Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

Republican leaders continue to embarrass themselves on healthcare reform

Posted by sanityinjection on July 14, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just released the latest version of a Republican healthcare bill to replace Obamacare. And almost immediately, the bill is in danger of failing a procedural vote just to allow it to be debated. And so, like the sand in the hourglass, these are the days of the Republican-controlled Congress, marked chiefly by a complete inability to accomplish anything of importance. But the paralysis on healthcare is especially embarrassing because this is the issue on which so many Republican legislators ran. Remember the refrain: “Repeal and replace!” It seems like forever ago now.

The danger is very real that voters will punish a do-nothing Congress in the next election. Republican voters who believed the promises will be especially ticked off. So knowing this, why can’t the GOP caucus get its act together?

The problem, as usual, is that leadership is over-complicating the bills. In order to try to please and gain the support of all three wings of the party – liberal, centrist, and conservative – they keep adding things to the legislation to win over these groups. Of course, since those factions have very different goals, each thing leadership adds ends up losing more votes on one side than it gains on the other.

What McConnell and his team should do now is abort this latest bill and start fresh by remembering *why* Republicans were opposed to Obamacare in the first place. It wasn’t because they were against expanding access to health insurance for the poor. For most, it wasn’t even because they opposed spending more federal money on healthcare. No, think back and recall that there was one single provision of Obamacare that Republicans across the spectrum were dead-set against. That was the individual mandate, which forces Americans to purchase health insurance and fines us if we don’t.

The individual mandate is prima facie unconstitutional (I don’t care what the Supreme Court said.) It is difficult to imagine a similar federal law requiring Americans to purchase any other good or service. It’s also thinly disguised socialism, as the purpose of the mandate is to force wealthier and healthier people to pay into the insurance system to subsidize the premiums of poorer and sicker people.

The essence of effective legislating is not letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Or to put it another way,  a small victory is always better than a large failure. The only way I can see for Republicans to salvage something out of the healthcare mess is to simply pass a stripped-down bill that only does one thing: repeal the individual mandate. GOP legislators would then be forced to either support the bill or be caught nakedly going back on their campaign promises without any extra language they can point to to justify their opposition. It should be able to get enough Republican votes to pass both the House and Senate.

Of course, the Democrats will scream that repealing the individual mandate will “kill children” because of the socialist funding system mentioned above. This polemic, however, can be easily undercut by establishing a private, non-profit charitable fund to help pay for health insurance for those who cannot afford it but are ineligible for Medicaid. Contributions to the fund, however, will be a matter of public record. Then it will be up to the Democrats to get all their rich Hollywood celebrity friends, and George Soros, to put *their* money, instead of our money, where their mouths are. Heck, if they want to, they can buy multiple health insurance policies for themselves to put more money into the system. But once again, there will be no political place to hide on either side of the aisle.

I’m not under any illusion that anything as sensible as what I’ve just outlined is going to happen. Over-complicating things is what keeps Washington going, it’s what pays the salaries of all the bureaucrats and lobbyists. It’s an excellent example of why bigger government invariably becomes worse government.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Health reform a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats?

Posted by sanityinjection on March 22, 2010

Tunku Varadarajan has got it mostly right over at The Daily Beast. As House Democrats celebrate their victory in passing health care reform, they have handed Republicans a very powerful weapon for this fall’s midterm elections. The GOP is now advocating a repeal of the new law, which would require veto-proof Republican majorities in both the House and Senate – probably impossible, but it makes a great pitch to fundraise and campaign on. Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans oppose this legislation, and worse – they know that their legislators know that and voted for it anyway. Although I would not go so far as to say as Varadarajan does that Obama’s re-election in 2012 is at stake (there’s a lot of terrain to cover between now and then), the 2010 election prospects for Democrats were grim to begin with and are only getting uglier in the wake of yesterday’s vote. 

Particularly vulnerable are the 8-10 conservative, anti-abortion Democrats who, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, eventually voted Yes after holding out for the meaningless sop of an executive order from the President promising that the government would not start funding abortions. These Democrats have managed to alienate both liberal and conservative voters, and if the GOP picks up their seats they are likely to stay Republican for the foreseeable future.

Democrats could be facing a situation in which they have purchased health care reform at the cost of giving up their control of Congress and their ability (as well as the President’s ability) to pursue other liberal goals such as climate change legislation.

