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Sunday, July 26, 2009

60 Seats, So What

Well, the Democrats have what the left has always wanted, a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, and a huge majority in the House. The left's agenda should go through unchallenged, right?

Well, not so fast. Today's news headline is "Democrat says health overhaul needs GOP to pass".
So how does that work? Simply put, there are democrats who are flinching at the costs, government control, and loss of individual freedoms in all of the bills in the House and Senate. In the Senate enough have voiced opposition that there would be no way to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.
These are the pragmatists of the Democratic party. They understand that a bill passed on a party line vote could be the anchor that sinks them, and their party, in 2010 and 2012. Unlike the stimulus package, that got a few GOP votes, this one needs to get at least a dozen before the hesitant Democrats are going to vote for it. They know that getting Olympia Snowe to sign off isn't going to be enough to say it was a "bipartisan bill", and save them if the system goes haywire.
Nancy Pelosi has said that her House bill has the votes, and will be passed soon. As soon as it goes to the Senate it will die a quick, ugly death, and both Houses will have to start over. The new timeline is now before January, not by the August recess.
As much as the President and others would like to say the hold up in the Senate is the GOP, the media made much of the fact that with Al Franken in the Senate there is a filibuster proof majority. So the GOP can't be the hold up, and the people know it.
That means it's got to be Democratic jitters about the bill, not GOP stalling killing it's chances. And the public knows that if the Democrats in a solid majority can't agree on something, then they probably shouldn't do anything.

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Monday, July 20, 2009


Indisputable. That's the word the President used today about the need for health care reform. The need is indisputable.... I think I'll dispute him anyway.
The need for minor reforms is indisputable. Ask anyone. The need for a major overhaul, basically being done in the middle of the night, with no time to read the bills before they are voted on is disputable.
If indeed health care reform is the major issue that must be tackled to save our country, shouldn't we be taking our time to come up with plan? Shouldn't we be open about it, and let everyone know what's in it? Shouldn't the folks in Congress who are voting on it have time to digest 1,000+ pages of legislation before it gets to a committee vote?
Well, if you believe the President the answer is no, it has to be done before the August recess, even if it means ramming it through before Congress even knows fully what's in the bill.
Want to see the cost of health care go down? Ask companies like Whole Foods how they've done it, and had satisfied employees. Ask Mayo how they are doing it. Don't let a bunch of policy wonks and bean counters make the decisions.
The folks at Mayo are doing a lot of work with treating of root causes, instead of symptoms. Sounds like common sense, but in the insurance/Medicare run medical business it's not. In the short run Mayo's approach costs a little more. In the long run it saves patients, and their insurance companies tons of cash.
Whole Foods uses health savings accounts to turn their employees into consumers of health care, instead of consumers of insurance. Suddenly both employee and company costs went down. Right now most folks get an MRI referral and go to the place their doctor recommends, and don't worry about the cost, because insurance picks it up. The folks using HSA's ask the price, and shop around for the best deal. Many doctors and clinics give a reduced cost to HSA patients because of the reduced paperwork load they have to deal with.
Medicare is a big part of our health care problem, yet congress wants to use it's failed policies as the basis for reform. Because the way Medicare contains costs is to just reduce payments to doctors, they find themselves ordering every test that can be justified for any ailment. If they order enough they can break even on medicare patients. When they can't, then they raise rates for other patients to make up the difference.

Get Medicare back to it's pre-1992 method of payment, the prevailing rate in a location, and doctors would be passing less costs on to the rest of us. Don't believe it. Look up the numbers, every year Congress has lowered the Medicare reimbursement rates overall health costs have seen a spike for non-medicare patients.
Insurance needs some reform, too. Unfortunately everything being discussed in congress right now basically means that the 81% of us happy with our coverage will probably lose.
Insurance is a risk pool, yet congress would like it to treat everyone the same. I'm a 45 year old, overweight out of shape, chain smoking (the links are hard to light), couch potato. I should pay more than the guy up the street who's the same age, doesn't drink, or smoke and who spends his free time bike riding and at the gym.
I should pay more because of my high blood pressure and cholesterol, and family history of heart attacks, yet some folks see that as "unfair". It's perfectly fair. I chose to take health risks, and should be punished by higher premiums. If I get off my ass and on the bike, and toss the Camel's, then give me lower rates.
Want to reform insurance? Make it possible for me to shop across state lines, which is currently illegal. Let a company in California decide it wants to take on high risk folks in Illinois at a discount and see how they do.

Require insurance companies to standardize their paperwork so doctors can get rid of a few of the admin assistants needed to process forms from 1300 insurance providers.
Require insurance companies to publish their grading criteria for underwriting policies, so that consumers have an idea of what's going to drive up their rates with which company, and so companies can find niches to fill when they realize others don't or won't cover certain things.
If the President wants to make a promise that everyone in America will stand up and cheer for, he should promise to veto any bill that doesn't require Congress to use the same system everyone else does. If he'd do that he could probably get the population to support a single payer plan payed for by selling off everyone's first born.

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Good Health Care Reform Reading

Need some good reading on health care reform? Try the Director of the Congressional Budget Office's blog. That's right, the director of the CBO has a blog.

Here's his preliminary analysis of the House proposal. Cheaper health care is going to increase the deficit over a trillion dollars? So much for President Obama's "revenue neutral" promise.

