Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Will 24 Million People 'Lose' Their Health Care Coverage If The Republican Health Care Plan Passes?

It all depends on what you want to believe.

If you love the ACA and President Obama, you want to believe 30 million people 'will lose their health care coverage if the mean old Republicans pass their bill!'

If you hate the ACA and want the Republicans to overturn Obamacare in its entirety, you want to believe that 'hardly anyone is going to lose their health coverage if the Republicans pass their bill'

When it comes to political statistics, where you stand depends not only on where you sit on the political philosophy spectrum but how your amygdala gets triggered: either for the liberal side of things or things conservative. (The amygdala is where the animal response lies in the human brain).

Let's face it: we all get hard-wired one way or the other over time after listening to political debates and trained like Pavlov's dogs to respond viscerally and emotionally primarily with anger towards 'the other side'.

The first casualty is ALWAYS 'the facts'. If we can all learn to control our emotions and look at the facts first before opening our mouths and launching a fusillade of attack against 'the other side', we might all be better off in the long-run.

Doug Badger wrote a pretty good article explaining the wide range of estimates concerning the number of future enrollees in private plans and Medicaid in the Republican American Health Plan due to be voted on tomorrow if the legislative schedule, and the votes are there to pass it, hold.

Here's one conclusion he came to:

'For all the hoopla about the ACA exchanges, it appears that Medicaid accounts for the lion's share of coverage gains and that many new Medicaid enrollees would have been eligible for that program even if the ACA had never passed'

Here's another:

'Since the release of the HHS study, the government has published two additional surveys of health-insurance coverage - the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Community Survey (ACS). Both offer data through the end of 2015, allowing for comparison with the NHIS estimate.

The three surveys use different methodologies to produce estimates of the number of non-elderly adults who gained coverage. These estimates vary by 20 percent - ranging from the CPS estimate of 13.7 million to the NHIS estimate of 16.5 million.'

Here's another report in Real Clear Policy, 'CBO: You Can't "Lose" Medicaid You Don't Have' you need to read to get a bead on how the CBO estimates of '24 million people will lose coverage' if the Republican plan is passed in total by the end of this year after it wends its way through the gauntlet of legislative process.
'The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had to deal with two separate worlds when it analyzed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the version of “repeal and replace” put forward by two House committees. While the CBO exists to provide numbers that relate to spending, deficits, and the economy, a different number got the most attention: the assessment that by 2026, 24 million fewer people would have health insurance.
That is not the same thing as saying '24 million people will lose health insurance'. Rather, it is a statement that, compared to how many people CBO expects to have health insurance in 2026 under current law (the Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA or Obamacare), 24 million fewer people will have health insurance. The largest contribution to that projection is 14 million fewer people enrolled in Medicaid, the federal-state program that pays for health care for low-income people.'
There is a very long way to go before any final version of any Republican plan to reform health care coverage in America is complete. It could be late October for all we know right now. Or it could be November or right before the Christmas holidays.

We remember several sessions lasting right up to about midnight on December 23.  No one liked it but it sure made people make decisions and compromises on passing a large piece of legislation so they could get home and enjoy the holidays with their families and friends.

Be prepared with the facts before you get too heated one way or another about this bill. Calm cooler heads need to prevail if we are ever going to find some long-term solutions to health care in America.

Living more healthy lifestyles would help. Raise your hand if you think Americans are ready to give up their cigarettes, soda, chips and Twinkies and exercise 30-60 minutes every day and curtail their beer, wine and alcohol consumption.

But that would require far more than any congressional legislation could ever achieve.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

The 3-Step Plan to Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

'Good thing a rocket launch doesn't need to
go through Budget Reconciliation and Byrd Rule!'
If you had never heard of the differences between the US House and the US Senate in Washington, you are about to learn a lot about them in a very short time frame.

Based on initial news reports, a 'normal' (as in 'I have better things to do than hang onto every word uttered on MSNBC, FOX News or from the National Review every second of every day!') person would conclude that the Republican alternative to repeal and replace the ACA, aka 'Obamacare' was a 'total disaster of biblical proportions!'

Mainstream news folks were apoplectic. Democrats were scathing. Even members of the Republican Party were pronouncing the bill 'dead on arrival' just after being introduced early this week.

What the heck is going on here?

As we just said, the US House and the US Senate are about as different of two legislative bodies as you could imagine. At least as they can be in two western democratic republican forms of government, that is.

There are 3 stages to this roll-out (outlined below) by Speaker Paul Ryan and backed up by HHS Secretary Tom Price, who most recently was Chairman of the House Budget Committee which was the same committee a younger congressman named Paul Ryan chaired before becoming the Vice-Presidential nominee in 2012 and then becoming Speaker of the House.

It is fair to say 'they speak the same language'. And an archaic and byzantine language it is. If it was simple and could be conveyed in first-grade English, they would do that. But they are dealing with the rules of the US Senate which is anything but first-grade elementary school.

We had the benefit of serving 4 years on the House Budget Committee from 1991-1994 where a lot of this same language was explained enough times to start making sense after hearing it a couple of thousand times.  We also had the benefit of serving in the US Senate as chief of staff to US Senator Elizabeth Dole where we learned the intricacies of parliamentary rules from former Senate parliamentarian Bob Dove who left us with this one axiom to always remember:

'In the US Senate, the only rule to remember is....there are no rules in the US Senate!'

Once you get that into your head, the proposed Republican health care alternative introduction and plan starts to make (some) sense.

Here's what that rollout plan appears to be based on public comments by Speaker Ryan and Secretary Price yesterday:
'Budget Reconciliation?' 'Byrd Rule?' Riiiiiight....
  1. Phase I was the core bill introduced this week designed primarily to repeal major provisions of Obamacare with an eye to getting through Senate rules to avoid an extended filibuster by using their budget reconciliation process and avoiding the 'Byrd Rule'. (eyes start to glaze over but pay attention cause it is important to understand)
  2. Phase II will be the bills that will be introduced once HHS Secretary Price has had a chance to review the over-1400 new federal regulations put in place by the Obama Administration for Obamacare to determine which will be kept (not many) and which will be jettisoned (most of them).

    Expect this bill later this spring.
  3. Phase III will be the broader, non-budget policies most Republicans want to see passed as part of this repeal and replacement effort such as selling health insurance across state lines; returning funds and flexibility in Medicaid to the states and enhanced medical legal reforms.

