there must be better, less expensive, more efficient way to ensure that we never face a crisis like this one again; one that doesn't involve yet another increase in the size and influence of the government. If you disagree with what he's doing, then please use whatever influence you have to oppose it.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What are you going to do?

The United States is in a terrible mess. We're just as involved in the Middle East as we've ever been. We have over two hundred potential terrorists in Guantanamo Bay that we need to deal with, except no one in America seems to want to deal with them. We have a national debt that has doubled in the last half-year alone, and the federal government seems like it can't stop spending money. Our health care system has been broken for years, with practically no movement from either of the major parties in Washington. Unemployment has done nothing but rise in this country in recent months. We're facing the first very real threat of nuclear attack since the end of the Cold War.

Did you make it to the end of that paragraph? Good. It means that you actually care what's happening in America. The question now is, what are you going to do?

So you hate politics. You hate politicans. You hate the political system, and the way it seems to do nothing but stand in everyone's way. What are you going to do about it, though? These aren't just political issues. They find their ways right into our homes, in some cases. And when it comes to forcing politicians to do their real jobs (i.e., protect our interests and not their own), we don't have that many options.

When it comes to actually fixing things in this country, there's what I call a "spectrum of action". In the case of politics, it ranges from doing nothing to running for office. I pick those two actions as the opposite ends of the spectrum because they seem to be the only options most people are willing to pick. There is, however, quite a bit that you can do to make a difference besides becoming a politician. The effectiveness of each of these methods is debatable, so I'm just going to put them in order of effort required.

First is voting. It's a fairly simple task, and yet so many people just don't do it. We may indeed have had a record turnout last November, but it still was just barely over half of the potential voters in the United States. Why wouldn't someone vote? Because they don't think it will make a difference? If everyone who didn't vote last November had gotten together and voted for a third candidate, any third candidate, then neither Barack Obama nor John McCain would be president right now. That is how many people don't vote.

After voting comes following up with the winner of the election. Whether it's the President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, or the head of the local neighborhood watch, every elected representative has one responsibility: to serve the public interest. Every day, with every issue, you need to let them know exactly what you want them to do, and remind them that if they don't do it, then you'll take from them the one thing they want from you: your vote. It may not sound like a serious threat to make, but not telling them what you expect certainly won't get them off their collective rears. Write letters, send faxes, call them on the phone, but don't let them forget who's in charge. Remember, if you forget about your country, then your country will forget about you.

To back up your threat, you need to pick someone who could replace them in the next election. Don't wait for the Republicans or the Democrats or even for some third-party to pick a replacement, because the odds are you won't be happy with the next field of candidates, either. Last year, by the time the GOP primaries reached my state of Virginia, I didn't have the chance to pick the candidate I wanted, because he had been forced out by the primaries and caucuses that had already been held. By the time I had the chance to vote in a primary, I basically had no choice. And when the general election came, the only thing left to do was vote between the lesser of evils, as they say.

So don't wait until the elections reach you. Long before they do, someone (or "someones") else will have decided what your choices are. If you're tired of not getting the candidate you want, then you need to get in there early and make sure that you get a candidate who actually excites you about the process. We've seen the idealized movies and TV shows where the lone political operative with a brain finds the one politician with a heart and they overcome all odds to win an election and "make a difference". Do we say to ourselves "That only happens on TV", or do we take the position of a certain underdog presidential candidate who ran on a campaign of "hope and change" and actually won? Whether you like him or not, he proved that one person can make a difference.

Once you've found that candidate, he or she will of course need your support. And so the next step is contributing to their campaign. Money keeps candidates in the race. Beyond that, though, campaigns need staffers, volunteers, callers, pollsters, people who make taco runs, and of course local representatives. There are any number of ways to volunteer for campaigns, especially in the age of the internet. I myself, at the risk of losing my impartiality, have become a "Blogger for McDonnell". I'm not a shill, mind you, and I'm not here to blindly support Bob McDonnell no matter what he does; but I do feel he is the best choice for governor of Virginia, and I have no problem using my blog to say so. I plan to do the same for other candidates in the future. Wherever you are, whoever your choices and potential choices are, I'm sure you can find some way to help.

