Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just under five weeks to go

New numbers in the race for Virginia's top elected positions. I normally don't pay attention to poll numbers, as they tend to give me a headache; but this was a statewide poll, asking Virginians who they would prefer for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General, and for all three positions, the Republican candidate leads by double digits.

Is this because Virginia is a southern conservative state? I doubt it. After all, we've had two Democratic governors in a row, we have two Democratic Senators in the United States Senate, and just last year, the Commonwealth's electoral votes all went to the Democratic candidate for president. Surely we haven't changed THAT much in less than a year.

Or maybe we have. I've blogged before about the tactics that Barack Obama used in the 2008 presidential election and how they wouldn't be as effective for Creigh Deeds. An attempt to tag Bob McDonnell as another George W. Bush fizzled on arrival, as Virginians had already seen that the two are virtually nothing alike. McDonnell is articulate, charismatic, intelligent, and a serious fiscal hawk, as opposed to our former president.

A sharper contrast can be drawn between McDonnell and Deeds, as their campaigns have been studies in opposites. McDonnell's ads have consistently been issue-driven, with not only plans and projects, but details on how to fund and implement them. Deeds' campaign, on the other hand, has been increasingly negative, and has focused on social issues that don't even address the voters' stated top priority: the economy. I'm not saying Deeds hasn't presented plans, but I can't remember one campaign ad that even dealt with anything other than McDonnell's thesis paper.

I couldn't tell you for sure why Virginia voted for Mark Warner, Jim Webb, Tim Kaine, or Barack Obama, but I would say it had far more to do with wanting representatives and leaders who are focused on solving problems than with social issues. We are still conservative here, and we do still like conservative candidates; but when it comes time to fill out that ballot, Virginians vote for the candidate with solutions. Bob McDonnell, Jim Bolling, and Ken Cuccinelli have those solutions.

Yeah, we haven't changed that much.

News7 Survey USA poll shows frontrunners in November elections - WDBJ7 Roanoke News and Weather NRV Lynchburg Danville

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Bob McDonnell on the issues, the economy, and even *gasp* his infamous college paper.

Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia appeared on Fox News Sunday, answering questions from Chris Wallace on the hot-button issues of Virginia's gubernatorial race. Wallace, never one to pull punches (especially with Republicans), asked questions on a host of significant issues, and even a few (in my opinion), insignificant ones.

Battleground Virginia

ABC7, POLITICO, and YouTube will be sponsoring a gubernatorial debate between Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell on Tuesday, October 6, at 7 PM. If you want to watch, you can tune in to ABC7-WJLA television, or http://www.politico.com/.

If you want to submit questions for the debate, either text or video, then you have until midnight on Thursday, October 1, to do so. You can go through www.politico.com/battlegroundvirginia, where you can either type in a question or copy/paste a YouTube video URL. I think it's a great opportunity to ask important questions of the candidates. I've already posted a question on nuclear energy, not because I don't know the answer, but because I feel it's a good time for the candidates to make their positions clear to the voters.

If there's something you want to ask Creigh Deeds, Bob McDonnell, or both, then ask it now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Have you no shame?"

This is the stunned question asked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the United Nations earlier today. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been allowed to speak yesterday before the UN, and this prompted a serious rebuke from Netanyahu. I'd advise anyone, especially my own president, to consider his words before "negotiating" with another terrorist.

Sunstein: Force broadcasters to air 'diversity' ads

Sunstein: Force broadcasters to air 'diversity' ads

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You know, the government originally gave control of the airwaves to the people as a hedge against fascism. If the government tries to take back control, does that make the government fascist?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Letters to Washington: Too complex?

Dear Senator,

I learned tonight that the Senate Finance Committee voted against posting the text of Senator Baucus' health care reform bill 72 hours in advance of a vote on it. This was troubling to me, especially since I had hopes for a more moderate bill from the Finance Committee than some others. Now, it seems I won't even get a chance to read it before the Senate votes on its passage.