    Expect this bill perhaps during the summer.
Just for educational and edification purposes, here are somewhat pedestrian translations of what the budget reconciliation process and the 'Byrd Rule' are, taken from some very good reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) (click through links to read more for yourself):

I. Budget Reconciliation
'The budget reconciliation process is part of the fiscal framework established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (Titles I-IX of P.L. 93-344, 2 U.S.C. 601-688), as amended. The principal aim of this framework is to enhance Congress’s coordination of spending, revenue, and debt limit legislation through the adoption and enforcement of a concurrent resolution on the budget (commonly referred to as the budget resolution). The budget reconciliation process, in particular, is intended to facilitate the consideration and enactment of legislation that implements, in whole or in part, the budget policies reflected in the budget resolution. Perhaps most significantly, the process establishes special procedures that have allowed the Senate to get to a vote on passage on budget reconciliation legislation without first having to demonstrate super-majority support (i.e., without invoking cloture with a three-fifths vote).

Translation into English: 'This is a way to get around the painful filibuster rules of the Senate so the majority party (Republicans now) can pass spending and tax law by simple majority vote of 50+1, not having to get to 60 to close debate'

Note: Republicans have 52 US Senators. Democrats have 46 plus 2 Independents who caucus with them. You do the math.

II. The Byrd Rule
'Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WVa) explained that the basic purposes of the amendment were to protect the effectiveness of the reconciliation process (by excluding extraneous matter that often provoked controversy without aiding deficit reduction efforts) and to preserve the deliberative character of the Senate (by excluding from consideration under expedited procedures legislative matters not central to deficit reduction that should be debated under regular procedures). He opened his remarks by stating:
'... we are in the process now of seeing ... the Pandora’s box which has been opened to the abuse of the reconciliation process. That process was never meant to be used as it is being used. There are 122 items in the reconciliation bill that are extraneous.
Henceforth, if the majority on a committee should wish to include in reconciliation recommendations to the Budget Committee any measure, no matter how controversial, it can be brought to the Senate under an ironclad built-in time agreement that limits debate, plus time on amendments and motions, to no more than 20 hours.
It was never foreseen that the Budget Reform Act would be used in that way. So if the budget reform process is going to be preserved, and more importantly if we are going to preserve the deliberative process in this U.S. Senate—which is the outstanding, unique element with respect to the U.S. Senate, action must be taken now to stop this abuse of the budget process.'
Translation into English: 'We just don't want to deal with a bunch of garbage every time we consider a tax and spending package! And, on top of that, anything that adds to the deficit without being paid for by offsetting spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere will be ruled out of order!'

So far, every US Senator, including even former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV, now retired) has honored this unique Senate rule of procedure.

Our take on this after reading more detailed explanation of the House Republican strategy is that Speaker Ryan and Secretary Price know what they are doing. Both have been House Budget Committee chairs and know the process of budget reconciliation far better than the average Congressmen or Senator.

The knee-jerk reactions of Senators Rand Paul and other Freedom Caucus members flies right in the face of the fact that former fellow Freedom Caucus member, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, IS NOW BUDGET DIRECTOR UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP!

If Mick Mulvaney is on-board with this strategy, perhaps his former colleagues should listen to him.

Here's some observations early in the process:

  1. Advocating HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) as a panacea for providing health insurance is not a practical solution for everyone. For one thing, 50% of all taxpayers in America don't have enough income to pay federal income tax to begin with, in which case receiving a tax credit or tax deduction to buy a HSA is virtually worthless unless converted into a direct payment along the lines of an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) where people who don't earn enough for that tax credit receive a direct check from Washington for the amount owed.

    In other words, that 'tax credit' becomes a 'direct subsidy' just like the ACA subsidies that now exist under Obamacare for non-Medicaid-eligible citizens.
  2. The end result of this effort should be a flattening of the tax code with regard to treatment of health care insurance between business and individuals. There should be a basic fundamental level of tax deductibility for a basic catastrophic health care insurance plan offered by whatever source with wellness care, preventive health care and dental care included.

    Beyond that, a company or individual could purchase any level of health insurance they want. They just wouldn't be able to deduct those costs as a cost of 'doing business'.

    Company-provided health care is a vestige of the wage-and-price controls instituted by FDR in World War II where companies started providing health care as a way to entice good workers to come work for them. It is time for that part of employment history to be repealed.
  3. Managed care has taken over virtually all of the Medicaid market across the country. Trained professionals are employed to help people learn how to take basic care of their own selves BEFORE they develop complications such as diabetes and heart disease that become so expensive in later years.

    If we really want to get at the cost-drivers of high health care insurance premiums, we need to encourage more managed care across all forms of health insurance programs in America.

    Close to 50% of all health care costs are related to heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

    Americans can eat less unhealthy food; stop smoking; stop excessive over-drinking of alcoholic products and exercise at least 30 minutes every day and experts will tell you this will significantly reduce the incidence of those four health conditions listed above.

    Want to see health care premiums drop precipitously? Get out of the chair, walk around the block a couple of times; eat kale, stop smoking and drink maybe just 1 glass of red wine at night with dinner instead of a bottle of Scotch or case of beer and get all of your family, neighbors and colleagues at work and church to join you on a daily crusade to restore America's health.

    We would never have to worry about 'Obamacare', 'Trumpcare' or health care reform ever again.

    And save trillions of dollars over coming decades in health care costs. At least $1.5 trillion this year alone.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

'Keep your eye on the little white ball'

Below are direct links to the legislative language as introduced by House Republican leadership last night in the House Ways and Means and the Commerce Committees:
From Ways and Means:
CLICK HERE to read the legislative recommendations from the Ways and Means Committee.
CLICK HERE to read a two-page summary of the American Health Care Act.
CLICK HERE to read a section-by-section of the Ways and Means legislation.
From Energy and Commerce:

CLICK HERE to read the entire bill, which includes legislative recommendations from the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees.
CLICK HERE to read a section-by-section of the Energy and Commerce legislation.
Here's something you might want to consider doing and ask your friends and colleagues to do as well during consideration of this bill:

'Turn off cable news and radio talk shows UNTIL and UNLESS you have read the legislation for yourself!'

We don't say that to encourage you to be close-minded and tunnel-visioned and shut off debate or not hear from other sides of the issue.

We say that to encourage each of you to use your own common sense and brains to read the bills and the amendments as they come up and make your own evaluations and conclusions before you start to bank on the opinions of columnists or talk show hosts or the basic news media whom we have pretty damning evidence by now that they really are not interested in presenting news in a fair and balanced basis through whatever political lens they choose to use.

The main things to remember is that any health care legislation should seek to allow the following:

  • Universal access to health care insurance
  • Tax equity fairness and treatment for all consumers of health care insurance
  • Basic catastrophic health insurance coverage for everyone
  • Means and incentives for driving overall health care costs down, not up

Once we have had a chance to plow through this legislation and probably some analytical reports from unbiased sources, we will post some thoughts and insights in coming weeks.

It is the greatest and most complicated public policy issue of our time and has been for the past 30 years now. It is in our own collective best interest to find a compromise to replace the ACA which has failed to cover everyone with insurance and has caused premiums to skyrocket across-the-board in the meantime.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is President Trump Being 'Unfair' To Our NATO Allies By Asking Them To Pay More For Their National Defense?

