Friday, December 18, 2009

This is what happens when you pass "ANY" bill

By Dick Morris
12.17.2009

Published on TheHill.com on December 15, 2009

Due to pressure from enraged Americans, the most pernicious features of Obama’s healthcare legislation have, for now at least, been stripped from his bill. This is no time for complacency, however, since the liberals are trying to push back and get the provisions back in.

As the bill now stands, it doesn’t have any teeth.

* Without the public option, the government does not have the financial clout to enforce the decisions of the new secretary of Health about the protocols of care to be followed. The left had hoped that the federal public option insurance company would put the private firms out of business and leave a single governmental payer in place. This single payer could slice reimbursements to providers at will and bring them into line offering low costs, long waiting lists and rationed medical care. But with no expansion of Medicare to those over 55 and no federal public option, the secretary of Health won’t have the power to force bad medical care down the throats of the American people.

* Relatively few new people will get health insurance. The costs of coverage are too high, the subsidies too shallow and the punitive fines too low to force people to buy policies they don’t want and think they don’t need. What young, childless couple is going to pay 8 to 12 percent of their income for Insurance rather than just pay the $1,000 fine for not having coverage? Oddly, this bill is really just a tax on the uninsured.

* Without the feared flood of new patients into the system, the rationing that threatened may not be as bad as it once seemed. With only a few newly insured people, the long waiting lists and shortages of medical personnel Massachusetts is experiencing under Romney-Care may not happen nationally.

* The Medicare cuts are to be proposed by a special commission in the executive branch akin to the federal commission that decides which military bases to shutter. But then they will have to be approved each year by Congress. A former secretary of Health and Human Services under a Republican president told me recently he expects the cuts will be vetoed by Congress each year and never really take effect. He says that the savings won’t materialize and the additional costs of Obama’s program will just be financed through even more deficit spending. He cites, for example, Congress’s refusal for each of the past five years to approve the automatic 6 percent cut in physicians’ fees.

What’s left is a bill that expands Medicaid to cover more of the poor and working poor. It requires that all states cover everyone making 150 percent or less of the poverty level. This will end the practice of many states of restricting Medicaid, in effect, to the elderly in nursing homes.

Arkansas, for example, only covers up to 17 percent of the poverty level (about $4,000 of income). Under the new law, anyone in the state whose income is less than about $27,000 will have to be covered. This provision will, of course, mean much higher state taxes throughout the South and in Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Florida, states with low Medicaid thresholds.

The rest of the bill is essentially a consumer-protection statute that bars insurers from denying coverage to anyone and stops them from charging more for those who are sick. Both the expansion of Medicaid and this reform of insurance-company practices could have been achieved in considerably less than the 2,000 pages of dead trees this bill consumed.

There are still bad parts of the legislation:

* Medicare Advantage, an important program for 10 million elderly, will be gutted and replaced by Medigap insurance, which is more limited in coverage, higher in cost and more profitable to the AARP.

* Medical devices — from pacemakers to automated wheelchairs — will still be taxed, and sick people will be forced to pay higher taxes and deduct fewer of their medical costs.

* Reimbursements under Medicare are likely to continue to drop, forcing more and more providers to refuse to treat patients under the program.

Obama is left with the symbol of a victory but not much substance. He will still sign the bill — if it ever passes — with great fanfare, but its substance will be painfully thin.

We haven’t dodged the bullet yet. The left is still to be heard from. But the momentum against the bill and the focus on its worst provisions is paying off. Keep up the pressure!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Socialism has a new name - Environmentalism

December 11, 2009

The Environmental Shakedown
By Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- In the 1970s and early '80s, having seized control of the U.N. apparatus (by power of numbers), Third World countries decided to cash in. OPEC was pulling off the greatest wealth transfer from rich to poor in history. Why not them? So in grand U.N. declarations and conferences, they began calling for a "New International Economic Order." The NIEO's essential demand was simple: to transfer fantastic chunks of wealth from the industrialized West to the Third World.

On what grounds? In the name of equality -- wealth redistribution via global socialism -- with a dose of post-colonial reparations thrown in.

The idea of essentially taxing hard-working citizens of the democracies in order to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques.

