Government reopened, for now

By: Dave Palmer

The federal government has reopened and the debt ceiling raised in yet another 11th hour deal in Congress. Late in the evening October 16th, President Barack Obama signed the Congressional bill, narrowly averting a first-ever default on the nation’s debt and putting the government back to work after 16 days of shutdown.

Right about now, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are probably wiping beads of anxious sweat from their brows as they return to work and begin receiving paychecks again. They will rest a bit easier thanks to the provision contained in Wednesday’s deal to provide back pay to workers who were laid off or had to work without pay because of the shutdown. Many millions more across our nation who don’t work for the government no doubt are breathing a bit easier knowing that our government plans to pay its bills on time and all the doomsday prophecies of skyrocketing interest rates and other financial amercement will not come true.

At least for now.

Reuters reported that the current deal funds the government through January 15, and extends the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority until February 7, pending talks and debate over a long-term deficit reduction plan. Based on the Tea Party’s shenanigans in Congress as of late, we will no doubt be back to government by brinksmanship come January 3rd. January 14th will probably be another 11th hour Congressional session, with Tea Party members clamoring for cuts in spending without specifying what cuts to make.

And no, recommending cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and the Post Office doesn’t count. Social Security and Medicare are 100% funded by payroll taxes, and the only reason they contribute to the deficit is because Congress borrows from the funds in the form of Treasury Bills, which get cashed in when the two trust funds need money. As far as the Post Office goes, it has never received money from the government or taxpayers. It is 100% funded by the postage it charges to deliver mail and packages.

However, according to the Tea Party, facts have a liberal bias. In fact, any fact or opinion that is not consistent with their talking points has a liberal bias, even if it comes from a more moderate Tea Party member. The sequestration that they demanded and got did not work to improve the economy, it only made it slightly worse. The cuts to discretionary spending that they demanded and got did nothing to help the country. Instead, more people ended up in the government social safety net that they say is destroying America.

This time around, they had the unmitigated gall to attempt to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage over defunding President Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Depending on who you talk to in the Tea Party, either the law will kill thousands of jobs, the law will cost the country way too much to implement, or the law will be a huge and gigantic failure that should be stopped before it has a chance to fail.

Never once did they propose an alternative to the ACA that didn’t involve provisions already in the ACA, or that would bring the country back to the outmoded model of private insurance that allowed insurance companies to deny their customers a service for which they’ve already paid based on a “pre-existing condition.” To top all that off, House Republicans actually changed the House Rules to state that only a Republican could bring the Senate bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, according to the Huffington Post. (Check out this video on You Tube to see a House Democrat take House Republicans to task for this fact.)

So, what exactly have they accomplished in all their huffing and puffing over a law that may allow millions of Americans to finally be able to afford health insurance? According to the Washington Post, an estimated $20 billion was sucked from the U.S. economy, and over 900,000 jobs killed. Standard and Poor’s estimates the combined costs of closing the government, reopening it, money that federal workers were unable to spend, tourism dollars not spent at national parks and their gateway towns among other associated economic costs to be closer to $24 billion.

Most Americans can agree that federal spending has ballooned out of control. Cuts can be made to reign in the deficit and start paying down our debt, so long as they are made in the right places. A better place to start than domestic spending is the spending our government does outside the country. Congress could vote to cut foreign aid to countries that no longer need it for economic development, and close some of the military bases in countries that have both a stable government and a functioning military such as the bases in Japan that have been there since World War II.

Another consideration for deficit elimination and debt reduction is the elimination of tax loopholes that allow companies and corporations to profit from sending jobs overseas, the elimination of subsidies that pay agribusiness to not produce crops, and subsidies to oil companies and other corporations that don’t need them. We could also close loopholes that allow hedge fund managers to declare their entire income as capital gains which allow them to pay a tax rate of 15% or less, considering the wealthy are far more likely to sit on their money than spend it as compared to the middle class.

The bottom line is that hurting citizens of our own country with austerity cuts to social safety net programs, cuts to infrastructure building/maintenance, and cuts to other domestic programs that do nothing to improve life in general for the citizenry of this great country. Article I, Section 8 states, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…” Congress needs to ether perform that duty, or we the people need to make sure they do not see another term in office.

Government Shut Down Over Affordable Health Care

By David Palmer

October 1st this year marks two historic events: The implementation of the health care exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act which will allow consumers to shop nationwide for affordable health insurance, and the first government shutdown in 17 years over people having access that affordable health insurance.

