Monday, August 31, 2009

Tom Daley Answers The Republican Party's Augments Against Fixing The American Health Care System

Today Sam Johnson (R-TX 3rd Congressional Dist.) together with other North Texas Congressmen Joe Barton (R-TX 6th Dist.), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX 5th Dist.) and Pete Sessions (R-TX 32nd Dist.) held a health care town hall discussion at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. Congressman Johnson, who represents most of Collin Co. in the U.S. House, and the other honorable congressmen explained and defended the Republican Party's many augments against passing legislation to fix what is broken in the American health care system.

The following is a letter to the editor of this blog from Tom Daley, the Democratic Candidate who opposed incumbent Sam Johnson for the 3rd Congressional District U.S. House seat in the 2008 election. In his letter Mr. Daley answers the Republican Party's many augments against passing legislation to fix what is broken in the American health care system.


By Tom Daley
2008 Democratic candidate
U.S. House of Representatives,
TX 3th Congressional Dist
rict
The current debate about “healthcare reform” centers around one and only one issue: whether there will be a “public interest” option (currently called the “public option” in the media). There are a host of distractions offered by the Republicans in Congress and their acolytes in the paid media. Let me first deal with some of these distractions, myths, and lies, and then discuss the public interest option.

DISTRACTIONS, MYTHS, and LIES

MYTH: People are going to lose their power to choose. Truth: Today, very few have the absolute power to make their own healthcare decisions.

Only people healthy and wealthy enough to pay for medical care without using insurance have 100% freedom to make their own health care choices. That’s a small minority.
Your choices are greatly reduced once you depend on any insurance company to pay your bills. No matter which insurance company you purchase a plan from, that insurance company decides which doctors they will pay for, which treatments they will pay for, which pharmaceuticals they will pay for, and whether they will keep you as a customer from year to year.

Beware: insurance companies organize customers (they call them “risks”) into “risk pools.” They work like this: You and others who apply when you do get put into a risk pool and are charged a premium based on the risk that pool represents. Over time, people in that pool get sick, make claims, and increase the overall risk represented by that pool. In response, the insurance company raises the rates for everyone in that pool. Once the rates get high enough, all the healthy folks in that pool leave and buy a different policy with another insurance company and start all over again. Those that are too ill to qualify for a new plan with another insurance company are left behind in that risk pool, and their rates rise uncontrollably until the sick can no longer afford insurance or can no longer qualify for a new policy, and join the ranks of the uninsured. No matter how healthy or young you are, this story only ends one of two ways: you either pay enormous premiums or lose your insurance.

Well, there is a third option. You can be bankrupted by healthcare expenses and then qualify for a public option such as Medicaid. In this situation, a public option is viewed by the insurance industry as a good thing because it only insures those too poor to buy private insurance. Keep that in mind: a public option is good as long as it serves non-customers.

Most people obtain private health insurance coverage through their employer under a group plan. If you obtain your coverage this way, you have no choice in who the insurance company is, what they cover, or how much you pay. In fact, if you are in a higher level position with a company that provides group coverage, you might not have a choice to opt out of health insurance, unless you can prove you are otherwise covered. You MUST have health insurance. So much for choice.

The great thing about a group plan is that you can’t lose this kind of insurance. That is, as long as you’re healthy enough to work and your job hasn’t been exported overseas by a company trying to reduce its costs by laying you off. Now if the company survives after you lose your job, you can continue on that group plan for several months as long as you pay the full premium (COBRA). That’s right, as soon as your income goes to zero, you can keep your insurance as long as you can afford to pay three to four times what you had been paying when you had a job.

But even that is not your worst-case scenario. If the company files for bankruptcy or goes out of business, the insurance company calls “King’s X” and cancels the group policy (even though all the people who were in the group would happily continue to pay their premiums) and you don’t even get the choice of continuing with that coverage.

So as long as you’re healthy enough to work and you’re employer is healthy enough to keep you, you can have health insurance. Once either of those conditions fails, you’re on your own. And that takes you back to where we started: Try to purchase a private policy (if you are “insurable”), purchase from your state’s high-risk pool coverage (bad coverage, high premiums), or go broke paying healthcare expenses and wind up on one of the public options such as Medicaid.

Again, the insurance industry has no problem with you being able to “choose ” a public option, as long as you’re poor or present such a high risk that they no longer want you for a customer. A Public option is good as long as it serves non-customers. (A mantra so simple, even a caveman can remember it.)

So this argument that health insurance reform will eliminate choice is fraudulent, at best. The vast, vast majority of Americans have little or no choice at all under our current system. There’s nothing left to lose.

DISTRACTION: Under the President’s proposal, 119 million people will lose the coverage they have now through their work. This teeters on being a lie, but let’s give Sam Johnson the benefit of our serious doubts about him and treat it as a distraction. Under the President’s proposal, no one is required to change insurance companies. Period. What Sam and his ilk, who by the way has received 20% of his 2010 reelection funds from the healthcare industry, really mean is this:
1. If there is a public interest option, a non-profit entity covering people’s health insurance needs.
2. If the entity is non-profit, it will charge less than the PAC-filling, for-profit insurance companies.
3. If companies can buy equal insurance at a lower price, they might well choose (right, choice is for companies and politicians, not for people) to drop their for-profit carrier in favor of the lower cost non-profit.

But that’s a fraudulent argument as well. Every year employers re-bid their health insurance agreements and every year they either chose to stay with the current provider or move to a lower-cost provider. You, as the employee lucky enough to have one of the ever-diminishing number of full-benefit jobs, have no choice whatsoever. If your employer uses Blue Cross this year and you like your doctor who happens to accept Blue Cross, next year you may find yourself insured by United Healthcare and your doctor might not accept United Healthcare insurance. Still think you have a choice?

LIE: Healthcare reform will provide government benefits to illegal immigrants. This is an insidious lie. Sam Johnson and his fellow fear-mongering liars are so desperate to please their PAC overlords that they will jab their filthy hands into their constituents’ deepest fears and prejudices to fight this off. They know they can’t win by telling the truth, so they lie. Which in turn causes their supporters to lie because they’re too ignorant to do anything more than regurgitate whatever swill the Republican misleadership feeds them.

But here’s the truth: The President’s proposal does not cause any new dollars to be spent on healthcare for anyone, whether here legally or not.

DISTRACTION: Healthcare reform will mean that abortions are publicly funded through the public option. Again, the President has made clear that no new federal dollars are to be spent on reforming the health insurance industry. If that’s true, no matter how restrictive your views of women’s rights to self-determination, this little nugget, thrown out by Sam Johnson as an afterthought (thought?) is a distraction. Maybe it’s a lie. Yes, it’s a lie.

MYTH: If the President’s initiative fails, all will be great in the land of the “haves” and no worse for the “have nots.” That’s half true. If you don’t have health insurance now, whether public or private, defeating the President’s proposal will not make your life any worse. But if you do have employer-sponsored private health insurance now, your life is going to get a lot worse, particularly if you’re over age 60 or have a chronic illness.

Do you remember defined-benefit retirement plans? That’s where your employer (maybe you, too) make a contribution to a retirement plan that will pay you a fixed benefit upon your retirement. Those were the standard form of retirement 20 years ago and now they are being eliminated as fast as a bankruptcy judge can say “You’re OUT!!” Now retirement has been privatized through 401(K) and similar plans. How much will you collect on retirement? It’s anybody’s guess. Privatized retirement plans implode every eight years due to fluctuations in the stock market. No one retires anymore. They just work until they can’t and then try to subsist off of Social Security until they either die or go into a nursing home, when that public option health insurance kicks in again.

