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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Obama Can’t Tap Voter Anger Because It's Directed at Him

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:52:46 am Comments (0)

Now that the voters in Massachusetts have put him on the ropes, President Barack Obama is spoiling for a fight. Speaking last week in Elyria, Ohio, the president, the New York Times reported, used some version of the word "fight" more than 20 times as he railed against the big banks, Wall Street, joblessness, and the economic downturn that has hit the nation hard.

As a newly-minted populist, Obama is hoping to win back the support of the independents and the "Reagan Democrats" who, over his first year in the White House, have become steadily less enthusiastic about his performance in office. The president, as the numbers reflect, has been losing the support of the center. On Monday, the Gallup organization released a new survey that shows the nation's first postpartisan president is an extremely polarizing figure despite an average job approval rating of 57 percent for his first year in office. Underneath that, however, is a lot of bad news.

He came into office seeking to unite the country, and his initial approval ratings ranked among the best for post-World War II presidents, including an average of 41 percent approval from Republicans in his first week in office. But he quickly lost most of his Republican support, with his approval rating among Republicans dropping below 30 percent in mid-February and below 20 percent in August. Throughout the year, his approval rating among Democrats exceeded 80 percent, and it showed little decline even as his overall approval rating fell from the mid-60s to roughly 50 percent.

The fact that the president continues to run strong among Democrats, which the White House political operation must certainly regard as good news, is tempered by his poor showing among the overall electorate. The latest Gallup presidential job approval numbers have the streams about to cross, with 48 percent of those surveyed approving of his performance and 47 percent disapproving.

Taking these two sets of data together, the high marks he gets from better than three quarters of Democrats means that, while retaining the support of the left, he is losing the right and, more importantly, the center.

The new populism unveiled in Ohio--which will almost certainly be a key refrain in Wednesday's State of the Union address--is an effort to win back the allegiance of those voters who have been deserting the president in droves. By positioning himself as someone who "fights" and will keep fighting for the little guy, Obama is attempting to tap into the anger among the electorate that helped propel Scott Brown into the Senate. The problem for Obama is that he fails to understand that much of that anger is directed directly at him.

It is now generally agreed that, as a candidate for president, Obama failed to define himself as a liberal--but it is as a liberal he has attempted to govern. He has attempted to tax, he has spent, and he has regulated in ways that threaten livelihoods and which run counter to Main Street common sense. The sense of alienation that produces among voters is not transient; it endures and it is costly.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to govern the country from either the left or the right alone. The center, as political consultant Dick Morris has written, is the "vital" part of the electorate. By losing it, Bush drove the Republicans into minority status. Without the center it is highly unlikely Obama can do much better.

Airbus contract: America’s job growth plan for France

Posted by: Kerri Houston Toloczko on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:24:31 am Comments (0)

Job numbers are still looking bad. Slowing the rate of unemployment may be relatively welcome news, but it is not the same as creating jobs.

And poll numbers show that Americans are more concerned with job growth than any other issue, Washington needs to be focused like a laser beam on how actually to create jobs. Unfortunately, there are troubling signs that Congress and the Obama administration are not treating the jobs issue with the seriousness and clarity of purpose that the country deserves.

Estimates are that only 20 percent of the stimulus money has been spent, even though many in Washington are considering a “second stimulus.” This betrays a lack of focus, competence, and economic understanding when it comes to job creation. In trying to appear as if they are doing something (instead of actually doing it), many in Washington seem more worried about protecting their own jobs than creating jobs for the millions of Americans who looking for work.

President Obama’s plan to tax banks is yet another example of a policy that drains capital from the economy that can no longer be used to add jobs.

Another sign that Washington is not serious about American jobs is their continued appeasement of a French company—Airbus Industries—which is seeking a $40 billion contract to build the U.S. Air Force’s new fleet of airborne refueling tankers. The tanker contract has been through fits and starts. But the latest developments show a Washington, D.C., establishment that is increasingly out of touch with the people they have been hired to govern.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that Airbus has taken billions of dollars in illegal trade subsidies from European governments, whose national policy has been to artificially place Airbus in a one-up competitive posture over its American rival Boeing. Now, Airbus is using those illegal subsidies to challenge Boeing in its home country, threatening to take American jobs and American tax dollars back home to France.

Back in Europe, Airbus is revealing just what kind of a business partner it can be when it comes to defense contracts. Airbus’ promised delivery of cargo planes to European military services have fallen behind schedule and have gone way over budget. Airbus has responded by threatening to cancel the program if those European governments don’t pay Airbus more money.

The German newspaper Die Welt reports: “Airbus wants about 5.3 billion euros ($7.6 billion) more than the 20 billion euros agreed on in 2003 in order to deliver 180 of the [Airbus A400M] military transports.”

If America decides to have the French company build our new fleet of refueling tankers, will we soon find ourselves in the same bind? Will our elected representatives in Washington give a $40 billion military contract to France, sacrificing the American industrial base and high-skilled jobs, only to end up with an ultimatum from Airbus that if we really want them to deliver on the tankers they promised, we will have to pay them billions more?

Trying to create jobs with taxpayer dollars is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the tanker budget is part of military spending designed to keep us all safe. As it is still our money that is being spent, at least Washington should direct it to American companies and American jobs—is there even one taxpayer in the U.S. who rather send his money to France?

Economically, militarily and morally—giving Airbus the tanker contract is a bad idea on all fronts.

Kerri Houston Toloczko is Senior Vice President for Policy at the Institute for Liberty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Republicans Mustn't Match Democrats' Arrogance in Victory

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 25, 2010 at 8:44:16 am Comments (0)

President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats have fallen flat on their face, a victim of their own arrogance. Believing their own press clippings, the Democrats misinterpreted the 2008 election as a realigning mandate in support of fundamental, major changes in the way America is governed as well as an endorsement of the need to grow substantially the size and scope of government. In point of fact it was neither of those things. The 2008 platform on which they ran was long on slogans and concepts and short on actual ideas for governing.

It is true that America voted for change--but not the change that Obama and the Democrats began to offer once elected.

Their failure to understand this has led to stunning political defeats. What made these reversals even more amazing, however, is that they occurred during a period in which the Republicans were at a severe political disadvantage. Control of the White House coupled with a substantial majority in the House and an absolute majority of 60 votes in the Senate should have resulted in a flood of new laws and regulations fulfilling every promise and Democratic dream that had been held in check since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Indeed, with the introduction of a pork-laden stimulus bill that passed through Congress easily, it looked like that was the way things were headed. Instead the Democrats, time and again on key issues, came up short.

Voting for Obama allowed far too many people--especially self-described independents--to "exorcise their demons," to vent their frustration at the Bush administration . It was cathartic, but not the kind of action on which a transformational political movement can be built.

 

In an effort to recover the ground they have lost over the last 12 months, the Democrats have announced they will pivot, talking from this point forward about jobs, jobs, and jobs and, in an embrace of a populist agenda that would make William Jennings Bryan smile, taking on anything big--big banks, big oil, big insurance, big medicine--in order to protect the interests of the working man and woman. It's a workable strategy, one that helped keep the Democrats in power in Congress for close to 40 years that touches on perceptions, popularly endorsed, of the economic inequities that exist in America. But this will succeed only if the Republicans agree to play ball.

In the short run, the Republicans must resist the temptation to be positioned in a way that makes it appear they are defending the very real inequities and public concerns that Obama and the Democrats are attacking. In the long run, they must develop a platform that allows them to communicate to the American electorate that they are listening to what the people are saying and is solution-oriented. They must give the people the opportunity to vote for the change they want, not just change for change's sake.

It would be damaging to the party's fortunes if the GOP reads the election results in Virginia, New Jersey, and, now, Massachusetts in the same hubristic manner with which the Democrats embraced the results in 2008. The Republican victories in these three key races were the result of superior candidates combined with a general level of discomfort among the electorate with the way things are going in Washington. It created a "perfect storm" that is now working to the GOP's advantage but may be fleeting. Despite what the poll numbers indicate, the voters are not sold on the Republicans as Republicans, but only as a viable, even preferred alternative to the Democrats now in power. In order to regain the majority, it is not only sufficient but necessary for the Republicans to eschew the "party of no" label in favor of what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at one time called "an agenda worth voting for."

 

Scott Brown Should Take His Senate Seat Immediately

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 25, 2010 at 8:42:16 am Comments (0)

The Democrats are in a conundrum. Tuesday's stunning victory by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special Senate election has changed the mathematics of the future. Previously, with 57 Democrats and two independents behind him, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could overcome GOP efforts to filibuster the healthcare bill.

With Brown in the Senate, Reid's natural coalition becomes one vote short of 60, empowering the Republicans to block the bill--but only if they all stick together. For Reid and for the White House, this creates an almost irresistible temptation to slow the seating of Brown while trying to rush the healthcare bill to President Barack Obama's desk while they still have the votes to override the filibuster.

It's a bad idea.