House Republicans have been threatening to shut down the government over either delaying, defunding, or completely repealing President Obama’s signature legislative achievement pretty much since the law was signed into being in 2009. So far, they have wasted over 40 separate “symbolic” votes to repeal the ACA, knowing full well that such a measure could never pass the Senate, and would be subject to a presidential veto if somehow the measure passed to the President’s desk. (That’s several million dollars of taxpayer money wasted.)

Up until this point, shutdown was avoided in 11th hour agreements that only amounted to band-aids that attempted to stop the bleeding from the femoral artery of our government’s deficit and debt ceiling, albeit they were craftily designed not to be a permanent solution. It seems that House Republicans have not grown tired these past five years of holding the government hostage to their twisted ideology. Their misguided idea is that the ACA will somehow bring doom and gloom to small and large businesses alike, causing them to hemorrhage jobs, and that somehow the government will be able to dictate which doctors and hospitals you will be able to go to.

The truth could not be further from their beliefs. Since the individual mandate portion of the ACA requires all Americans to purchase health insurance from existing companies, it is still insurance companies who are limiting choices in terms of doctors and hospitals. No doubt, insurance companies are limiting health care options for consumers so they can offer broadened stock and salary options to their upper management all while showing on paper they are using 80% of their proceeds to pay for their customers’ health care.

As far as businesses being “forced” to lay people off or reduce full-time employees to part-time hours, that can be chalked up to good old-fashioned greed. The CEO’s of the companies laying people off and cutting hours never even once thought of reducing their own salaries by 10%, which might translate to millions in savings for their company. They would rather see their employees forced onto the state exchanges or onto the state unemployment system than forego the Bentley they plan on purchasing next month, even if foregoing that Bentley would save their own company.

Yes, House Republicans would rather seem hundreds of thousands of workers be furloughed without pay, see Medicare and Medicaid payments delayed, see delay in the processing of new veterans’ benefits claims than fix what they claim to be broken in the ACA, propose viable legislation of their own, or pay America’s bills. (The deadline to increase the debt ceiling is a mere 16 days away, and will probably result in yet another showdown in Congress.)

This government shutdown and the forced furloughing of workers of course will lead to these workers applying for unemployment benefits in their home states, and has been magnificently timed to coincide with the implementation of the ACA health insurance exchanges. When unemployment numbers for October show an uptick in unemployment claims, the Republicans are sure to pounce with a claim that the ACA somehow caused this uptick in unemployment. However, instead of telling the truth about how they perpetuated the increase in unemployment, they will try to claim that businesses have started mass layoffs to curb supposed mass price increases. (A complete farce of its own.)

The absolute truth of this matter is that our nation is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world. From the outside looking in, Congress amounts to a nursery full of babies ready to throw a temper tantrum the minute they don’t get every last thing that they want. They see 1/30th of our total government power taking control of governance that is supposed to be decided by majority rule. They see political leaders disenfranchise their own constituents in an attempt to cling desperately to power while we cry for UN sanctions and the bombing of despotic leaders in other countries that do the same thing.

Most of all, they see a nation bitterly divided over providing affordable health care to millions of Americans forced to do without it. They puzzle over why it is that we rely on a privatized health care system in which people can be denied lifesaving treatment because an insurance company purposefully wrote conflicting clauses into the contract to avoid paying benefits. Even the most conservative members of their government realize that a single payer health care system in which no one is denied treatment is the moral and just thing to do.

Yet, here we are, shutting down the government over forcing insurers to provide quality, low cost insurance to people with low incomes, pre-existing conditions, or a combination thereof. Congress is refusing to do its constitutionally mandated duty of paying the nation’s bills and passing legislation, which is grounds for impeachment. Since the House is technically in charge of drafting impeachment charges, the next best bet is to vote the bums out in 2014.

 

An Open Letter to Representative Kerry Bentivolio

By Dave Palmer

Dear Representative Bentivolio,

I was shocked and dismayed to hear that you support shutting down the government over the defunding of the Affordable Care Act. I must say that I cannot fully understand the reasons why you would support eliminating a law that is already helping millions of Americans find affordable health insurance, allowing people with pre-existing conditions to be approved for health care coverage, and realizing millions of dollars of savings for college students and young adults who will be allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance plan until they turn 26.