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This is what bipartisanship looks like

Posted by sanityinjection on March 4, 2010

In the latest advance for doublespeak, Democrats in Washington are busy trying to redefine “bipartisanship”. Apparently now the Democrats’ health care bill is “bipartisan” even if no Republicans vote for it. The President has helped out by cosmetically grafting token acknowledgement of a few GOP suggestions onto the existing bill (how do you have a “pilot program” of malpractice reform??)

Ironically, at the very same moment, the very same Congress is engaging in *real* bipartisan efforts on a different issue – climate change. A truly bipartisan group comprised of Senators Kerry (D), Lieberman (I), and Graham (R) are trying to forge a compromise that will get Republicans on board with a climate bill. Unlike on health care, they’re doing it by actually responding to GOP concerns.

The compromise proposal eliminates the idea of “cap-and-trade” which has drawn so much Republican opposition. It proposes to apply separate emissions restrictions on an industry by industry basis, rather than forcing all sectors to meet the same targets. The bill would also include new initiatives for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling., items that Republicans generally support.

And the approach is working, at least initially, with Republicans and conservative Democrats indiciating a willingness to seriously consider a revised bill along these lines.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating for such a bill. I am simply pointing out that contrary to popular belief, bipartisan negotiations are not some ancient lost art that has vanished from Washington. So when Democrats are running around saying it’s impossible to create a bipartisan health care bill, or worse yet, playing fast and loose with the very definition of the word, it’s *not* because they have no choice. It’s because they have been intent on ramming their own priorities down America’s throat from day one and have never had any intention of compromising. They are engaged in a giant charade designed to fool the American people.

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Televised bipartisan health care meeting a good step

Posted by sanityinjection on February 8, 2010

As much as I have criticized President Obama and his Administration in this space, I have tried hard to give them credit when they do something right. The White House plans to hold a televised discussion on health care reform with Congressional leaders from both parties. This is a step toward fulfilling President Obama’s previous promises that health care legislation would be discussed publicly and crafted in a bipartisan fashion.

Of course, make no mistake about it, the Administration is only doing this because its hand has been forced – by disagreements within the Democratic caucus and by the loss of a Senate supermajority with Senator Brown’s election. Until recently, the Administration was only too happy to ignore its promises and try to ram through a partisan bill. Now that they can’t, it’s a new ball game, and Democrats are rightly worried that voters will punish them if they fail to keep their promises. As the saying goes, better late than never.

It’s possible that nothing may come of this conference. President Obama remains resistant to starting over from scratch on health care, and it seems unlikely that Republican opposition can be mollified by adding a couple of their ideas to a bill that they detest. Still, an open and inclusive process is an improvement in itself. Most of the biggest legislative achievements over the past hundred years or so came about with bipartisan support. Working with members of both parties tends to exclude extremist ideas and focus on those that can attract more broad support.  It also creates a give and take process – you get one of your ideas in the bill, we get one of ours. This can be time consuming, but as we have seen, one party rule is not necessarily fast or efficient either.

It’s a sad comment on the state of affairs in Washington when the occasion of Democrats and Republicans – and the Administration – actually talking to each other seems like progress. But progress it is, and let’s hope to see more of it.

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Brown’s win in Massachusetts is a national game changer

Posted by sanityinjection on January 20, 2010

It would be impossible to overstate the significance of Republican Scott Brown’s surprising win last night in the special election for Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts. I am speaking not simply of what a GOP win in the bluest of blue states implies about the ability of Republicans to compete in blue districts nationwide, but also the ripple impact that the success of his populist campaign will have in almost every area of American politics. Democrats will be forced to make changes in their thinking as well as Republicans.

Consider the following developments today that can be attributed directly to Brown’s win:

  • The Obama Administration’s embattled nominee to head the TSA, who until now has vigorously resisted calls to step down,  has withdrawn, knowing that Brown represented another likely vote against him.
  • President Obama has instructed Democrats not to try to ram through a health-care bill before Brown can be seated. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House, who until now had been holding out for nationalized health care, are recommending that the Obama Administration start over from scratch with health care reform and pursue a scaled-back compromise approach that can win bipartisan support, knowing that the current bills are effectively DOA with Brown in the Senate: “If there isn’t any recognition that we got the message and we are trying to recalibrate and do things differently, we are not only going to risk looking ignorant but arrogant.” (Rep. Anthony Weiner , D-NY.) What? A bipartisan approach to an issue of major importance? What a strange idea…almost like suggesting that one political party shouldn’t try to ram its own agenda through the legislature!