NATO Member Nation Defense Spending as Percentage of GDP (2016)
Much is being made of President Trump's public comments about asking our NATO allies to shoulder more of the collective NATO cost burden.

This is not a new thing. Republicans as far back as the 1980's were regularly talking about 'defense burden-sharing' as one way to start getting out from the enormous $300 billion+ budget deficits back then.

Think that is not a lot? That represented close to 30% of annual total federal budgets of just over $1 trillion.  Today's budget deficits, while enormous at $500 billion+, are 'only' 12% of annual federal budget totals of $4 trillion or so.

Still, the question of fairness and justice comes up when you consider that since World War II, the United States taxpayer has been asked to pay for a disproportionate share of the collective defense budget of the free world, namely the US, Canada and Western Europe before the Iron Curtain fell and Eastern Europe for the most part became part of NATO in the 1990's.

Is it 'fair' and 'just' to ask fellow free democracies such as France, Spain and Germany to pay more for their individual defense as part of the overall NATO treaty that commits the US and other nations to come to their defense in the event of an unprovoked attack?

As you can see from the chart above, only Greece, Poland, Estonia and the UK are paying more than 2% of their GDP in defense spending in addition to the US. 23 other member NATO nations fall below the suggested 2% of GDP threshold that every member nation knows is the preferred target for every nation.

The US is paying 3.62% of GDP in defense spending. Since the US economy is so enormous compared to the rest of the world, that translates into over $650 billion in FY 2016 or twice as much in real terms as the rest of the 27 NATO nations combined, even though their collective GDP is greater than the US.

Essentially, US taxpayers (and young people by virtue of the debt we have built up for them at stratospheric levels prior to the Trump Administration taking office) have paid for the vast amount of defense of freedom for our NATO allies since 1945.

Granted, the US has benefited from the institution of freedom and democratic government across the globe since World War II. Every time a dictatorship fell or communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, the US gained new friends and allies and trading partners just to name a few benefits of exporting freedom across the globe as the #1 American export since 1945.

However, 72 years is a very long time. The devastated nations of World War II, namely France and Germany, are among the top 6 economies in the world today. Surely they can be asked to shoulder more of their 'fair share' of the collective burden defending freedom and peace in their nations.

After all, they are closer to the hot spots of the world than the US is. It would seem they would understand the importance of paying for their freedom more fully than relying on a Big Brother such as the United States has asked its taxpayers.

Know what the 'excess' of the United States spending more than 2% of GDP on defense spending is annually?

It is close to $300 billion. Per year. Know how much lower our national debt would be today had the US spent only 2% of GDP for the past 17 years instead of the projected $21 trillion it will soon be?

Over $3 trillion. Our collective debt burden would have been close to $18 trillion instead of $21 trillion solely by limiting our defense spending to 2% of GDP as 'suggested' by our NATO alliance.

Or, to put it other ways, taxes could have been cut roughly on average $200 billion per year for the last 17 years. We could have paved and re-paved every US highway probably 2 or 3 times in advance of the Trump proposal to spend $1 trillion on our nation's infrastructure. $3 trillion in spending over the last 17 years could have done a lot in the fields of research to cure cancer, Alzheimer's or AIDS.

No wonder France and other European nations have the resources to offer 'free' health care or higher education or any of the other litany of supposed benefits of living in a socialized nation! Being relieved of paying fully their fair share for their national defense allows for such policies to be pursued by elected politicians in each country each seeking to get elected and stay elected.

9/11 changed a lot for the US. Much of our increased defense spending came as a result of the now 16-year War Against Terror with major expenditures on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, our NATO allies benefit whenever American troops and military strength push back against such oppression. Had the US not been attacked on 9/11, perhaps the targets of Al Qaeda then and now ISIS would have been France, England or Germany. They would have had to have increased their defense spending regardless.

There are historical reasons why no one in their right mind would want to ever see a Germany or a Japan for that matter fully re-arm their military completely outside of a very tight military and national security strategic alliance. For one thing, both nations have repeatedly shown over centuries a very dangerous disposition to fully arm and then wreak havoc, destruction and millions of deaths on the world stage.

No one ever wants to see a fully independent and warlike Germany or Japan operating again.

However, that does not preclude either nation from paying a higher proportionate share of their solid economic output on their national defense and security. They could very easily make regular payments into a collective pool for NATO members and basically 'purchase' their security and defense from other members as they deploy troops and assets in the defense of all members in the alliance.

'Defense burden-sharing' was not a bad idea in the 1980's. It should not be dismissed as 'out of hand!' and 'crazy!' and 'insane!' as many in the press are portraying President Trump's recent pronouncements to be.

He could be a bit more pragmatic and diplomatic, to be sure. Perhaps such conversations should take place in private first at some conference of the G-7 or something like that.

However, ask yourself this question:

'Are we going to be paying a disproportionate share of the defense of Turkey, Denmark and Italy in 2027? 2057? 2117?'

If the US is still paying for the bulk of the defense of NATO in 2117, that would be longer than the period of time from the end of the Civil War in America to today.

Think about that. It has to change. Today is as good as any.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Look at that Plate-Spinner!

(click through title link to see video)

One the most amazing acts in television history, if you are of a certain age, was 'The Plate-Spinner' on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in the 1960s.

Ed Sullivan was a producer of many vaudeville acts and had really no discernible talent other than he could spot new acts and trends and put them on the air before anyone else knew who they were.

When he announced 'The Beatles!', America went wild. Elvis Presley graced his stage as did innumerable actors and bands.

But there was one act that seemed to be on at least 2 Sundays every month that captivated and mesmerized anyone who saw it: The Plate-Spinner.

Erich Brenn of Austria would come on-stage with a lot of fanfare music in the background and proceed to start spinning plates and bowls and whatever he could get his hands on it seemed on top of 5 or 10 or 15 long sticks on a table or stuck in the stage floor somehow.

All a person could do was to sit transfixed for the 2-3 minute performance watching the plates or bowls start to lose momentum and then somehow, Erich Brenn would spin the sticks and get them moving again properly instead of crashing to pieces below.

So far, in the first 3 weeks of President Donald Trump's presidency, we have been reminded of 'Erich Brenn, the Plate-Spinner from Austria!' mainly because the ultra-left in this country seemed to have gone bonkers over every single action, word and appearance of our new President.

And whether it is by design on the part of President Trump (he coulda been the second 'Ed Sullivan' you know) or happen-stance, all that attention on a tweet he sent out or a comment he made about his daughter's clothing line seems to have unhinged the Democrat opposition to the point where it is all they can do to find the next place to protest, riot or block and impede any conservative speaker or cabinet official from entering a building to speak on a matter.

