Nov 19, 2013

The Reason the Botched Obamacare Rollout is Not OK

     President Obama addressed the White House Press Corp last Thursday and announced a fix for the millions of individuals receiving cancellation notices from their health providers since the federal health care exchanges went live in October.  He said that health insurers would be allowed to continue offering plans that Americans were enrolled in.  It was meant as a fix to the promise of, “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” that the president has been unable to keep.

The promise arose from the president’s desire to reassure Americans that the new health care law would not be a disruption to the existing health care in this country, but rather an improvement.  That has proved to be anything but the case.  It has been enough of a disruption in fact, that the previous week the president felt the need to apologize for the botched rollout. 

But is the apology enough?  Many insurers are upset with the president’s new directive.  Insurers have already set prices for their policies for the coming year.  Attempting to change regulations now means changing their risk assessment.  Changing their risk assessment puts their participation at risk.  It also puts premiums already set for consumers at risk of being raised.  Instead of lessening the confusion, the directive seems to be increasing it.

The trouble stems from the fact that the federal website, healthcare.gov has failed to work for the vast majority of people attempting to use it.  There are several reasons this is troubling.  It’s been shown, for example, that the administration had good reason to believe that the website would not be ready by October 1st.  Insurance industry representatives say that within the industry, it was basically understood that the website was not going to be ready by the launch date.  How could this information not have reached the president?  How could he be so unaware that things were going so badly?  

Then of course there are the politics of the health care law.  Republicans have tried 46 times to repeal it.  The government shutdown that happened last month was basically the result of the desire of some to do away with the law.  Many on the right were (and admittedly still are) rooting for the law to fail.  If there was any failure or flaw in the law, it would be exploited mercilessly.  How could the president not want to personally ensure that detractors of the law would have as little to criticize as possible?

The rollout held high stakes for those on the left as well.  Not only did it have the potential to propel the president’s legacy into transformational status or plunge it into jeopardy, it had the potential to reflect positively or negatively on the ability of government to solve big problems, the single biggest tenet of the Democratic Party platform.  How, with the stakes so high, could repeated and thorough testing not be an integral part of the site’s development?  How could the president not personally be on the website on a weekly, if not daily basis to make sure the site was going to deliver on his and his party’s promises?

The botched rollout may seem like the fault of some technical problems, but in fact it goes much deeper than that.  That is the reason this is reflecting so negatively on the president.  The question is not of websites or plan cancellations or even health care in general.  It is of management.  It’s ok for the president to not be savvy in the ways of website development.  One could even argue that it’s ok for him to not have foreseen how health insurers would react with regard to honoring policies for every segment of the market.  But it is not ok for the president to not be an effective chief executive.  And that was the real crime here.  His apparent failure to make preparations that were commensurate with the stakes of the single biggest public policy rollout in decades. 

The president said last week that he understands that public trust in him has suffered because of these mistakes.  Is it possible for him to regain some of that trust?  Yes.  But as he himself has said, he’s going to have to work awfully hard to do so.

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Nov 12, 2013

The Republican Party’s Struggle Within

     Coming out of the Government shutdown there were plenty of rumors that “establishment” Republicans were going to begin fighting back against the Tea Party wing of the Party.  Fighting back against the nominations of candidates who, in their view, cannot win general elections.   Fighting back against the pushing of policies (i.e. the government shutdown) that do little except damage the Republican brand. 

Some establishment members saw the elections of last Tuesday as opportunities to do just that.  To show that the establishment still held considerable sway over the direction of the Republican Party.  The elections were supposed to go a long way toward settling the growing rift between these two wings. 

In Virginia, staunch conservative and Tea Party backed candidate Ken Cuccinelli was behind for most of the race for governor.  The conventional wisdom was that democrat Terry McAuliffe would win the race going away.  Although the results were much closer than expected, McAuliffe did win.      

In Alabama’s first congressional district, Dean Young, a favorite of the Tea Party faced off against Bradley Byrne, who was backed by the establishment, in a runoff election.  Byrne was endorsed by the NRA and received donations from the Chamber of Commerce, along with corporations such as Pfizer, Caterpillar and AT&T.  In the end Byrne prevailed. 