Politically it's an idea of genius, engaging at once every left-wing erogenous zone: rich man's guilt, post-colonial guilt, environmental guilt. But the idea of shaking down the industrial democracies in the name of the environment thrives not just in the refined internationalist precincts of Copenhagen. It thrives on the national scale too.

On the day Copenhagen opened, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claimed jurisdiction over the regulation of carbon emissions by declaring them an "endangerment" to human health.

Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will be regulating practically everything. No institution that emits more than 250 tons of CO2 a year will fall outside EPA control. This means over a million building complexes, hospitals, plants, schools, businesses and similar enterprises. (The EPA proposes regulating emissions only above 25,000 tons, but it has no such authority.) Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life.

This naked assertion of vast executive power in the name of the environment is the perfect fulfillment of the prediction of Czech President (and economist) Vaclav Klaus that environmentalism is becoming the new socialism, i.e., the totemic ideal in the name of which government seizes the commanding heights of the economy and society.

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

Not everyone is pleased with the coming New Carbon-Free International Order. When the Obama administration signaled (in a gesture to Copenhagen) a U.S. commitment to major cuts in carbon emissions, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb wrote the president protesting that he lacks the authority to do so unilaterally. That requires congressional concurrence by legislation or treaty.

With the Senate blocking President Obama's cap-and-trade carbon legislation, the EPA coup d'etat served as the administration's loud response to Webb: The hell we can't. With this EPA "endangerment" finding, we can do as we wish with carbon. Either the Senate passes cap-and-trade, or the EPA will impose even more draconian measures: all cap, no trade.

Forget for a moment the economic effects of severe carbon chastity. There's the matter of constitutional decency. If you want to revolutionize society -- as will drastic carbon regulation and taxation in an energy economy that is 85 percent carbon-based -- you do it through Congress reflecting popular will. Not by administrative fiat of EPA bureaucrats.

Congress should not just resist this executive overreaching, but trump it: Amend existing clean air laws and restore their original intent by excluding CO2 from EPA control and reserving that power for Congress and future legislation.

Do it now. Do it soon. Because Big Brother isn't lurking in CIA cloak. He's knocking on your door, smiling under an EPA cap.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We dont need regulation to reduce emissions

By Dick Morris And Eileen McGann
12.10.2009

The worst nightmare of the left is about to come true: The United States is about to achieve the carbon emissions goals set by the 1997 Kyoto Accords. Once seemingly beyond reach, the United States is already half way toward meeting the stringent Kyoto goals for reduction in carbon emissions without a cap and trade law or a carbon tax or carbon dioxide being declared a pollutant.

Environmental nightmare? Yes. The goals of the climate change crowd are not reduction in global warming but the enactment of a world-wide system of regulation which puts business under government control and transfers wealth from rich nations to poor ones under the guise of fighting climate change. Should the emissions come down on their own, as they are doing, the excuse for draconian legislation goes, well, up in smoke.

The facts are startling. In 1990, the year chosen as the global benchmark for carbon emissions, the United States emitted 5,007 millions of metric tons of carbon (mmts). Kyoto specified that emissions must be reduced to a level 6% lower than in 1990. For the U.S., that means 4,700 million metric tons.

American carbon emissions rose year after year until they peaked in 2007 at 5,967 mmts. But, in 2008, they dropped to 5,801 and, in 2009, the best estimate is for a reduction to 5,476. So, in two years, U.S. carbon emissions will have gone down by more than 500 mmts - a cut of over 8%.

President Obama has pledged to bring the U.S. carbon emissions down by 17%. He’s halfway there.

A combination of the recession and an increased emphasis on cutting emissions is working and may make onerous regulation unnecessary and even redundant.

How can we achieve the other half of the hoped for reduction?

If 60% of American cars were electric, the net savings in carbon would be 450 mmts (even counting the coal burned for the higher levels of electricity required). And if one-third of the truck fleet ran on natural gas, the carbon savings would add another 150-200 mmts.

The point is that public education and increased environmental consciousness - the normal way we Americans respond to challenges - may suffice without the need for government regulation. And what persuasion fails to achieve, higher gasoline prices will do for us - move people to buy electric cars.