Which leads us to remind everyone of the truly 'serious' and important work his administration and this Congress have got to do over the next 4 years. The more the left stays unhinged focusing on the trivialities of his plate-spinning, the more will get done to solve the truly big problems we face as a nation, beginning with this great summary below from The Committee for a Responsible Budget

  • 'Trump has taken office with higher levels of debt as a share of the economy than any president other than Harry Truman in 1945.
  • Unlike the debt under President Truman, which began to fall rapidly shortly after World War II ended, debt is projected to rise continuously during President Trump’s time in office and beyond.
  • Federal entitlement programs and interest currently represent a larger share of the budget than under any previous president, leaving relatively less room for defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
  • If in office for two terms, President Trump could face the insolvency of three major trust funds, and an additional one – the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund – soon after.

Debt is Higher Than at Any Time Since Truman

Over the past 50 years, the national debt held by the public has averaged about 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and was only 35 percent of GDP as recently as 2007. Since then, debt has grown dramatically, and is now higher than at any time since just after World War II.

Between 2007 and 2016, debt more than doubled as a share of GDP, from 35 percent to 77 percent.

This means that President Trump entered office with higher debt than any president since Truman in 1945, when debt was 103 percent of GDP.

At 77 percent of GDP, debt at the beginning of President Trump’s term is significantly higher than the 58 percent of GDP when President Eisenhower took office, the 46 percent when President Clinton entered, or the 44 percent at the beginning of President Obama’s tenure.

Trust Funds Are Headed Toward Insolvency

In addition to the overall debt and deficit situation, President Trump is confronted with a number of major trust funds out of long-term balance, with three that could be depleted by the end of a hypothetical second term in office.

CBO projects the Highway Trust Fund to become insolvent some time in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. At that point, $70 billion of general revenue that was transferred into the trust fund in 2016 will have been spent in its entirety. As a result, the $40 billion of dedicated revenue will fall about one-third short of the projected $57 billion in spending in 2021. Through 2027, spending will exceed revenue and trust fund reserves by $139 billion, requiring significant adjustments to align them.

Two years later, in FY 2023, CBO projects the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund will exhaust its reserves. When that happens, beneficiaries will face an immediate 16 percent benefit cut. To delay this cut, policymakers will need to close a $175 billion shortfall between 2023 and 2027. Over a 75-year period, the SSDI shortfall equals 0.65 percent of taxable payroll (the Social Security Trustees estimate a 75-year shortfall of 0.26 percent of payroll).

By FY 2025 – either near the end of a hypothetical second term or the beginning of the following president’s term – CBO projects the Medicare Hospital Insurance trust fund, which funds Medicare Part A, will also reach insolvency. When this trust fund is depleted, Medicare payments would be cut by 13 percent unless policymakers close the program’s $198 billion shortfall between 2025 and 2027 and the significantly larger long-run deficit (the Medicare Trustees project Medicare will be insolvent by 2028 and faces a shortfall of 0.73 percent of taxable payroll.)

Finally, CBO projects Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund will deplete its reserves by calendar year (CY) 2030. At that point, under current law, all beneficiaries would face a 31 percent benefit cut. Though this date is still 13 years away, it is unlikely policymakers will be able to prevent insolvency (or prevent a large general revenue transfer) if they don’t act in the next few years. As we’ve explained before, delaying action on Social Security will ultimately require larger tax increases and spending cuts spread over fewer cohorts with fewer possible exemptions (such as current beneficiaries) and less time for workers to plan and adjust. Over 75 years, CBO projects Social Security’s retirement program faces a massive gap of 4 percent of payroll – the equivalent of one quarter of spending or one third of revenue (the Social Security Trustees estimate a 75-year shortfall of 2.39 percent of payroll and an insolvency date of 2035).'

As always, we encourage you to read the entirety of the report from CRFB and print it out and keep it handy if you have to; it is only 11 pages.

But while the left is getting all steamed up about 'Trump-The Plate Spinner From Queens!', you'll be able to soberly and calmly discuss with your friends and colleagues the importance of reducing federal spending so we can get our financial national fiscal house in order not unlike what has happened in the state of North Carolina over the past 4 years that has led to a $556 million annual surplus in the next budget.

(We couldn't resist: here's the Ed Sullivan Show announcing 'The Beatles!' to the world in 1964.

If you have never seen it, you just can't understand how much of an impact this performance had on America. 73 million people watched it that night when the population of the US was only 191 million folks. That would far exceed current Super Bowl ratings if adjusted for population growth)

The Ed Sullivan Show First Appearance of The Beatles in video on Jukebox[4] from Zip Code on Vimeo.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't Like the 60-Vote Hurdle in US Senate? Here's A Way Around It Perhaps.....

'My '60' Was Easier To Get To Than
The US Senate's '60'!
The media is breathlessly obsessing over whether Democrats in the US Senate, led by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, can keep 8 Democrats from crossing over to vote with the 52 Republicans to get to the magic number '60' so that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch can be voted on to fill the seat left open when Justice Scalia died last year.

What is so 'magical' about the number '60' in the US Senate anyway?  When did '60' become so important so as to effectively be used to shut down operations of the Senate and therefore the entire federal government for much of the past 17 years essentially?

It is not like Roger Maris in 1961 trying to break Babe Ruth's home run record of 60*. There is nothing inherently 'magical' or even 'constitutional' about the number 60 in the US Senate, is there?

We think there is a very simple way to make the number '60' in the US Senate virtually worthless in short order. However, first a little history:

The 'terrible' thing that the US Senate wanted to prevent with the number '60' was the long 'filibuster' that would occur when or if a Senator would claim the floor and then proceed on a long sustained speech for 1, maybe 1.5 days at a time thereby stalling all Senate action for the duration.

Appropriately enough, the word 'filibuster' comes from the Dutch word for 'pirate' or 'freebooter':
'FILIBUSTERING'is a term lately imported from the Spanish, yet destined, it would seem, to occupy an important place in our vocabulary. In its etymological import it is nearly synonymous with piracy. It is commonly employed, however, to denote an idea peculiar to the modern progress, and which may be defined as the right and practice of private war, or the claim of individuals to engage in foreign hostilities aside from, and even in opposition to the government with which they are in political membership. ["Harper's New Monthly Magazine," January 1853]
'Piracy' of full and open free debate, that is. Filibusters do nothing other than delay free and open debate in the US Senate which should be anathema to anyone in the United States of America.

In 1917, the Senate adopted a rule that called for 67 votes to close off debate (called 'cloture'). Previously, since the beginning of the Republic, there was unlimited debate on an issue as long as the there was unanimous consent (100%) to continue debate before taking a vote.

The president pro tempore (or his designee) of the Senate could keep recognizing Senators who wanted to continue a filibuster as long as he wanted (and his party agreed to).