And then of course there is Chris Christie.  The tough talking Republican governor of NJ who won reelection easily, taking nearly 60% of the popular vote in one of the bluest states in the nation.  A performance that demonstrated an appeal that could reach across demographics (a fact that he repeatedly pointed out during appearances he made on four of the Sunday morning talk shows this past weekend.)

So the evidence is clear.  The establishment asserted its will and the Tea Party was admonished.  Right?  Well, not quite.    

The Republican grassroots seems to be less than thrilled with Chris Christie being anointed Republican standard bearer and front runner for the 2016 presidential nomination.  Rush Limbaugh said last week referring to Christie, “I’m tired of the media picking our [presidential] candidate for us, and they’re trying to do it here.”  A Tea Party activist from Kentucky is quoted in the NY Times as saying, “We’re so frustrated with all this Christie talk we can’t see straight.  He’s no more conservative than Harry Reid,” (referring to the Democratic Senate Leader).

Yes, the Tea Party seems not to have been the least bit discouraged by the results of last week’s elections.  And they may have reason not to be.  Many believe that had the establishment supported Cuccinelli for governor in Virginia more fervently, for example, they might have won that race.  The Republican National Committee spent $3 million to support Cuccinelli.  In 2009 they spent three times as much.  The Chamber of Commerce spent $1 million in 2009.  This year they spent nothing.  Yet the results were not only close, but uncomfortably close if you’re a democrat.  Only 2 points separated the candidates in the end.

In Alabama, Dean Young never called his opponent, Bradley Byrne, to concede defeat.  He said he wouldn’t vote for Mr. Byrne and was considering forming a national organization to carry on his work.  Not the typical concession speech usually heard on election night.  Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Minority Leader said of the Alabama race, “the candidate who said the shutdown was a great idea and who thinks the president’s from Kenya came in second.”  But many will note that with little more than grassroots support, Dean Young came within 5 points of defeating Byrne.    

Most believe that the biggest struggle right now in Washington is between Republicans and Democrats.  But the struggle that is going to have the biggest effect on our national politics over the next 2-3 years is the one taking place within the Republican Party.  Chris Christie, in his victory speech on election night, to cheers from a thunderous crowd, said, “…if we can do this in Trenton, NJ, then maybe folks in Washington D.C., should tune in their TVs right now and see how it’s done.” 

You would think most Republicans would be happy to see a member of their party, such as Christie, command attention on the national stage and be ready to support him as the 2016 race for president looms.  But a quote from another Tea Party activist in the same NY Times article seems to sum up the current sentiment well: “He [Christie] won his reelection, bully for him, but for him to make the jump up the next rung of the ladder, well, he’s not going to find any support from the people I mix with.” Indeed, it seems the struggle within the Republican Party, much to consternation of the Republican establishment, is a long way from being over.

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Nov 6, 2013

Obamacare’s True Problems

     Obamacare has rolled out and by all accounts it has been one of the worst initial rollouts of a major public policy ever.  The much heralded federal website, healthcare.gov, the site that was supposed to make shopping for health insurance as easy as shopping for a book on Amazon, crashed the very first day.  Millions of people who were looking forward to shopping for their insurance encountered nothing but error messages, long wait times and frozen screens.  It has gotten only marginally better in the time since.

But if you are an opponent of the health care law and are banking on the website’s malfunctions to bring the law down, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.  You see, the website will eventually be fixed.  This administration will spare no expense in addressing the problems and they will eventually iron out whatever bugs are causing this mess.  In other words, the website will not be a long term problem.

But there are structural problems that have the potential to eclipse the website’s woes as the number one impediment to Obamacare’s functionality.  Problems that if left to play out, and if not curbed, either by the law’s existing statutes or by new ones, will present serious challenges to the long term health of Obamacare. 

The President has said, for example, that if Americans like their existing health care plans, they can keep them.  That was a major selling point for the law back in 2010.  It’s turning out not to be true.  It’s estimated that about 5% of all insured person in the US are at risk of losing their health insurance because of Obamacare’s new requirements.  That’s about 15 million people.  Not a small number.  Now there are estimates that the true number may be even higher.