Some have suggested that the bill is too "complex" for ordinary Americans to read. Not only is that a bad reason to not post the bill, it's also an insulting one. The American people are not so stupid that we cannot read and understand legislation that our leaders are considering. It brings to mind the words of another legislator who literally laughed at the idea that Congressmen and Senators should read HR 3200 all the way through before voting on it because "it would take days to read and understand", and that you'd need the help of a lawyer, at least. Senator, why on earth would Congress write legislation that it can't even read?

The president, and most of Congress with him, has promised more transparency than the public has received in past years. Not only is this promise broken on an almost regular basis now, but it seems to happen every time with the most important issues of all, most recently health care reform. I urge you to speak with your colleagues in both houses of Congress and insist that they keep the American people "in the loop", especially on health care. We deserve to know what you're doing.


Stephen Monteith

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And the winner is ... not Senator Baucus.

I had such high hopes for the Senate Finance Committee's chances for constructing a comprehensive health care reform plan that I could support. Forget one that the Senate or Congress itself or even Republicans could support; I can't support this plan.

At least he was working on it, and with more than just members of his own party. I don't place much stock in bipartisanism, actually. Bipartisanism is just another way of keeping Congress and the president humble; it's not always the answer. However, in the case of Senator Baucus, for a time he was open to ideas that most of his colleagues in the Senate and House leaderships simply were not. Still, the bill he finally came up with, while better than the other bills produced by Congress and the president, is not enough.

I know; I'm a hard man to please. I want health care reform that targets waste and fraud for elimination; that has significant tort reform included; that requires neither businesses to provide coverage nor private citizens to purchase it, but rather incentivizes both; that includes neither a government-run plan nor health care co-ops, but increases free market opportunities and solutions; and that, in the words of our president, "doesn't add a dime to the deficit". That's a pretty tall order, I realize.

It gets worse. Instead of requiring people to purchase coverage, I want the government to incentivize purchase by making every dollar spent on health insurance tax deductible. As I've written before, the president's comparison between mandated health insurance and mandated auto insurance is a bad one. The Congressional Budget Office said as much the first time President Bill Clinton proposed a universal mandate in 1994:

"A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action," the CBO said.

Interestingly, the closest thing the CBO could find to mandatory health insurance was the draft.

"Federal mandates that apply to individuals as members of society are extremely rare. One example is the requirement that draft-age men register with the Selective Service System. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is not aware of any others imposed by current federal law," the report said.

Instead of requiring businesses to provide coverage and imposing fines on any business that doesn't, I want the government to offer tax breaks to any business, small or large, that does. This would have the added benefit, of course, of stimulating the economy when it needs it the most. The government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the last half-year alone trying to reverse the economic downturn in this country. All it's been able to do, though, is slow the decline. Unemployment has continued to rise to almost ten percent in this country. That's almost twenty million Americans. Could that number have some correlation to the number of uninsured in this country? If the government lowers taxes for any business that offers health coverage for its employees, then not only will more companies offer insurance, but more companies will be able to afford more new hires, and more small businesses will arise. It's the equivalent of two birds with one stone.

Instead of a government plan or co-ops, make it easier for insurance companies to become competitive with each other. The president spoke before Congress of states where some insurance companies had essentially cornered the markets. I say, let's make health care purchasable across state lines. Not only would the best companies be able to expand their markets and force the worst companies to adjust their practices, but it would make health insurance an actual interstate commerce issue, which would make reform and oversight much easier to provide. It would also shift the twin tasks of reform and oversight from the state to the federal level, if I'm not mistaken, relieving states of some of the burdens. I'm not usually one for expanding government power or regulation, but sometimes it can actually be the answer.