Remember: the rules of debate in the US Senate are just that: adopted rules by the Senate at the time. There is no constitutional requirement in the US Constitution regarding 'filibusters' or 'cloture' or anything like that.

As it is today, you would think the number '60' is ingrained in Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution relating to the establishment of the Senate.

It is not. Anywhere.

Unlimited, open and free debate about everything was the hallmark of the US Senate, commonly referred to in the past as the 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body'.  No longer can it be claimed as such primarily due to the cloture rule of 60 today. Both sides engage in threats to 'do filibusters' simply to bottle up contentious issues and avoid making the tough votes and compromises on the big issues we send them to Washington to work out in the first place.

Cloture votes were designed to limit the obstructionist use of free debate of the opposition, especially obnoxious to the majority party in control of the Senate at any particular time.

'Filibusters' are great when you want to oppose an issue. They are 'awful' when you want something passed but your opponents engage in the dilatory tactics of the filibuster.

One the more famous (or infamous) individual filibusters in recent history was when South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond took to the floor in a filibuster against allowing debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He started speaking at 8:54 pm on August 27 and ceded the floor back to the Chair at 9:12 pm on August 28, 1957.  He spoke for 24 hours and 20 minutes on a wide range of issues from reading Shakespeare to his momma's recipe for 'pot-likker'.

Great theatre. Looked like Jimmy Stewart in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington'. 

What stopped Senator Thurmond?

Nature itself. Lack of sleep, physical fatigue will ultimately get every human being to submit to yielding the floor. 'Nature called' in the sense that Strom Thurmond eventually had to use the bathroom facilities and get some sleep, although Capitol Hill legend has it he used some sort of catheter device to postpone his inevitable visit to the bathroom.

After a 60-day Civil Rights filibuster in 1964 that was essentially broken when Republican Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois brought 27 Republican Senators to invoke cloture at 67 votes, many observers sought to reduce the cloture vote even lower to frustrate future filibusters.  This finally was accomplished in 1975 when the rules to invoke cloture were changed in the US Senate to bring the threshold down to 3/5s or 60 votes from 67.

Today, all you hear about is how hard it will be to get 8 Democrats to switch over to join 52 Republican Senators to get to 60 in the Senate to invoke cloture (end any potential filibuster) and allow the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to get to the floor of the Senate where he could be approved by simple majority or 51. (Republicans have 52 in the Senate today)

We think the effective number today to end cloture is 51 simply because former Majority and Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada quite honestly, and 'stupidly' as history will bear out, got a Senate rule lowering the vote for federal judges to simple majority rather than be subject to cloture rule votes. They were frustrated by their inability to get many of former President Obama's judicial nominees through the Senate because Republicans would not join the Democrats to get to 60 votes.

See? Obstructionism is bipartisan.

This is the so-called 'nuclear option' you keep hearing about. It is not 'nuclear' in the sense that the Senate will be radioactive for 250 years after using it. But it does take the US Senate far from the original intent of allowing minority party rights in the US Senate by our Founders that it might as well be considered a 'nuclear bomb' to our form of government and should be avoided at all costs.

'Resorting to the 'nuclear option' reduces the US Senate of the United States of America to merely being a second House of Representatives where majority rules and minority parties just get creamed and lose leverage in any compromise solution.

We don't need or want a second House of Representatives where popular emotion can often rule the roost in times of stress or crisis. The US Senate is supposed to be a place where cooler heads prevail and members of both parties are FORCED to make accommodations in compromises to pass laws and confirm nominees that reflect more of the center of the political spectrum than the extremes on either fringe.

So, what is the 'solution' alluded to earlier?

  • Let Senators go ahead and filibuster their brains out.
  • Let Nature take her course and her revenge against them. 
  • Nature always wins.

Think about it. Former Senator Harry Reid has effectively reduced the cloture vote to 51 anyway. It is like saying a women is 'half-pregnant'; she either is or isn't pregnant. The effective cloture vote now is 51 whether anyone likes it or not.

Senator Mitch McConnell can urge Senators to adhere to the 60-vote threshold now in the rules of the Senate but when push comes to shove, if only 7 Democrats join the 52 Republicans in the Senate to invoke cloture, Republicans in the Senate can just change the rules in the Senate and adopt simple majority rules to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and be done with it.

So there. That is what is going to happen in the next month or so in a nutshell if you don't see 8 Democrats crossover to vote for cloture in somewhat of a dispirited effort to 'return to tradition and principle' in the Senate.

Allowing a Democratic Senator to start the debate by filibustering the Gorsuch nomination for a day or 2 at best would allow Majority Leader McConnell the opportunity to claim the floor when that Senator passes out from exhaustion and recognize a Republican Senator who could make the motion to proceed to debate the Gorsuch nomination on the floor of the Senate.

Debate will have started. The filibuster will have failed. The next speaker is recognized. And a motion to proceed to vote can follow some adult-level debate about the relative merits and demerits of Judge Gorsuch.

At that point, Mr. Gorsuch could be voted onto the Supreme Court with 51 votes, not 60 as it sounds like today.

What the Senate would lose is a day or so of listening to someone read Shakespeare or the New York City phone book (if such a thing still exists nowadays) into the Senate Record. It might be an affront to efficiency and common sense but the US Senate is not supposed to be 'super-efficient' when it comes to passing legislation in the first place.

Making Senators actually do a filibuster would be much more 'painful' to them personally, physically and emotionally than constantly falling prey to their 'threats' to filibuster. Make them do a couple of them, particularly the older and more frail Senators by age, and the allure of engaging in prolonged, dilatory tactics becomes much less interesting of an option to most sane people.

Including Senators.

In addition, people of their state might grow tired of their Senator constantly gumming up the works of the US Senate instead of doing the very hard work of working to find ways to get the bill in question amended in some way that would allow their affirmative vote.  Having a Senator spend 1 day per week screwing things up in the Senate might be fun for a couple of weeks or a month but after awhile, it will grow old and stale as last year's bread.

Order would be restored to the US Senate in terms of restoring it to the 'World's Greatest Deliberative Body' where substantive debate can and should be engaged and let the cards fall where they may based on reason, fact and persuasion.

As it should be.

(Restoring earmarks in appropriations bills so deals can be made and cut to get a Senator's vote once again would be helpful as well. Putting an earmark in for a state for a bridge to be built across a small river to a revered historic landmark in honor of the home state Senator's dearly beloved grandmother who hailed from the region would be a small price to pay to get things moving again on a bi-partisan basis...but that is a story for another time)

*(editorial side note: every major league player who hit more home runs in a season than Roger Maris is tainted by questions about their use of illegal or at least unethical PEDs or performance-enhancing drugs so 61 and 60 are still 'magical' numbers in Major League Baseball at least)

** (Caveat)- There may be some obscure parliamentary rule we are unaware of that experienced parliamentarians spend years in academia debating whether it was offered by a specific number of angels on the head of a pin. However, this discussion came out of a discussion from a veteran of Capitol Hill recently who went to Washington in the 1970s and has basically 'seen it all' so we are going with his observation.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

President Ronald Reagan Had His 'PATCO Moment' in August, 1981

PATCO didn't work
President Donald Trump has had 7 PATCO moments in his first 11 days in the White House.