Good news huh?

Not if you are a socialist banking on climate change as the banner to regulate all utilities and industries in the world. Their game plan is to use the financial crisis to regulate white collar businesses like banking, insurance, and finance while using fears of climate change to extend government regulation to the blue collar trades.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton calls cap and trade a “massive redistribution of wealth from the north to the south” (i.e. from the developed northern hemisphere to the less developed southern half of the globe). What the globalists and the one-world crowd had hoped to achieve by foreign aid, they now seek to bring about by cap and trade, forcing businesses and utilities to pay rural societies for the right to pollute with carbon.

But market forces are accomplishing what they are hoping only regulation can achieve. And the rationale for the global system of regulation being negotiated at Copenhagen is being made unnecessary even as the agreement is being hammered out.

There is a great deal of justified skepticism about the entire question of whether climate change is going on and, even more, how much human activity is contributing to it. But while the world divides into those who demand global regulation to fight climate change and those who say it isn’t happening, there is now an inconvenient truth — the market is taking care of the problem on its own.

Zooming the Sheeple

We'll cover everyone by covering less?

Posted: Dec. 9, 2009

Now, said the Senate to us sheep, we'll do health care this way: No public option. Just a, um, public option.

Senate Democrats' leaders, looking to pass something, on Tuesday night dropped the notion of a government-run health plan. Too many of their less liberal members recognized a money pit when they saw one. Instead, the plan is to let more middle-aged people join their elders in Medicare.

Uh, guys: Medicare is government-run. It's eight years away from fiscal ruin, its own trustees reported earlier this year. This deal trades a dysfunctional plan for a laughable one.

It also reveals the futility of Obamacare reaching one of its key goals: slowing the rise in health care spending. Congress' plans all do this in part by cutting Medicare by as much as a half-trillion dollars. Now the Senate would put perhaps 3 million more subsidized clients on that Titanic. There will be no cuts, only swifter collapse.

The more worrisome part is that even if Medicare weren't nearing doom, the president and his Congress have odd ideas about bending the cost curve. So far, the cost measures all aim to restrain how much all of us together spend on health care. Independent studies say Congress fails even at this, but that's another column. At any rate, whether Washington spends less overall isn't especially relevant to whether a hospital bill will bankrupt you.

Take those Medicare savings. Congress' bills all cut the rate at which the government pays doctors and hospitals for Medicare patients. Doctors already say, correctly, that they're paid miserably for this. Often, they lose money on the deal. In many places, it's hard for older people to find a doctor who will take Medicare.

Other ominous signs: The Obama administration already has empowered federal panels to study which treatments are cost-effective. The cost-benefit calculations have generally been in terms of expense to society as a whole.

Yes, but mammograms that catch breast cancer early, to pick one recent example, are immensely valuable to the particular women saved, say critics. They're swimming upstream: Advocates of the kind of health reform pushed by the president have warned repeatedly that individuals must be prepared to sacrifice for the common cause.

The president and his allies are not, in other words, seeking less costly health care. They're seeking to spend less. You can get the latter without the former; you just buy less care overall. HMOs did this in the 1990s by making it hard to see doctors. Infamously, socialized systems do it by waiting list, which is why towns in Ontario hold lotteries to see who gets doctor's appointments.

This is logical: It's ideologically simpler to pay doctors less than to deploy changes that make care a better value for individual patients.

This already worsens health care prices. Because they lose money on Medicare, doctors and hospitals make it up on privately insured patients. Meanwhile, since traditional coverage insulates patients from prices - quick, what's a check-up cost at your doctor? - there's no real pressure on prices. Thus, costs are ruinous for the uninsured.

What makes more sense is lowering the actual price of care. There are ways to do this; Congress embraces none of them. There's no lawsuit reform to ease the cost of jackpot justice, no opening of insurance markets to national competition.

Most of all, Obamacare, whatever form, increases the extent to which health care is paid for by someone else. This is the dynamic that makes those payers think about how to cut the budget overall, if necessary by telling patients to take the Tylenol and shut up.