Even more egregious than casting a vote to deprive millions of Americans of health insurance is the fact that you are willing to allow the government to shut down over it. Military spouses will not receive paychecks for their significant others’ service. Veterans’ benefits will be delayed or checks not sent, and the same is true for Social Security benefits. You as a veteran should be fighting to preserve the prompt payment of military salaries and veterans benefits. If you cast a vote for government shutdown, you are sending a message to military families and senior citizens that you do not care for their needs, and would rather see them suffer financially over an ideological vote.

There is no doubt that there are problems with the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies are racing to jack up their rates before the provision that they must use 80% of their proceeds to provide medical care for their customers, a practice which should be investigated by Congress as price gouging. The individual mandate (a Heritage Foundation idea) simply enriches the insurance companies by requiring all Americans to purchase one of their products. This problem could be fixed with a single payer system, financed by eliminating tax loopholes that give tax breaks to corporations for investing in their foreign operations, shipping jobs overseas, limiting the mortgage interest write-off to a single domicile, and slashing subsidies provided to the likes of oil companies and Wal-Mart, who obviously do not need them.

If you proceed with casting your vote against millions of Americans with such pre-existing conditions as Type I diabetes, asthma, or even autism, then I will have no choice but to urge the rest of your constituency to join me in voting against you. If that is not enough to convince them, I will also remind them that the government shutdown you and your like-minded colleagues precipitated hurts military families and veterans, and despite your service record, could not be bothered to ensure that at they could pay their bills.

I urge to reconsider your position on the Affordable Care Act. As a representative and political leader, you need to consider reaching across the aisle to create meaningful changes to the Affordable Care Act that will make the law work better, not threaten to deprive people of health insurance, earned wages, and earned benefits. Be a leader and make effective change, not a follower of inflexible ideology.

Sincerely,

David Palmer

Affordable Government vs. Affordable Health Care

By Dave Palmer

Congress is approaching its summer recess, and according to MSNBC, a grand bargain over ending sequestration and creating a budget for the next fiscal year appears unlikely. Democrats are unlikely to agree to cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and other so-called entitlement programs given the Republican’s unwillingness to raise taxes. Meanwhile Republicans are torn between a faction of Senators led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, among other Senate Republicans who want to defund the Affordable Care Act  (popularly known as Obamacare) and those who see that move as a mistake.

House Republicans seem determined to raise defense spending while cutting non-defense programs to the point that their funding would not change from sequestration level. House Democrats want the sequester to end, noting that 300,000 to 1.6 million jobs could be added with the end of sequestration, but are again stymied by a refusal to increase taxes.

It is painfully obvious at this point that the 113th Congress is going to be just as ineffective as the 112th. Neither side has really come to govern, seeming content to just punch the clock and collect their paychecks. Every once and a while, a relatively meaningless bill will pass, but necessary spending bills that have historically had broad bi-partisan support are killed before a vote can be taken.

Thanks to Congressional gridlock, we got sequestration, a refusal to pass a farm bill, refusal to fund repairs to our crumbling infrastructure, and any bill that has the word “jobs” written into it anywhere almost immediately tabled. However, Senate Republicans are finding plenty of time to filibuster almost every Presidential appointee no matter how vital their post to government operation, while House Republicans have managed to fit in 38 different “symbolic” votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a vote on raising their pay.

Now, our entire government is on the brink of once again being held hostage with a ransom of cutting domestic programs, increasing defense funding (which is not necessary considering we are supposed to be winding down the Afghanistan war) and completely defunding a program that is already helping individuals and employers save money on health insurance. Anything but making sure that corporations and the 1% of the 1% pay their fair share of taxes. Anything but eliminating loopholes in the tax code that allows companies to get tax breaks for sending  jobs overseas and raising tariffs on goods imported from countries whose workers are paid 19 cents an hour.

No, we wouldn’t want anything quite as progressive as making sure that our government stays well-funded, solvent, and able to collect all of the money it is supposed to collect.

Instead, it would seem that Republicans want nothing more than to slow down the nation’s economy, ensure little to no job growth occurs, and make sure that a person with Type-1 diabetes can be rejected for health insurance on the basis of their “pre-existing condition.” Oh yeah, and they want to be able to gerrymander their congressional districts as they see fit so they can hang on to the power to hobble our government indefinitely while not having to fear losing an election due to their reactionary ideology.

