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Tuesday
Apr062010

Parsing Obama

By: Scott Spiegel

Over the weekend a poor lithium battery plant worker from South Carolina named Doris stumbled into a bear trap we’ll call “Obama in a contemplative yet incoherent, feisty yet expansive mood.”

Dear Doris asked Obama a question and was hit with a 2,600-word, 17-minute onslaught that makes any rambling reply Sarah Palin supposedly ever gave seem like the soul of brevity.

To be fair, Doris had placed a tall order: she had asked Obama to sell her on the recently passed health care overhaul legislation via a diatribe that rehashed the history of Medicare, trotted out charges against Bush, and stopped along the way for an analogy involving leaky roofs.

Oh wait—she didn’t; that was what she got.  She asked Obama whether raising taxes in a recession was a good idea.

A prickly Obama jumped in and implied that Doris and millions of other Americans who had been reading about the health care legislation over the past twelve months were badly misinformed, easily misled by huckster politicians, and quite possibly morons.

He launched into one of several internally and externally redundant lists cataloging the reasons for health care reform (which was not Doris’s question).  In a vastly condensed nutshell:

List 1, Point 1: Some people don’t have health insurance.

L1, P2: Some people with health insurance might not have it in the future.

L1, P3: Sometimes insurance companies operate according to the profit motive and fail to chase down policyholders to shower them with free money they don’t have coming to them.

L1, P4: Health care is expensive.

Obama lamented how all government-instituted health insurance programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP, are running out of money, which means that we need: more government intervention!

Obama embarked on another list explaining what provisions the health care overhaul bill contains (again, not Doris’s question):

L2, P1: Everybody will get coverage.

L2, P2: We will drive insurance companies out of business—which will really improve the chances they will pay consumers’ claims!

L2, P3: We will get rid of excess, waste, and overload in Medicare (at which point the thinking half the audience wondered how Obama would accomplish this when he couldn’t even get rid of excess, waste, and overload in his response).

Obama repeated Republicans’ objection that adding 30 million Americans to the insurance rolls might involve some sacrifice and would not reduce the deficit by a trillion dollars as claimed—an argument he promptly shot down as the addle-headed straw man it obviously is.

To do this, he told a story about some people living in a house with a leaky roof that dripped water into some of the rooms, and explained why the people in the rooms without leaks would be better off if the government forced them to pay for the leaks in the other rooms.

Missing from his analogy were the caveats that random strangers don’t involuntarily live under the same roof, fixing one person’s leaky roof does not increase the quality of life for someone without a leaky roof, and the government is not a mortgage holder empowered to make these decisions for residents.  But give him points for creativity, I guess.

List time again—this one involving how the administration is going to pay for the health care overhaul:

L3, P1: We will get rid of excess, waste, and overload (see L2, P3).

L3, P2: We will increase taxes.

Finally!  Obama arrived in the same ballpark as Doris’s question.

Obama then noted that Doris pays Medicare taxes but Warren Buffet doesn’t—ignoring the fact that Warren Buffet doesn’t want or need Medicare.  (Doris might not either, but let’s assume for the moment that she does.)

The President proposed that we tax, for the sake of fairness, individuals making over $200,000 or couples making over $250,000 a year—you know, Warren Buffet, basically—an exorbitant amount for services they probably don’t want or need.

He did not address the tax—sorry, “fine”—to be levied on citizens who do not comply with the individual mandate to purchase government-approved health insurance, which is presumably what Doris was alluding to in her question.

Obama closed with a litany of campaign-style talking points: he mentioned for the 1.3 trillionth time that he had inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit; condemned the cost of the prescription drug plan and Medicare Part D; bashed the Iraq war and the Bush tax cuts; bemoaned mounting credit card and home loan debt; cited the stimulus bill and something called FMAP; referenced PAYGO and earmarks and… ugh, I can’t take it anymore.