If the election in historically Democratic Massachusetts was about anything it was about voters expressing their desire to rethink the whole healthcare debate. In choosing Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley the voters were saying--not that they did not want healthcare reform--but that they did not want either version of the healthcare bill being offered to them by the House and Senate.

This is a message that has not been lost on some of the cooler heads in the Senate, including Indiana's Evan Bayh and Virginia's Jim Webb--who said after Brown's election that the Senate should hold off on any further action on the healthcare bill until after Brown is seated.

Webb is perhaps telegraphing his intention to vote against cloture--at least on a temporary basis until Brown joins the Senate. If that is his plan, then even without Brown being seated Reid would still be at least one vote short of what he needs--making the hurry up with the healthcare bill on one side while dragging heels on seating Brown on the other strategy moot.

There is, however, a statesmanlike way out of the box. No one is claiming that Brown was not legitimately elected on Tuesday but before he can take his seat Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin has to certify him as the winner of Tuesday's election. That process should take about a week to 10 days but could stretch out for a much longer period. If it does, under the long count strategy some Democrats are advocating, it would leave the people of Massachusetts, the Senate and the nation in limbo.

The proper thing then is for interim Sen. Paul Kirk--the former Democratic National Committee chairman who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Edward M. Kennedy--to resign his seat immediately. By resigning, Kirk creates a vacancy that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could fill by appointing Brown to the seat. In that way Brown can begin his service immediately, the process of completing the healthcare bill can move forward and the nation can see politicians from both sides of the aisle behaving, if not like statesmen then like the post-partisans Obama's election promised they would be.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joe Biden's Filibuster Hypocrisy

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 5:44:34 pm Comments (0)

Vice President Joe Biden has a short memory.

While speaking Sunday at a fundraising event in Florida, the vice president denounced the Republicans' use of the filibuster to block key Democratic initiatives in the U.S. Senate. "As long as I have served," Politico quoted Biden as saying, "I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the Constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators." Adding, "No democracy has survived needing a supermajority," Biden described the parliamentary tactics of the GOP as putting what the paper said was "a dangerous new roadblock in the way of American government."

What is truly amazing about the vice president's observation, however, is that he apparently made it with a straight face. Biden, who served in the Senate for more than 30 years, was a longtime proponent of the filibuster as a way to block Republican presidential appointments and legislative initiatives. He was also an active opponent, on philosophical grounds, of the so-called nuclear option, a Republican effort to change the rules of the Senate to end the filibuster as a way to block judicial nominations. 

Speaking on the Senate floor in May of 2005, Biden said, "At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it's about compromise and moderation. The nuclear option extinguishes the power of independents and moderates in the Senate. That's it, they're done. Moderates are important if you need to get to 60 votes to satisfy cloture; they are much less so if you only need 50 votes. Let's set the historical record straight. Never has the Senate provided for a certainty that 51 votes could put someone on the bench or pass legislation." 

When the Senate was considering President George W. Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, Biden held out the prospect of a filibuster to block it. "If he really believes that reapportionment is a questionable decision … then clearly, clearly, you'll find a lot of people, including me, willing to do whatever they can to keep him off the court," Biden said, adding, "That would include a filibuster, if need be." 

During his years in the Senate, Biden could be counted on to routinely join Democratic efforts to support filibusters of Republican programs--from the second President Bush's energy bill to the first President Bush's effort to cut the tax on capital gains in order to stimulate the U.S. economy and blunt the impact of the early-'90s recession. Now that he is vice president, and the entire Obama agenda is imperiled, he has changed his mind in an apparent deathbed conversion. It won't last. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obama Massachusetts Campaign Swing Could Backfire, Help Brown

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:12:51 pm Comments (0)

The special election to fill the seat left vacant when Massachusetts Democrat Edward M. Kennedy shuffled off his mortal coil is coming down to the wire. In a state not known for competitive contests, Republican State Sen. Scott Brown is giving Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley more than a run for her money.

• A one-day poll conducted for Pajamas Media of nearly 1,000 likely Massachusetts voters out Friday showed Brown ahead by an amazing 15 points, well outside the slightly better than three percent margin of error.

• Suffolk University has Brown up by four--50 percent to 46 percent--in its Thursday poll of 500 registered voters.

• Monday's poll of 1,000 likely voters by Scott Rasmussen had Coakley up by two but, importantly, under 50.

Pollster.com now has the average at 50.3 percent for Brown and Coakley at 46.8 percen, with almost all the late polls show Brown gaining and Coakley fading. Even the Democratic Blue Mass Group/Research 2000 poll of January 13, which shows Coakley leading 49 to 41 among 500 likely voters surveyed over two days, has Brown winning half the independents versus 39 percent for Coakley. 

The poll numbers are now driving the race, with the GOP cautiously optimistic and the Democrats already looking around for someone to blame if Coakley loses. Both sides are ratcheting up their activity, with Brown reportedly raising nearly $4 million over four days via the Internet and Coakley rolling out the big guns, including President Barack Obama—who heads there Sunday—and the senator's widow Victoria who, in an effort to personalize the race and win it for the Democrats, is asking people to go to the polls to honor the work and memory of her late husband.

Whether Obama is a help or a hindrance at this stage is anyone's guess. The most important consideration in the race now is just how the support each candidate is showing in the available polling data will translate into voters showing up at the polls.

Karl Rove, the political consultant who served as deputy chief of staff in the Bush White House, observed earlier this week that "All of the polls show Republicans significantly more energized than Democrats and more likely to vote next week in what is likely to be a low turnout election. In this respect, the Massachusetts special election may resemble last fall's New Jersey gubernatorial race, where Republican Chris Christie, buoyed by an energized Republican base, pulled out a late victory over Gov. Jon Corzine in a heavily Democratic state."

What Rove fails to mention is that a last-minute campaign visit by Obama to New Jersey, if it moved voters at all, moved them away from Corzine. By going to Massachusetts, Obama may again encourage those who disapprove of the job he is doing as president to go to the polls and send him a message while doing little to improve turnout on behalf of the Democrat.

The stakes in this race are high, higher than usually is the case in a special election. That's because both the GOP and the Democrats realize the addition of just one Republican to the ranks of the U.S. Senate would deprive Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of his filibuster proof 60-vote majority and that, in turn, could derail the healthcare bill. But that's only if Brown is seated before the critical final cloture vote—and that's a pretty big if.

What is going on in Massachusetts—the bluest of the blue states—has a lot to do with what is happening in Washington. The strong support Brown is showing among independents is a direct reflection of their unhappiness with the one-sided way in which the healthcare debate has unfolded, the latest example of that being Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's determination that the final version of the healthcare bill be the product of backroom negotiations rather than open debate. And that has led to the transference of the electoral energy shown across the country by the tea party movement into active support for Brown.

It may, however, not be all sunshine and flowers for the GOP, especially if seating Brown becomes the last opportunity the Republicans have to stop the healthcare bill.

William Galvin, who as Massachusetts' secretary of state is the official in charge of certifying the election results, made the papers recently when he reminded folks that state law requires town and city clerks to wait at least 10 days for absentee ballots to arrive before they can certify the local results and that they have to wait five more days to file the returns with his office. This means Brown, even if he wins a clear victory, will not be seated right away, in sharp contrast to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rush to swear in two new Democrats elected just before the House voted on the healthcare bill last fall.

Another problem the GOP faces in its race against the clock is the issue of a clean victory. The statutory timetable Galvin outlined assumes everything else goes smoothly and that no one challenges the election results in court. As the Wall Street Journal's John Fund has pointed out on more than one occasion, the provisions of the Help America Vote Act and other election law reforms enacted after 2000's presidential long count facilitate the bringing of suits that challenge election results, especially when plaintiffs are willing to claim someone was disenfranchised.

Any delay may help Reid and Pelosi get a healthcare bill to President Barack Obama's desk if Reid's 60-vote coalition holds together, something that is not at all certain at this point. But delay, while a potential political ally, is not necessarily a long-term friend.

There is a downside, one that should be obvious to the Democrats but which may be obscured by the heat and smoke of the healthcare battle: Any effort to keep Brown out of the Senate if he is the winner next Tuesday will look, especially to the independents who are deserting the Democrats in droves, like cheating. And that would have profoundly negative consequences for the party in November. 

Shameless, Democrats Buy Covert Healthcare Propaganda

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:11:11 pm Comments (0)

When USA Today first reported nearly five years ago that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams had been paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars to promote the No Child Left Behind law in his columns and in his media appearances, senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President George W. Bush expressing their outrage. In one of those letters, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller, David Obey, and Elijah Cummings denounced the payments made to Williams under a government contract--along with two other public relations initiatives undertaken by the Bush administration--as "illegal covert propaganda" intended to influence the American electorate.

"It would be abhorrent to our system of government," they told Bush, "if these incidents were part of a deliberate pattern of behavior by your Administration to deceive the public and the media in an effort to further your policy objectives."

Their outrage was understandable but, as at least one recent revelation has made clear, it had a limited shelf life.