And folks, that’s in less than 24 hours. Make no mistake about it, the playing field of American politics is vastly different today than it was yesterday. Even Scott Brown could not possibly have imagined this when he first decided to run for the Senate months ago. In my not-so-humble-opinion, this is a great day not just for Republicans, but for everybody who believes that no election should be “safe” and no elected official should be immune from being held accountable to the voters. The Democrats who run for election or re-election in 2010 will do a better job of articulating their views and listening to their voters because of what happened in Massachusetts. The Republicans who run will be better candidates now that qualified individuals believe they can win. And the biggest beneficiaries of all will be the voters, who will get to make real choices between different political policies and philosophies. That’s why turnout in Massachusetts was so high – for once, that Silent Majority of independents knew that their votes would really count and make a difference. And hopefully they will again in November.

To paraphrase a line from an old TV show: It’s 2010…let’s be careful out there.

Disclaimer: I’m personally acquainted with Senator Brown. That’s why I haven’t written about his race until now – I did not want to let my own personal feelings color my judgment. Obviously I’m thrilled for Brown and his family.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Are Republicans just the party of “No”?

Posted by sanityinjection on November 4, 2009

When Republican Senators and Congressmen have objected to Democrat initiatives supported by the President – such as the health care reform bill and the climate cap-and-trade bill – one of the criticisms leveled at the GOP (and dutifully repeated ad nauseam by the Obamedia) is that they are simply obstructionists who say “No” and never offer any counter-proposals of their own.

Of course, this is not true. Republican House and Senate leaders almost always offer alternate legislation on every major issue, which is routinely rejected by the Democrat majority and quite deliberately ignored by the media. Which makes the charge of obstructionism appear legitimate to the average person.

Case in point: The House Republican leadership, headed by Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, is working on a draft of its own proposal for health care reform. They plan to offer the bill when debate starts on the issue within the next week or so.

Compared to the Democrats’ 1,990-page legislation, the Republican draft currently stands at 230 pages, according to the Associated Press which has obtained an advance copy.  Here is a quick summary of what the GOP bill looks like:

  • Does not force more businesses to provide health insurance or force citizens to purchase it, but allows small businesses to pool together to purchase health care for their employees
  • Does not force insurance companies to accept everyone with a pre-existing condition into their general risk pool of policies. Instead, those patients would be able to buy into expanded high-risk pools.
  • Makes it easier to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to pay for insurance premiums
  • Limits medical malpractice liability for punitive damages after the model enacted in California and Texas, thereby reducing costs and unnecessary procedures
  • Rewards states for programs that save money and reduce the number of uninsured
  • Increases competition by allowing citizens to purchase health insurance across state lines
  • Protects individuals from having their health insurance policy arbitrarily cancelled by their insurer

One other item in the bill is stronger language prohibiting federal funding of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother. While I personally agree with that, I think it may alienate some who could otherwise have supported the bill.

The GOP bill presents a very clear choice compared to the Democratic proposal. The Democrat bill is focused on establishing universal health care for all Americans at a massive cost which is only partially paid for by raising taxes. The Republican bill is focused on reducing the costs of health insurance across the board, thereby helping both those who already have insurance and those who will be able to afford it for the first time.

To make an analogy: If a poor child and a rich child’s toys fall into a deep well, which is the best way to get them out? The Democrat way would be to make the rich child’s parents hire a crane to lower a maintenance worker down into the well to grab one toy, hoist the person out with the toy and then send them back down again for the other toy. Of course, if the toys later fell in again the whole expensive process would have to be repeated. The Republican way would be to have both children fetch pails of water and empty them into the well until the water level rises enough to bring all the toys floating to the surface and preventing the problem from occurring again.

Why not let the people choose?

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What does NY-23 mean for the GOP?

Posted by sanityinjection on November 2, 2009

All the buzz in political circles today is about something called “NY-23”. That’s the abbreviation for the 23rd Congressional District of New York State. The reason for the hubbub is that the official GOP candidate in the race, Dede Scozzafava, has dropped out after conservatives surged to support third-party Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman – who doesn’t even live in the district. Hoffman is now likely to beat the Democrat candidate and win the seat, but some on both sides of the aisle are suggesting that this heralds the radicalization of the GOP and the end of moderates in the party.

As usual, the case is being overstated. First of all, Scozzafava had been handpicked by the local GOP county chairs and voters probably resented the echo of 19th century backroom politics. Second, Scozzafava wasn’t just a moderate Republican who could appeal to Democrats and independents. She was in the mold of Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Lincoln Chafee – far to the left of most Republicans in her district on both social *and* economic issues. In other words, in the GOP, you can be soft on abortion, or you can be soft on government spending, but you can’t be soft on both. Otherwise, why on earth are you a Republican at all?