One wonders what Doris did to deserve the karmic retribution of such a longwinded, tortuous answer, or why Obama decided to inflict it upon her.  Perhaps he was using an innocent victim to try to compensate for twelve months of failing to take a leadership role in pushing his bill through Congress or adequately allay constituents’ concerns about its costs.

If Obama is still going around giving a 17-minute apologia for a fundamental point of the bill he claims Americans are clamoring for but just don’t realize yet, he’s going to have an awfully hard time changing anyone’s mind on his whirlwind national health care snake oil tour.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Thursday
Apr012010

Armies of Hate

By: Scott Spiegel

ObamaCare supporters who claim that opposition to the recently passed health care legislation is motivated by hatred of empowered minority group members are right about one thing.  Those who oppose the bill and want it repealed are in fact motivated by hate.

They hate a lot of things they’ve witnessed over the past year, none having anything to do with African Americans, Latinos, or women wielding power in Washington.

Among other things, they hate:

The health care bill:

•    Its unconstitutional individual mandate and general abridgment of liberty

•    Its ban on non-government-sanctioned health care plans, including catastrophic coverage that many young people prefer, and its usurious taxing of “Cadillac plans”

•    Its boneheaded enforcement mechanism which, in addition to being miswritten, would simply lead people to pay a relatively piddly fine instead of buying health insurance until they needed it

•    Its paying only six years of benefits while levying ten years of taxes and claiming to be a deficit reducer

•    Its stubborn and complete absence of free market reforms, such as malpractice tort reform, removal of the ban on selling insurance across state lines, and health insurance tax credits for the self-employed

•    Its excessive length and complexity, and the insufficient time the public and even Congress has been given to read and understand its various iterations

The way in which the bill was passed:

•    The stipulation of repeated, and repeatedly missed, arbitrary deadlines for holding this or that vote, including the infamous Christmas Eve session, for no reason other than political expediency for the Democrats

•    The abuse of the Congressional Budget Office’s authority, whereby Democrats fed the CBO misleading parameters, then bragged to the public that the bill saves money, based on the evidence that the CBO was forced to say so, according to the Democrats’ rules of the game

•    The shady deals made to bribe reluctant Congressional Democrats to support the bill

•    The use of a phony, unenforceable, last-minute executive order banning federal funding of abortions, which contradicts the text of the bill, in order to get the last few votes needed for passage in the House

•    The inappropriate use of the budget reconciliation procedure to get the bill over the finish line

Politicians’ willful ignorance of the consequences of socialized medicine elsewhere, including:

•    The horrific rationing of care and substandard service in Britain resulting from regulations enforced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

•    The decline in rates of drug and medical device development in countries that nationalize health care, and the frequent use of the U.S. health care system by foreign travelers who can afford it

•    The spiraling costs that follow the addition of a massive entitlement program to a precariously debt-laden economy

Politicians’ refusal to listen to the will of the American people:

•    Their shunning the results of polls that for months have shown a majority of Americans opposing the bill, and far more Americans strongly opposing than strongly supporting it

•    Their avoidance of constituents at townhall meetings and their evasion of constituents’ questions

•    Their attempt to obfuscate the public’s understanding of the bill by blurring the definitions of such terms as “tax,” “preexisting condition,” “profit,” and “government-run healthcare”

•    Their insulting the public’s intelligence by claiming that the bill will provide insurance to 32 million more people, yet somehow save money

•    Their disingenuous protestations that they are not looking to expand government control of health care to a single-payer system in the future

•    Their condescending lecturing and patronizing attempts to explain and sell the bill to us thickheaded constituents

•    Their paternalistic insistence that they know better than us what we need, and that we’ll like the bill once we find out what’s in it

The ugly mischaracterization of ObamaCare opponents:

•    As “teabaggers,” a vulgar term never used by any Tea Party patriot

•    As simpleminded, emotional, easily manipulated fear mongers and rabble rousers

•    As racists who supposedly shouted the n-word and spat at black lawmakers marching to Selma—er, to the House vote

Apparently unnoticed by the mainstream media is the fact that numerous, prominent, pasty white males have been instrumental in getting ObamaCare passed, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, and most of the Democrats in Congress, not to mention the cheerleaders at MSNBC, The New York Times, and every other left-leaning news organization in the country.