What is a 'PATCO Moment' you may ask?

First, a little history lesson:

PATCO was the acronym for the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization that served as the union for all the nation's air traffic controllers at all the nation's airports.

No one in their right mind would suggest theirs is not a very important job to our personal safety and national commerce. They are highly trained people and everyone should be grateful they do a great job every day.

However, they are also federal workers. Public servants as much as any congressional staff or administration official is.

Here's the oath they take when they accept the job at any of the approximately 10,000 US airports:

'I am not participating in any strike against the Government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the Government of the United States or any agency thereof.'

President Reagan took that oath seriously. As do the vast majority of federal workers when they take federal jobs.

Except the PATCO workers as of August 3, 1981, that is.

'At 7 a.m. on August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay, and a 32-hour workweek. In addition, PATCO wanted to be excluded from the civil service clauses that it had long disliked. 

In striking, the union violated 5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p (now 5 U.S.C. § 7311), which prohibits strikes by federal government employees. 

Ronald Reagan declared the PATCO strike a "peril to national safety" and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act. 

Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work.

Subsequently, at 10:55 a.m., Reagan included the following in a statement to the media from the Rose Garden of the White House: "Let me read the solemn oath taken by each of these employees, a sworn affidavit, when they accepted their jobs"

He then demanded those remaining on strike return to work within 48 hours, otherwise their jobs would be forfeited. At the same time, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis organized for replacements and started contingency plans. 

By prioritizing and cutting flights severely, and even adopting methods of air traffic management that PATCO had previously lobbied for, the government was initially able to have 50% of flights available.

On August 5, following the PATCO workers' refusal to return to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life.1)

And they never worked as an air traffic controller at a US airport ever again.

That one singular act was routinely referred to as the 'signature moment' when everyone in the nation knew for sure that President Reagan was setting a new course for America after 4 years of dismal economic growth, 'stagflation', rampant inflation, sky-high interest rates, 444 days of Iran holding 52 American hostages in Tehran, gas shortages and rising gasoline prices under previous President Jimmy Carter.

President Reagan had survived an assassination attempt in March of 1981, barely 2 months after he was sworn-in as President and he had started the process of passing tax cuts to revive the economy.

But the PATCO strike was the moment that defined the early years of President Reagan since it signaled a return to law, a return to reason, a return to honorable selfless public service and a return to common sense.

President Reagan had that signature PATCO moment in August, 1981 just over 7 months in office.

President Donald Trump has had 7 'PATCO-like Moments' in his first 11 DAYS as President of the United States.

  1. Signed order allowing Keystone Pipeline to proceed
  2. Withdrew US from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations
  3. Announced hiring freeze in federal government
  4. Announced freeze and rollback of federal regulations
  5. Announced the beginning of the construction of the border wall with Mexico
  6. Issued temporary halt to immigration from 7 countries most identified with Islamist extremism
  7. Announced the selection of Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the US Supreme Court.
We may have missed a couple along the way. At this rate, President Trump may average a PATCO-esque moment or 2 per day for each day he is in office.

You may love this change of direction under President Trump or you may hate it. But there is no denying that just as ex-President Obama promised significant change in 2009 as he took office, President Trump is delivering on significant change in 2017 as he takes office.

As monumental as many of these actions have been,  it remains to be seen what the US Senate and Congress will do since that is where substantive changes can be made to last the long-term through legislation.

If Congress follows suit, this year may be one of the most active and substantial sessions of Congress in perhaps the last 20 years. 

You might want to stay tuned.

1) from Wikipedia

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Monday, January 23, 2017

What Do You Do When The Chickens Finally Do Come Home To Roost?

'Where do you want us all to sit?'
Ever wonder where such descriptive idioms come from?

You would think that it would come from a farmer who was well-acquainted with the ways of barnyard chickens. You have to believe that when they do come back to roost at night, there is a fair amount of noise and cackling and general filth that has to be cleaned up on a regular basis.

The specific idiom as commonly stated today got its start with Robert Southey's poem 'The Curse of Kehama' in 1810:

"Curses are like young chickens: they always come home to roost."

Well, when it comes to federal budgeting policy, 'multiple past poor budget decisions' are like those same 'curses'. And they are coming home to roost right now right before our very eyes.

First: Here's a list of all the ways you can choose to pay for federal spending:
  1. Taxes
  2. Borrowing
That is it. When a dollar leaves Washington DC to pay for any federal program from defense to Social Security to Mohair price supports (yes, there really is such a thing for Mohair farmers in Texas), it comes from either your taxes paid every week, month and year OR from bonds issued to foreign sovereign nations, corporations, foundations or (mostly) wealthy individuals domestic and abroad.

There is no Tinker Bell pixie fairy stardust anyone can turn to to pay for anything. Those are the only two options.

Second: In order to reduce our current budget deficits (which has to be done first anyway) and then reduce our $20 trillion national debt, here are the only ways you can achieve those goals as well:
  1. Raise your taxes
  2. Cut spending
  3. Allow more inflation to pay off debt with less valuable dollars in the future
Choose your chicken. Or your poison, depending on your perspective.

Borrowing more money over the past 40 years has always been the pressure safety valve to which less-then-principled elected officials almost always resorted instead of making the very difficult decisions as to raise taxes to pay for new programs or cut spending on existing programs to pay for any new program.

When the federal national debt is 33% of GDP as it was just as recently as 20 years ago, the adverse consequences of adding more debt are not as dangerous as when national debt is approaching 75-80% of GDP as it is today.

When it hits 100% of GDP, the use of more national federal debt really becomes very problematic. If you don't think so, ask any rational economist: 'Why not just go to 200% of GDP? 300%? 500%?'

No sane person would answer in the affirmative.

The Trump Administration has floated the idea of reducing federal spending by over $10 trillion over the next 10 years to the collective gasp of naysayers. We will talk more about this as it develops but since 2001, at least, every federal policy decision has been towards increasing deficit-spending and debt by passing more tax cuts AND more federal spending.

2 of the easiest and most popular things for any Congressman, Senator or President to do.