Another issue is the expansion of Medicaid.  Medicaid was expanded under Obamacare, set up originally as an incentive for states to create their own health care exchanges.  Depending on income level, health care may be entirely free of charge for some.  That has the potential of dramatically expanding the nation’s dependency roles.  We’re already seeing some evidence of that.

So far, the vast majority of enrollees in Obamacare are to Medicaid.  In some states it’s as much as 90%.  The financial assumptions that Obamacare makes is that roughly 7 million people must buy health insurance plans in order for the program to remain viable and for premiums to remain affordable.  If significantly less than that sign up the system may run into trouble and premiums may skyrocket.  Proponents of the law point out that it’s still too early to accept these early numbers as permanent trends, which is true.  But the pace will need to pick up soon if the enrollees in public and private insurance are going to come into balance. 

The administration has set a new deadline of the end of November for the website to be functioning properly.  But it will matter little that the site is fully functional if millions of people are getting kicked off their existing policies against their will.  Or if the number of people enrolling in free health care through Medicaid outnumbers the number of people purchasing private health insurance by so much that the program is no longer sustainable.  There are early trouble signs with the law that may potentially turn into real long term problems.  And these extend far beyond simple technical glitches on a website. 

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Oct 29, 2013

What are “Top-Two” Primaries and Can They Save America?

     Howard Berman was in the fight of his political life.  The 15 term Congressman was locked in an increasingly tough battle with his Democratic opponent, Brad Sherman.  The fight for California’s 28th district seat was turning into one of the hardest fought, and costliest, congressional contests of 2012.  

He thought endorsements from some powerful political allies might do the trick.  He sought out support from senior Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, both of whom gave Berman ringing endorsements.  John McCain’s statement read, in part, “Howard Berman is a man of determination and honor. He works to keep America safe, and our country is stronger with him in Congress."

Sadly for Howard Berman, though, these endorsements turned out not to be enough.  He ultimately lost the race and his seat in Congress.  What was curious, though, was not that the endorsements were not enough, but that Berman sought them out in the first place.  That it was believed that endorsements from two senior stalwart Republican Senators like McCain and Graham would be a positive for Berman’s campaign.  It was curious because Howard Berman is also a Democrat.    

California recently turned to what is called a “top-two” primary system (sometimes also referred to as a “blanket” primary).  In it, candidates running for office, regardless of party affiliation, compete in an open primary (so-called because it is open to voters of all parties).  The top two vote getters, again regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election.  It is not uncommon to have general elections where both candidates represent the same party under the system.  What results is a situation where candidates have to prove they can do what is best for all of the people in their district, regardless of party affiliation.      

Gerrymandering, by contrast, is a process by which congressional districts are redrawn to give one party an advantage over another.  Democrats, for example, might redraw a congressional district’s map to include more Democratic precincts, or exclude Republican ones.  It’s estimated that in 2014 only 5-20 seats in the House of Representatives will be true toss-ups.  The rest, heavily gerrymandered districts, are considered “safe” for either one party or the other.

The intended consequence of gerrymandering is to create districts that reliably vote for one party or another.  Its unintended consequence, though, has been to create districts not where the main worry of a candidate is being seen as too partisan, but being seen as not partisan enough.  In a district where there is no real worry of losing to a member of the opposite party, you are much more concerned with a challenge from a more extreme member of your own party during a primary than with a challenge from a member of the opposite party during a general election. 

Top-two primaries, it seems, change that calculus a little bit.  The primary is open, making it possible for constituents of any party to vote for any candidate.  Because it’s likely that you and another candidate from the same party will split, to some degree, your own party’s votes, candidates who seek an advantage have to go outside their party’s constituents and establish an appeal to all voters in a district.  Instead of staking out policy positions that appeal to the most extreme voters of one party, candidates seeking an advantage have to stake out positions that appeal to as many voters as possible. 

What a top two primary system really seems to do is incentivize moderation.  It incentivizes positions that do the most good for the most people and working in a manner that all constituents can endorse.  In short, it incentivizes centrism over partisan extremism.  And a system that incentivizes centrism may be exactly what is needed to help America get away from gridlock and get back on track.

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Oct 22, 2013

A Case for the Return of the Smoke-Filled Room

     The government shutdown has ended and the debate over who the “winners” and “losers” are has begun.  Democrats claim that Republicans will suffer the most in terms of public opinion.  Republicans argue that any negative effects on the nation will reflect, ultimately, on the president.  Polls show that most Americans blame (albeit not equally), all involved.