Here’s another nostalgic nugget: Do you remember having a secure job? People used to talk about those. My dad even had one. But they don’t exist anymore. As soon as your job can be done by someone for less pay, it’s no longer your job. That’s true whether that less-costly worker is in the US or elsewhere. You are expendable.

Do you think corporate employers take a different view toward health insurance? Do you really think they’ve eliminated retirement plans, sick leave, and job security but intend to hold on to group health insurance? Of course not! Companies are dropping group coverage as quick as they can using our current economic plight as cover for harsh decisions. When they drop their group coverage, there’s no COBRA—you are on your own. But what if you can’t qualify for health insurance on your own after your employer drops their group coverage (which they are going to do)? Who knows—but you better not let untreated health problems get in the way of your job or you’ll lose that too.

So, if the President’s initiative fails, the “haves” will soon enough join the ranks of the “have nots.”

LIE: Health insurance reform is all about taking my tax dollars to provide health care for the lazy and the uneducated—in other words, the poor. We’ve all heard our obnoxious brother-in-law say “Why should I have to pay for somebody else’s health care?”

First, equating financial disadvantage to moral decrepitude is an idea as old as beating one’s wife and selling people into slavery. And it’s just as ignorant. People have written entire books on this topic (see “Rich Christians in an age of Hunger”) so I’ll leave that argument to them—I simply felt the need to point out the ugliness hidden such rhetorical parries.

Second, you already are. When a young person with no money gets a cough, where do they go? To school or work—they sure don’t go to a doctor. When a fever joins that cough where do they go? Back to school or back to work. And when that fever and cough develop into H1N1 where do they go? You guessed it, back to work or back to school. And when they collapse on the floor, where do they go? To the emergency room where what could have been treated for $100 at a private physician’s office will be treated with $2,000 worth of emergency care. What could have been isolated to a single case of the flu turns into an above-the-fold health scare.

We currently provide health care insurance for a high percentage of the poor. Children are on CHIPS, others are on Medicaid, the elderly are on Medicare, military retirees are on Champus, Congressmen are on—wait, let’s leave that for later. The poor are covered and, yes, you’re paying for it. And you’re buying the most expensive, least effective medical care available.

Health insurance reform is all about rescuing that vast majority of us whose financial profile classifies us somewhere in that long spectrum between poor and rich. As you’ve seen, the poor are covered by public options (because the insurance companies don’t want them), the elderly are covered by a public option (because, again, the insurance companies don’t want them), retired military are covered by a public option (because, right, the insurance companies don’t want them), prisoners are covered by a public option (do you see a pattern?), retired politicians are covered by a public option, federal drug-sniffing dogs are covered by a public option, even ferrets in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. are covered by a public option. Who does that leave out? YOU!!

LIE: Health insurance reform will cost taxpayers over a trillion dollars. There are two problems with that statement. First, in the world of federal budgets, costs are projected over multiyear periods, say 5 years or 10 years. So even if the estimate were correct, that would be a trillion dollars over 10 years, not a trillion dollars every year. A trillion dollars over 10 years is $100 billion per year, which is less than 1% of our national economy, which can be counted on to grow at least 2.5% a year.

But whether the number is a trillion a year or a 100 billion a year—they’re both wrong. All of the plans in Congress would pay for any outlays through offsetting savings in other areas. So the real cost is ZERO.

LIE: Health insurance reform amounts to a government takeover of health care. This takes us back to where I started when I mentioned the importance of a public interest option. The big fear is that if corporate America had to compete with a government run insurance program, corporate America would lose because they just aren’t up to the task. (This argument is from the same folks who tell us government can’t run anything properly which is why we have to privatize our public highway system.) Corporate America, in the eyes of FOX “News” and Sam Johnson, not only can’t compete with foreign companies, they can’t even compete against the same federal government they vilify as being wasteful, incompetent, and corrupt.

But, let’s assume that’s all true. Go to www.fec.gov and look at who is donating to congressional reelection campaigns for 2010. Or, just take my word for it. Over 20% of the money being thrown into the 2010 election cycle is from companies and individuals in the healthcare industry, and 90% of that is coming from health insurance companies. Knowing how money can make the worst ideas seem positively brilliant, what do you think are the real odds of a bill that contains a real public option landing on the President’s desk? It’s not going to happen. We need it to happen, desperately, but it will not happen in this go-round.

Without a public option in a health care reform bill (the result of a genuine triumph of Republican noise and mayhem over thoughtful debate and the public good), corporate America will have nothing to fear, not even fear itself.

THE PUBLIC INTEREST OPTION

We cannot yield control in this debate to those whose lifestyles are supported, in part, by the injustice of our current system of paying for healthcare. We must bring greater intensity, greater passion, and greater imagination to bear on this problem than do Sam, most Republican legislators, and a few wolves in blue-sheep’s clothing. The stakes are too high, the result is too important, and the goal is too near for us to pull up short now and cede this debate.

A lot of pundits, prognosticators, pollsters, and politicians are writing the obituaries for a public interest option. I, too, just a few short paragraphs ago, explained why I think Congress will face this great opportunity and blink.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of it. As I said throughout 2008, we should not expect to solve all the problems with the way we fund health care in the US in a single bill. Right now, the demographics of our country favor making some significant changes. As our population ages and as corporate America continues to drop health insurance benefits, thereby stranding more and more people, our public will strengthen and we will be ready to take our next steps. For the reasons I offer below, I believe that the most important next step is a public interest option.

Private Health Insurance Companies Are Profit-Seeking Corporations

A foundational notion of our economic system is that when one provides a service, one must receive fair compensation for that service. By extension, to the extent that private insurance companies provide a valuable service, they must be able to collect fair compensation for that service.
Sellers price their goods and services in order to make the most money. Sometimes that means that certain people are priced out of the market for various goods and services. For example, Rolls Royce has priced their cars such that I can’t afford one. There’s no great injustice being thrust upon me: I can buy a less expensive car or do without a car. Either way, I’ll live.

There are two types of services without which people cannot be fully vested in their constitutionally guaranteed rights to life and liberty: health care and legal services.

A full discussion of legal services is outside the scope of what we are considering here. But keep in mind that the law of the land is that when a person’s freedom is in jeopardy, when a person is facing jail time, our government guarantees that person an attorney, free of charge. One’s right to liberty is considered sacred in our legal system.

How much more sacred is a person’s life? Even incarcerated people are constitutionally guaranteed basic health care.

The amount that people have to pay for healthcare vary so widely that we have come to rely on a vast arm of the financial services industry to help us hedge against the risk of unaffordable healthcare expenses. This arm of the financial services industry is the health insurance industry.

Private Health Insurance Leaves the Middle Class Behind

The problem with a system that is made up only of private insurers is that these private, for-profit companies price their services in order to make the most money, not create the greatest public benefit. Because of that, they have priced their services beyond the reach of many individuals. There are four large groups of people who, as a rule, cannot afford private health insurance: The very poor, the middle class, the unemployed, and the elderly. Many of the very poor are eligible for Medicaid coverage and the elderly are covered by Medicare. The unemployed can be covered through COBRA benefits, if they can afford the premiums. That leaves the middle class.

As a rule, a person in the middle class cannot afford private health insurance unless he or she is young and healthy and can qualify for an individual, major medical policy.

We must have a public option. There is only one issue standing between the legislative pileup we have now and there being a bicameral bill passed and placed on President Obama’s desk: The Public Option. All the other issues are feints designed to draw our attention from the real debate.

Hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, employers, friends, and neighbors all want everyone to be covered by health insurance. That’s why all of the above support most of the President’s initiatives. A country in which everyone has health insurance makes everyone’s life easier. Everyone’s.

