Posts Tagged ‘Medicade’
The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 30, 2010
Veteran Democratic Rep. Brian Baird says that job creation should have been priority ‘number one, two and three.’
By JOHN FUND
It took Democrats in the House of Representatives 40 years to become out-of-touch enough to get thrown out of office in 1994. It took 12 years for the Republicans who replaced them to abandon their principles and be repudiated in 2006. Now it appears that the current Democratic majority has lost voter confidence in only four years.
How did this happen? And what does the increasing speed of voter backlash mean for Republicans who will likely take control next Tuesday?
For answers, I decided to chat up Rep. Brian Baird, a six-term Democrat from Washington state. Even though he’s never won re-election with less than 56% of the vote, Mr. Baird is retiring because the brutal congressional commute makes it impossible for him to see his twin five-year-old boys grow up. He’s not sticking around, like so many former members of Congress, to lobby inside the Beltway. That allows him to be candid about Congress and his party.
“It’s been an authoritarian, closed leadership. That style plus a general groupthink mentality didn’t work when Tom DeLay called the shots,” Mr. Baird says. “We’ve made some of the same damn mistakes, and we were supposed to be better. That’s the heartbreak.”
Mr. Baird, 54, is a loyal Democrat who voted for all of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legislative priorities, including the stimulus bill, cap and trade and ObamaCare. But he admits all three have serious flaws.
Mr. Baird recalls that he was “very excited” when his party took control of Congress in 2006, but he saw ominous signs early on. Before the 2006 election, he says, Mrs. Pelosi had 30 members working on a rules package to make the House more ethical and deliberative. “We abandoned all that work after the election, and leaders told us we should trust them to clean things up. I don’t know a single member of the Democratic caucus who saw the final rules package before they voted on it.”
Democrats also watered down efforts to practice fiscal responsibility. “We initially had numbers a bit more honest than the Republicans—we at least included war costs in the budget,” he says. “Now we’re authorizing programs for three years instead of five in an attempt to pretend we’re saving money.”
When President Obama was elected in 2008, Mr. Baird was again optimistic that Democrats could bring real reform. But fierce Republican partisanship and the White House decision not to focus on job creation as its “number one, two and three” priority dashed that hope.
“Obama decided we weren’t going to have a highway transportation bill because it might have required a gas tax increase,” he recalls. After passing a misdirected stimulus bill, Mr. Obama made the fatal error of pushing forward with other priorities: cap and trade, financial services reform, ObamaCare. Each became compromised quickly.
“You don’t get real reform by pandering to every special interest. With cap and trade we wound up with a bill that didn’t accomplish much, was enormously complicated and expensive.” Mr. Baird is especially upset that “good solid members will lose this fall because they took a tough vote for a cap-and-trade bill that never made it through the Senate.” He has told environmental groups that they lost sight of the goal of reducing carbon emissions by focusing on the minutia of regulation to achieve it.
For some of the shortcomings of financial regulatory reform, Mr. Baird blames the disillusioning battle over ObamaCare. “When the House had to pass the Senate version of health care unchanged, some members asked why should they invest the mental effort in mastering the details” of financial reform. Mr. Baird found parts of the bill mind-numbing.
Although he voted for it, he says he was troubled that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the entities at the heart of the housing meltdown, weren’t addressed. They have clearly exercised undue influence on Capitol Hill, he notes. “When I was first elected I was puzzled why they were holding events in my honor as a mere freshman. I asked myself, why is a federal entity so involved in political activity?”
Regarding health care, his specialty, Mr. Baird gave House Democrats real heartburn. He voted against the first version of ObamaCare in November 2009, because the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services hadn’t yet analyzed the bill’s impact on insurance premiums and medical costs.
“What the hell were we doing voting on this? I had labor groups come to me and insist the bill was so important we couldn’t wait to know what was in it,” he recalls. “I asked them if they were handed a new union contract and told it was so important they had to agree to it without reading it, would they go along?” They continued to insist he vote for the bill and threatened him with a primary challenger.
Mr. Baird had developed his own health-care proposal that drew on his 23 years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist treating patients with cancer and brain injuries. His plan would have provided universal health care but held down costs through vouchers for the poor, medical savings accounts for the middle class, and reform of malpractice insurance.
He admits to being frustrated that ideas like his never got a fair hearing in a Congress dominated by inertia and interest groups. “Our problems are now so grave we can’t afford petty partisanship and closed thinking,” he tells me.
The health-care bill experience spurred Mr. Baird to push harder for a “72-hour rule” that would require all non-emergency legislation to be posted online, in final form, for at least 72 hours before a floor vote. “Members are too often asked to make decisions on bills that can be longer than telephone books, and are given only a few hours to actually read them,” he complains. “Both parties are guilty, and both should stop doing it.”
Mrs. Pelosi eventually allowed a 72-hour pause before the final passage of ObamaCare, and Mr. Baird is pleased that Republicans have agreed to adopt the 72-hour rule if they take the House majority. He just hopes they honor it even when it’s inconvenient.
Mr. Baird stands by his vote for ObamaCare, noting that something had to be done for those denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions. But he acknowledges that the bill carried within it the seeds of its unpopularity. These include the nightmare mandate that all companies report to the IRS all of their business-to-business transactions over $600, so the government can capture unreported business income. At a recent forum with small business owners in his district, Mr. Baird was stunned at the complexity of the rules they now must follow.
“I warned my fellow Democrats that the insurance companies they were whacking could increase premiums just before the midterm election and blame them for it,” he sighs. “I pointed out that the major benefits wouldn’t kick in till 2014, but the costs were up front. I asked them, where was the political win? There was no real answer.”