The broader debate that has emerged though is over why it is that Congress is so dysfunctional.  A closer look at the circumstances surrounding this shutdown leads to a surprising revelation about how Congress now works.  A minority of House Republicans (30-40 in number) forced their will on the rest of their party and the rest of the House, even though their leader, Speaker John Boehner, warned for months against a government shutdown.  One Senator, Ted Cruz (two if you also count Sen. Mike Lee), pushed to sustain the shutdown even though just about all of his party’s leadership in the Senate (Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham to name just a few) were dead set against it. 

So part and parcel with the debate over why the government is so dysfunctional is a debate over why it is that congressional leaders now wield such little influence over their members?  How can congressional leaders act more like, well, leaders again? 

It used to be that party bosses would gather in offices, smoke big cigars, drink scotch and decide which strategies their caucuses were going to support.  They would influence the way their members voted by granting, or in some cases denying, appropriations to their districts.  These appropriations were commonly referred to as earmarks. 

Earmarks became an overused tool by Congress over the years.  (“Abused” might actually be the more appropriate word.)  They cost American taxpayers nearly $11 billion in 2010.  In 2009 it was $15 billion.  So earmarks were done away with in 2011, at the start of the 112th Congress, in an effort to show the American people that Congress was serious about curbing federal spending and cutting waste.   

But a new problem arose as a result of this ban.  One which many argue is just as bad, if not worse than the original.  That is the problem of government grinding to a halt.  You see earmarks were predominantly used to wield influence and keep rank-and-file members in line on certain votes.  They were the lubricant that “greased the wheels” of legislation so to speak.  That grease is now gone.  Now there is very little incentive for a member to vote along with party leadership on anything that their districts don’t fully support.  It turns out that without the ability to reward members who toe the party line with appropriations and punish members who don’t by withholding them party leaders have very little leverage at all.  (It’s worth noting here that the 112th Congress was the least productive Congress in history.)

So there is a growing chorus from thinkers and former politicians to roll back the ban on earmarks.  To allow them once again, but with restrictions.  It’s hard to imagine the American people having an appetite for such a move.  But in the absence of earmarks we are left with a Congress where congressmen and women have little incentive to go along with the requests of their party leadership.  A Congress in which every member concerns themselves with the interests of their own constituents and little else.  A Congress where the business of government has all but stopped.  That has the potential to do more damage than even several wasteful government programs can do. 

It would be quite ironic if part of the solution to the waste and dysfunction in Washington DC would be adding more pork back into its system rather than continuing to take it out.

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Oct 15, 2013

Are We Witnessing the Birth of a Third Party?

     Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas has been making quite a bit of news in recent weeks.  He is the person most closely associated with, and responsible for, the government shutdown in Washington.  It’s no surprise that there is a huge gap in his favorability ratings between voters in the two parties.  What is surprising though is the gap in his favorability ratings between voters within his own party.  Among Republican voters in general Ted Cruz’s approval rating is a paltry 4%.  His approval with Tea Party voters?  52%.  More than any other single stat, this one seems to crystallize the current state of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party has traditionally enjoyed the support of big business in this country.  But many business organizations and many of the nation’s top CEOs have quietly (and some not so quietly), come out against the shutdown.  Many more have come out against defaulting on the nation’s debt which seems more likely this week than it did last.  They have tried to pressure Tea Party Republicans to resist playing games with the nation’s finances. 

Likewise, the billionaire Koch Brothers have tried in recent days to draw a line between battling Obamacare and shutting the government down in order to do so.  Republican Governors, from Chris Christie in New Jersey to Bobby Jindal in Louisiana to Scott Walker in Wisconsin, have all distanced themselves from the shutdown in DC.  Many of them have privately urged their Republican Party brethren in Washington to end a shutdown that, so far, has accomplished little except raising the unfavorability ratings of the Republican brand.