So far, I've written about ways that you can help other people make a difference. What about you, though? Do you want to do something? Even if you don't want to become a candidate, you can still be a leader. It starts with letting people know how you feel. Speech is still free in this country. If you have an opinion, then share it. Politics has become a taboo subject over time, but in recent years, it has become something even worse: boring. The most important things often are, though; chores, homework, flossing, looking both ways before pulling out into the intersection, and so on, and so forth. That doesn't mean we can stop doing them, though. It's the same with politics. Our "leaders" have our futures in their hands; our health, our education, our privacy, our jobs, our safety, and in some cases, as in the military, even our lives or the lives of people we love. This is no time to stay silent.

You can become contributors at local papers, or other media outlets. Print, video, and even radio are all still very much capable of shaping public opinion. If you think those kind of organizations would be too stifling, though, then there are always independent methods of getting your opinion heard. YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, and of course blogs (*winks*) are great ways to gather followings. From there, you can engage more Americans in the business of fixing our country. As long as those peope are willing to give of themselves as well, that is.

Yes, it's a lot of work, and no, you may not have a lot of time and/or experience; but you don't need either of those things. This is our government. We elect these people. I remember a rather pithy response to a call for term limits in Congress: "We already have term limits; they're called elections". If you think that your representatives in Congress, the White House, your own state capital, and your home town are doing their jobs, and if you really trust them to solve your problems, then keep electing them. If you don't, though, then you'd better do something now, or you'll be stuck with them forever. You can't wait for someone else to do it for you. When our leaders stop doing their jobs, we replace them. That's the principle. Now let's put it into practice.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Congratulations, Mr. Deeds

Creigh Deeds has won the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia.

I'm happy, actually. Though I'm endorsing Bob McDonnell, I realize there is a chance he could lose this election. If that were to happen, then we could have had Brian Moran or Terry McAuliffe as Governor. I'm glad that, if we can't have McDonnell, we'll at least have a Democrat whose mind is open on the energy debate, who has an excellent record of public school advocacy, and who has dedicated his adult life to serving the Commonwealth.

Congratulations, Mr. Deeds.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Operation Chaos

For those of you who don't remember or who weren't paying attention at the time (like I wasn't), Operation Chaos was a plan conceived and initiated by Rush Limbaugh during the Democratic presidential primaries last year. At the time, then Senator Barack Obama had a double-digit lead over then Senator Hillary Clinton in the polls and was the hands-down favorite for winning the nomination. Rush Limbaugh decided, for reasons of his own, to encourage Republicans to vote for Sen. Clinton in the primaries in order to keep the contest alive. It worked, too. Rather than having the Democratic nomination sewn up early like John McCain did with the GOP nod, Obama had to fight for months to become the nominee.

I'm an independent. I want to be perfectly clear on that. I'm not a third-party member, and I'm not even a registered independent. As far as primaries go, I believe that Republicans alone should be allowed to choose who will represent them, just as Democrats should be allowed to choose their own nominees. Whether Mr. Limbaugh had good intentions or bad, I think he should have just let Democrats go their own way, just as I believe independents should have let Republicans pick their own nominee during the primaries.

However, I'm also a realist (most of the time). Unless and until the system changes, people will use that system to their advantage. That means the rest of us need to work it to our advantage, as well. The GOP ticket here in Virginia is set. Bob McDonnell is the nominee for Governor, Bill Bolling for Lieutenant Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General. I'd be happy with that ticket achieving victory, but since I can't just sit back and assume that any or all of the three will win, I've decided to make sure the Democratic ticket is one I could stand to see elected.

As such, I'm endorsing R. Creigh Deeds as the Democratic candidate for Governor, Jody Wagner as Lt. Governor, and Stephen Shannon for Attorney General. Creigh Deeds may not be as good a "jobs" governor as Bob McDonnell hopefully will be, but he does have a plan to provide transition assistance for workers who get laid off. He has an excellent record for supporting public education, which I admire. His opposition to certain measures for domestic energy production is not as stringent as Brian Moran's. And he has a better record of service to the Commonwealth than Terry McAuliffe.

Jody Wagner, similarly, has a better-established record of public service than her opponent in the primaries, Mike Signer. She has held positions in the administrations of two governors in the Commonwealth, including service as Secretary of Finance. Stephen Shannon is unopposed for the Attorney General spot on the ticket.