A mandate from Congress that everyone must buy health insurance or pay a fine is great news for the insurance industry. (I can’t imagine working in an industry where everyone in the country is forced to buy my product or pay a fine. Only the insurance industry gets this kind of break.) Insurance companies certainly like the idea. Who wouldn’t?

An old insurance company maxim is that “there is no such thing as a bad risk, just a bad rate.” Insurance companies will insure anything, anywhere, anytime, as long as they get to set the rate. Congress will mandate that everyone purchase health insurance or pay a fine. That works for the insurance companies because they will pick up the millions of young people who are currently uninsured, but whose healthcare costs are near zero. Congress will also require health insurance companies to insure all comers and, in so doing, take on some additional financial risk. No problem there, either. They’ll just charge more for the additional actuarial risk.

So institutionally, there’s no debate over whether we want universal healthcare: We want it and the powerful lobbies want it.
How powerful are the lobbies? For the upcoming Congressional election in 2010, one of every five dollars contributed to Sam Johnson comes from people and PACs associated with healthcare. Source: Publicly filed campaign finance report data available at www.fec.gov.

If Congress enacts the health care equivalent of mandatory auto insurance laws, everyone who is exposed to the financial risk of the uninsured or who will begin to collect premiums from the now uninsured comes out a big winner.

If all the institutional players are in favor of universal health insurance, what is all the fuss?

That danged Public Option.

You see, the President has hired some folks who understand that if demand goes up and supply remains the same, prices will go up. They also understand that when buyers are forced to purchase something or pay a fine if they don’t, then sellers can charge a “stay out of jail” premium, which generates enormous profits. This works beautifully for the sellers because every other profit-motivated seller has a bottom line price below which they will not go or their profits will vanish, their stock options will become worthless, and their CEO’s will writhe in the penury of the otherwise unemployable.

With mandatory coverage, there will be little control over the cost of insurance. What about free market competition, I hear you cry. For the free market to work, the market must be free. An essential element of a free market is buyers being able to choose not to buy and sellers being able to choose not to sell. Here, buyers have to buy, or face jail time. And sellers have to sell, but at prices they set. That is not a free market—it’s open season!

Consider this: What if there were only one seller of bananas and buyers had the choice of buying bananas from this one monopolistic seller or not buying any bananas at all? Sure the price of bananas would be higher than if we had, say, twenty sellers, but the price would not be infinitely high. The banana seller would have to keep prices within range of buyers’ abilities to pay so that the seller himself would not be forced to eat nothing but his own bananas.

But what if we change the market dynamics a little? What if we have one seller of bananas and everyone in the country were required to either buy bananas or go to jail? We’d expect the price of bananas to become outrageously high. Why is that? Because in the first scenario, people could chose between buying a banana and buying something else that would bring them equal satisfaction. The banana seller would have to compete with all other uses of the buyers’ money. But in the second example, the banana seller only has to compete with the buyer’s desire to stay out of jail. Most of us would pay all the money we have for a banana if that would keep us out of jail. Having 1,000 banana sellers would hardly change this outcome at all.

The U.S. Senate is prepared to force us into such an untenable market, not a free market, where we will either have to buy health insurance, or, ultimately, face going to jail . (Make no mistake—if the government can impose a fine, they can impose jail time, even if the only prescribed penalty is a fine. That may not seem just, but it’s true all the same.)
Enter Team Obama. They understand that if people have the option of not being covered, a lot of folks will take that option and end up on the public dole for health care or bankrupt, as is the case today. So the option to remain financially incapable of paying for one’s own healthcare must be eliminated. But rather than throw us into the lion’s den, so to speak, they want to offer a public option whereby people can purchase health insurance from a non-profit entity that will not be able to take oligopolistic, nay feudal, advantage of the American people.

What’s wrong with that?

Easy: In the perverted minds of insurance executives, PUBLIC OPTION = (future) SINGLE PAYER.

Their logic goes like this: A non-profit entity, whether run by the government or not, will be able to take on the same risks for a lower rate. In other words, such an entity would be able to offer coverage at lower prices and would have every incentive to do so. Eventually, this non-profit insurance company would capture 100% of the market, the insurance companies would die, and we’d have a single payer system. They’re not that far off, but, they’re off nonetheless.

If only we had an example of single-payer health insurance, we could look into that space and see whether private insurance companies died off. If they had, we know the insurance executives (the same geniuses who invented credit-default swaps) are right. If we could find a single-payer market where private companies still thrive, we’d know the insurance executives are wrong.

We don’t have to look far.

Medicare covers every person in the United States over the age of 65, with the exception of military retirees who have a separate program for themselves. Medicare is a single-payer system, with a limited customer base: mainly people over 65. And have private insurance companies died out? No! Every major insurance company sells “med-i-gap” policies (that cover the difference between what medical providers charge and what Medicare pays) and long-term care insurance (that covers home health and nursing home care for folks that don’t want to depend on Medicaid).

So it’s clear that we must have a public option and a public option will not only protect us from predatory pricing, it will provide rich profits to the insurance companies who sell premium coverage above and beyond what the public option provides.

A lot of us view the current healthcare debate with a mixed sense of excitement that we are finally going to make some progress and a sense of foreboding knowing that we’re not going to fully reform our unjust, inefficient system. But having a roadmap for future progress will help us prepare for the next debate. We’ll take what we can get this year. That will narrow the issues for the next iteration of this debate. And in that iteration, we must all focus our efforts on achieving what the vast majority of Americans want: universal coverage at affordable prices.


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House Leadership Memo Urges Dems: Remember That Public Option Has Tons Of Support

ThePlumline: In a sign that House Dem leaders remain committed to making a public option a part of health care reform, the leadership is urging members in a new polling memo to keep in mind that the public plan remains overwhelmingly popular despite weeks of attacks on it.

The memo — which will be distributed to members of Congress and others later this morning and was sent over by a leadership aide — is designed to arm Congressional Dems with ammo to beat back claims that the public option’s popularity has tanked.

“Coordinated attacks by Republicans and other opponents of health insurance reform have had little effect on the strong support for a public health insurance option,” the memo reads.

The memo, which comes as intra-Dem fighting over the public option is set to intensify, also sends a simple message to centrist Dems: The public wants this done. The memo, which you can read right here, reproduces much recent polling in a handy chart:

Three recent polls show overwhelming support for the public option, and the fourth poll, by Rasmussen, finds a large majority opposes a plan without one. The memo also stresses that the pulic plan gets much greater support when you offer respondents a “choice.”

The memo’s goal: To put some spine into individual members spooked by the relentless assault on reform and the chorus of punditry claiming that the public option will have to be nixed in order to get reform done.

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Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX) Health Care Town Hall Aug 31

On Mon. Aug. 31, @ 7PM (Doors open at 5PM) U.S. Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX 3rd Dist.), Joe Barton (R-TX 6th Dist.), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX 5th Dist.) and Pete Sessions (R-TX 32nd Dist.) will host a health care town hall discussion at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. This "congressional field hearing" with panelists is "open to the media and the public."

Congressional hearing panelists include:

  1. Eddie McBride, President, Lubbock Chamber of Commerce;
  2. Christopher Crow, MD, Village Health Partners, Plano, TX;
  3. Joel Allison, President and CEO, Baylor Health Care System;
  4. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, First Vice President of the National Association of Counties, to discuss local prescription drug card plans.
John Goodman, President and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, of Dallas, will serve as the moderator of the event.

For the safety of all attendees, the Center prohibits large signs, posters or banners and any placard affixed to sticks or other sharp objects from being brought into the Center. In the event the Hill Performance Hall reaches capacity, attendees will be directed and seated in over-flow rooms where they may watch the event via a live video feed.