Earlier this month, in a story that first appeared in the blogosphere, it was revealed that Jonathan Gruber, an economist and professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had failed to disclose he was under contract with the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services as a healthcare reform consultant at the same time he was making approving noises in the media about the Democrats' healthcare bill.

Gruber's contract, which reportedly runs until February 2010, called for him to provide "technical assistance" to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts, being paid nearly $300,000. At the same time, however, as Fox News reported on January 8, Gruber was also busy "fending off healthcare reform critics in the media," most notably as one of few analysts willing to rebut an October 2009 insurance industry report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers that concluded health insurance premiums would shoot up if a healthcare bill passes. "And he has recently written columns defending specific provisions in the House and Senate bills, particularly the 'Cadillac tax' on high-cost insurance plans," the network said.

If there is a difference between what Williams did and what Gruber may still be doing, it is a mystery to everyone but, apparently, Pelosi, Waxman, and the others who signed the letter to Bush and who have been curiously silent about this latest example of "illegal covert propaganda."

Among those who see no difference are Grover Norquist, the ubiquitous activist who heads the pro-taxpayer group Americans for Tax Reform, and Sandra Fabry, the executive director of ATR's Center for Fiscal Accountability and a leader in the transparency in government movement.

In a January 11 letter to Gruber, Norquist and Fabry insisted he give the money back, saying, "Your engagement with the government to publicly tout a massive spending program is akin to public lobbying campaigns for which consulting firms are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of their (private-sector) clients. The fact that in your case the client was the Administration paying you hundreds of thousands of dollars makes your actions highly unethical.

"More than anything, though, you owe taxpayers, whose hard-earned tax dollars were used for dubious political propaganda an apology as well as an amount of $297,600 which you should swiftly return to them."

So far, Fabry tells me, Gruber has failed to reply--nor have Pelosi, Waxman, and the others publically raised the issue with President Barack Obama or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Their level of outrage, it seems, depends entirely, as has been written before, on whose ox it is that is being gored.

Health Reform Drags Obama's Poll Ratings Down

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 10:08:58 pm Comments (0)

Support for President Barack Obama continues to decline, fueled in no small measure by an increase in the public's dissatisfaction over the progress of healthcare reform.

A poll released Tuesday by CBS News shows the decline to be continual, with 54 percent of the more than 1,200 adults surveyed saying they disapproved of the way in which Obama was handling healthcare. With only 36 percent now indicating their approval, those responding to the latest poll were 11 percent more dissatisfied with the president than they were in October of last year and 6 percent more dissatisfied than they were in December, when the poll was last conducted.

The marks given to Congress are even worse, with 57 percent of those surveyed registering thumbs down to the way the Democrats are handling the issue and 61 percent saying they disapproved of the Republicans' conduct on healthcare.

Of particular importance, from a political standpoint, is that the CBS poll fails to demonstrate that there is anything approaching a consensus that Obama and Congress are on the right track. "Only about one in five Americans thinks the reforms strike the right balance when it comes to expanding coverage, controlling costs and regulating insurance companies," the poll shows while the public remains divided "on whether the reforms go too far or not far enough in providing health coverage to as many Americans as possible."

It's an odd turn of events for something that was the Democrats' signature issue during the 2008 presidential campaign. Survey after survey led politicians in both parties to conclude that healthcare reform was something the American people were demanding but, as has been the case before, they clearly do not like what they are being offered.

Partly, the process is to blame. Rather than focus on maintaining, even improving, the quality of care available in the United States, the White House and the Democrats who control Congress have labored to produce a hodgepodge of reforms that threaten the continued existence of the system as we know it while providing little in the way of guarantees that the parts of the current system people like will not be adversely affected by the proposed reforms.

This last piece likely explains why so much of the healthcare negotiation has been conducted in secret and behind closed doors. Rather than wave the victory flag, the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are all behaving like, when it comes to healthcare, they have something to hide. Which no doubt explains why the public's support for reform is dropping like a stone. They will not buy what they cannot see.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grim News Will Hurt Democrats’ Fundraising and Recruiting

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:57:33 am Comments (1)

Political analyst Charlie Cook, who is not known for being overly friendly to the Republicans, has some bad news for the Democrats

"Come November, Senate Democrats' 60-vote supermajority is toast. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Democrats could lose the Senate this year. But they have a 50-50 chance of ending up with fewer than 55 seats in the next Congress."

Cook added: 

"As for the House, we at The Cook Political Report are still forecasting that Democrats will lose only 20 to 30 seats. Another half-dozen or more retirements in tough districts, however, perhaps combined with another party switch or two, would reduce Democrats' chances of holding the House to only an even-money bet. We rate 217 seats either 'Solid Democratic' or 'Likely Democratic,' meaning that the GOP would have to win every single race now thought to be competitive to reach 218, the barest possible majority. But if Democrats suffer much more erosion in their 'Solid' and 'Likely' columns, control of the House will suddenly be up for grabs." 

Whether Cook is right has yet to be determined, but the shift in his forecast is likely to have a profound effect on the ability of both parties to field quality candidates and, more importantly, to raise money. The more the numbers look like they are moving away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans, the harder it becomes for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team to play the expectations game. Likewise, it makes it even harder for her to keep her most vulnerable colleagues--ho generally happen to be the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus--in line on tough votes, like the one coming up on healthcare. 

Democrats’ Secrecy Fuels Health Reform Disapproval

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:42:36 am Comments (0)

The healthcare endgame will involve a game of legislative ping-pong between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who have separately indicated the strategy they intend to use to pass the final bill is intended to box out not only the Republicans, but some Democrats who may have last-minute objections. Pelosi and Reid have apparently determined that private negotiations between leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, coupled with input from the White House, is the only way to write a final bill that can pass both chambers and that President Barack Obama will sign. This process for moving forward—know as "ping pong"—eliminates the need for the kind of formal negotiations that C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently requested be made open to the media.

Those requests, by the way, have been rejected by Pelosi and Reid.

As reported Monday in The Hill, senior Democratic aides said the decision to go with ping-pong had been made "out of concern that Republicans in both the House and the Senate would employ a series of procedural delaying tactics."

The first set began formally with healthcare meetings held Tuesday at the White House. Unlike a game of real ping-pong, however, no one can be sure who is playing because the matches are being held in secret. Once the negotiators agree on language that all parties involved can live with and Speaker Pelosi believes she has the votes to pass it, the legislation will be brought to the floor of the House for a vote.

Senior aides believe this will be done without giving members the opportunity to offer any amendments, which could mean trouble if the final version includes the weaker "Nelson" language on abortion funding from the Senate bill rather than the "airtight" prohibitions included in the earlier House bill over Pelosi's objections.

If the legislation is approved in the House it would then go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to bring it up immediately. This second set begins, say several top Hill staffers, with Reid "filling the amendment tree by himself," thereby making it impossible for any of his Senate colleagues—Democrat or Republican—to offer language that changes in substance any part of the bill.

If the Senate made any changes, the bill would have to then go back to the House in a third volley. The House would then have to pass it again and send it back to the Senate, hence the "ping-pong."

If the Senate adopts the House bill—and with Reid blocking all substantive amendments, it is hard to imagine the Senate voting the final version down—it would then go to the White House for Obama's signature. Game over.

This closed-door process is a stunning display of political hardball mixed with considerable amounts of hubris that has even some Democrats complaining. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, Thursday fired a blast at congressional leaders and the White House over the way the whole business has been handled.

"They said it would be transparent. Why isn't it?" Sestak said in a meeting with editors and reporters at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "At times, I find the caucus is a real disappointment. We aren't transparent, not just to the public but at times to the members."

Sestak was in part referring to the at least eight times candidate Barack Obama promised while running for president to put all the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN but also to the way in which the leadership—all of whom occupy safe seats, at least as far as the House is concerned—is using the ping-pong process to shut the congressional rank and file out of the final deliberations.

The decline in public support for healthcare reform is no doubt being fueled by cynicism over the process under which is has been debated. These secret endgames will only increase that cynicism, stoking the fires of an anti-incumbent sentiment that is already permeating the American body politic.

Opposition Mounts to Democrats' Secret Health Reform Deals

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:33:16 am Comments (0)

Despite the fact that it is as cold in Washington as it has ever been, the heat is rising over the news that congressional Democrats and the White House are planning to play "ping-pong" with America's healthcare system. As reported Monday by a variety of blogs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have spent the congressional recess trying to devise a plan that will allow them to get legislation through Congress to create a wholly revamped U.S. healthcare system in a way that minimizes the risk of the bill being stopped in either the House or Senate.

Typically, when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same legislation, a bi-cameral conference committee is conveyed, where senior members of the House and Senate negotiate on the language of a bill until both sides come up with something they can agree on. On healthcare, as many senior Democrats now concede, going to a conference committee would be equivalent to opening up the whole can of worms all over again, putting its final passage in jeopardy.