The opposite approach is to put patients in control of the money spent for their own care. This fixes the incentives: You'll want good value, but not to the point of tolerating wretched care. Better, this arrangement - you, making your own cost-benefit trade-offs - has restrained how much the nation as a whole spends on other goods and services, from food to automobiles. It works for you and for society.

This shouldn't be hard. We're a smart country. All we need is for Congress to start thinking of us as functional adults rather than a single $1 trillion lump of budgetary burden.

Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist who blogs at www.jsonline.com/blogs. E-mail pmcilheran@journalsentinel.com

What the Health Bill really means...

You Will Lose Your Private Health Insurance
By Robert Tracinski

Before Thanksgiving, the Senate voted to opening debate on President Obama's health-care bill, and that debate has begun in earnest this week.

Well, if they want a debate, let's let them have it. But let's not get distracted by the sideshows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has planned for us.

Forget about abortion. Of course the left will accept restrictions on funding for abortion, because they want to keep moderate Democrats on board for the goal they know is really important: giving the government a dominant role in health care. Everything else is just details, and funding for abortions is an issue to which the left can return at leisure later on-once government is firmly in charge of everything.

And don't bother debating the "public option," either, because it's already dead; enough Democratic senators have come out against it. But Harry Reid is all too happy to have a debate over the public option so he can make a show of "compromising" and giving it up. And while we're having that fake debate, he's hoping that we won't be challenging everything else in the bill.

So let's get straight what the real essentials of the bill are-and how disastrous they are.

Three provisions constitute the vicious heart of the Democrats' health-care overhaul.

The first is "guaranteed issue" and "community rating." This is the requirement that insurance companies have to offer coverage to people who are already sick, and that they be limited in their ability to charge higher rates for customer who pose a higher risk. The extra expense to the insurance companies of covering people with pre-existing conditions will get passed on to existing customers in the form of higher premiums. But why spend years paying these inflated premiums for insurance you're not using, when you can get exactly the same benefits by waiting until you actually fall ill? The obvious result is that million of people, especially healthy young people, will quickly realize that there is no reason to buy health insurance until they get sick.

Rather than increasing the number of insured by making health insurance more affordable, this bill makes health insurance more expensive and increases the incentive to simply drop your insurance until you need someone to pay for your medical bills. It is an attempt to turn health insurance into what the left really wants: another welfare program in which everyone is entitled to free benefits, mandated by the government. But this would wreck private health insurance, making the whole industrial financially unsustainable.

Following the usual pattern of government intervention, the health-care bill offers another intervention as the solution for the problem created by the first. The "individual mandate" requires everyone to buy health insurance and subjects us to a tax if we fail to do so. But this is an especially onerous new tax, the first tax not tied to any kind of income or activity. It's not a tax on stock-market profits, say, or a tax on buying cigarettes. It's just a tax for existing.

So fearing a public backlash, Congress didn't have the guts to make this new tax very large-only $750. Yet actual insurance can cost more than $3,000 per year-and as we shall see, this legislation goes out of its way to drive up those rates by mandating more lavish coverage. So we end up getting the worst of both worlds. This provision won't actually drive anyone to buy health insurance and prop up the risk pools for those who are insured. All it will accomplish is to create a brand new form of tax.

But the biggest power-grab in the bill is the government takeover of the entire market for health insurance. The bill requires all new policies to be sold on a government-controlled exchange run by a commissioner who is empowered to dictate what kinds of insurance policies can be offered, what they must cover, and what they can charge.

Right now, your best option for reducing the cost of your health insurance is to buy a policy with a high deductible, which leaves you to pay for routine checkups and minor injuries (preferably from savings held in a tax-free Health Savings Account) but which covers your needs in catastrophic circumstances-a bad car accident, say, or expensive treatment for cancer. This is the kind of coverage I have.

But the health-insurance exchange is intended to eliminate precisely this kind of low-cost catastrophic coverage. Its purpose is to force health-insurance companies to offer comprehensive coverage that pays for all of your routine bills-which in turn comes at a higher price. So under the guise of making health insurance more affordable, this bill will restrict your menu of choices to include only the most expensive options.