Monday, August 31st
7:00 p.m.
Eisemann Center in Richardson
Doors open at 5:00 p.m.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who's Running For Governor Now

Updated August 30,2008 @8:00PM
Kinky Friedman (right) will officially announce his candidacy for the Texas Governor's Office Tuesday, according to his campaign manager, Rania Batrice. Friedman reportedly will file to have his name listed on the March 2010 Democratic Party Primary Ballot. Friedman, who received 12 percent of the vote in 2006 when he ran as an Independent in the four way race for Governor against incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell and Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn, formed an exploratory committee last spring. Rick Perry won the 2006 election with about 38 percent of the vote.

Friedman will join a Democratic field that already includes Fort Worth schoolteacher Felix Alvarado, Whitehouse rancher Hank Gilbert, Fort Worth lawyer and former Ambassador Tom Schieffer and Garland therapist Mark Thompson.


Hank Gilbert addresses the 2006
Texas Democratic Convention as
Candidate for Agriculture Commissioner
According to the Capitol Annex, Hank Gilbert, age 49, (D-Whitehouse), the Democratic Party’s 2006 nominee for Agriculture Commissioner, has thrown his hat in the ring to run for the governor's office in 2010.

After losing his 2006 bid to become Agriculture Commissioner, Gilbert, a Tyler-area rancher, has used the last four years to work at the grass roots of Texas to fight against toll roads and other bad GOP policies such as the Trans-Texas Corridor, land use and energy issues.

Gilbert, who was the second highest vote-getting Democrat in the 2006 elections with his 42 percent of the vote against Republican Todd Staples for agriculture commissioner, has been effectively laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign for the last 4 years organizing with independent, moderate, and even Republican voters at the rural community level.

Houston Chronicle [14 min. 55 sec.]
Listen to Houston Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe interview Hank Gilbert about his announcement.

A little-known Fort Worth resident Felix Alvarado announced on August 13, 2009 that he plans to run in the 2010 Democratic primary race for governor. Alvarado's name was removed from the 2006 Democratic primary field when his $3,750 check for the candidate filing fee was returned for insufficient funds.

Early in May Mark Thompson, 2008 Democratic candidate for Railroad Commissioner, announced he will run for Governor in 2010. (Picture right)

Thompson received 44.6 percent of the vote in 2008 when he ran against Republican incumbent Michael Williams for the Railroad Commission seat.

Thompson joined Tom Schieffer (left) and humorist Kinky Friedman as the line up for the Democratic primary ballot next March.

Long time Texas Democrat Tom Schieffer chose Texas Independence Day (March 2nd) to announce he was forming an "exploratory committee" for a possible bid for the governor's office. (website)

Tom Schieffer is a former State Representative, former partner in the Texas Rangers, brother to Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer, and Bush-era Ambassador to Australia and Japan.

Schieffer, a lifelong Democrat, did endorse G.W. Bush for the offices of both Governor and President, but he supported Barack Obama for the 2008 primary and general election, and he supported Democrat Chris Bell in the 2006 Governor's race. Schieffer argues that he can attract not only Democrats, but Independents and even moderate Republicans. Even so, many Democrats are not comfortable with Schieffer's support of G.W. Bush or his service in the Bush administration.
The Republican primary ballot position for governor is also getting a bit crowded. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, pictured left, top the ballot position.

Next down the Republican primary ballot position for governor is Debra Medina. Medina is currently the Wharton County Republican Party Chair and stands to Perry's right on the political spectrum beside Rep. Bermen.

Medina describes herself as a tireless advocate of private property rights, gun ownership, individual responsibility and adherence to the Constitution. She has actively opposed big government, taxes, bailouts, mandatory vaccinations, the Trans Texas Corridor and abortion.

A likely side-effect of Bermen and Medina running in the Republican primary is that they will eat away votes from Perry's right-wing conservative base giving Hutchison the primary win.

The next gubernatorial candidate to the right of Perry is Larry Kilgore who says, “The US government must abolish the Federal Reserve and allow Congress to reassert its constitutional authority over monetary policy. However, few of us believe this will occur. Therefore, we should research alternative scenarios and their implications for Texas.”

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Gov. Rick Perry’s Support For Texas Secession Has Wrought


by David Horsey SEATTLEPI.COM
An organization calling itself the “Texas Nationalist Movement” is gathering supporters at the Texas capitol to:
". . .deliver a petition to Restore America by Demanding our Sovereignty or we will be forced to call a vote for Secession . . . the Texas Nationalist Movement has a petition with 1 Million signatures directly calling for a vote of secession.

We are calling for an orderly process that will allow our federal government to fall back in line with the Constitution. We are reclaiming our states rights and our individual rights.

. . .either we restore America, we will live in a Marxist dictatorship, or we will secede and start over again." (video of event at DMN Trail Blazers)
The organization’s petition echoes the meme that everything from -- Social Security to Medicare to the Federal Reserve Banking system to the federal highway system to a public health insure option to the 1965 Voting Rights Act -- violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The petition calls for Texas officials to “immediately move for the restoration of the complete and unadulterated Sovereignty of Texas, explicitly adhering to the 10th Amendment wording of the U.S. Constitution,” or “move immediately for complete Secession from the United States of America.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry so incited an April 2009 anti-tax (and largely anti-Obama) "tea party" with his anti-Washington and states' rights rhetoric attacking Pres. Obama's Economic Recovery Stimulus legislation that the audience began to shout, "Secede!" Later, in response to reporters' questions, Perry said,
"At some point Texans might get so fed up they would want to secede from the union. There's a lot of different scenarios. ...if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that..."

Perry added that when Texas entered the union in 1845 it was with the understanding it could pull out. Perry got that wrong, however; Texas negotiated the power to divide into additional states at some point, but Texas did not reserve the right to secede.
After Gov. Perry made a big fuss in March and Aptil threatening secession in rejecting $555 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits for unemployed Texans, by July Perry was forced to ask the federal government for a $170 million loan to cover unemployment insurance. Perry is expected to request a total of $650 million, around $100 million more than he originally rejected, to fund the state unemployment program.

Perry once again threatened to invoke the “state’s rights” protections in the 10th Amendment and secession in late July in protest to health insurance reform supported by Pres. Obama and a large number of Texans. (see Gov. Perry Threatens 10th Amendment Again To Reject Health Care Reform)
In this video of a press conference supporting Texas State Rep. Brandon Creighton's Concurrent House Resolution (HCR50) of Texas States’ Rights submitted in the 2009 81st session of the Texas legislature, Governor Rick Perry declares Texas' sovereignty from the U.S., saying that,
"...We think it’s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas. That’s what this press conference -- that’s what these Texans are standing up for. There is a point in time where you stand up and say enough is enough, and I think Americans, and Texans especially have reached that point."
The press conference was attended by members of the Texas Nationalist Movement, a secessionist group led by Daniel Miller. Miller was formerly president of the violent anti-government organization called the Republic of Texas. Media Matters Action Network released a memo outlining Texas Governor Rick Perry's ties to the Texas Nationalist secessionist group, whose former Republic of Texas leaders are responsible for numerous acts of domestic terrorism. "From bomb threats, to kidnapping, to planning attacks using biological weapons, the Texas Nationalist Movement has a long violent history that cannot be ignored," the Media Matters memo concludes.

The Republic of Texas is a group of secessionists that claims annexation of Texas by the United States was illegal and Texas remains an independent nation under occupation. The issue of the Legal status of Texas led the group to set up a provisional shadow government for the sovereign nation of Texas on December 13, 1995.
The movement had been discredited after two of its members, Jack Abbot Grebe Jr. and Johnie Wise, were convicted in 1998 of threatening to assassinate several government officials, including President Bill Clinton, and the group, while still active, had remained largely out of public view.