All of these are significant developments.  What’s more significant though is how little effect this pressure has had on the Tea Party.  Not only is the pressure not moving the Tea Party’s positions in any significant way, the opposite seems to be happening.  Support for the Tea Party cause seems to be strengthening, as evidenced by conservative attacks on even the most anti-Obama republicans who seem like they may be trying too hard to find a solution to the shutdown

Democrats have called on Speaker John Boehner to bring a measure that will reopen the government to the House Floor.  They say the votes necessary to pass such a measure are there if John Boehner would simply agree to accept a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.  Boehner refuses to.  He says the votes are not there.  Many unofficial whip counts dispute that assertion.  More likely what John Boehner means is that Tea Party votes are not there.  And therein lies all the difference.    

Many believe the reason John Boehner complies with the Tea Party is that Tea Party members will mutiny if he doesn’t, and try to have him removed him from power.  That acquiescing to Tea Party pressure is the only way to protect his job.  Could it be, though, that the thing that John Boehner is trying so desperately to protect is not his speakership, but the Grand Old Party itself? 

Perhaps what John Boehner is trying to delay is not an end to his time in office, but an end to a unified Republican Party.  That certainly would make sense; such a goal is more in keeping with John Boehner’s consensus-building, deal-making approach to politics.  But if that is the case it seems that we have been asking the wrong question over the last several years.  The real question is not how long will Democrats and Barack Obama continue to conform to Tea Party demands, but rather how long will other Republicans continue to do so?

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Oct 8, 2013

Why Obama Should Not Negotiate

     For the past week demands for President Obama to negotiate on the government shutdown have filled the air.  Republican Congressman and Women, as well as conservative political strategists have taken to the airwaves trying to make this shutdown President Obama’s shutdown.  Karl Rove, Republican operative and guru, during an appearance on a Sunday talk show, even managed to call President Obama an obstructionist.  That struck me as particularly bizarre.  After all, Pres. Obama is not responsible for there being more filibusters in the last 4 years than there has been in the previous eighty.  President Obama is not the one who has threatened to shut the government down repeatedly over the last few years. 

The claim that Republicans seemed desperately trying to make over the last week is that President Obama refuses to negotiate and that is why our government is shutdown.  Republicans, of course, refuse to pass any federal budget that includes any funding for the President’s health care law, Obamacare.  Unable to repeal the law through the regular order process, Republicans are basically trying to repeal it through the budgetary process.  They’re complaint now, it seems, is that President Obama refuses to help them do it.  Quite an awkward position for Republicans to find themselves in.  They’ve created a crisis and are blaming their political opponents for refusing to help them escape it. 

For the better part of a century, Democrats have tried to pass universal health care in this country.  It is as near and dear to them as small government and low taxes are to conservatives.  It finally got done on President Obama’s watch.  How could he possibly acquiesce to any demand to undue it before it has even gone into effect, especially by a method as strong-armed as a government shutdown?

The irony of course is that Obamacare has not been hampered at all by the shutdown.  It’s budgeting is not subject to the same appropriations process as the other programs affected by the shutdown.  Indeed, the only thing that seems to be slowing Obamacare down is, well, Obamacare.  Glitches on the program’s main website plagued the program’s rollout during the first week.  Just this past weekend, the sign up feature on the website had to be taken down for repairs

Republicans are demanding a delay in the implementation of the health care law in exchange for passing a budget and allowing the government to reopen.  But when Republicans say “delay” as it relates to Obamacare what they really mean is “repeal.”  They are trying to prevent a law passed along party lines, but legitimately, from being implemented.  They are the ones being obstructionists.  Accusing the other side of the very tactics they are employing will not work.

The reason the President should not negotiate is because if he does this small faction of Republicans responsible for this strategy will grow more emboldened.  Not only will they use these tactics again, their demands will become larger.  Every law and program in our government should be subject to analysis and criticism.  Laws that are harmful should be repealed.  But not by back door parliamentary procedures.  And not by extortion.  Legislation by “hostage-taking” is bad for our system of government.  And bad for the country.  So it needs to stop.  Not negotiating may be painful but by doing so this extreme behavior will stop.  And it will stop once and for all.  Having tried several times before only to be rewarded with more intransigence, this President needs to stop trying to protect the Republican Party from itself.