By playing "ping pong" with the bill, Pelosi and Reid hope to minimize the chance that any single change will provide the impetus for the bill's defeat, something that is easily possible given how difficult it was to get the House and Senate to pass the bill in the first place.

The secrecy attached to such a strategy is not going down at all well. Brian Lamb, the head of C-SPAN, sent a letter to Pelosi and Reid—as my bloleague Doug Heye wrote about here earlier today—asking for the conference proceedings to be opened to cameras from his network.

That proposal was quickly seconded by GOP congressional leaders, including Ohio Republican John Boehner who told Lamb, "As House Republican Leader, I can confidently state that all House Republicans strongly endorse your proposal and stand ready to work with you to make it a reality."

Playing up on the popular complaints about the bill, which the latest polls indicate a majority of Americans now oppose, Boehner added, "Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors. These secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending."

Others, like Indiana Republican Mike Pence, the House's No. 3 Republican leader, continue to reference Barack Obama's campaign commitment to televise all the healthcare negotiations.

"More than a year ago, President Obama promised voters that health care negotiations would be televised," Pence said in a statement released by his office. "In a mad rush to get a health care bill to the president's desk, that promise has been broken time and time again. The recent request by C-SPAN provides the president one last chance to make good on his promise for openness in the health care debate. The American people deserve a seat at the table."

Democrats’ Secrecy Fuels Health Reform Disapproval

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:31:01 am Comments (0)

The healthcare endgame will involve a game of legislative ping-pong between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who have separately indicated the strategy they intend to use to pass the final bill is intended to box out not only the Republicans, but some Democrats who may have last-minute objections. Pelosi and Reid have apparently determined that private negotiations between leading Democrats on Capitol Hill, coupled with input from the White House, is the only way to write a final bill that can pass both chambers and that President Barack Obama will sign. This process for moving forward—know as "ping pong"—eliminates the need for the kind of formal negotiations that C-SPAN's Brian Lamb recently requested be made open to the media.

Those requests, by the way, have been rejected by Pelosi and Reid.

As reported Monday in The Hill, senior Democratic aides said the decision to go with ping-pong had been made "out of concern that Republicans in both the House and the Senate would employ a series of procedural delaying tactics."

The first set began formally with healthcare meetings held Tuesday at the White House. Unlike a game of real ping-pong, however, no one can be sure who is playing because the matches are being held in secret. Once the negotiators agree on language that all parties involved can live with and Speaker Pelosi believes she has the votes to pass it, the legislation will be brought to the floor of the House for a vote.

Senior aides believe this will be done without giving members the opportunity to offer any amendments, which could mean trouble if the final version includes the weaker "Nelson" language on abortion funding from the Senate bill rather than the "airtight" prohibitions included in the earlier House bill over Pelosi's objections.

If the legislation is approved in the House it would then go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to bring it up immediately. This second set begins, say several top Hill staffers, with Reid "filling the amendment tree by himself," thereby making it impossible for any of his Senate colleagues—Democrat or Republican—to offer language that changes in substance any part of the bill.

If the Senate made any changes, the bill would have to then go back to the House in a third volley. The House would then have to pass it again and send it back to the Senate, hence the "ping-pong."

If the Senate adopts the House bill—and with Reid blocking all substantive amendments, it is hard to imagine the Senate voting the final version down—it would then go to the White House for Obama's signature. Game over.

This closed-door process is a stunning display of political hardball mixed with considerable amounts of hubris that has even some Democrats complaining. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Arlen Specter for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania, Thursday fired a blast at congressional leaders and the White House over the way the whole business has been handled.

"They said it would be transparent. Why isn't it?" Sestak said in a meeting with editors and reporters at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "At times, I find the caucus is a real disappointment. We aren't transparent, not just to the public but at times to the members."

Sestak was in part referring to the at least eight times candidate Barack Obama promised while running for president to put all the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN but also to the way in which the leadership—all of whom occupy safe seats, at least as far as the House is concerned—is using the ping-pong process to shut the congressional rank and file out of the final deliberations.

The decline in public support for healthcare reform is no doubt being fueled by cynicism over the process under which is has been debated. These secret endgames will only increase that cynicism, stoking the fires of an anti-incumbent sentiment that is already permeating the American body politic

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alabama Democrat Switching Parties in Blow to Obama, Pelosi

Posted by: Peter Roff on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 at 1:34:55 pm Comments (0)

U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith dropped a big lump of coal in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Christmas stocking Tuesday when he announced he was joining the GOP. Griffith, a practicing physician and former member of the Alabama State Senate, came to Congress in 2008 by defeating Republican Wayne Parker 51.26 percent to 48.2 percent in a district where Republican John McCain beat Barack Obama by nearly 2-to-1. Griffith's decision to cross the aisle gives the Republicans a much needed boost, handing them control of a seat --across Alabama's northern tier--they have long coveted but never won.

The switch comes at a particularly bad time for Pelosi, who is busy trying to persuade the members of her caucus to once again vote in favor of a healthcare bill that the public neither likes nor, according to the latest polls, very much wants. In fact Griffith himself says what Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Pelosi want to do to the U.S. healthcare system is one of the primary reasons he is changing parties, according to a report that appeared in Politico.

There will be those who say that a switch of one seat--when the Democrats already have a roughly 40-seat majority in the House--is not that big a deal. Others will point to Griffith's record of voting against Pelosi on healthcare, the stimulus, the cap-and trade energy tax and the recent financial services regulation bill as a way of explaining this is not entirely unexpected and that Griffith was not a real Democrat. And some will breathlessly point out this seat--and no bets on who goes first here--is in the heart of the Old Confederacy and--wink, wink, nudge, nudge--draw your own conclusions.

All these are interesting observations--and all of them are beside the point.

With each congressional seat now costing in the millions to win or retain, losing one is always significant--but especially when it is the result of an act of conscience rather than vote totals. As they used to say about the folks who lived in East Berlin before the wall went up, Griffith's "voting with his feet," making a public declaration as to the party with which he wants to be associated.

Unlike the handful of congressmen and two senators who left the Democrats for the GOP after the 1994 elections, Griffith is not obviously leaving the losing side to join the winners. No one is as yet predicting the Republicans will regain control of the House at the next election. The GOP, under the leadership of Ohio Republican John Boehner may be on the bubble, but it's still an uphill fight for them to win back control and, at this point, every seat counts.

As to the point about the confederacy well, that's just a tired old argument from people who don't understand the new South and whose vision of victimization remains locked on to the times when that particular region of the country was reliably Democratic in its voting patterns. The people who make this argument, frankly, need to find some new observations or just go home.

Whether Griffith is "the canary in the coal mine," warning other Democrats that its time to get out, has yet to be seen. On paper he was doing everything required of him to be re-elected as a Democrat. His repeated votes against Pelosi, rather than make his re-election more difficult, actually should have benefited him next November. The district, which centers on the university town of Huntsville, is not a rural conservative seat. It is moderate and "new South" and, as political scientists Merle and Earl Black show in The Rise of Southern Republicans, moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the South--like Griffith and retiring Tennessee Reps. Bart Gordon and John Tanner--more easily win re-election in suburban districts by voting against the national leadership, not with it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Data Shows that the Stimulus Package Was a Waste of Money

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 11:16:16 am Comments (0)

To put it kindly, the stimulus package that President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed through Congress at the beginning of his presidency has been a flop. It is not just that the $789 billion package has not had the effect the White House promised it would; it's that it may actually have been counterproductive, actually lengthening the recession by effectively taking money out of the private economy, where it could have been used to create jobs and for investment purposes. Instead it has been parceled out by the government, which has been unable to track where it has gone or what impact it has really had on job creation. And that has led to any number of fallacious statements by senior administration officials about jobs "created or saved."

There is really no way to assess the number of jobs "saved," which has been the principle rallying cry of the White House over the last few months. Moreover, as data released Friday by the Republicans on the House Committee on Ways and Means makes clear, payroll employment has declined in every state except North Dakota and in the District of Columbia in the nine months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been law. Likewise the national unemployment rate, which Obama promised would not exceed 8 percent if the stimulus became law, has reached a 25-year high of over 10 percent.

As the table below indicates, in no state has anything like the promised job creation occurred. In Alabama, for example, the White House estimated that the stimulus package would generate 52,000 jobs by the end of calendar 2010. Yet the government's own figures show the state has lost a net 30,700 jobs through the end of November 2009. In Illinois, which sent Barack Obama to Washington back in November 2004, the White House estimated a net increase of 148,000 jobs but the state has lost more than 150,000 thus far.

In California, the home state of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the prediction was that 396,000 new jobs would be created by the end of next year. So far it has lost just over 340,000. In Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in the fight of his political life as far as his 2010 re-election bid is concerned, the estimates predicted 34,000 new jobs would be created. So far this year, since the stimulus has been enacted, it has lost more than 50,000. 