Americans are indeed starting to mobilize peaceful armies and reload for another round of the fight against the bill they hate.  But their motivation is not to stigmatize supporters of Obamacare.  It is to stop them.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Tuesday
Mar302010

How to Reform - In Five Pages or Less

By: John Prothro

Opponents of Obama’s health care plan have cited the length of the bill as reason to question the motive of its authors.  And rightly so.  If the 2700 page bill was meant to be transparent and well considered, then why hide the benefits in all those pages?  What could possibly be gained by all the legal jargon, exemptions, and amendments necessary to create such lengthy paper work? 

Americans are right to be skeptical of a law no one but staffers have had time to read. We are right to suspect that the contents of a bill this long are meant to be hidden.  The Democrats never wanted the average citizen to read this bill—much less understand it; they preferred to vote on it without the consent of the governed.

Charles Murray has criticized this health care bill as an assault on the American project.  With this bill, according to Murray, Obama and the Democrats are attacking the idea of self-rule and government by the people.  In other words, Democrats are undermining the very foundation of our political system.

As in all cases, at the heart of this debate is an argument of philosophy.  Some believe that widespread reform requires a lot of paperwork, that governing in the modern age means extensive planning and brave social engineers.  Others, like Jude Wanniski and Ronald Reagan see the American people as the ideal driving force behind government.  When information is open, this philosophy teaches, the American people can be counted on to make decisions that best fit their needs.

If we adopted the latter philosophy, we would have a much different view of reform.  Bills that contain too much to swallow would be much smaller, leaving the people capable of comprehending a bill before it is made law.

So why don’t we do this:  let’s adopt the idea of incremental change—what Joseph Schumpeter called “piecemeal engineering.”  Instead of trying to fix everything all at once, why not change things slowly by declaring a moratorium on any bill longer than five pages.  Here is how it would work with, say, health care:

A bill is introduced in the Congress that says one thing, like individuals who buy health insurance can have the same tax benefits of corporations that provide employee health insurance.  The bill would explain how the law works but keep it simple.  It would be posted online immediately and a vote scheduled for a month or so later—giving every American and congressperson time to fully debate it.  The Senate and the House could go back and forth but there would be little to amend.  At five pages, there would be no room for earmarks and even less room for legal speak.  At the scheduled time, an up or down vote would be required and the bill would stand on its merits alone.  The next reform measure could be addressed after the first bill cleared.

I know this is simplistic.  But think of the benefits.  There would be no exemptions, no incentives, no amendments, no reconciliation, no earmarks, no kickbacks, no waste.  Politicians couldn’t gimmick the CBO score, they couldn’t get away with sophistry, pundits couldn’t parse language. There would be no work for lawyers, accountants, busy bodies. The American people would be able to make their will known and politicians couldn’t hide behind confusion.  The result would be a meaningful and honest debate and a conclusion that would clearly represent the will of the people—in other words, a return to representative democracy.

If one were to paste the original US Constitution in a Word document, it would be approximately eight pages long.  If the founders can in eight pages establish the laws of a new country, what’s wrong with reforming health care in five?


Tuesday
Mar232010

12 Ways to Stop Obamacare

History in the making, indeed.  The 40,000 constituents who signed the Senate Conservatives Fund’s Repeal ObamaCare Pledge in the first 24 hours since the House passed Obamacare suggest that historic efforts are about to be made to kill this bill before it can inflict its intended and unintended damage.