I'm going to vote in the primary tomorrow; not because I want to cause "chaos", but because I care about who leads here in Virginia. In the general election, I'll be voting for McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli; but in case they don't win, I hope the alternative is Deeds-Wagner-Shannon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Kennedy Health Care Plan

Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, the Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has come up with a new health care proposal. Well, it's not really a proposal. In the words of the committee's spokesman, it's a "draft of a draft". Which means it's not too late for you all to write to your senators and get it struck down.

Here's a copy of the letter I wrote:

Dear Senator,

As you no doubt know, Senator Ted Kennedy has drafted a bill that would, among other things, require employers to offer health care to their employees or pay a penalty. Senator, as a former businessman, I'm sure you know that health care is one of the greatest costs to any business. With the economy in its current state, can anyone honestly expect businesses, especially small businesses, to continue operating smoothly under what amounts to a whole new operating tax?

The bill would also increase the amount the government spends on entitlements, rather than reducing it. The new "affordable access" plan that he proposes would basically expand government health care to anyone who doesn't qualify for Medicare, Medicaid, or any other program not already in place. Even if Congress can find the money to pay for it, this would mean another expansion of government-run health care.

Senator, Congress cannot keep adding programs and spending to the budget. And it cannot keep dictating to private businesses. It must work with the private market to produce and present sustainable solutions to the public. Instead of mandating that businesses provide coverage, give them tax breaks to incentivize employer-coverage. Instead of requiring insurers to provide coverage for all comers, which would be the health care equivalent of subprime mortgage loans, provide incentives for insurers to offer competitive prices to their customers. Instead of forcing private insurers to compete with a government system, give the government less to do, shift the burden to private insurers, and lessen the eventual tax burden on the American public. All this talk of taxes on sugar and health care benefits is a debate that we shouldn't even be having.

I know that you take this issue seriously, Senator. I hope to help in any way I can.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting something done

This is going to be one of those "boring" posts that have a lot to do with Congress and the president and legislation and spending and all that. But trust me, it's important.

Republicans in Congress are an endangered species. They know they need to shake the label of the "Party of No" if they're going to survive. (Personally, I've never felt that saying "no" was necessarily a bad thing, but that could hardly matter less.) Anyway, aside from efforts to connect more personally with voters during the spring, they're also doing their jobs. Thank goodness, too, because the only way they're going to save their party is by saving or helping to save the country. In addition to the alternatives they offered to the stimulus bill, the omnibus spending bill, and the budget, House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have sent a proposal to President Obama for a series of government programs where spending could be reduced, streamlined, or eliminated altogether.

Last April, in response to the massive amounts of money appropriated in various pieces of legislation, Rep. Cantor requested that the president direct his Cabinet secretaries to find $100 million in savings to help relieve the burden to taxpayers. The president did so, but asked that House Republicans also look for savings. Today, the GOP has presented a list of recommendations that could save a combined $375 billion (yes, with a "b"). The full list can be read here.

The list is twenty pages long, and has over forty specific proposals. I've read it, and I encourage all of you to, as well; but for those who prefer not to spend their evenings combing through proposed legislation (i.e. "normal people"), I've included some of my personal favorites.

Common Sense Spending Limits

While Congress and the President both agree that so-called "discretionary" government spending is always assumed to rise from one year to the next, it seems like they should have put a cap on those spending increases a long time ago. Republicans would prefer to freeze all spending increases, but the proposal is to limit the increases so that they don't grow faster than inflation does. In theory, this could save $317 billion over five years all by itself.

But they're not through yet.

Require New Programs To Be Paid For

Something that has always bothered me about Congress (for as long as I've ever thought about it, anyway) is that, since they control the budget and taxes, they can basically add as many programs to the budget they want and raise taxes as high as they need to in order to pay for it. You'd think that the threat of getting voted out of office would impose a certain amount of restraint, but I think we all know that it doesn't. Democrats and Republicans alike just keep adding programs and raising the price tag.

What about a new way to enforce a little discipline? This part of the proposal requires that, for every new program Congress wants to add, it has to reduce or eliminate funding for another one. This not only keeps spending at a consistent level, it demonstrates priorities. Which programs are most important to the government? How far does it really want to extend its reach? And how will they defend these actions to the voters? The exact wording of the proposal is "The merit of every new proposal ought to be judged based on whether it is more important than something the government is already doing." Good advice.