From the House Committee of Ways and Means Republicans Website

All told, the nation has lost 2.6 million jobs since the "shovel ready" stimulus dollars started to flow, rather than create the promised 3.5 million, putting the Obama administration 6.1 million jobs in the hole. That's a lot of jobs to make up in twelve months, and at a pace that would outstrip even the Reagan Recovery, which ultimately created 20 million new jobs by the end of his eight-year presidency.

It is now abundantly clear, even as rumors of a third stimulus package continue to circulate, that a new approach to job creation is needed. 

Catholic Bishops Weigh in Against Abortion Compromise in Health Reform Bill

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 10:38:34 am Comments (0)

Last-minute efforts to craft a compromise acceptable to Senate healthcare holdout Ben Nelson of Nebraska on the issue of abortion were dealt a blow late Friday when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in against it. Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and chairman of the conference's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement that the proposed compromise being pushed by Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey was insufficient to fix the problems in the healthcare legislation currently being debated in the U.S. Senate. The current bill, DiNardo said, would continue to be "morally unacceptable unless and until it complies with longstanding current laws on abortion funding such as the Hyde Amendment."

"Senator Casey's good-faith effort to allow individuals to 'opt out' of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy. Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm. In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm. And numerous opinion polls show that the great majority of Americans do not want abortion coverage," DiNardo said.

Casey's effort to improve the bill, the Catholic clergyman continued, "do not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill: Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them." DiNardo urged the Senate to include language in the bill that would block federal funds from going to elective abortions and promised continued opposition to the legislation until their concerns were addressed.

Health Reform's Dirty Little Secrets: Rationing and Arbitrary Medical Decisions

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:53:36 am Comments (0)

One of the few practicing physicians in the United States Senate, Dr. Tom Coburn should be considered something of an authority on the state of healthcare in America. In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, the Oklahoma Republican makes a persuasive case as to why the Obama-Reid-Pelosi approach to reform, so-called, deserves the fisheye. The dirty little secret of healthcare reform is that it is not at all about improving the quality of healthcare, as Coburn hints in his op-ed and as President Obama explained more directly to ABC's Charlie Gibson. The real objective of healthcare reform, the dirty little secret if you will, is to bring the cost of healthcare under control.

Now by the cost of healthcare that doesn't mean how much you and I pay for medical care or even insurance (and most people will see their premiums go up under the Obama-Reid-Pelosi-backed proposal) but the costs the U.S. government incurs, now and in the future if the if the grand plan redesigning the U.S. healthcare system becomes law.

The Reid bill—as initially offered—includes a section responsible for creating new comparative effectiveness research programs which, as Coburn writes, have been used by other countries as de facto rationing commissions. "CER panels here could effectively dictate coverage options and ration care for plans that participate in the state insurance exchanges created by the bill," he says. These are not "death panels," per se. But relying reliance on them to determine who gets what care, or at least the care that the public system or the publicly approved plans will pay for, amounts to nearly the same thing.

Likewise a cause for concern—Coburn points out—is the dependence of the Reid approach on the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is identified in more than 10 places in the bill. These are the folks, lest we forget, who said women under the age of 50 did not need annual mammograms and who discouraged self-exams because of the false positives they produce. As the Reid bill allows for coverage for services approved by the task force then, by implication, coverage for those services they did not specify were necessary might be denied. "This chilling provision represents the government stepping between doctors and patients," he says. "When the government asserts the power to provide care, it also asserts the power to deny care."

Coburn is right, but he doesn't go far enough. It is not simply that the government is asserting the power to provide care; it is that the government is assuming the responsibility for controlling costs, and not in a market-based way. The Obama-Reid-Pelosi vision of cost control is one in which decisions are made in a seemingly-arbitrary manner, with the quickest pathway out of the red and into the black to deny people the opportunity to receive the care and drugs they need and, of equal importance, that their physicians recommend.

Health Reform Politics Proving Hazardous to Democrats

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:37:57 am Comments (0)

President Obama invited the 60 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus down to the White House Tuesday for a healthcare pep talk. Apparently, it didn't do much good. The president's advice, according to sources inside the U.S. Senate, was for his fellow Democrats to try to have more fun trying to get the bill through; so much for the teleprompter. And so much for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is seemingly on his own now that senior White House communications personnel are putting out the word that the bill needs to be done before Christmas or it won't get done at all.

Reid has, for some time, been announcing that he has a deal, an agreement on language the 60 senators who are not Republicans will support, dislodging the bill from limbo and freeing it from a filibuster--but that's not really true. The senior senator from Nevada has talked about concepts and asked the Congressional Budget Office to figure out how much certain approaches will cost, but he has not been able to come up with a solution that satisfies his party colleagues on what now appear to be the three key problems with the bill: the tax hikes, the increase in insurance premiums, and the cuts in Medicare that are needed to pay for it. For every Democrat and independent he appears to win over, he seems in danger of losing one or two more.

Even as Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman says his comfort level is rising, moderate Democrats like Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Virginia's Jim Webb are starting to speak out about their concerns particularly that the current approach Reid wants to use will cost too much. At the same time others, like temporary Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, have been emboldened enough to threaten to vote against any legislation that does not include a public option.

All of this obviously frustrates the liberal partisans, particularly those who insist any deal include some kind of public option and individual insurance mandates, which are necessary prerequisites for the Canadian-style single payer system many of them really want. And it's leading to dissention among the ranks, and dissention from all sides.

For the Democrats, it's potentially very damaging politically.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who helped build the liberal grassroots that were central to Obama's election, is calling the Senate bill a bailout for the insurance companies that should be defeated. On the other side are the folks at MoveOn.org who are now taking out after Lieberman, saying in an E-mail sent Wednesday to supporters that the former vice-presidential candidate "has been one of the biggest obstacles to real healthcare reform with a public option all year."

"First, Joe Lieberman helped President Bush invade Iraq, and the Democrats in Washington forgave him. Then, he endorsed John McCain, and they forgave him again. Then, he personally attacked Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention, and still the Democrats forgave him," the group says. "Now, Joe Lieberman is single-handedly gutting health care reform. The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable."

While the criticism of Lieberman is somewhat hollow--MoveOn.org did play a role in his defeat in the Democratic primary the last time he stood for re-election, after all--it is an example of the absolutely hair-pulling frustration the liberal community feels over the failure, thus far, to pass something through the Senate. And it looks like it's only going to get worse.

The latest polls show a majority of the American electorate rejects the framework of the Reid bill, which is all there really is. Reid's decision to "buy" the vote of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has other senators standing around with their hands out. And, if the recent statements coming out of McCaskill and Webb and others are any indication, the smart political move may now be for a senator to make disapproving noises about the bill to satisfy the concerns of the folks back home--especially for the senators from "red states"--even if they intend to eventually vote for it.

This represents a considerable shift in the politics surrounding the bill that may produce even more problems for Reid and the White House. No one can be sure right now where anyone stands.

President Obama has counseled the members of his party to vote for the bill so they can make history. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, is advising senators that if they vote for Reid's healthcare bill, they will be history. When you look through the polling data in the individual states where there will be Senate races next year, it's starting to look at lot more like McConnell may be right.

As Obama's Approval Rating Sinks, His Hubris Grows

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:18:15 am Comments (0)

The lower President Barack Obama's approval numbers go the more certain he seems to be about his vision for the country. In the Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll for December 15, 41 percent of those surveyed across America give Obama's performance as president a highly negative review.

On healthcare, the issue that is at this moment at the forefront of the debate, 56 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen now say they oppose the bill working its way through the Senate. Yet he continues to press ahead with signature issues like healthcare as though the sentiments of the electorate mattered not at all to him, never once pausing to admit that he has been wrong about anything or that he has failed to live up to the promises he made during his presidential campaign.

Much has already been written about how he has already violated his pledge not to raises taxes, any kind of taxes on families making less that $250,000 per year. The bill currently making its way through the Senate contains at least six, a fact he has yet to mention. Nor has he fulfilled his promise to put the healthcare negotiations—any of the healthcare negotiations—on C-SPAN so the American people can see the wheeling and dealing and horse-trading that has obviously been going on, the latest being the watering-down of the public option provision to satisfy the demands of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The president's approval ratings have fallen farther faster than any of his predecessors. Perhaps because the critical bloc of independent voters that backed him in 2008 have been turned off by what could be called Obama's arrogance in office.

A perfect example of this is White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer's comment to Politico that it would be "hard to imagine another president ever taking on (the) Herculean task" of healthcare reform should Obama fail to pass it this year. As though somehow Obama is the only one capable of meeting the challenge, an expression of political arrogance on par with wondering if he could create a budget deficit so big that he himself could not spend it.

The hubris that led him to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for what he might accomplish and to claim credit for an economic recovery because of the jobs that might have been saved thanks to his stimulus package, among other things, is off-putting—and beginning to sink in.

Healthcare Reform Meets Standstill on Medicare Issue

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, December 21, 2009 at 8:13:15 am Comments (0)

Every time Harry Reid manages to get a step ahead on healthcare reform the members of his caucus force him to take two steps back. Last week's announcement that a deal had been struck—whatever that meant, since Reid would not make the details public—was accompanied by Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman telling CBS' Bob Schieffer they couldn't support the bill, at least not in its present form.