In his new book, “Character, Politics and Responsibility,” Mr. Baird argues that in order to afford caring for the needy, liberals will have to challenge “unsustainable entitlements.” “I would eliminate the concept of entitlements and move to needs-based social insurance,” he says. “The key is to both promote personal responsibility while lowering expenditures by not promising or giving money or other benefits to those who don’t need it.”
Although Mr. Baird believes that Republicans blocked compromise on ObamaCare and that tea party activists raised false fears, he acknowledges the political harm that Democrats have done themselves. “It looks like we’re going to lose the House, possibly badly, and could lose the Senate,” Mr. Baird laments. “We will lose a lot of centrists while the people in the party some voters are most mad at survive in safe districts.”
“A lot of rethinking is needed” after Democrats take their drubbing, Mr. Baird says, especially since he anticipates “a huge number of retirements” from Democrats unwilling to serve in the minority. He proposes that the House elect an independent speaker who would help drain partisanship from the body. Britain’s House of Commons uses such a model.
Democrats, he says, will also have to recognize why they lost touch with voters. “Back in September, we had pollsters and strategists from my party tell members that the mass of people didn’t care about the deficit. The mind-boggling lack of reality coming from some of the people who give us so-called advice is stunning.”
I ask Mr. Baird what he would tell the incoming class of freshmen Republicans if given the chance to address them before the new Congress convenes. He summarized his bottom line:
“Governing isn’t as easy as you think. Many of you have taken pledges that are contradictory—to balance the budget and cut taxes, for example. You must be honest about the numbers, since our annual deficit now exceeds all discretionary spending combined. If you set as your goal to roll back the size of government, you have an obligation to answer the tough questions and show real courage, not just appeal to ideology. Treat the voters like adults.”
The Wall Stree Journal
AUGUST 11, 2010
Stimulus Pushers The latest bailout for public unions and spendthrift states.
To treat Washington’s spending addiction, the November elections are the taxpayer’s best chance to stage an intervention. But until then, President Obama and the Democratic Congress are determined to keep pushing strung-out state governments to take one more fix.
Witness yesterday’s 247-161 largely party-line House vote to approve a Senate bill shovelling another $26.1 billion out to state education and Medicaid programs. The White House has promoted the bill as emergency assistance for strained state budgets. But this unique brand of therapy drives states to spend more, not less. The “assistance” is so expensive that several governors were begging for relief even before Mr. Obama signed it into law.
Standing with teachers yesterday in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said, “We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe.” Maintaining the salaries and generous benefit plans for members of teachers unions is indeed a top Democratic priority. That’s why $10 billion of the bill’s funding is allocated to education, and the money comes with strings that will multiply the benefits for this core Obama constituency.
Specifically, the bill stipulates that federal funds must supplement, not replace, state spending on education. Also, in each state, next year’s spending on elementary and secondary education as a percentage of total state revenues must be equal to or greater than the previous year’s level.
Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi did the math and figured out his state will be worse off. Mr. Barbour says the bill will force his state “to rewrite its current year [fiscal 2011] budget. Preliminary estimates of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration show that we will now have to spend between $50-100 million of state funds—funds that must be taken away from public safety, human services, mental health and other state priorities and given to education—in order for an additional $98 million of federal funds to be granted to education. There is no justification for the federal government hijacking state budgets, but that is exactly what Congress has done.”
For Texas, and only Texas, this funding rule will be in place through 2013. This is a form of punishment because the Beltway crowd believes the Lone Star State didn’t spend enough of its 2009 stimulus money. Apparently Texas politicians have been clinging to the quaint notion that the government should try to live within its means.
Texans also seem to have an old-fashioned appreciation for the rule of law. On Friday, 22 GOP Members of the state’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “This provision would have Texas violate her own State Constitution,” they wrote. “The Texas Legislature has sole authority to determine State appropriations. Moreover, one Legislature cannot bind a future Legislature. Requiring the State to assure that a future Texas Legislature would commit to spend funds in accordance with these provisions would violate the Texas Constitution.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry is also opposed to this new “assistance” from the federal government. He understands that one-time payments that force permanently higher state obligations are a windfall for government employees. But if given the choice, taxpayers would just say no.
That’s because taxpayers are figuring out that these state bailouts are only making unions more reluctant to share their sacrifice. While Mr. Obama quotes the union figure of 160,000 potential lost teacher jobs, those don’t have to come out of the classroom. According to research by Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, student enrollment grew by 22% from 1990 to 2007, but teacher employment grew by 41%. Since 2000, enrollment has grown by 5% but teacher employment by 10%.
The unions themselves could have prevented some layoffs had they been willing to adjust their rich benefits. In Milwaukee, for example, nearly all of the 500 teacher layoffs announced earlier this year could have been avoided if the unions had agreed to change health plans that cost $23,000 per teacher per year for family coverage. They could have accepted a still-rich $17,000 plan. The unions chose the layoffs, betting (correctly) that Democrats in Washington would come to their rescue.
Keep in mind that this teacher bailout also amounts to a huge contribution by Democrats to their own election campaigns. The National Right to Work Committee estimates that two of every three teachers belong to unions. The average union dues payment varies, but a reasonable estimate is that between 1% and 1.5% of teacher salaries goes to dues. The National Education Association and other unions will thus get as much as $100 million in additional dues from this bill, much of which will flow immediately to endangered Democratic candidates in competitive House and Senate races this year.
So in the name of still another “stimulus,” Democrats are rewarding their own political funders, putting the most fiscally responsible states into even greater distress, and postponing the day of reckoning for spendthrift states. Oh, and Mr. Obama rushed to sign the bill Tuesday, violating his campaign pledge to give the public five days to read legislation online. As we say, the only way for voters to stop such fiscal abuse is to run this crowd out of town.