Here’s a roadmap of priorities for Obamacare opponents in and out of Washington, to get us from this dispiriting week to January 2013:

1. Challenge the constitutionality of H.R. 3962. Work to invalidate its requirement that all individuals purchase a good or service—in this case, health care—as a condition of being alive, something the federal government has never forced its citizens to do.  Contest the federal government’s ability to unload an unfunded mandate onto states, many of which are experiencing budgetary crises and couldn’t afford a new permanent entitlement even if they wanted one.

2. Encourage states to file lawsuits against the bill. Twelve states have already pledged to do so, including Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, Alabama, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.  H.R. 3962, unlike many other comprehensive bills passed before by Congress, fortunately contains no severability clause that leaves the remainder of the bill intact if one part is struck down in court.  Thus, getting a court to nullify just one part of this bill would overturn the entire thing.  Take these court challenges all the way to the Supreme Court.

3. Encourage states to pass laws preventing residents from being required to buy insurance. Thirty-eight states are considering passing such legislation, and 33 have already introduced bills.  These 33 states include Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, all large states that went for Obama in 2008, which disproves liberals’ inevitable charge that rebel states are just rural flyover country filled with racist rednecks.  Virginia (another Obama state) is the first state to have passed such legislation, through an effort led by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  Idaho has also passed legislation protecting its residents from the federal mandate.

4. Encourage states to block enforcement of the bill. Refuse to fund it.  How can states that are billions of dollars in the red pay for a massive new program dumped on them by the Fed?

5. Give Congressmen an earful during their spring Congressional recess. Make last summer’s townhalls look like giddy autograph signings.  Jam Congressmen’s schedules with meetings; pressure Senators not to sign the House’s reconciliation measure; pressure House members not to sign any reconciliation measure revised by the Senate.

6. Challenge the reconciliation process. Get the Senate parliamentarian to rule (correctly) that the House’s Social Security-related provision is inappropriate for inclusion in a reconciliation bill, per the Byrd Rule, and must be removed.

7. Change the reconciliation bill. Force the Senate to make changes to the reconciliation bill before voting on it, so that the House has to vote again on the Senate’s version; then force the House to make changes so the Senate has to vote again; and back and forth.  Strip away enough dissatisfied votes from at least one chamber to prevent the reconciliation measure from being passed, thus letting the ugly Senate bill with its backroom deals and tax on costly union health plans stand intact and paving the way for repeal.

8. Hold up the reconciliation process. Encourage GOP Senators to tie up voting on the reconciliation bill in the Senate by proposing an indefinite number of amendments.  Although debate on a reconciliation bill is limited to 20 hours (about one second per 43,000 citizens affected by the legislation, by the way), there are no limitations on the number of amendments that may be proposed.

9. Take over the House and Senate. Vote Democrats out of Congress in 2010 and 2012.  Vote Obama out of office in 2012 and elect a conservative Republican who promises to repeal Obamacare.  Support candidates who campaign on the promise to repeal Obamacare as their first act of the 113th Congress in January 2013.  In the same way that Scott Brown annihilated his opponent in Massachusetts by campaigning on one promise—to vote against the Senate health care bill—all Republican Congressional candidates in November 2010 and 2012 should campaign on the sole promise to repeal Obamacare.  Dozens of Representatives and Senators have already pledged to repeal the bill, as have hundreds of 2010 Congressional candidates, including Senate hopefuls Marco Rubio in Florida, Chuck DeVore in California, Michael Williams in Texas, and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

10. Repeal H.R. 3962.

11. Amend the Constitution. If necessary, get three-quarters of the states—perhaps the same 38 considering legislation banning the mandate—to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the federal mandate, thus invalidating the bill.

12. Encourage noncompliance with the bill as a form of civil disobedience. There may be 17,000 new IRS agents under H.R. 3962, but there are about 170,000,000 of us who oppose the bill.

As Paul Ryan said in the House Sunday night: “If this passes, the quest to reclaim the American idea is not over.  The fight to reapply our founding principles is not finished; it’s just a steeper climb.  And it is a climb that we will make.”