Just to set the parameters for your brain to be able to consume and process all that is about to come at you like a firehose: consider the following example before you cast off the possibility of reducing federal spending by $10.7 trillion over the next 10 years:
The federal budget is about $4 trillion now. Assume in 10 years it will grow to $6.5 trillion under current growth estimates which is what CBO says it will be.
That is about $53 trillion or so of collective accumulated federal spending expected to go out the door over the next decade.
A $10 trillion 'reduction' from that gross amount is about 19% from the total amount.
But instead of federal spending being $6.5 trillion in 2027, taking these somewhat urgent steps now would lower baseline spending so that federal spending in 2027 would 'only' be, say, $6 trillion, not $6.5 trillion. 
It just wouldn't be as much as some people would like it.
It is either cut spending now or add another $10 trillion to the $20 trillion debt we now have which would be 120% of GDP in 2027.
And that might be all she they say.
This is the price of inaction on controlling federal spending from 2002 to 2017. You will note that covers Presidents W, Obama, and both Republican AND Democrat control of Congress and the Senate.

Chickens really don't care what they do when they come home to roost for the night. Or the week. Or the decade.

Neither does debt. It has to be paid regardless of who is in power.

Debt rules the roost. We have to do something dramatic to arrest it.


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Monday, January 16, 2017

More Hard Facts To Memorize

Know how many people in the United States of America have a firm grasp of unadulterated, unbiased hard data when it comes to understanding federal tax, budget and health policy?

About as many people as who have been reading Telemachus these past 8 years now.

We wish that number was in the multi-million but it is not. So congratulations for being in the 'enlightened' group.

A friend from Washington budget days just posted this on social media this weekend: 'Anyone who thinks there's too much Econ 101 involved in federal policymaking has obviously never been INVOLVED in federal policy-making'

Sort of funny but sad and true. You can add accounting according to GAAP principles, basic fundamental processes of business on a day-to-day practice; tax policy or law and a varied array of other issues that underpin our free market economy.

Which is another set of reasons why we need more business people from the private sector to run and serve in elective office locally while still working and probably while retired in Congress or state legislatures.

Take a good long look at the two tax charts above put together by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board. It is about as stark and unbiased of a presentation of the facts about who pays which tax and how much across income categories.

No distortion of the facts to show how an ever-decreasing percentage of upper-income folks are paying a large part of the individual income tax burden; no slanting of the data to show how rich people and corporations are 'not paying their fair share!' (whatever that is on any given day); no bashing of the '47%' who are not paying any federal income tax at all because successive Congresses have kept excluding more people from paying any federal income taxes at all.

We hope this Congress and this new President can once and for all and for everyone's sake clear the underbrush out from our entire tax code and eliminate most if not all tax exemptions, exclusions, credits and allowances, all of which were inserted by some sly or nervy lobbying group for this particular group or another.

General overall lower tax rates coupled with elimination of such tax shelters not only should rev up the economic engine of the US after these last 8 years of being gummed up by more taxation and regulation but it probably would generate more tax revenue as wealthy people and corporations stop paying expensive tax lawyers and accountants to hide their money and just pay the lower rates and be done with it.

It would help the public dialogue if everyone memorized these charts above. You be the first and set us on a new path toward reasoned civil discourse in America.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Has Obamacare 'Worked'?

Was The Overall Cost of Obamacare Worth It?
You are going to see and hear a lot of debate in the next few months about 'repeal and replace' the ACA, otherwise known as 'The Affordable Care Act', aka 'Obamacare'.

The question really seems to revolve around the issue of whether it is truly 'affordable' or not, yes?

Not just to the individuals who have been added to the Medicaid rolls, essentially for free, or to the individuals who have been able to afford subsidized health insurance on the exchanges but to everyone as a whole when counted collectively as federal and state taxpayers and individually as participants in the private health insurance market where many to most people have seen their private health care premiums simply explode over the past 6 years of implementation.

First, here are some hard stats for you to begin the year with:

'In calendar year 2016, on an average monthly basis, according to CBO:

  • 57 million people will be enrolled in Medicare, 
  • 77 million will be enrolled in Medicaid, 
  • 6 million+ will be enrolled in CHIP, and 
  • 12 million+ will be covered by insurance purchased through the marketplaces

Among people who are under age 65:
  • Most—about 155 million—will have private health insurance obtained through an employer, 
  • 9 million+ will be covered by a non-group policy purchased directly from an insurer, and 
  • 27 million+ (or 10 percent of the under-65 population) will be uninsured'

Roughly 11 million people are considered 'dual eligible' for Medicaid and Medicare due to their age and income status. There are only 313 million people in the US today and the above totals add up to 343 million less the 11 million dual-eligibles for a total of 332 million so there is a lot of double-counting going on somewhere in the official CBO/Joint Tax Committee 'éstimates'.

Dual-eligibles make up 14% of Medicaid enrollment, yet spend approximately 36% of Medicaid expenditures. Dual-eligibles total 20% of Medicare enrollment, and spend 31% of Medicare dollars.

The total amount of government funds spent on dual-eligibles accounted for close to $300 billion in 2011 alone. It has to be close to $400 billion today spent between the federal government 100% through Medicare and mostly through the federal share of Medicaid plus the matching state funds.

It might be wise to consider some sort of new category entirely in the federal budget to deal solely with dual eligibles in any upcoming health care reform.

'In calendar year 2014, national spending for health care was an estimated $2.9 trillion. Of that amount:

          52 percent was initially financed by private sources:

  • 34 percent came from private health insurers; 
  • 11 percent, from consumers in the form of out-of-pocket spending; 
  • 6 percent, from other sources of private funds, such as philanthropy

    The remaining 48 percent of national spending on health care was public: 
  • Gross federal spending for Medicare accounted for 22 percent;
  • Federal and state spending for Medicaid and CHIP, 18 percent; 
  • Spending on various other programs (including those run by state and local governments’ health departments, by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and by the Department of Defense), for 8 percent.'
There will be a test tomorrow on all these facts.

Imagine you are a freshman Congressperson from Idaho who has just been sworn in to uphold the Constitution 'to the best of your ability' and you really wanted to go to Congress to work on ranch issues and 2nd Amendment rights. The first thing you might be asked to vote on is the overhaul of close to 17% of our national economy and 'repeal and replace Obamacare' in the next 100 days.

Given the immense complexity of the issue as evidenced by the above stats from CBO and Joint Tax, do you think you would be ready to cast such a momentous vote as one of your first acts in Congress?

It ain't easy.

Estimates are that since the passage of the ACA in 2010, roughly 15 million people have been added to the Medicaid rolls mostly across the 31 states (including DC) that enacted Medicaid Expansion as allowed under ACA. Another 10 million people are estimated to have been added to the private insurance rolls under the subsidized federal exchanges in the states that enacted such exchanges.

However, other estimates say that close to 5 million people who previously had private insurance or employer-sponsored insurance either dropped their coverage, lost it or couldn't afford it as private insurance premiums skyrocketed in many cases over the past 4 years, 25%+ per year in many of those cases.