These objections, in and of themselves, are apparently enough to stop healthcare reform cold, especially if all 40 Republican senators remain united in their opposition to the Reid approach. In fact, the calculations are growing much more complicated with each hour that passes.

Reid must now contend as well with growing unrest on his left flank. A group of Senate liberals, led by North Dakota's Byron Dorgan and Minnesota's Al Franken wrote last Friday to the majority leader about his proposed "compromise," expressing their concerns that the rumored Medicare buy-in program for Americans aged 55-64 Reid wants to incorporate into his healthcare bill would fail to address "inequities in the current Medicare reimbursement rates."

"Our states consistently lag behind other states on Medicare reimbursement and per capita spending," the 12 Democrats who signed the letter wrote. "While there are provisions in the Senate bill to eventually adjust the geographic disparities in Medicare, possible improvements to the funding formula, if they occur, will be years away," they said, adding, "the current Medicare payment structure penalizes those who provide efficient care, while rewarding those who order unnecessary tests and services."

In short, having seen Reid buy Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote with $100 million, these 12 Democrats are asking for their fair share. According to Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at the pro-free market Americans for Prosperity, the letter is a sign that senators from rural states are concerned that expanding Medicare without increasing reimbursement rates will drive more and more doctors into retirement.

"As more and more of their patients become Medicare patients and Medicare pays far below market rates," Kerpen says, "at some point it becomes impossible to shift costs to patients with private insurance," which would have the effect of turning large areas of rural states into healthcare deserts where no providers would be available.

Allowing that such an outcome would be a "political and public policy disaster" for the senators who let it happen, Kerpen says the only way to avoid it if a buy-in is allowed would be to boost Medicare reimbursement rates. And that, he says, "would obliterate the mirage of cost-containment in Reid's bill and expose every American to trillions of dollars in higher spending and debt." Which, no matter how you slice it, isn't exactly progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Supreme Court, Conrad Black and Joe Biden's Bad Idea

Posted by: Peter Roff on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:56:36 am Comments (0)

Back when he was in the United States Senate, Vice President Joe Biden came up with the brilliant idea of being able to charge people with the crime of "honest services fraud," something that would permit prosecutors to charge public officials with depriving the public of its intangible right to receive the honest services of public servants.

Billed as an anti-corruption measure, the idea that the violation of an "intangible right" can be considered a crime that can send people to jail should send shivers down the spine of every freedom loving person in the land. Imagine, if you will, the concept applied to the nation's highway system—which would then allow the state troopers to pull you over for "going too fast" (rather than exceeding a specific speed limit). The result would not only be chaotic, it would be a direct threat to liberty.

Even existing legal codes are unclear on the subject, providing very little definition or advance notice to anyone accused of this particular crime of what actions, precisely, constitute honest service fraud. Yet the crime itself gives federal prosecutors with bottomless resources at their disposal the open-ended authority to charge almost anyone with fraud or corruption for public or even private activities, as media mogul Conrad Black can now attest.

Black, the former chief executive of Hollinger International Inc., was several years ago convicted of honest services fraud, as the Washington Post reminded in a Friday editorial, as the result of business dealings which involved payments to him as part of a non-compete clause.

Attorneys representing Black argued Tuesday before the United States Supreme Court that the government charge against him was not only in error—because the deals were highly profitable for Hollinger and the government failed to prove the payments were otherwise illegal or defrauded the company—but that the charge itself should not exist.

Seemingly trivial, it is actually a very important case because the charge is so devoid of meaning that it could be applied to anyone in almost any situation and, as we have seen in several recent public corruption cases that have gone awry as far as the Department of Justice is concerned, that person could then be squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until they reach the point where they are willing to say almost anything to get out from under the pressure. The charge is so all encompassing that the only restraint against its abuse are limits prosecuting authorities place upon themselves, something that is in direct contradiction with the idea that America is a nation of laws, not of men.

This may also be, however, its undoing. The Supreme Court is likely to find, and should by the way, that the idea of honest services fraud violates a cardinal democratic principle: that an individual must intend to violate the law—which is not the same as simply knowing the law exists—but must knowingly act in a way that leads to the law being violated. If you cannot know you have broken a law until after you have broken it and been indicted as a result, then the legal system has been turned on its head, unless you see things from the perspective of King George III.

Republicans Want Answers on a Dubious Stimulus Spending

Posted by: Peter Roff on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:22:15 am Comments (0)

As far as the stimulus package is concerned, President Barack Obama has a lot to answer for. Federal records show that nearly $6 million was provided to firms controlled by Mark Penn, a former senior adviser and pollster to Hillary Rodham Clinton. The funds, which records show helped preserve three jobs at public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, The Hill reported Wednesday, paid for work on a public relations campaign to advertise the national switch to digital television and for polling work by Penn's firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates.

The news has Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are already unhappy with the way the stimulus dollars have been distributed, absolutely up in arms. Several of them, led by South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, are seeking support from the White House and their congressional colleagues for a bipartisan national commission to investigate how the stimulus money was spent, where it went, and how many jobs the stimulus actually saved or created, the website created for that purpose having failed to do its job.

Wilson sent a letter to Obama announcing his intention, if the president did not act on his own by Dec. 1, 2009, to call for an outside, independent examination of spending and reporting inaccuracies of every stimulus dollar appropriated—and was rebuffed.

"The reality of the situation is that Recovery.gov, the official administration website charged with reporting abuse, was its own worst offender," Wilson said Wednesday. "It is full of fake stimulus jobs in fake congressional districts. The Government Accountability Office says that one out of every 10 jobs created by the stimulus are also fake."

Under the Wilson plan, the commission would, following a thorough investigation, make recommendations as to what changes could be made to save or create more jobs and what steps could be taken to prevent the improper allocation of taxpayer dollars.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EPA Carbon Dioxide Decision Threatens Liberty and the Economy

Posted by: Peter Roff on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 at 4:39:00 pm Comments (0)

As President Obama was busily traveling by greenhouse gas-emitting jumbo jet to Copenhagen for an international conference on the weather, Lisa Jackson, his administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was busy telling the world that the United States government now officially believes carbon dioxide is a threat to public health and welfare.

Jackson's issuance of an endangerment finding, according to Capital Alpha Partners' James Lucier, provides federal regulators "with the basis they need to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act." And, following up on Nobel laureate Al Gore's thesis in his book Earth in the Balance, Jackson also seconded the idea that the internal combustion engine is the greatest threat to mankind's continued existence: "The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and now motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare."

The potential costs to personal liberty, not to mention the U.S. economy, that could flow from Jackson's finding are enormous. They are also potentially without check, as Jackson is now free to propose through administrative rule-making what Congress is thus far unwilling to pass as legislation.

The effort to now prove the United States is serious about climate change comes at a bad time for its supporters. Unwilling to acknowledge that the output of carbon emissions actually fell during the Bush years, they are pressing ahead at the same time their basic thesis has been called into question. Far from being the "settled science" that Gore and others have proclaimed over the past few years, the manipulation of certain global temperature data points by scientists working on the issue, also known as CRU-Climategate, means the world may in fact not be getting hotter—not that Jackson minds, apparently, telling reporters that the climate data set that has fallen into disrepute as the result of leaked E- mails is just one of several.

Actually, say those who follow the issue closely, it's one of three. And the veracity of the second, which was also produced in the United Kingdom, is no longer attested to by those who developed it. No, they have pulled it back to scrub the data and make sure it is correct, a process that may take as long as two years.

How serious is the Climategate scandal? Well, we've all seen the cop shows where the bad guy walks because all the evidence against him is tainted fruit from a poisoned tree. It's the same thing with the CRU data set. It's tainted—and it's one of three specific data sets that EPA is using to justify its new finding, which could lead to new regulations that could raise costs and prohibit activities we now enjoy, having an impact on everything from backyard barbecues and motor vehicles to the production of electric power.

As the supporters of climate change—like my bloleague Bonnie Erbe—have argued, the fact that the data is now tainted does not disprove the idea of global warming. But it does mean the data in support of the idea is now unreliable, and what Obama and Jackson may try to do through regulation at the EPA is so big—and so expensive—that it should not be based on a maybe, on questionable data. Either way, the stakes are too high to get it wrong.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Abortion in Healthcare Bill Remains a Puzzle for Democrats—and GOP Opponents

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 11:41:10 am Comments (0)

Poor Harry Reid. For weeks, his main priority has been to get healthcare legislation through the Senate. And he's pushed hard, using just about every legislative trick available to him. Now, just when it started to look like he was making some progress comes the news that the folks back home have turned against it. In one recent statewide poll, 52 percent of Nevada voters said they didn't want the healthcare reform package Reid has been pushing so hard—and almost half of those said they were "strongly opposed," meaning they are likely to take their anger over the legislation out on their state's senior senator next November when he is once again up for re-election.