Activists within the secessionist movement claim over 40,000 active supporters; however, there has been no public support for an independent Texas -- at least until Governor Perry breathed new live into the movement with his recent public statements of support of a sovereign Texas.
Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 800 on on April 19, 1995 in the worst act to domestic terrorism in U.S. history, was a member of one such group. (picture right)

This is what the Republican Party of Texas has come to -- expressions of support for Texas secession from the United States of America.

Southern Republicans, Particularly Texas Republicans, It Seems, Have Seceded From Sanity.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Who Is Funding Health Care Opposition?

More than three out of every four Americans feel it is important to have a "choice" between a government-run health care insurance option and private coverage, according to a public opinion poll released last week.

The poll by SurveyUSA puts support for a public option at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.

In asking its question SurveyUSA used the same exact words that NBC/Wall Street Journal had used when conducting its June 2009 survey. That one that found 76 percent approval for the public option

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AARP: 8 Myths About Health Care Reform

And why we can't afford to believe them anymore [AARP Magazine]

Americans spend more on health care every year than we do educating our children, building roads, even feeding ourselves—an estimated $2.6 trillion in 2009, or around $8,300 per person. Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever. These staggering figures are at the heart of the current debate over health care reform: the need to control costs while providing coverage for all. As John Lumpkin, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Health Care Group for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says, "There is enough evidence that it is now time to do something and to do the right thing." The key is to focus on the facts—and to dispel, once and for all, the myths that block our progress.

The 8 Myths:

Myth 1: "Health reform won't benefit people like me, who have insurance." Just because you have health insurance today doesn't mean you'll have it tomorrow.

Myth 2: "The boomers will bankrupt Medicare." If you're looking to blame the rise in health care costs on an aging population, you'll have to look elsewhere. Our fee-for-service payment system, in which doctors are paid by how many treatments they prescribe, rather than by the quality of care they provide. Some experts say this fee-for-service payment system encourages unnecessary and wasteful over treatment.

Myth 3: "Reforming our health care system will cost us more." Think of health care reform as if it's an Energy Star appliance. Yes, it costs money to replace your old energy-guzzling refrigerator with a new one, but over time the cost savings can be substantial.

Myth 4: "My access to quality health care will decline." Just because you have access to lots of doctors who prescribe lots of treatments doesn't mean you're getting good care. In fact, researchers at Dartmouth College have found that patients who receive more care actually fare worse than those who receive less care.

Myth 5: "I won't be able to visit my favorite doctor." Mention health reform and immediately people worry that they will have fewer options—in doctors, treatments, and diagnostic testing. The concern comes largely during discussions of comparative effectiveness research (CER): research on which treatments work and which don't. But 18 organizations in a broad coalition, including AARP, NFIB, Consumers Union, and Families USA, support CER—and believe that far from limiting choices, it will instead prevent errors and give physicians the information they need to practice better medicine.

Myth 6: "The uninsured actually do have access to good care—in the emergency room." It's true that the United States has an open-door policy for those who seek emergency care, but emergency room care doesn't help you get the right information to prevent a condition or give you help managing it. Plus, hospitals have no way to recoup the costs of treating the uninsured, so they naturally pass on some of those costs to their insured patients.

Myth 7: "We can't afford to tackle this problem now." We may be in the middle of a recession, but as Robert Zirkelbach, spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, says, "the most expensive thing we can do is nothing at all." If we do nothing, the Congressional Budget Office projects that our annual health costs will soar to about $13,000 per person in 2017, while the number of uninsured will climb.

Myth 8: "We'll end up with socialized medicine." Some experts favor a single-payer system similar to Medicare or the health program offered to federal-government employees. Yet all the proposals being discussed today would build on our current system, Feder says—which means that private insurers and the government are both likely to play roles. Says Lumpkin: "There are many ways to solve our health care problem, but we will come up with a uniquely American solution, and that solution will be a mixed public and private solution."

Related Links:


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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele: Protect Medicare By Privatizing It

Updated Friday, August 28, 2009 @ 10:43AM


NPR [7 min 42 sec]
Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele opposes government-run health care insurance programs, as do most members of his party. In an exchange with National Public Radio's Steve Inskeep, Steele grew upset (4:45 into the audio clip) when Inskeep questioned the apparent contradiction in his arguments -- Steele argues both that the government shouldn't run public health insurance programs and that the Medicare public health insurance program must be protected. (That is, the part of Medicare already privatized by Republican controlled congresses over the past decade.)

Steele is attempting to argue that there is nothing contradictory about protecting Medicare by stopping the president from making Medicare operate more efficiently while also insisting that the government-run Medicare program is a failure and calling for it to be privatized.

At the beginning of this week RNC Chairman Michael Steele wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, declaring the Republican Party to be the new protectors of the government run Medicare public health insurance program. He also this week appeared on Fox News and said:
... that Medicare is "a very good example of what we should not have happen with all of our health care." Asked to respond to Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) argument that "if you like Medicare and you don’t want to make any cuts to it, then you’re basically defending a single payer system," Steele attacked Medicare implying that the government run Medicare public health insurance program should be privatized into the private health insurance industry:
I mean the reality of it is that, you know, this single payer program known as Medicare is a very good example of what we should not have happen with all of our health care.

... Government cannot run a health care system. They’ve already shown that. Trust the private markets to do it the right way. If there are reforms to be put in place, let’s deal specifically with those reforms.
The partial privatization of Medicare, that a Republican controlled Congress and the Bush Administration pushed on seniors as part of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, is costing U.S. taxpayers billions. It is the Privatized Medicare program (known as “Medicare Advantage” or “MA” plans) that Steele seeks to not only protect from reform, but also pushes to expand.

Under the "privatized" Medicare Advantage (MA) program, created by a Republican-led Congress in 2003 with the support of President Bush, the government buys private insurance coverage for Medicare patients in lieu of paying for health services directly. Republicans argue that by buying private insurance policies for seniors the government both saves money and delivers additional care to Medicare patients, including dental and eye services not covered under the traditional program. Those additional benefits, combined with a heavy dose of marketing, have made the program enormously popular. This year, a record-high 10.5 million seniors — or 23 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries — are enrolled in MA plans, according to a June report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, an independent panel that recommends Medicare reforms to Washington policymakers.
Despite Republican arguments that private Medicare plans operating under MA could eventually save money, the cost to treat the average patient in the MA program is 14 percent higher than the cost to treat the average senior under traditional Medicare.
A part of that additional cost, consists of funds used for MA plan administration overhead costs, marketing and profits and not direct health care services for beneficiaries. RNC Chair Steele, in his "protect Medicare argument," is actually arguing to protect this "privatized Medicare" program that subsidizes private health insurance industry profits, management bonuses, overhead and marketing.
The argument that private Medicare plans, subsidized by the government, are necessary to keep Medicare sustainable is belied by the fact that private plans cost taxpayers more than if the same coverage is provided under the standard public Medicare program where public money is not siphoned off into private profits, management bonuses, overhead and marketing.
Republican defenders of the privatized Medicare Advantage program on Capitol Hill have successfully thwarted most Democratic attempts in recent years reduce Medicare costs by reigning in the costs and abuses in the privatized Medicare Advantage program.
New York Times - Medicare Audits Show Problems in Private Plans : Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics, found they lack of coverage they thought their insurance policy provided and have had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the huge new Medicare drug benefit program and offer other privatized Medicare Advantage program options, a review of scores of federal audits has found.
The Under the House health reform bill, which has already passed through the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor committees — the three panels with jurisdiction over the issue — the privatized Medicare Advantage payments would be pulled back under public administration over several years in an attempt to eliminate the 14 percent cost overhead where public money is not siphoned off into private profits, management bonuses, overhead and marketing. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cuts will save taxpayers $156 billion over 10 years.