Which brings us around to not telling insurance companies how to conduct business. Almost every American has or knows someone who has a "preexisting condition". Refusing to provide insurance in those cases makes very little sense; that is, unless you look at it from a business perspective. After all, it's much cheaper to to cover a healthy person than a sick one. I don't think those with preexisting conditions should be denied coverage; but if an insurance company is going to provide it, then the company should be allowed to set the rates. All lending and coverage is based on risk assessment, whether it's a bank loan or an automobile insurance policy; health insurance policies should work the same way.

The president's claim that he wants a bill that doesn't increase the deficit either now or later is a bold one; in the eyes of some, it's an impossible one. I'm just a lowly blogger. What do I know of the budget process, or what kind of spending or tax cuts or increases would be required to make this or any other reform plan deficit-neutral? Nothing, that's what I know. But there are those who do, and to them I say, "This is what I want to see in health care reform; and as my elected representative, I expect you to either work for these reforms or explain to me why your ideas are better." You should all call, visit, and/or write to your representatives, including the president, and say the same.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The president has a plan (at last)

A little over a month ago, I pointed out that President Obama hadn't actually presented a health care plan of his own, and if he wanted to counter all the "misinformation" being spread by Republicans, then he should give another of his famous (or infamous) television addresses. Well, it looks like someone in the White House reads my blog, because just two nights ago, the president presented his own plan on television before a rare joint session of Congress.

It wasn't a very spectacular speech, though some apparently tried to make it a spectacle. Most notably was Congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina. When the president said that none of his reforms would benefit people here illegally, Congressman Wilson shouted, "You lie!" Tempers were a bit high that evening, of course, and he had just returned from a month filled with townhall meetings with angry constituents saying pretty much the same thing; but that still doesn't give a congressman the right to interrupt a national address with a petty attack. He later apologized.

The president committed a certain amount of partisan warfare himself during the course of his speech, making veiled and some not-so-veiled attacks on the GOP. Without mentioning anyone directly, he took shots at former President George W. Bush, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and other critics of some Democrats' reform proposals. He accused them of not wanting reform of any kind, and of using fear and misinformation to turn public opinion against him. Anyone who's visited http://healthcare.gop.gov/, though, can tell you that the Republicans have just as many ideas as Democrats do, and not all of them are that different from what any moderate would propose.

But let's get to some of those proposals, specifically. The president began by saying that, if you already have health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans' benefits, then nothing will require you to change what you have. He promised to work to make your current insurance work better for you. He said that insurance companies will not be allowed to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions; to place caps on your coverage in a given year, or in your lifetime; to drop or "water down" your coverage when you get sick; or to charge extra for routine checkups. And he promised to limit out of pocket expenses during hospital visits.

If you do not already have some form of insurance, the president has promised to help you find quality, affordable choices; that, if you lose your job or change jobs or strike out on your own, then you will have choices. He proposes a market exchange where insurance companies can compete for your business. And, if you or your small business still cannot afford the market prices, then he will offer tax breaks and tax credits to help you afford it. His proposal would take up to four years to implement, so that they can "get it right".

So far, so good, right? Perhaps. I don't much care for the idea of the government telling insurance companies, which are basically giant investment firms, how to do business; but as the president pointed out, it is sometimes the government's job to step in and regulate commerce. But what about the next proposal on the president's list? He'll work hard to make sure anyone who wants to purchase health care can afford to do so; but what about those who do not want to purchase it? The president, and certain members of Congress, want to make purchasing insurance a requirement.

He likens it to the requirement to buy automobile insurance. Personally, I've never cared for that analogy. Driving a car places lives in danger, which is why we are required to hold licenses and insurance to drive. Simply living, though, is a constitutionally-protected right; and just as we don't license people to live, we should not require people to purchase insurance. Some say that it places a financial burden on the rest of us to provide health care for the uninsured; I've made that argument myself, in fact, and it is true. However, that is no justification for the government violating our right to privacy by dictating how we should care for ourselves and our families. In some cases, it is the government's role to intervene when an injustice has taken place; but to make short-sightedness illegal?

