Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letters to Washington - Health care and the budget

The president's budget for the coming year is out now. Not many have read it yet, but what has been read is already troubling some people.

This is a copy of the letter I wrote to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia:

Dear Senator,

I appreciate all you do for our commonwealth as senator, as I do your efforts as governor. Cost containment and fiscal responsibility is certainly the most important issue facing the federal government right now. It would seem, then, that you would want to include every reasonable cost containment measure you could in health care reform. However, while some issues like tort reform were not even seriously debated in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, it's appalling that other measures were included purely for the purpose of securing votes from some senators. It seems to me that, all politics aside, the U.S. Senate should be crafting a health reform bill that can pass on its merits rather than on so-called "sweetheart" deals.

I know that, especially with a bill as controversial as this one, it is difficult to gain support from enough lawmakers to pass anything meaningful. However, as the president himself said, there are many areas and issues on which Republicans and Democrats agree. That would seem to be the best place to start with a bill like this. Knowing from the start how difficult it would be to gain support, bi-partisan or otherwise, the Senate should be working to produce a bill that begins with those cost containment provisions that you mentioned and excludes measures the American people have rejected.

One of those measures is mandating that American citizens buy health insurance. This would be the first time in history that the federal government has required Americans buy any good or service. As I'm sure you know by now, Virginia's and other state's legislatures have already begun drafting legislation to assert their state rights to oppose mandatory coverage. Massachusetts, of course, already mandates individual purchasing, but that is a state measure; and the voters there expressly rejected the federal government's authority to impose another mandate. If mandates are required, then it should be the states' prerogative.

Another measure the public, including myself, has rejected is public funding of abortion. As I wrote to you in my last letter, any health care bill must provide unbreakable restrictions on abortion funding. However, the president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 explicitly supports and includes public funding of abortion. It allows funding of abortions in the District of Columbia and proposes overturning the ban on the Legal Services Corporation, which among other things counsels people who receive abortions. It also increases funding for Planned Parenthood and other programs and organizations that promote abortion planning. Restricting abortion funding in health care reform is virtually useless if Congress still funds groups that facilitate abortions. As with health care reform, it seems the proposed budget includes measures like this that the public rejects and reduces funding for other programs, including border security.

I'm seeing many parallels between the proposed budget and the recent health care reform bills, in fact. First of all, I don't like that this budget was apparently written with no significant input from Republican or even Democratic lawmakers. Now, whatever issues members of Congress have with the budget will need to be resolved through a lengthy amendment process, maybe several. The result will likely be yet another costly, controversial bill that hardly any will be proud to say they support.

I don't know everything that's in the president's budget, Senator, because I haven't read all of it. On the other hand, I know that Congress hasn't, either. Not to cast doubt on you or any other public servant, but I would appreciate a pledge from you to read the entire budget before voting on it, so that you will know for yourself what it contains. If time is not given, either to Congress or the public, to review the proposed legislation before a vote is called, then I want you to vote against it. I will never accept, Senator, a yea vote on a bill that you have not read or that I have not had the chance to read.

Thank you for your help, Senator. I look forward to your continued support.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith


I wrote a similar letter to Senator Jim Webb. This is what I wrote to Congressman Glenn Nye:


Dear Congressman,

I'd like to personally thank you for your vote against H.R. 3962. By now, I'm sure you know that Virginia's General Assembly has already begun drafting its own legislation asserting our state rights in this case. When Congress reviews health care reform in the coming days, they should look at it from that perspective: what is the states' prerogative, and what is the federal government's.

That isn't why I'm writing to you today, though. The president has released copies of his budget for the coming fiscal year. I'm seeing parallels between it and the recent health care reform efforts; not in substance, but in style. First of all, I don't like that this budget was apparently written with no significant input from Republican or even Democratic lawmakers. Now, whatever issues members of Congress have with the budget will need to be resolved through a lengthy amendment process, maybe several. The result will likely be yet another costly, controversial bill that hardly any will be proud to say they support.

One of those issues is abortion funding. You voted against the House's version of health care reform, Congressman, but in your letter to me, you did not include your feelings concerning the abortion restrictions in the bill. I was happy with them, personally; but the new budget not only includes public funding for abortion in the District of Columbia, but increases funding to organizations and programs like Planned Parenthood as well. Prohibiting abortion funding in health care reform is meaningless if the federal government funds it in other ways.

I don't know everything that's in the president's budget, Congressman, because I haven't read all of it. On the other hand, I know that Congress hasn't, either. Not to cast doubt on you or any other public servant, but I would appreciate a pledge from you to read the entire budget before voting on it, so that you will know for yourself what it contains. If time is not given, either to Congress or the public, to review the proposed legislation before a vote is called, then I want you to vote against it. I will never accept, Congressman, a yea vote on a bill that you have not read or that I have not had the chance to read.

Thank you again for your service, Congressman.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

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