The White House has taken a different tack. As part of its 2010 budget proposal released in February, the Obama administration aimed to control MA costs by creating system that would require plans to bid competitively for regional contracts under MA. Those plans bidding higher than the regional average would nonetheless get paid only the regional average.
At an AARP-sponsored health reform forum last month, President Obama promoted his proposal saying, “We’ll eliminate billions in unwarranted subsidies to insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage program — giveaways that boost insurance company profits but don’t make you any healthier.”

President Obama's also commented at that AARP-hosted town hall that, "I got a letter the other day from a woman. She said, 'I don't want government-run health care. I don't want socialized medicine. And don't touch my Medicare.' I wanted to say, you know, that's what Medicare is: a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with."
The lady that wrote, "don't touch my Medicare" was likely referring to her Medicare Advantage paid private health insurance policy. Those opposed to health insurance reform have been telling seniors that Democrats will eliminate or drastically cut health care coverage for those seniors that have a Medicare Advantage paid private health insurance policy. This is the fear that GOP Chair Michael Steele is attempting to stoke in his rhetoric about "protecting Medicare."
If the Democrats are successful in their efforts to reform the privatized Medicare Advantage program, it could mark a set-back to the decades-old Republican push to fullly privatize Medicare. In October 1995, for example, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) took the podium at a Blue Cross/Blue Shield conference in Washington and promoted a health reform strategy he knew would be music to his audience. Labeling Medicare “a centralized command bureaucracy,” Gingrich proposed to shift the popular program from “a government monopoly plan” to a fully privatized “free-market plan.” [Washington Independent]
RNC Chair Michael Steele has been advocating this week in his media blitz to protect the “free-market" privatized Medicare beachhead established in 2003 when the Republican congress and Bush White House worked together to enact the Medicare Modernization Act.
Related Links:

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Nancy Reagan: Ted Kennedy Was A Close Family Friend

Nancy Reagan to Son Ron Reagan on AirAmerica radio: I’ll Miss Ted Kennedy. . . Senator Edward Kennedy had many friends on both sides of the political aisle, but what many people don’t realize is that he was closes friends was former President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan spoke with her son Ron about the man behind the politician, her thoughts about the importance of bipartisan friendships and the melancholy fact that she will miss her good friend immensely.


AirAmerica radio [10 min 55 sec]
The full audio of the AirAmerica radio interview.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison "Motivated Seller" Of Her DC Home!

Back on July 30 we posted a story headlined, "Sen. Hutchison Says Will Resign Senate Seat In Oct. Or Nov." A few hours after she clearly said she would resign on a local radio program [Radio Interview Transcript at Houston Chronicle ] she kind of retracted the statement.

Could be KBH's resignation really is as close at hand. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is selling her 4,300-square-foot house in McLean, VA, at a bargan basement price for a quick sale, according to a Dallas Morning News story last week. The listing describes a "motivated seller" seeking "all offers."

Said a spokeswoman: "She's no longer going to be in the United States Senate. She's coming home to Texas. That's why it's for sale."

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Senator Ted Kennedy Dies Of Brain Cancer At 77

Senator Ted Kennedy has died, losing his battle to brain cancer.

Sen. Ted Kennedy died shortly before midnight Tuesday at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., at age 77.


The man known as the "liberal lion of the Senate" had fought a more than year-long battle with brain cancer, and according to his son had lived longer with the disease than his doctors expected him to.

Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy, the youngest Kennedy brother who was left to head the family's political dynasty after his brothers President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

Kennedy championed health care reform, working wages and equal rights in his storied career. In August, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- by President Obama. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, accepted the award on his behalf.

Senator Kennedy finishing his powerful speech at the
2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.


Senator Kennedy speaking at the
2004 Democratic National Convention.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Insurance Industry Pushing For "Private, For Profit" Mandate In Reform

Insurance Industry Is Pushing For Health Reform that requires people to purchase private health insurance, but without a "true" public health insurance option and insurance industry regulation.

Updated August 24, 2009 - The Los Angeles Times reports again today, just as it did in early June that the heath insurance industry so successfully lobbied the congressional committees responsible for crafting heath insurance legislation in the early stages of the drafts of that legislation that it is poised to reap a financial windfall.

The half-dozen leading overhaul proposals circulating in Congress would require all citizens to have health insurance, but the bills vary in the degree to which they would empower government to be an actual competitor and to regulate coverage type and costs.

Health insurance reform may turn turn out to be nothing more than a federal mandate for people to buy private health insurance, as auto drivers are now required to buy auto insurance, and the government will pay the private health premiums for the very poor - as the public option.

"It's a bonanza," said Robert Laszewski, a health insurance executive for 20 years who now tracks reform legislation as president of the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc.

Some insurance company leaders continue to profess concern about the unpredictable course of President Obama's massive healthcare initiative, and they vigorously oppose elements of his agenda. But Laszewski said the industry's reaction to early negotiations boiled down to a single word: "Hallelujah!" . . .Read the full story in the LATimes.
Updated August 18, 2009 - from NYtimes OpEd Columnist Bob Herbert -
The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.)

Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over.

This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will either be funneled into Medicaid, which will have its eligibility ceiling raised, or will receive a government [tax credit] subsidy to help with the purchase of private insurance. --For full OpEd click here--
Original June 8, 2009 post continues:
The Los Angeles Times reports that private health insurance companies faces a bleak future if the proposal they champion most vigorously -- A federal mandate that everyone buy medical insurance coverage from private health insurance companies -- is not adopted. They are fighting hard for this federal mandate legislation which would be sweetened with taxpayer-funded subsidies for customers who can't afford it, and enforced with fines.

This so-called "individual mandate health care" program amounts to a huge booster shot for private "for profit" health insurers, which would serve up millions of new customers almost overnight. "I think that's why we've seen the industry basically trying to play the administration's game," said Jane DuBose, an analyst with industry tracking firm HealthLeaders-InterStudy. "They really could be licking their chops over the potential here."[LATimes]
Private insurers lost an estimated 9 million customers between 2000 and 2007. In many cases, people lost coverage because they or their employers could no longer afford it as premium increases outpaced wage growth and inflation.

According to the National Coalition on Healthcare, nearly 266,000 companies dropped their employees' health care coverage from 2000 to 2005 and for those employees that have not yet lost coverage the average employee health insurance premium is rising nearly eight times faster than income.

Yet, while the private insurance industry is hemorrhaging customers, profits at 10 of the country’s largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007. Clearly, there is a vicious cycle where an ever shrinking number of people are paying ever increasing monthly insurance premiums for less coverage. (more statistics)

The private insurance industry successfully scuttled the "single payer" approach to health care reform.

The private insurance industry is spending tens of millions dollars to lobby congress to also scuttle medicare-like government option plan complaining that such competition would cut into their near-monopolistic lock on the health care marketplace and significantly impact industry profits.

According to the Physicians for a National Health Program Organization - The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 45.7 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.
This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Public Option Health Care A "Core Ethical" Issue

Speaking in front of a group of religious leaders last Wednesday, President Barack Obama said the health care debate is a "core ethical" issue and should be treated as such. On "The Ron Reagan Show," Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) echoed Pres. Obama's words and went on to say that having a public option is a "necessity."