So there we have the real essence of this bill. It restricts our choice of which insurance to buy and pushes us into more expensive plans. At the same time, it destroys the economic incentive to purchase insurance in the first place and replaces insurance with a free-floating tax on one's very existence.

By all means, let's debate some of that in the Senate.

When you understand what this bill does, you can see why the Democrats would be happy to compromise and drop the public option-for now. This bill so comprehensively wrecks private health insurance that pretty soon a "public option" will seem like the only alternative, and they will already have put into place one of the new taxes needed to pay for it. If the left's goal is to impose socialized medicine in America, this bill does it in the most callous and destructive way possible. It smashes private health care-then leaves us stranded in the rubble, at which point we will be expected to come crawling back to the same people who caused the disaster and ask them to save us.

That is the final and perhaps most compelling reason to kill this bill: the sheer arrogance of the whole enterprise. It is the arrogance of stampeding an unwilling public toward a monstrous 2,000-page piece of legislation while admitting that it still has huge problems, but promising that it will all somehow be fixed later on. It's the arrogance of selling us a bill that expands government spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while telling us that it will reduce the deficit. It is the sheer unmitigated gall of appointing a bureaucrat to run a government-controlled insurance market that takes away all of our health choices-and then calling this bureaucrat the Health Choices Commissioner.

That's the kind of government arrogance that has to be smacked down hard, and that alone is reason to demand that your senator reject this vicious bill in its entirety.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From Der Spiegel

Searching in Vain for the Obama Magic

By Gabor Steingart

President Barack Obama's Tuesday speech left a bad taste in many mouths.


Never before has a speech by President Barack Obama felt as false as his Tuesday address announcing America's new strategy for Afghanistan. It seemed like a campaign speech combined with Bush rhetoric -- and left both dreamers and realists feeling distraught.

One can hardly blame the West Point leadership. The academy commanders did their best to ensure that Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama's speech would be well-received.

Just minutes before the president took the stage inside Eisenhower Hall, the gathered cadets were asked to respond "enthusiastically" to the speech. But it didn't help: The soldiers' reception was cool.

One didn't have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama's speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly.

An additional 30,000 US soldiers are to march into Afghanistan -- and then they will march right back out again. America is going to war -- and from there it will continue ahead to peace. It was the speech of a Nobel War Prize laureate.

Just in Time for the Campaign

For each troop movement, Obama had a number to match. US strength in Afghanistan will be tripled relative to the Bush years, a fact that is sure to impress hawks in America. But just 18 months later, just in time for Obama's re-election campaign, the horror of war is to end and the draw down will begin. The doves of peace will be let free.

The speech continued in that vein. It was as though Obama had taken one of his old campaign speeches and merged it with a text from the library of ex-President George W. Bush. Extremists kill in the name of Islam, he said, before adding that it is one of the "world's great religions." He promised that responsibility for the country's security would soon be transferred to the government of President Hamid Karzai -- a government which he said was "corrupt." The Taliban is dangerous and growing stronger. But "America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars," he added.

It was a dizzying combination of surge and withdrawal, of marching to and fro. The fast pace was reminiscent of plays about the French revolution: Troops enter from the right to loud cannon fire and then they exit to the left. And at the end, the dead are left on stage.

Obama's Magic No Longer Works

But in this case, the public was more disturbed than entertained. Indeed, one could see the phenomenon in a number of places in recent weeks: Obama's magic no longer works. The allure of his words has grown weaker.

It is not he himself who has changed, but rather the benchmark used to evaluate him. For a president, the unit of measurement is real life. A leader is seen by citizens through the prism of their lives -- their job, their household budget, where they live and suffer. And, in the case of the war on terror, where they sometimes die.

Political dreams and yearnings for the future belong elsewhere. That was where the political charmer Obama was able to successfully capture the imaginations of millions of voters. It is a place where campaigners -- particularly those with a talent for oration -- are fond of taking refuge. It is also where Obama set up his campaign headquarters, in an enormous tent called "Hope."

In his speech on America's new Afghanistan strategy, Obama tried to speak to both places. It was two speeches in one. That is why it felt so false. Both dreamers and realists were left feeling distraught.

The American president doesn't need any opponents at the moment. He's already got himself.