The president then addressed some issues that have been major sources of contention in recent weeks. He has pledged that health care reform will not include any provisions for "death panels", committees that would take end-of-life decisions out of patients' and their families' hands. He has also pledged that tax dollars would not go to cover abortions, and that federal conscience clauses would remain in effect. Obviously, these are sensitive issues for conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. At the least, it's important that we all be clear on the president's position.

And, as I wrote earlier, the president has pledged that no tax dollars would be spent on health care for illegal immigrants. Can we trust it? I've never been to an emergency room, personally, but I can't imagine that they spend a lot of time investigating the status of patients. Can the president actually guarantee that no federal money will benefit illegal immigrants? Some have suggested that the actual language of HR 3200, which is just one proposal before Congress, is not so concrete, and that we need firmer commitments.

According to the president, there are some states where one insurance company or another may be "cornering the market", as it were, leading to unfair practices and prices in these markets. To keep these businesses "accountable", he wants to start a not-for-profit, self-sustainable insurance option. This form of public option, he says, would not be supported by tax dollars, and that it would only be there to keep insurance companies honest. He addressed the progressives in his party, saying that the entire point of a public option is to keep insurance companies honest, and if that goal can be accomplished without a public option, then they should be open to it.

There has been plenty of speculation on both sides of the aisle about what that means for the future of the public option. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News took it to mean that President Obama is merely a step away from dropping the public option entirely, and that his statement was intended to give himself cover when he does. Other pundits insist that he still supports a public plan and may just be trying to lull conservatives. In my opinion, only time will tell on this particular issue. But you can be sure I'll keep on my congressman and senators to not support a government-run plan, whether it's taxpayer-supported or not.

President Obama then gets into some details about the cost of health care reform. He has pledged not to sign a bill "that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future". *sighs* That pledge alone has the potential to kill health care reform. I mean, forget taxpayer-funded abortion or single-payer systems; if you want to kill health care reform, just tell the president it'll increase the deficit by more than nine cents and he'll veto it himself.

Okay, sarcasm aside, he does have some ideas for reducing the deficit. First of all, he wants a bill that will require more spending cuts if savings cannot keep up. He says that cutting fraud and waste in the current plan will produce hundreds of billions in savings, and that not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for the plan. The savings would fill the gaps in coverage, especially as regards prescription drug costs, and that seniors will get the benefits they were promised. As drug companies gain new customers under this plan, more revenue will be generated to help pay for the overall plan. It's sort of a "trickle down plan", Obama-style.

Up to this point, the president had thrown only a few bones to the Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress. He did have a piece of meat for them, though. Tort reform, which deals with medical malpractice suits, has been touted by conservatives as a way to arrest the costs of health care. The more nuisance suits are brought, the higher the price of health care rises. Many feel that trial lawyers hold too much influence in the House of Representatives for any tort reform to be enacted; but with the president now supporting it, conservatives and moderates from each party can work on serious changes.

Overall, President Obama has estimated that his plan would cost around $900 billion. He expects that most of it can be paid with money that is already being spent (badly) and by slowing the growth of health care costs (which would reduce the deficit by itself). He claims that he will not stand by for the special interests, for misrepresentation, or for the status quo as a solution; and that anyone with a serious proposal is welcome.

I certainly hope he intends to follow through on that statement, at least. Many have suggested recently that Democrats, since they control the White House and both houses of Congress, should simply go ahead with their agenda, overruling and even overrunning the GOP if they cannot get their support. That would be a serious mistake, though. As I've said before, this is not a country that is content with one-party rule, no matter which party that may be. The president billed himself as a consensus-builder during last year's campaign. If his only interest is bringing the left together with the far left, then let them pass health care reform that will allow illegal aliens to get abortions from a government-run, single-payer system. Republicans will just come in and tear it all down in a few years when they regain power.

But if the president's goal is to pass lasting, quality health care reform, then he'd do well to keep his mind, his ears, and his options wide open during the next few weeks, months, and years.