Ron Reagan and Senator Bernie Sanders on AirAmerica Radio:

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Private Vs Public Health Insurance 'Myth'

By Stuart Carlson posted at carlsontoons.com
The Republicans and their right-wing money men are trying hard to make it look like the opposition to President Obama's health care reform is a spontaneous grassroots movement by ordinary Americans. The truth is that the "grassroots" movement is funded by a series of right-wing organizations, created and funded by rich conservatives. McClatchy News reports on just who these groups are:
CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENTS' RIGHTS -- created and funded by health care entrepreneur Rick Scott, the co-founder of Solantic urgent care walk-in centers. These centers advertise themselves as the option for those without insurance (so he specializes in ripping off poor and working class folks). This is also the guy who had to resign as CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospitals when they were investigated by the federal government for fraud.

FREEDOMWORKS -- This is formerRep. Dick Armey, who used to be the majority leader for Republicans in the House of Representatives. No one is farther to the right than this guy. He's also the person who said there's nothing wrong with our economy except Americans being cowards. This group also contains Steve Forbes, billionaire and former presidential candidate, and Richard J. Stephenson, who founded Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

PATIENTS FIRST and PATIENTS UNITED -- Were both created and funded by the ultra right-wing group Americans for Prosperity (AFP). AFP was started by billionaire David Koch of Koch Industries. It's president is Tim Phillips, who used to be in business with Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed. AFP and FreedomWorks both funded and organized the "tea parties". They hope to organize 600 anti-health care rallies by Labor Day.

CLUB FOR GROWTH -- A right-wing anti-tax organization headed by former Indiana Republican congressman Chris Chocola. This group has just announced a $1.2 million anti-health care ad campaign in in North Dakota, Colorado, Arkansas and Nevada.

60 PLUS ASSOCIATION -- This group was originally started to abolish the estate tax. Its current spokesman is Pat Boone, former singer and current right-wing fundamentalist. Its current goal seems to be to scare the elderly. In just the last week, the group has spent $1.5 million in anti-health care ads.
These are the real opponents of health care reform in America.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

ActBlue Fundraiser To Support Health Care Reform

A fundraiser launched Tuesday by progressive bloggers as part of an effort to support progressive members of Congress with the guts to stand up to Big Insurance, Big Pharma and to the pressure from their own party bosses has topped $100,000 from more than 1,500 donors in just 24 hours and counting.

By Friday morning the ActBlue fundraiser has taken in over $300,000 -- with over 5,200 contributors.

The effort is being driven by FireDogLake.com and backed by blogs across the country.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Can Only 40 Senate Republicans Stall Health Care Reform?

And How Senate Democrats Can Out Maneuver The Republicans

Updated Thursday August 20, 2009 10:10 AM
So far the new era of bipartisanship in Washington is more uni-lateral that bi-lateral. Last winter Pres. Obama kindly offered Republicans a bipartisan olive branch and extended them a place at the table of ideas to craft an economic stimulus package.

The response to that bipartisan olive branch was that Republicans trash talked Democrats and voted in mass against the stimulus bill anyway. Pres. Obama's stimulus package passed the in the U.S. House with zero Republican votes and only three Republicans broke ranks in the Senate to vote yes on cloture, which narrowly avoided a 'cloture filibuster' of the stimulus bill.

Pres. Obama, who had hoped for a widely supported bipartisan economic stimulus bill, got stonewalled despite conceding away large parts of the stimulus package to Republican objections that many economists said were essential.

Sound Familiar? The same thing is happening on health care reform legislation! How can only 40 Senate Republicans, with maybe the help of half-a-dozen conservative blue dog Democrats, kill, or at least stall, health care reform legislation?

In the Senate a mere threat of a no vote by 41 Senators on a cloture motion to limit debate on a bill amounts to a filibuster.

Cloture - The only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on debate of a bill or other matter, and thereby guarantee that an up or down vote will be called on the bill. This is the only way to overcome a Senate filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes. The cloture rule, adopted in 1917, allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote. The new 'two-thirds' rule still made breaking up a filibuster difficult; therefore, the Cloture rule was amended by the senate body in 1975 to reduced the number of votes required to end the filibuster from two-thirds (67 votes) to three-fifths (60 votes).

Photo of Senator
Hubert H. Humphrey
(D-MN)
June 10, 1964
Civil Rights Filibuster Ended


At 9:51 on the morning of June 10, 1964, Senator Robert C. Byrd completed a [filibuster] address that he had begun 14 hours and 13 minutes earlier. The subject [of Sen. Byrd's filibuster] was the pending Civil Rights Act of 1964, a measure that occupied the Senate for 57 working days, including six Saturdays. Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey, the bill's manager, concluded he had the 67 votes required at that time to end the debate.

The Civil Rights Act provided protection of voting rights; banned discrimination in public facilities—including private businesses offering public services—such as lunch counters, hotels, and theaters; and established equal employment opportunity as the law of the land.

Democrats in the Senate today do not seem ready to make Republicans actually stand on the Senate floor and publicly filibuster health care reform in front of the Senate cameras for hours and days and weeks. (As in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - youtube clip) Neither do Democrats seem ready to threaten the "nuclear option," to eliminate or amend filibustering in the senate rule book, as Republicans did against Democrats when the G.O.P controlled the Senate.

It certainly did not routinely takes sixty votes to do almost everything in the Senate during the years Republicans were in the majority and controlled Senate business. When Republicans controlled the U.S. Senate during the Bush presidency they accused Democrats of being obstructionists any time they said they might call for and vote down cloture in response to Republicans pushing very partisan conservative legislation and judicial nominees through congress. Ranking Republicans in the G.O.P who then controlled the U.S. Senate, threatened the "nuclear option," against Democrats, which would have effectively eliminated filibustering from the senate rule book.
(The term "nuclear option" was coined by Lott, one of the leading advocates of a proposal to change the Senate rule that requires a three-fifths supermajority to invoke cloture and end a filibuster. After Republican strategists deemed the term a political liability, Republican senators began to attribute it to Democrats. As Media Matters for America noted, at the time, many in the news media followed suit, repeating the Republicans' false attribution of the term to the Democrats.)
The nuclear threat worked - Senate Democrats were consistently cowed into allowing Republicans to pass very partisan conservative legislation and confirm very conservative judges, effectively unopposed. Ultimately, this left Democrats with no voice in the Republican controlled Senate! - None!

Republicans were singing a different tune after they they lost control of the senate in the November 2006 election and became the minority party in the 110th Congress. The number of cloture votes (stealth filibusters) forced by Senate minority Republicans skyrocketed in the 110th Congress.

So, before Republicans were for using the filibuster as the minority party, they were against it when they were the majority party - A clear flip flop!

The Senate was forced by Republicans to voted on 112 cloture motions (filibuster attempts) in the 110th congress controlled by Democrats, exactly double the number (56) of cloture votes in the 109th Congress, when Democrats were in the minority and Republicans were in control. The 110th congress cloture motions were two-and-a-half times as many as the average number of cloture votes (44) over the previous nine Congresses.

Of these cloture motions, 51 were rejected, meaning that Republicans succeeded in "procedurally filibustering" an up-or-down vote because at least 41 Republican Senators merely said they would vote against limiting debate to allow a floor vote. They effectively accomplished a "procedural filibuster" without actually holding the senate floor to continue debate for hours and days and weeks in a "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" type of filibuster. On the 61 cloture votes to limit debate that did succeed, thus defeating the procedural filibuster, Republicans at the very least successfully stalled for time.

With the Republican minority numbers slipping to just 40 Senators for the 111th Congress (now that Al Franken D-MN has been seated) Republicans have formed a united front in threatening to use the power of the cloture vote to stall legislative business at every opportunity. Republicans forced the legislative pendulum to the far right during the Bush years and now with the help of up to six or so conservative blue dog Democrats they are determined to do everything possible to keep it stuck in the far right position using the 60 vote cloture rule.