Nevada, for all of its Democrats, is not a liberal state. Reid joined the Senate leadership by proclaiming, or at least pretending, that he was a moderate who could help the leadership strike a balance with rank-and-file Democrats from places where liberalism was not the regular order of things. Now, with the House and Senate and the White House in definably liberal hands for the first time in more than a generation, Reid is caught between the national party and the folks back home, only 40 percent of whom say they are at all interested in helping him win re-election.

If he is able to find salvation it will come at the hands of his political opponents, who cannot agree on a strategy for defeating the healthcare bill. On the one hand are those who think the best way to stop the government's takeover of healthcare is to leave the bill largely as the Democrats have proposed it, to make them own every tax increase and spending hike and piece of rationing it creates. On the other are those who, fearful of its eventual passage, think the bill needs to be made as good as possible in order to mitigate the damage it might cause downstream.

Nowhere is this more clear than on the issue of abortion. Over in the House, the anti-abortion language offered by Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat, provided the only real hiccup Speaker Nancy Pelosi needed to suppress before moving to the vote on final passage. It made the House bill a pro-life bill by preventing the funding of abortions in the new healthcare regime and started a civil war among Democrats, a near majority of whom say that the final version of the bill going to President Obama for his signature must reflect the "pro-choice" position or they will not vote for it, in effect making the anti-abortion language a poison pill the Democrats will refuse to swallow.

Over in the Senate, the push is on to add similar language to the bill Reid is managing. Some on the right say privately that, with the abortion funding ban in both the House and Senate versions, the bill is likely to be stopped dead in its tracks. Others are not so sure. Larry Hunter, the former chief economist at the United States Chamber of Commerce who now publishes the SocialSecurity.org blog, says the inclusion of Stupak-like language in the Senate bill would actually pave the way for its eventual passage by helping Harry Reid lock in the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who has promised to vote with the Republicans to prevent anything other than an explicitly pro-life healthcare bill from coming to a vote.

Each side makes a powerful argument, but there is little predictive value in either. It is not certain House Democrats will vote down a healthcare package that includes the Stupak language, despite their bluster. They invite a near-permanent civil war on their own side if they do. It is also not certain that Nelson will keep to his commitments to the pro-lifers to vote against cloture on the Senate bill if his amendment is defeated—which leaves the Republicans on and off Capitol Hill divided on their strategy and, unintentionally, giving Reid the lifeline he needs.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Be Fooled by the White House's Fox Feint

Posted by: Peter Roff on Friday, October 23, 2009 at 11:44:37 am Comments (1)

Sending Anita Dunn—who is probably not enjoying her proverbial 15 minutes of fame—out onto the north lawn of the White House to attack Fox News is serving its purpose.

The responsibility for determining which of the national news networks are legitimate and which ones are not is something the founders did not include in the executive powers section of the Constitution. One might even argue that the inclusion of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights is a pretty clear sign they thought that giving any part of the federal government the power to do so would not, to put it in modern terms, be a very good idea.

Nonetheless Dunn made her remarks and presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs is backing her up, despite the fact that even a few journalists inside the press briefing room are echoing complaints from the conservative rank and file that the White House has no business doing that sort of thing.

Give Obama's political team some credit. This is a fight they wanted to have, at the time they wanted to have because it is a distraction to their enemies.

It's always nice to have allies, especially when the powerful are talking trash about you. But it's not always necessary. With a 24-hour cable news channel, a talk radio network, some local television affiliates and several newspapers all together under the umbrella of its parent company News Corp, Fox doesn't really need any help in mounting a defense against the White House's charge that it is something other than a legitimate news organization. Just ask Van Jones, the former White House "Green Jobs Tsar" whose friends picked a fight with Fox's Glenn Beck and lost.

In reality the purpose underlying the fight with Fox takes advantage of conservatives who are afflicted with what might be called "Pay Attention Deficit Disorder," meaning they have trouble sticking to one issue for any length of time.

Consider that, up until now, the conservative opponents to the Obama agenda have been mounting a strong defense of their position. The "cap and trade" national energy tax bill, which only passed the House because the White House was willing to twist so many arms, came to a screeching halt when it got to the Senate. The healthcare reform bill, which President Obama initially insisted would be on his desk before the August congressional recess, may now live or die based on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's skill at legislative legerdemain. All because the conservative opposition remained largely united and focused on beating these two bills.

Now the White House is drawing conservative attention off onto other things. Some conservatives, particularly those based in the blogosphere, seem intent on making the special election for a congressional seat in upstate New York into some kind of leadership litmus test. Others think now is the time to engage in a winnowing of one group or another from the conservative ranks in order to reorient the movement along some new axis. And now, thanks to the White House's provocation, there are those who are spending time trying to motivate the public to act in defense of Fox.

You don't have to swing a dead cat to find a blogger or a pundit who will argue that each of these fights is supremely important to the long term future of conservatism in America. Without commenting on any of the possible outcomes of any of these debates or the merits of any of the arguments put forth on any side, let's stipulate that these issues are all important and the debates are worth having; however that doesn't make them all-important.

Conservatives, if they are to succeed in their effort to protect their own interests as well as the country's, need to keep their fire aimed in the right direction, which means keeping Obama and the Democrats from getting what they want most. The focus of their efforts should remain on opposing Obama and the Democrats in their efforts to nationalize and otherwise permanently wreck the U.S. economy with their healthcare and energy tax schemes. These are the fights that will determine the country's future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Destroying Our Economy, For Europe's Sake?

Posted by: Andrew Langer on Monday, September 21, 2009 at 9:42:49 am Comments (0)

Global economics is cyclical, on a host of levels.  Economies rise and fall, and national prosperities grow and shrink given how they compete with other nations.The strength of the American dollar, for instance, rests on a host of issues and our ability to trade effectively is bound up in the strength of our economy and our currency.  The more expensive it is to buy from America, the less people will do so.  It is a lesson Europe has learned the hard way, as the cost of manufacturing there has skyrocketed over the decades, and the problem was only exacerbated by the extreme regulation of CO2.

 

This month’s anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse and Washington’s renewed focus on Wall Street risks has bearing on climate policy. As economists continue to examine the fall-out from the recent Wall Street fiasco, many analysts are taking precautions to avoid the next market collapse. However, if Congress implements a federal cap-and-trade program and links it to the international emissions market, it is easy to predict what that next financial bubble will be— a carbon bubble.

 

Just as the repercussions of the housing bubble were felt worldwide, the creation of the carbon bubble would also have global effects and the entire economy would have a stake in how it performs. Furthermore, it’s becoming clear that the global carbon bubble is  bad for the U.S. economy from the start, while actually benefitting companies abroad. If Congress implements a national cap-and-trade program and then links it with the E.U. system, it would mean high carbon prices for the U.S., and lower prices for Europe. According to a 2009 report by Point Carbon the creation of a U.S. carbon market linked to the EU systems could slash EU carbon prices by 50% and increase U.S. carbon prices by 10-30%.

 

British P.M. Gordon Brown’s recent study argues, predictably, in favor of a linkage system, that while costly for American's provides political coverage to Prime Minister Brown's unpopular administration as they try to maintain their involvement in the EU ETS.  This is clearly an effort to divert attention from the reality of higher prices for U.S. consumers in a linked ETS system.

 

The creation of a linked U.S. carbon market would mean billion dollar cost increases for Americans. The price stabilization resulting from a global market for carbon credits would eventually raise the price of CO2 to $20 or more per ton. Since Waxman-Markey allocates little more than 5.4 billion tons of allowances in 2016, Americans would be looking at increased costs of over $100 billion.

 

It is the job of Congress to look out for the well-being of American citizens and businesses, not foreign companies. Instead of helping Europe recover from their failed policies, America should learn from their mistakes and avoid going down this same misguided path. The ETS has yet to achieve significant emissions reductions and has only served to increase volatility in energy prices and hinder European businesses. 

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Responding to A Comment on Health Care

Posted by: Andrew Langer on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 1:44:31 pm Comments (1)

As many of you know, I'm on Facebook (and IFL has a facebook group - please befriend me, and join our group!).  I've always been pleased that my Facebook page has been a sort of "town square" for public policy and political debates.  I have friends who are on all points on the political spectrum, and the debates have been lively.

Many of my friends from high school are on the far left of the political spectrum.  There are a host of reasons for this, you can read a lot about it on my old blog (just do a search for Fieldston, and you'll find it), and as you can imagine, many of them post from that perspective in discussions on Facebook.  One of these friends is a very talented actor by the name of Ian Kahn.  Ian, in responding to a "tweet" about a speech that I was giving yesterday, wrote:

"Health care for all Americans. It's the Patriotic choice."

I didn't quite understand that, so I wrote:

"And just what does that mean, Ian? Because, after all, the option being put on the table by the Democrats and the President ISN'T "heath care" for all Americans. It's "health insurance" for all Americans. That's not the same thing, and, in fact, the latter could lead to the destruction of the former."