If Hoffman’s coup really signalled the end of moderate influence in the GOP, that would be cause for concern. But as usual, the media and the political talking heads are reading too much into one event simply because it’s the only game in town. It was a far bigger coup in 1964 when Barry Goldwater captured the Republican nomination for President, and we were told that the moderate wing of the GOP was finished then too.  And certainly a conservative movement did spring from that, culminating in Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. But let’s not forget that Gerald Ford defeated Reagan for the nomination in 1976, and George Bush Sr. fended off a right-wing challenge from Pat Robertson in 1988. Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008 were not the most conservative candidates either. So spare me the funeral dirges for the moderate wing of the GOP just yet.

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F*** the rich

Posted by sanityinjection on July 15, 2009

Apaprently, that’s the new motto of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Their newly unveiled health care expansion bill proposes to pay for its $1.2 trillion cost primarily by way of a new surtax (surtax means, “on top of all the other taxes they already pay”) of between 1 and 5.4% on those who earn more than $350,000 annually.

For the record, let me state that I don’t make anything close to that figure and probably never will. So I have no immediate self-interest at stake if such a tax is imposed. But I’m appalled that the party controlling our federal government has apparently committed itself to wide-scale redistribution of wealth – punishing those who have been successful in order to help those who have not.

You have probably heard the economic arguments a million times, how taxing the rich simply shrinks the overall economic pie by diminishing investment capital. (In fact, something like 60% of tax revenue already comes from just the top 5% of earners.) I’m not going to belabor this point, as true as it is.

Instead, let me make a philosophical argument. Most of us accept the principle of paying taxes to the government to support the essential services that government provides (though we often disagree about what those services should be.) We like to imagine that every American makes a contribution – though in fact huge swathes of people pay no federal taxes at all because of their low incomes. (I am not convinced that someone who makes $20,000 a year can’t afford $1 in federal taxes as opposed to $0.) We also like to imagine that every American pays a fair percentage of their income in taxes. (In fact, wealthy Americans not only pay more in absolute dollars – which they should – but are taxed at higher rates determined arbitrarily.)

However, it should make us uneasy when the government starts singling out groups of taxpayers and making them pay more in taxes while others are spared. Imagine, for example, if the federal government decided that Asian-Americans should be taxed at a higher rate because they are, on average, better educated and more successful than other Americans, and can “better afford to pay.” I think we would all agree that would be an outrage.

So why isn’t it an outrage when the group in question is defined by income level? People who make $350,000 or more are not crooks who take advantage of the poor; they are ordinary Americans who have worked hard to become successful in their fields, and generally added great value to our economy by creating jobs, developing new products and services, or expanding consumer access. They are already paying *more* than their fair share under our current tax system. To impose an additional surtax is just punitive.

With each passing day of this Administration, our government’s policies seem more and more to reflect the maxim, “From each according to ability; to each according to need.” If that sounds familiar, it should – it is one of the founding principles of socialism – and an official slogan of the Soviet Union. Is that what we want to model our country after? Was that model so stunningly successful that it should be resurrected here in America?

Keep this in mind when you hear the Democrats talking about the “ability to pay” of the wealthy and those who “need” subsidized health care. They are not trying very hard to conceal their goal here. I just wish there were more voices outside the Republican Party (Nobody takes Republicans seriously when they cry socialism anymore) willing to stand up and denounce this for what it is. Middle America needs to remember that, to paraphrase Martin Niemoller, if they do not speak out on behalf of the rich now, there will be no one left to speak out for them, when our government eventually comes for them.

Our society will self-destruct when we reach the point where all those who are productive are sucked dry of their lifeblood in order to nurture those who are not. Don’t look now, Ayn Rand, but Atlas is shrugging.

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GOP – the party of ideas?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 4, 2009

When Republican leaders in the House and Senate speak out in opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposals, one of the frequent retorts is that it’s easy for the GOP to just become the party that says “No” to everything. In other words, if the GOP doesn’t like the Democrats’ proposals, it is not enough just to shoot them down – they should propose alternatives.

This is a reasonable criticism for any opposition party. The twist, though, is that the Republicans *do* present alternative ideas – but most people don’t realize it because the media is careful not to give them too much exposure.

Case in point: The Republicans told the Administration that their budget is too big and they should make more cuts. President Obama’s response was, “OK then, let’s hear *your* suggestions for what should be cut.” This puts the GOP on the spot. Instead of just being obstructive, now they had to think about cuts that could realistically be made in this political environment (with a Democrat-controlled Congress) if the President were to adopt their suggestions. So, for example, abolishing the Department of Education was not going to be on the list.