With the Republican minority in the senate, along with a handful of blue dogs, exerting every effort to kill any health care reform legislation, Senate Democrats have two options to skirt Republican cloture vote filibusters against health care reform legislation:
  1. The Nuclear Option of changing senate rules on the cloture vote threshold, or
  2. Use Senate Budget Reconciliation rules, which disallows a motion for a cloture vote, to vote on health care legislation
Under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, so called "Budget Reconciliation" legislation was given special Senate protection so that budget related bills may be passed by simple a majority of 51 votes, after limited debate. Budget Reconciliation rules give senators the ability to make the kinds of tough decisions on slim support margins required to cut the deficit.

Legislation passed under the Budget Reconciliation rule is allowed to contain only provisions for policy changes in mandatory spending (entitlements) or revenue programs (tax laws) to achieve government spending and revenue goals. Therefore, Republicans would undoubtedly contest "Budget Reconciliation" legislation that includes health reform items, such as regulations on rescission and pre-existing conditions practices employed by private insurance companies. Republicans would argue such items do not conform to Budget Reconciliation rules. [NYTimes]

The question of whether or not the public health insurance option legislation conforms to Budget Reconciliation rules is a gray area and would likely also be challenged by Republicans. [Dailykos] Even so,
White House and Senate Democratic leaders are reportedly considering a strategy shift that would present health reform legislation in two separate bills. One bill would include health reforms that do conform to Budget Reconciliation rules and would reportedly include a public insurance option to compete with private insurers. This bill could be passed with just 51 votes through the Budget Reconciliation parliamentary maneuver. [WSJ Online]
Republicans repeatedly used reconciliation to pass President Bush's agenda when they controlled congress to circumvent any possibility of a filibuster by Senate Democrats. Republicans used the budget reconciliation process to pass President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts as well as the 2005 "Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act." The Senate also used the reconciliation procedure to pass a bill containing a provision that would permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Although, the final version of that bill signed by President Bush did not contain the provision on drilling.)
The second health care reform bill would include non-budgetary items such as the stricter insurance regulations central to Pres. Obama's health-care message. This bill would be advanced as normal legislation. The second bill would likely set new rules for private insurers, including stopping the practice of rescission and requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn't involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.

The Nuclear Option From Talking Points Memo:

Should the Democrats Change the Filibuster Rule?
December 10, 2008, 9:00PM

With the Democrats holding the presidency and solid majorities in both houses in Congress, Republican filibusters are now the only thing preventing truly progressive legislation. Should the Democrats therefore try to change or get rid of filibusters? We should keep in mind that the Democrats could do this if they wished, possibly turning the Senate into a majority-rule chamber like every other legislative body.

How could this be done? There are two possible ways to change the rules. Rule changes in the Senate currently require a two-thirds majority of Senators present and voting. So theoretically this is possible, but the Republicans of course would never allow it. The other way is to use what is called the nuclear option (by its opponents), or the constitutional option (by its advocates).

This is a complicated use of parliamentary procedure that ultimately results in a simple majority vote that ends a filibuster. Essentially a Senator wishing to end the filibuster makes a point of order calling for an immediate vote and the presiding officer of the Senate upholds this, citing the Constitution rather than Senate precedent as a guide (hence the name Constitutional option). When this happens the only recourse in parliamentary procedure is to appeal the decision of the chair. If one of the filibustering Senators does this, then an anti-filibuster Senator immediately moves to table that appeal. Since motions to table are non-debatable in parliamentary procedure, a vote to table the appeal is held immediately, and if it is passed by a simple majority then the chair's ruling that a vote must take place is upheld, and so a vote is taken. The filibuster is broken by a simple majority.

The Republicans threatened to use this option when the Democrats were filibustering some of George Bush's judicial nominees, but a compromise was eventually reached and it was not employed.

It has been used in the past, however, and it definitely does work. If the Democrats wanted to use it they could, and once this option is employed it becomes precedent-setting, so the Senate would then become a majority-rule body. There is no question, really, about whether this would work. It does work if a majority votes for it. The only real question is political: does the majority want to do it?

A bit of history is in order here. The Senate had unlimited debate, and no cloture rule, until 1917, when a rule was adopted requiring a supermajority of two-thirds of Senators present and voting in order to cut off debate and end a filibuster. This rule remained in force until 1975, and filibustering was used most importantly by Democratic Senators from the south in order to block civil rights legislation. The longevity of this rule despite the fact that it can be overridden demonstrates the political considerations, as does the next step in the evolution of the rule.

In 1975 a version of the nuclear option was used to change the filibuster rule by a simple majority vote of 51-42. However, the filibuster was not eliminated, rather the supermajority that was required to end a filibuster was changed from two-thirds of Senators present and voting to three-fifths of the Senate's full membership. This shows the political caution that Senators feel they must exercise regarding the filibuster rule. Polls have shown support for the filibuster rule, so Senators have two reasons not to use the nuclear option. First, they might want to use filibusters themselves at some point, second, they might not get re-elected if voters disapprove. The result is that Senators are very reluctant to get rid of the rule completely.

The 1975 change was supposed to reduce the use of filibusters by lowering the cloture requirement from two-thirds to three-fifths, but it hasn't worked out that way. In the past, the requirement of two-thirds of those present and voting meant that the filibustering minority had to keep its Senators constantly present in order to maintain a one-third blocking minority anytime a vote to cut off debate might be held. This required a lot of personal commitment and discomfort f the majority decided to keep the Senate in session around the clock. This also produced high drama at times, as was depicted in the classic Jimmy Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The 1975 change made the required supermajority to cut off debate three-fifths of the Senate's full membership, or sixty Senators if there are no vacancies. This means that the filibustering minority really only needs to mobilize one Senator at a time to conduct a filibuster, just the one doing the talking. If they rotate people speaking, then even if a cloture vote winds up 59-1 in favor of cutting off debate, it still fails and the filibuster continues.

The result has been that the minority now just tells the majority that they intend to filibuster, and if the majority can't find sixty votes, it gives up. This is called a procedural filibuster, because an actual one is no longer necessary. Due to this, filibusters have proliferated tremendously. In the old days, filibusters were only employed when the minority felt very strongly about something, because filibusters were really uncomfortable and took a lot of effort and sacrifice. Now, any time a minority has 41 votes, they just announce a procedural filibuster, and they win.

Given all this, I think we can expect that in the very near future we will see a huge number of filibusters. There is a lot of pent-up demand for progressive legislation, and the Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, but the 41 or 42 Republican Senators can still effectively kill all the new legislation that the country needs. We also should keep in mind that several Democratic Senators are from Republican states, and we are as likely to lose votes at the margin as to gain them.

So, the question soon will be: should the Democrats use the nuclear (oops, I mean Constitutional) option? I think they should, but in the same cautious way it was used in 1975. The Democrats will not be willing to just go completely to majority rule, because voters are not in favor of it.

I feel that the Democrats should use the constitutional option to amend the filibuster rule, changing it from three-fifths of the full membership of the Senate to three-fifths of those present and voting. That would make it like the old days, but with the magic number being three-fifths instead of two-thirds. Then the chronic absenteeism of Senators becomes a very big factor. If only 90 Senators are present for example, then you would only need 54 votes to end a filibuster. This would require the Republicans to work for it if they really wanted to oppose something. They would have to do the Jimmy Stewart thing, which would also have the added benefit of making the Senate a lot less boring.

I think we should expect this issue to be prominent in the coming months and prepare for it. The slogan should be "the filibuster - amend it, don't end it", and I have some talking points. The first is "when a vote is 59-1, one shouldn't win, and the second is "90% of life is showing up, except in the US Senate". Be prepared.
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