Here's the Director's letter to Charlie Rangel, explaining the budget consequences of just the insurance mandates in the bill. Just this portion increases deficits by a trillion dollars over 10 years!

Want to be scared? Here's his long term budget outlook. Keep in mind, it's based on current programs, not including the proposed legislation on health care. As he points out, current mandatory program spending (Social Security, Medicare, etc) is unsustainable. Now we want to add a hundred or so billion to that unsustainable trajectory each year.

A few things about the CBO, it's a non-partisan office. Congress in the past has agreed to use CBO estimates; not congressional staff estimates; when deciding what something will cost. The Democrats have tossed that idea out the window on health care reform. They don't want you to get someone elses numbers.

One of the problems with CBO scoring is that it uses "static" numbers to do it's calculations. It's almost always overestimated the effect of a tax increase, and the amount of deficit added by tax breaks.

In the case of health care, their trillion dollar increase in the deficit is based on the idea that none of the folks getting hit with a surtax on their income will adjust their income to reduce that tax burden. History shows us the vast majority of them will, and the amount of taxes collected will be considerably lower than what's projected.

Before you believe what your Congressman, Senator or President are telling you about the health care reform, check out those links. Then ask yourself, are you willing to pass that much deficit on to your children and grandchildren, since they'll be the one's paying for it.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Creepy Commercials

Yesterday was an "office day" for me. I needed to get maintenance done on the work truck, catch up on some paperwork, and schedule some jobs.

In between all of that I made a detour to Wal-Mart and picked up a 42" Sanyo HDTV. I've been hemming and hawing for months about getting one; when the price on a decent one that size got down to the low $600's, I decided it was time to plunk down the cash.

Set up was easy, as was dealing with Comcast to pick up a new HD/DVR converter box. In fact, I was doing paperwork and making phone calls while watching the news at noon in HD.

Two quick discoveries though. All of the new Prius commercials become creepier when you realize the sun and plants are all people dressed like flora and fauna and solar flares. And porn may not be necessary ever again. If I just DVR all of the "Everyday Italian" episodes on FoodNetwork HD, Giada looks more awesome than I thought when the color is clear and the picture is huge.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Junk Science Equals Junk Mail

I posted my letter to the Illinois Senators last week. I got an immediate auto reply from Roland Burris, and nothing else.

I thought Dick Durbin ignored me, but he didn't. His reply got caught by the junk mail filter, and until I checked it yesterday, I didn't realize he'd sent anything back. I guess Outlook '07 knows that junk science equals junk mail.

Here is the Senator's reply. I basically echo's the presidents sentiment that global warming is a non-debatable thing. It's happening, even if 700 scientists think it's not.

Dear Mr. Beller:

Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding the creation of a national "cap-and-trade" program to address global warming. I appreciate hearing from you.

As a part of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, President Obama laid out his proposal for the creation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming. Specifically, President Obama's proposal would cap greenhouse gas emissions at 14 percent below the 2005 levels by 2020, with a goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050.

By tackling the sources of climate change and taking steps now to reduce the impacts of global warming, we can protect our environmental future while expanding our economy. If we choose to ignore global warming and its consequences, we are placing our planet and our future in grave danger and could face large-scale environmental and economic dislocations that threaten our national security.

Although some see it differently, mainstream scientists have accumulated overwhelming evidence that the global warming problem is real and that we can't afford to wait any longer to act. Most scientists believe that increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will raise the earth's temperature by as much as three to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. This temperature change could produce catastrophic changes in our climate.

I am confident that our nation has the ingenuity and technical savvy to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A market-based cap-and-trade system can set the ground rules for private competition, to help us achieve the necessary goals as inexpensively as possible. At the same time, we must provide industries with sufficient time to prepare for new standards and ensure that consumers are not subject to sudden cost increases.
Your voice is a valuable part of this discussion. I will keep your concerns in mind as the Senate considers legislation on this matter.
Thank you again for your message. Please feel free to stay in touch.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Letter to the Senators

This is the letter I sent to my two Senators, Dick Durbin and Roland Burris about Cap and Trade.

Dear Senator,

Soon your chamber, like the House of Representatives will try and ram through the Cap and Trade legislation to transform our energy policy.

Like the House will the Senate be voting on 1200 pages of legislation that no member has had time to read?

Will you and Senator Burris have the courage to come home and tell us the truth of the costs of this bill in the Midwest, where coal electricity is the prevalent source?
Will you repeat to them what the President said, that "electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket" under cap and trade? Or will you repeat his claim that this will create thousands of new jobs, even though the European experience with Cap and Trade has been just the opposite?

Will both of you go downstate, and tell the families who earn their livings in the coal mines that the bill is designed to put them out of work?

Will you come to Abbott Labs in North Chicago, or Baxter in Round Lake, and tell the folks there that their jobs will probably move to a facility overseas? Abbott and Baxter use a lot of coal generated steam for their drug processing, under this legislation productions costs will skyrocket.

Will you tell those people that the double whammy of the proposed health care legislation and energy legislation will make it necessary for their jobs to move for their company to survive?

I don't believe you have the political courage to do this sir. Instead, I think what will happen is if it passes you'll have lunch with the limousine liberals on the North Shore, and tout what a great thing you've done for the environment. You’ll ignore what it's going to do to the working men and women in your state and their families, the people your party claims to be the champions for.

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