AP’s Andrew Taylor writes that the GOP did in fact rise to the challenge and identified 37 different programs that could be cut to save some $23 billion. You can read some of the details here. Of course, that amount alone is not going to solve our budget problems. The point, though, is that the Republicans offered constructive suggestions, which is what opposition parties are usually accused of failing to do.

In particular, House GOP Leader John Boehner and GOP Whip Eric Cantor have consistently proven to be the voices of reason in Washington over the past few months. And yet most Americans probably have never heard of either of them, thanks to media outlets that consider the President’s NBA Finals prediction more worthy of coverage than serious policy proposals.

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Obama nominates Sotomayor for Supreme Court: First thoughts

Posted by sanityinjection on May 26, 2009

It is tempting to rush to judgment concerning President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Judge Sotomayor has a fairly extensive judicial record which is already being mined by the media for juicy tidbits.

However, there is a reason that the Senate holds confirmation hearings. Judge Sotomayor should be afforded the opportunity to participate, through her statements,  in the public re-definition of herself as a jurist that accompanies every Supreme Court nomination. So, like the Senate GOP, I am going to refrain from taking a position until I’ve heard more from the judge herself.

I will make a few comments, though. The first is that as a general rule, I think the President should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his nominees – for the Court, the Cabinet, or any position. A difference in political ideology should not be sufficient grounds to oppose a Presidential nominee. Sotomayor is unquestionably a liberal. Well, duh. Did you think Obama was going to appoint a conservative? If he were to withdraw Sotomayor’s nomination for any reason, his second choice is not going to resemble Antonin Scalia. So it would be silly for the GOP to oppose Sotomayor simply because she’s a liberal. Nor does Sotomayor’s record suggest that she votes in a knee-jerk or thoughtless fashion. In fact, she’s rather known for aggressive questioning of appellants.

Of course, the judicial record I mentioned above contains a number of controversial items that I would argue are legitimate areas of concern. For example, Sotomayor is on record as stating that the Second Amendment only applies to the federal government and not to the several states. That argument, generalized to cover the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights, would allow states to abrogate rights such as free speech and freedom of religion if their state constitutions allow it. Thus, I will be eager to hear how Sotomayor chooses to put this portion of her record in context when it comes up during the hearings, as it surely will.

However, one must keep in mind the political context of this nomination. Assuming no major bombshells arise to derail the nomination, Obama can count on the votes of most Democratic Senators and one or two Republicans, who do not care to vote against her because she is (pick one) liberal, female, or Hispanic. This means that no matter how long the blustering goes on, Sotomayor is likely to be confirmed. Conservatives will have to gauge whether it is worth making a stink over Sotomayor’s record and risk being painted as racist or sexist for opposing her.  The GOP may choose to save its ammo for a later fight when Obama nominates John Paul Stevens’ successor. Also, the hearings will probably take place over the summer when fewer Americans are paying attention to politics. So there’s less to be gained by grandstanding by either side.

At the end of the day, I believe that unless a Presidential nominee proves to be seriously flawed in qualifications or character, we should defer to the President’s preferences, whether that President is a Republican or a Democrat. (I have not forgotten the political assassination of Judge Robert Bork, one of the most qualified individuals ever nominated to the Court, by Democrats on purely ideological grounds.) The question is whether Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings will magnify today’s concerns to prove to be such flaws, or not. Like political junkies everywhere, I will eagerly await the answer.

But the outcome of this should be important to all Americans. Not because Sotomayor is female (not the first or even second woman on the Court) or Hispanic (a first, but there’s always going to be another first – first Albanian-American, first disabled person, etc. – when does it stop being the primary method of viewing people?), but because the nine members of the Supreme Court are among the most powerful people on earth – as powerful as the President in their collective ability to make decisions that affect the lives of ordinary Americans – think Dred Scott, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade, just for starters. What that means is that we should all hope for a nominee who takes the responsibility of being a Supreme Court Justice with the greatest of seriousness, and who will use her or his legal experience and understanding of the Constitution to make decisions based on the body of American law, not to advance a particular political agenda, but rather to hold any and all political agendas subject to the same scrutiny and standards. Liberals dissatisfied with the Court up until now have felt that the majority of the Justices have not done so; if that is the case (and I don’t agree that it is), replacing a partisan activist Court with another one swinging in the opposite direction is not a victory for the rule of law, only an Orwellian swap between the oppressors and the oppressed (Read 1984!)

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