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Oct 1, 2013

The Party of Spite

     Senator Ted Cruz took to the floor of the Senate last week to rail against Obamacare.  He urged his fellow Republicans to vote against a resolution that would allow Senate Leader Harry Reid to kill a bill passed by the House earlier that week defunding Obamacare with a simple 51 vote majority.  He spoke for hours (21 to be exact).  Then the motion was put forward for a vote.  Ted Cruz joined all 99 of his fellow Senators in passing the resolution unanimously.

A vote for the resolution didn’t necessarily mean a vote for Obamacare.  Far from it.  But that didn’t stop Ted Cruz from making that very claim.  And that claim didn’t stop him from voting for it anyway.  So it is that a very curious thing is happening with the Republican Party.  Is their motivation principled stances on policy matters or is it something else?

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare as it is otherwise known) went into effect today.  People are now able to buy insurance off of state exchanges that, as of today, are live.  Republicans in the House have refused to pass a budget that allocates any funding to the ACA.  They claim the program hurts the economy and the country as a whole. 

There are some worrisome signs being seeing at the outset of the program.  Waivers arbitrarily granted to business as well as to Congress itself are troubling.  Even labor unions have taken issue with Obamacare in recent weeks.  But is that what all this hubbub is about?  How can anyone be so sure what the long term effects of such a massive program are going to be before the program has even started?    

The answer is they can’t.  This is not so much about Obamacare.  This is more about the “Obama” in Obamacare.  This is about making sure that this president has no signature legislative achievements to show for his presidency.  You see, the Republican Party has come in recent years to stand for little more than thwarting any significant legislative action this President pursues.  It’s why the government shut down this morning.  And it’s why it’s likely to remain shut down for some time to come. 

Think for a moment about what Republicans are asking this President to do.  Republicans have refused to fund the government unless Barack Obama agrees to roll back the signature piece of legislation of his term in office.  They are asking him, in essence, to end his presidency.  To become a lame duck about 18 months before two-term presidents usually become so.  Is there any wonder the President has refused to negotiate?  What room in such a demand have they left him?

It remains unclear whether Obamacare will do more harm than good in the long run.  By some estimates it will take months (if not years) to see what the practical effects of the law are.  But if it is even half the disaster Republicans say it will be they will retain control of the House and win back control of the Senate, possibly as soon as next year.  They will then be in a much stronger position to roll the law back.

If their goal truly is stopping Obamacare, and they’re dire predictions are correct, they should be able to find remedy in short order.  But if their goal is just stopping President Obama they may be wise to pursue a different one.  If they keep pursuing this course of obstruction at all costs they will wind up doing more harm to their own party than they ever will to Barack Obama. 

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Sep 24, 2013

John Boehner Should Say Enough

     The next few weeks in Washington promise to be very interesting.  People will be able to begin buying health insurance on the state exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  The federal government will once again hit the nation’s debt limit.  Partisan bickering has once again threatened to derail progress in Washington DC, with a very real threat of a government shutdown looming over the government.  It’s the kind of political crisis we haven’t seen in Washington since…well…2011.

Unfortunately for the country President Obama’s presidency has been plagued thus far by a recalcitrant opposition party that refuses to cooperate on even the most mundane of legislative business.  A minority Tea Party faction in the Republican Party refuses to grant this president any political victory.  It, I’m sure, makes for quite a lonely existence for the President.  But the loneliest man in Washington DC these days has to be the leader of the Republicans in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner.

You see during the last 4 years President Obama has had to concentrate on an angry Republican opposition.  John Boehner too has had to concentrate on an opposition party than would like nothing more than to wrest control of the only body in Congress it does not control away from the Republicans.  But he has also had to battle his own party; unruly fellow republicans who are all too eager to rebel against leadership.  Adding to the insanity is the fact that he has also had to be suspicious of his inner circle, which consists of a number of people who make it no secret that their ultimate ambition is his job.  You see, President Obama has to watch his right.  But John Boehner has had to watch his left, his right, and grow eyes in the back of his head.

The 112th Congress was the least productive congress in history.  That’s all the history of the United States.  The “do-nothing” Congress that Harry Truman famously ran against passed 3X times more laws than the 112th did.  If that was the “do-nothing” Congress, this Congress may be called the “why-did-we-even-bother-to-show-up” Congress. 