In the private individual market, we experienced at least a 25% per year annual increase. We are fortunate to still have coverage and be able to pay for it. Many people couldn't do it.

So, after all of the Sturm und Drang and political angst over Obamacare, with 2 congressional elections in between passage of it and today including one of the nastiest presidential elections ever in American history, we think we can fairly say that 15 million previously uninsured people are now covered by Medicaid through the ACA and 10 million new people may have private federal-taxpayer subsidized insurance but that accounts for only a net gain of say 5 million more people covered by private insurance since the passage of the ACA.

Was it worth it? That is the question Congress and the new President will have to answer in the coming months.

What we would like to see but is beyond our capacity to ever guess-timate is a report that adds up the entire cost of the spiraling, escalated private insurance for everyone other than the new 10 million enrollees in the federal exchanges, the 164 million people covered by private insurance either through employer-paid plans or non-group individual plans, over the past 4 years and compares that to the direct cost of paying for the expanded cost of Medicaid with the 15 million new enrollees plus the subsidy costs of the 10 million people who now have health insurance.

That must be an enormous number when you add up the additional cost of the health care plans for 164 million people paying anywhere from 10%-35% more per year for the past 4 years.  It may be that it might have been less expensive to us as a nation as a whole to have included not only the 15 million new enrollees in Medicaid expansion as has already happened but also have added the 10 million people enrolled in the federally-subsidized ACA exchanges into Medicaid instead of the exchanges and hoped that the 10-35% annual increases in the vast majority of private insurance plans might have moderated some to at least single digits, not high double digits since 2013.

It is something to consider.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Payback Is Not Always A Good Thing

Not for adults leading our country......
At least not when it comes to running a constitutional democratic republic, it is not a 'good thing'.

It might 'feel good' for the moment and provide a temporary sense of happiness at 'turnabout being fair play' and all that. But this is not a child's game our elected leaders are playing; it is running the greatest elective representative democracy the world has ever known.

We should run it the right way.

The US Senate, under the control of Democrats and under the leadership of now-retiring Harry Reid of Nevada, changed the rules of the US Senate on 11/22/2013 to allow a simple majority vote on all presidential nominations except for Supreme Court nominations.

It passed 52-48. Democrats held 53 seats at the time and 2 Independents, including Bernie Sanders, typically caucused and voted with the Democrat majority. 3 Democrat Senators voted against the motion.

'So what?' you might say. 'The Republicans were just stonewalling against anything and everything President Obama was doing ever since he got elected in 2008! Harry Reid had to do this to get something done for the nation!'

Here's the 'so-what': Now that President-Elect Trump has a majority of Republicans in the US Senate, he could get Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo confirmed to serve in any presidential appointee capacity he wanted if the Senate continues to adhere to the so-called 'nuclear option' precedent set forth by Senator Reid.

We hope Senate Republicans will vote to restore Senate rules back to the threshold of 60 immediately upon being sworn-in in early January 2017. In fact, we don't mind if the Senate returns to the concept of 'unanimous consent' and abolishes the 60-vote threshold altogether and returns to the days when 1 US Senator could stage a filibuster like Jimmy Stewart did in 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington' and shut down proceedings for days.

Here's why:

  1. Restore Integrity To The Process of Governing

    We like to think of our former brethren in the Republican Party as at least being 'rule-followers' much as we admire professional golfers on the PGA Tour who routinely call penalties on themselves in order to 'protect the integrity of the game of golf'. Period.

    We love it when a professional golfer calls a penalty on himself.  Cameron Tringale called a penalty on himself in the 2014 PGA golf championship and essentially disqualified himself from contention and forfeited at least $53,000 with his confession. For a violation that no one else ever saw.

    The US Senate must never be allowed to operate like the US House of Representatives where simple majorities rule the day. We lived through a decade of being in political purgatory from 1985-1995 working in the minority party of the US House by close to 85 seats (votes) every session.

    That was not fun. In the least little bit.

    However, every day we went into work, we knew that the rights of the minority party in the US House, us Republicans, were going to be protected in the US Senate whether the GOP was in the majority or the minority over there.

    Why? Because any legislation that we thought was terrible was going to have to run the gauntlet of Senate rules over there where 60 US Senators were going to have to vote to at least allow debate on the floor of the Senate or else it would be bottled up on the Senate side, never to see the light of day.

    Protection of minority party rights in our democratic republic is critical to the long-term health of not only each party but the nation as well. You do NOT want to live in a representative democracy where any majority can run roughshod over the wishes and rights of the minority party.

    That is just plain and simple un-American.

  2. Re-Establishing the 60-vote threshold forces comity and compromise

    If the Republicans in the US Senate maintain the simple majority rule status set forth by Senator Harry Reid on presidential appointments, it will not be long before the siren call of 'payback' or revenge sets in and they change the rules of the US Senate to be a simple majority on EVERY piece of legislation.

    That will be the day the US constitutional form of government stops being as unique and as special as we all like to believe it is. Because it really is a uniquely crafted government carved out of the brains of some of the smartest people we have ever seen in this country or around the globe.

    Having a simple majority in the US House of Representatives insures that the will of the people gets expressed every two years at the election booth. Doing the same thing in the US Senate reduces the US Senate to just another cauldron of emotion where prevailing public sentiment can be not only expressed but passed into legislation, assuming a President is unwilling to veto bills passed by his own party.

    Having at least a 60-vote threshold to consider debate on the floor of what once was called 'The World's Greatest Deliberative Body' (but sadly is no longer) at least provides a place where reasoned debate can occur to 'cool' inflamed public sentiment on any particular issue and come up with alternatives and compromises that might amend the original bill into something that actually works and stays in force for awhile.

    Going back to the original filibuster threshold of 100 would only accelerate and intensify the process of compromise and reconciliation between the 2 parties. NO ONE would get anything done that they want if they consistently stand in the way of 99 other Senators getting at least a debate on their pet issues and causes.

    When there is 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD) amidst 100 US Senators, a lot of things would get done pretty fast you gotta believe.
Not following the simple majority Senate rules for presidential nominees as put forth by Harry Reid in 2013 may sound like a retreat for any conservative Senator who endured and suffered through the years of Senator Reid who might have been as ruthless of a Senate Leader there ever was. There certainly will be no glowing biographies of the days of Harry Reid as there have been about Henry Clay or any other Senate Majority Leader in our nation's history.

But it would be the right thing to do for our nation and our constitutional government. Just because a person or a political party does something really dumb like lead a bunch of lemmings off a cliff into the raging ocean below does not mean everyone else who follows should be equally as ethically and intellectually-challenged, does it?

Resisting the temptation to continue the wrong policy set forth by Senator Reid would show the nation that the Republicans are indeed the 'adults in the room' and ready to lead again.

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