Let’s give ourselves a boost on the backs of the complacent and wholly unprepared socialized health care supporters who think the fight is over and they have won.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

Thursday
Mar182010

Slaughter in the House

By: Scott Spiegel

This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to ask Democratic Representatives to demonstrate their unconditional endorsement of the health care reform bill before Congress by—not voting for it.

In a parliamentary trick known as the “Slaughter Solution”—brought to you by Rule Committee Chair Louise Slaughter, who was last seen on TV at the Blair House summit carping about a constituent’s used dentures—the House would not ever have to actually vote for the unpopular Senate bill in order to pass it.  (Weren’t Democrats the ones clamoring for an “up-or-down vote” for the last three months?)

Instead, according to Slaughter, House Democrats could simply vote for a reconciliation package written to remove any unsavory provisions from the Senate bill and bring it more in line with liberal House members’ liking.  The package would contain what’s known as a “hereby” rule declaring that the Senate bill would be “deemed” to have been “already passed” by the House.  The reconciliation package would be sent to the Senate for approval, and then it and the original Senate bill would go to the President for signature.

The only nagging detail in this plan is that Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution states that every bill “shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate” before it may go to the President.  In other words, a bill must be passed—not “deemed to have been passed”—by both chambers first.

In case this wasn’t clear, the Founding Fathers reiterated, “[T]he votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively.”  (Note: “Yea” in this case does not mean, “Yea, I don’t have to vote for the bill!”)

This little provision was clarified by a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that both chambers must pass identical versions of the bill, thus bestowing their joint approval upon it.  Only minor, budget-related adjustments are permitted through reconciliation.  Conference committees between the two chambers typically meet to work out differences, and then both chambers must vote again on bills with identical wording.

On the off-chance that this still isn’t clear to the Chair of the Rule Committee: Both chambers must vote on the same bill.  One chamber may not pass another bill “deeming” the first bill to be passed and pre-amending it before it is voted on.

In addition to its flagrant violation of the Constitution, Congressional Democrats’ plan involving the Slaughter Rule is based on a flawed reasoning process.  Specifically, House Democrats seem to believe that because the Senate has the upper hand, the House may do to the Senate bill whatever they want in order to appease their constituents.  In the House’s view, the Senate has had their turn with the bill—now it’s the House’s chance to have a go at it.

It is true that most of the 59 Democrats in the Senate who voted for Obamacare would probably accept almost any version of the bill that could pass the House at this point, rather than see a year of effort, their plans for health care reform, and Obama’s presidency go down the drain.

But there’s a fundamental tactical reason that one chamber of Congress is not allowed to proceed according to the Slaughter Solution.

Namely: what if Senate Democrats vehemently opposed the House’s preferred version of the bill?  What right would House Democrats have to trample on the Senate’s bill and unicamerally morph it into one of their own choosing?

What if passing the reconciliation bill required, for example, offering a series of bribes to House members that made the Cornhusker Kickback and Louisiana Purchase look like chump change—a tactic Obama has already signaled he is open to, and one that seems necessary to seal the deal?

Suppose the House inserts objectionable sweetheart deals for the states of representatives who are wavering on the bill.  Then Democrats are right back where they started after Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, with one chamber being badgered to approve the other chamber’s distasteful version of the bill without having substantive say over its content.

The Slaughter Solution, in addition to being unconstitutional, anarchic, and embarrassingly and transparently desperate, sets an ugly precedent, whereby one chamber of Congress may steamroll the other with impunity, widen the historic trust gap between the chambers, and pass radical legislation that both chambers have not fundamentally agreed upon.

The Slaughter Solution has been referred to as a “self-executing” rule.  Based on the initial reaction of voters to this ruse, Representatives who vote for it may find that this adjective soon comes to describe their careers in Congress.

Scott Spiegel lives in New York City and writes at: www.scottspiegel.com.

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