The good news in all of this is that Senators and Representatives alike will be coming home. They won’t be distracted by either creating or fighting obstruction, so they’ll have plenty of time to get an earful from their constituents.

And an earful is precisely what we should give them. If Congress goes on recess at the end of this week without at least laying inroads to create a budget deal by October 1st, call, email, and snail mail all of them and say that you’re fed up with political brinkmanship and that you expect better things from someone who is getting paid six figures a year by tax-dollars deducted from our hard-earned paychecks. Tell them you want to be able to afford a home, a car, food, and healthcare without breaking the bank while holding down a job that pays a living wage.

SCOTUS made the right call in upholding the Affordable Care Act (Society’s Slideshow)

Thursday is usually the day that few people can really get the hang of. You’ve made it past the hump, but not quite to the weekend. However, Thursday, June 28 2012 will no doubt go down in history as a resounding judicial victory for the Obama administration as the Supreme Court voted to uphold the individual mandate and the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. That is, with a slight exception that lets states opt out of expanding Medicare coverage.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the opinion for the 5-4 majority, rejected the idea that the individual mandate falls under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to make laws that regulate interstate commerce. This is sound reasoning because people don’t shop for health care like they do for appliances. When you’re sick, yor don’t shop around for the best prices, you go to the closest place and try to get treatment.

He stated that the mandate does fall under Congress’s power to lay and collect taxes, stating “The  payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation,” referring to the penalty people would have to pay for choosing to go without health insurance.

Before anyone starts crying socialism, let’s not forget that Republicans were in favor of the individual mandate when the Affordable Care Act was being debated. They suddenly changed their mind and called the individual mandate unconstitutional and socialism the minute that Obama indicated his support for the individual mandate.

In that respect, Roberts has shown his conservative colors by upholding the individual mandate. He has stated that the government should not be involved in anything resembling a single-payer system, which is what Democrats wanted in the first place. Instead, he kept the government out of paying for the system, let individuals make their own decisions, and stated that the government is simply choosing to tax your choice to not purchase health insurance much like they tax your choice to purchase cigarettes.

Conservatives have wasted no time putting out advertisements and pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and replace it with a plan of their own design that they refuse to disclose to the public. The Republican controlled House has gone as far as to vow a vote on complete repeal of the Act as early as July 9. Though this move has almost no chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate, GOP governors are promising to ignore the Affordable Care Act until after the November election.

This brings to mind two very important questions: What is this magical plan the GOP wants to replace the Affordable Care Act with? Secondly, where do governors of states who are supposed to follow and enforce all federal laws get off saying they will ignore this one unless they get their way with a GOP controlled Congress and Presidency?

As I mentioned in the former paragraph, Republicans have not gone on record with the plan they wish to replace the Affordable Care Act with. So far, it seems that they would simply revert to the former status quo of insurance companies being able to reject people due to pre-existing conditions, charging women more for insurance than men, re-opening the “doughnut hole” in senior’s Medicare coverage, allowing insurance companies to institute outrageous co-pays for preventive services all while allowing insurance companies to give their CEO’s huge bonuses and salaries with our premium dollars.

Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if elected president, stating in his trademark non-positional way,  “Let’s make clear that we understand what the Court did and did not do. What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law, or that its good policy. Obamacare was bad policy yesterday, it’s bad policy today. Obamacare was bad law yesterday, it’s bad law today.” I guess he forgot about Romneycare in Massachusetts and how it was in every way similar to the Affordable Care Act.

It also seems that the GOP governors who have vowed to ignore the Affordable Care Act are promoting lawlessness in this country, and failing to uphold their sworn duties as elected officials. They made a vow to defend and protect the Constitutions of their states and of the United States, not pick and choose which laws they want to follow in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that makes a law they oppose constitutional.

When all is said and done 30 million Americans will benefit from the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies will have to use 80% of the premiums they collect toward providing preventive medicine and treatment for those who need it rather than searching for ways to reject a claim for health service. Companies will no longer be able to reject someone because of a pre-existing condition or charge women more for the same policy a man has. Several million 25 year olds will be able to remain on their parents’ insurance policies for another year while they sort out buying health insurance on their own. Seniors will be able to afford their groceries for the week and their prescriptions rather than having to make a choice between one or the other.

If Republicans want to repeal all of that, then it can hardly be stated that they have the interests of the entire nation in their minds.