I have doubts that John Boehner will remain speaker after his tenure is up next year.  Either the Democrats will take the House back and elect their own Speaker or John Boehner will step down.  Another scenario, although not as likely as either of the first two, is that the Republicans keep control of the House but John Boehner is voted out by his party.  Either way, the question is why would he want to remain? He has very little (and by that I mean almost nothing) to show for his tenure.  That probably bothers him more than anything. 

John Boehner is a Republican and a conservative.  He loves his country.  You can tell by the way he speaks of his own background. A son of an Ohio bar owner, as he often points out, only in America is his story possible.  I believe he wants nothing more than to make the most of the opportunity that his country has given him.  To achieve progress and leave a lasting mark.  One that will allow his country to give others the opportunities that it has given him.  But for now all he has to show for his tenure are closely missed grand bargains.

John Boehner is basically committed to only bringing laws up for a vote that the majority of Republicans support.  This is the so-called “Hastert Rule.”  A cynical little guideline that says the Speaker can only put bills up for a vote that a majority of his party supports.  It’s been employed by both parties but hasn’t been very damaging in the past because while there have been some laws with bipartisan support that the majority would not support, there have been many where they did.  Nowadays however, voting in the House has become an exercise in spite: If Republicans are for it, Democrats are against it and vice versa.  The Hastert Rule becomes a real problem when there is nothing that the minority will support that the majority will as well.

Speaker Boehner needs to forgo the Hastert rule and let the House work its will.  More to the point, he needs to work his will.  He is man who, for the most part, can be trusted.  He is smart.  He loves his country.  Those are the main ingredients needed for a good leader.  It’s possible that he is on the way out and the Tea Party has already taken John Boehner’s tenure as Speaker.  The question that remains is will he let them take his legacy as well?

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Sep 17, 2013

The Entitlement Program That’s No Entitlement

     We are two weeks away from one of the biggest changes to American society in the last 50 years.  On Oct. 1 the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare as it is sometimes derisively known) will go into effect.

Millions of people who do not have health insurance will be able to purchase it (presumably at affordable rates) on these new exchanges.  If you already have and like a health plan you will be unaffected.  In theory anyway.

Washington has been wrapped up in the drama of whether or not there will be a government shut down over having Obamacare defunded.  Opponents say that the last thing needed in this country is another major entitlement program.  They say Obamacare simply takes money from the rich and gives it to the poor and that it will drive costs up for everyone, and drive down the quality of health care in this country.  Things like rationing will become part of health care in this country where it has never been before.

I personally do not know whether Obamacare will solve the health care crisis we have in this country.  But make no mistake, there is a crisis.  We have about 40 million people who are currently uninsured, mainly because they can’t afford health insurance.  And health care costs right now are about 18% of the entire economy.  In 20 years it’ll be 25%.

Obamacare forces people who don’t already have health insurance to purchase it.  It enforces a penalty (a tax as the Supreme Court has stated it) on those who don’t.  In this way it asks everyone in the country to be responsible for at least some of their own health care costs.  It then tries to make that portion as affordable as possible.  And herein lies one of the most common misconceptions about Obamacare. 

Most people (even many of the law’s supporters) believe Obamacare is an entitlement program.  That it’s about giving away free stuff.  It kind of is.  It does, or at least aims to bring health insurance to about 40 million Americans who don’t have it now.  But it is also kind of not.  You see what the law really accomplishes, the real effect of Obamacare will be to force all Americans who don’t currently pay for their health care to do so.  It eliminates so called “free riders.”  People who do not have insurance, either because they can’t afford it or have been denied coverage, and use emergency rooms to get treatment drive up costs for everyone else.  What Obamacare really does, is force everyone to become more accountable and more responsible for the costs we each add to the system. 

Supporters of the law say that by doing this the program will bend the cost curve of health insurance in this country.  Thereby making health insurance more affordable.  Time will tell if that is the law’s effect.  A nation waits anxiously to see how it will turn out.

Whether or not it decreases costs associated with health care, whether people who like their current plans will be able to stay on them, whether we will in fact face “death panels,” remains to be seen.  But implementation of Obamacare will most likely begin over the next few months.  It will be very curious to see the reaction of people (on both sides of the argument) when they realize that there are very few “entitlements” in this major new entitlement program. 

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