Opportunity To Review Legislation

This, it should be obvious, is where Congress is required to enforce a mandatory review period, in this case 72 hours, before passing any legislation. I don't have to tell anyone how important it is that members of Congress actually read legislation before they pass it. I'm sure most people remember the huge AIG bonus scandal when Congress passed a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill, the final version of which not one senator or representative actually read all the way through. From the time the final 1,100-page bill was drafted to the time it was passed was less than a day. Whether you're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars or free snail mail privileges, the government should be required to pay attention to their jobs.

Most of the rest of the proposal deals with specific government programs; reforming certain practices to be more cost-effective; enforcing eligibility requirements for certain entitlements; and so forth. Some of the cuts and reductions won't be very popular, on either side of the political aisle, but we're in a serious bind. The country is going bankrupt. Everyone, everywhere is trying to deal with this problem. If you think the proposals the Republicans are making will help, then write to as many people in Washington as you can telling them to support their plan. If you think the proposals will hurt, then say that instead. But this is the budget; the government's lifeline; one of those things that touches every single one of us eventually, so whatever you do, do not ignore it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Of Jobs and Endorsements

I went to a fundraiser this last Friday. Yes, the question of whether I will donate money directly to a specific candidate has been conclusively answered. I went to a luncheon here in Virginia Beach for Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling's reelection campaign. It was a good event. A large crowd was there, a few state elected officials spoke, and former Governor Mitt Romney gave the keynote address. I even got to shake his hand. *grins*

I had another first this weekend, too. I decided to officially endorse a candidate before the election. In the past, I would wait right up until the moment I entered the voting booth to make a decision, no matter how sure I was in the days, weeks, and even months leading up to election day. Yes, I supported Mitt Romney during the 2008 election season, but since he didn't make it through the primaries, it didn't really matter. In this case, I'm endorsing Bob McDonnell for Governor of Virginia, Bill Bolling for Lt. Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General.

The decision to do so was actually a fairly simple one. I've been following the Republican and Democratic primaries in the Virginian Pilot, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and at times the Washington Post. There have been plenty of articles about each of the candidates, and plenty of issues to consider. One article and issue in particular, I feel, brings the whole campaign into focus; an article in the Pilot over the weekend about the candidates' proposals to create jobs and prosperity here in the Commonwealth.

Everything is about jobs here in Virginia, and if it isn't, then it should be. Health care? The more people get private health care coverage, the more jobs will be available in the health care and health insurance industries. Energy? The more power plants, both nuclear and clean coal, we have, the more off-shore exploration we do, the more jobs we'll have in both the long and short runs. Education? The more high school graduates go on to become college graduates, the better, higher-paying jobs they'll be able to get. Entitlements? The more people have jobs, the less money the government will have to spend on them.

Bob McDonnell is a far better choice for a "jobs" governor than any of the Democratic candidates. How can you draw businesses to a state if you raise taxes, like the Democratic candidates are proposing? Raising the minimum wage, like Brian Moran favors, may help the people who work at Burger King, but it won't create jobs. And a perennial favorite Democratic project, light rail, is not a silver bullet for job creation; as much as everyone would like to believe otherwise.

Energy production is, though. A nuclear power plant at Lake Anna and a clean coal plant in Surrey would generate thousands, possibly tens of thousands of jobs and millions in revenue; not to mention making Virginia a national leader in energy. The Democratic candidates are opposed to these measures, though.

I like Creigh Deeds' idea of transition training funding for people losing their jobs, but it's a long-term solution. There are people who need jobs now, and they won't get them by calling for more taxes and picketing businesses, like the Democrats have been doing this election cycle. While trying to draw Hilton Hotel's corporate headquarters to the Commonwealth, all three Democratic candidates walked in a picket line outside of a Hilton!

The McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli ticket is the best chance that Virginia has to create not only jobs but prosperity as well. States with the highest tax burdens, like California and New York, are in the greatest amount of trouble these days, while states like Texas, with practically no tax burden at all, are doing great. I'd much rather have a governor who will follow the Texas model of attracting business and revenue.

Obviously, the election is still five months away. Information comes out about candidates' histories and positions all the time. The Democrats haven't even chosen their ticket for November yet. Their primary is on the 9th. Once they've had it, and the general election get's into "full swing", you can expect things to get much more interesting in Virginia politics.

I'm confident, though, in my choice. I've actually voted for more Democrats here in the Commonwealth than I have Republicans, including Governor Tim Kaine. I'll keep my eyes and my mind open, you can be sure; but at the risk of losing my impartiality, I'm endorsing the Republican ticket.