Ian responded, "Do you have health care or health insurance? Because that line, while it makes a great sound bite, is equivocal at best. For one of the 47 million Americans without health insurance I’m fairly sure that would be a tough, and probably insulting distinction, to make. The point is this... there is a proposition out there that intends to take steps to reform our system by improving quality, expanding coverage, lowering costs, honoring patient choice and holding insurance companies accountable. You can agree with it. Or disagree with it. And it may or may not succeed at achieving all its arguably quixotic aspirations, but what is the alternative being presented? It seems incredibly easy to stand by and take pot shots at an approach to deal with one of the most difficult issues in recent American times, but where are the alternative proposals? There are lives, most literally at stake here and we are playing politics rather than coming together to find a solution.

"Senator Jim DeMint said at a recent speech, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Disgraceful. American soldiers in time of war fight for all Americans. They fight for the Americans that can’t fight for themselves. They even fight for the Americans who disagree with the fight itself. They fight because they believe it is in the best interest of the Nation. Their Nation. They spill their blood for those who are not able or not willing to spill their own. That is the very definition of patriotism. How is that different than those of us (myself included) who are being asked to give a little more to help those who cannot help themselves? It is time for action. Action is what is being offered... and if the Republicans or anybody else has a suggestion in facing this national dilemma, I am absolutely willing and eager and open to it."

I thought a great deal about this, and happened to read it before I was about to give my speech, so it was weighing on my mind as I spoke.  This morning I wrote a response to Ian, and one of my readers wanted to share it with others.  So here is my response in its entirety:


If I were one of the millions of Americans without access to health _insurance_, Ian, what would insult me would be to find out that the health "care" being promised to me isn't health "care" at all. Or to find out that health care costs aren't going to go down. Or to find out that medical care is going to become harder to find as a result of this legislation. Or to find out that one one of a number of the promises being made by this legislation are a mere fiction...

Fiction. As in "not true". As in "not true" because what's being proposed is belied by the facts. The economic analyses say that costs are going to go up, not down. History has shown us that government intervention into health care does not increase access to it. The current statistics are showing us that we simply do not have enough medical care to go around.

Medical "care". As in, we do not have enough doctors, nurses, and medical technicians to meet the demands for care that we have today. It's Resource Economics 101 (or, probably 201): declining supply + increased demand = increase in price.

And why do I say "declining supply"? Because more and more doctors are leaving the medical profession each year, and we aren't backfilling enough to meet demand - especially in those all-important primary care specialties (family practice, internal medicine, etc).

Not only is government fiat not going to change that, it's going to exacerbate the problem. The increase in patient "panels" (the number of patients seen by each and every doctor), combined with the decrease in reimbursement from the government that has to come from cost-cutting, combined with having to deal with additional bureaucracies from government (what is it - 87 different agencies that will be involved in this "Rube Goldberg-like" scheme?), and you'll see the rate of medical professional departures increase at an alarming rate.

No doctors + no nurses + no medical technicians = no health care. Insurance or no insurance.

My wife is a doctor, Ian. As it happens, she's a doctor employed by the federal government. So the government administration of health care is something I'm intimately familiar with.

And as for your assertion that there are no alternative proposals, you might try doing a little research before parroting the party line on this. From 2001 to 2009 there were a series of meaningful health-care reform proposals that dealt with increasing access to health insurance, increasing the supply of medical care, and bringing greater cost-transparency and consumer choice into the marketplace. Those alternatives continue to be on the table, such as:

- Association Health Plans: These would have allowed small businesses (which comprise 90+ of all employers and provide 2/3 of all new jobs) to band together across state lines in order to create risk pools for the purposes of buying insurance. This would have driven down the cost of employer-provided insurance plans and allowed for greater numbers of small businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.

How did it fare? Defeated by the Democrats at the behest of their special interest donors, the AARP and the Service Employees International Union

- Tort Reform: A key component of what's driving doctors out of the medical field is the cost of doing business, especially the cost of malpractice insurance. Reforming the penalties that can be levied in malpractice cases would drive those premiums down (which can amount to thousands PER MONTH), and keep Doctors in business.

How did it fare? Defeated by the Democrats at the behest of their special interest donor, the American Trial Lawyers Association.

- Medical Savings Accounts: An alternative to high-cost health insurance is the Medical Savings Account or Health Savings Account, a tax-free option which allows people to pay for their primary care directly, creating cost transparency and true competition in the marketplace. Because doctors who take MSAs aren't doing complicated insurance or government billing, it eliminates tremendous amounts of expensive paperwork, thus further driving down costs.

How did it fare? Watered down by the Democrats at the behest of a variety of their special interest donors.

There were other options: tax credits for the costs of health insurance for small business (as opposed to what they want to do now: jack up costs and penalize businesses that can't afford them); finding ways to decrease the costs of medical school, increasing service opportunities to pare down medical school debt, etc.

These have all been defeated, one way or another, by those who want to force everyone into a one-size fits all approach to medical care.

I'm not being "asked" to give a little more, Ian. I'm being forced. There's a tremendous difference. Volunteerism, especially voluntary giving to charity, is a high moral aspiration. State coercion is the opposite.

Every increased dollar that the government takes from me is one less dollar that I can give to charities. Charities who can provide that medical care (again, NOT insurance) to those who cannot otherwise afford comprehensive insurance.

I found it galling when Sen. Ben Cardin on Monday chastised a young man who didn't want to be penalized for making the choice to not have health insurance. He didn't deny that the man would be penalized (to the tune of $200+ per month, money he may not otherwise have), he essentially said, "How dare you!"

That's disgraceful, Ian. An elected official hectoring a constituent for exercising his free will is disgraceful. An elected official laughing when asked if he would pledge to read a thousand-plus piece of transformational legislation is disgraceful. Hoodwinking the American public into believing that this piece of legislation will solve their health care woes is disgraceful.

And that last point isn't working. I'm not going to call this the President's Waterloo - and about that, Waterloo wasn't Wellington's personal "beef" with Napoleon (no pun intended). Waterloo was about putting a stop to the spread of French imperialism.

But the bottom line is that this isn't what Americans voted for in November (and not what they voted for in 2006, either)--which is why an ever-increasing number of them are opposing this plan.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sotomayor: Another Potential Blow To Property Rights

Posted by: Andrew Langer on Monday, July 13, 2009 at 1:44:31 pm Comments (2)

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has brought all manner of reaction from across the political spectrum, positive and negative, liberal and conservative. The comment was raised on my Facebook page that Sotomayor was "inspiring and refreshing", to which someone responded, "Inspiring and refreshing is for the newest "fashiontini" not a Supreme Court Justice."

I'm not a lawyer, but between the ages of 16 and 28 I worked for and with lawyers, and for 4 years was the reader to a blind environmental lawyer. One of his areas of expertise was private property rights, and I developed a real passion for the subject.

I have continued to be dismayed with what Justice Scalia termed as the "relegation of property rights to the status of a poor relation". We were warned about Justice Roberts' view of the mutability of private property rights, even coming on the heels of the Kelo decision, and our concerns were justified when Roberts paved the way for further erosion of property rights in the Jones v. Flower decision (I wrote on that here: http://langrrr.blogspot.com/2006_05_01_archive.html ).

And now we have Judge Sotomayor, who, apparently, could be even worse. The noted law professor, Richard Epstein, has this to say in a piece at Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/2009/05/26/supreme-court-nomination-obama-opinions-columnists-sonia-sotomayor_print.html ):

"Here is one straw in the wind that does not bode well for a Sotomayor appointment. Justice Stevens of the current court came in for a fair share of criticism (all justified in my view) for his expansive reading in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) of the "public use language." Of course, the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment is as complex as it is short: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." But he was surely done one better in the Summary Order in Didden v. Village of Port Chester issued by the Second Circuit in 2006. Judge Sotomayor was on the panel that issued the unsigned opinion--one that makes Justice Stevens look like a paradigmatic defender of strong property rights.

"I have written about Didden in Forbes. The case involved about as naked an abuse of government power as could be imagined. Bart Didden came up with an idea to build a pharmacy on land he owned in a redevelopment district in Port Chester over which the town of Port Chester had given Greg Wasser control. Wasser told Didden that he would approve the project only if Didden paid him $800,000 or gave him a partnership interest. The "or else" was that the land would be promptly condemned by the village, and Wasser would put up a pharmacy himself. Just that came to pass. But the Second Circuit panel on which Sotomayor sat did not raise an eyebrow. Its entire analysis reads as follows: "We agree with the district court that [Wasser's] voluntary attempt to resolve appellants' demands was neither an unconstitutional exaction in the form of extortion nor an equal protection violation."

"Maybe I am missing something, but American business should shudder in its boots if Judge Sotomayor takes this attitude to the Supreme Court. Justice Stevens wrote that the public deliberations over a comprehensive land use plan is what saved the condemnation of Ms. Kelo's home from constitutional attack. Just that element was missing in the Village of Port Chester fiasco. Indeed, the threats that Wasser made look all too much like the "or else" diplomacy of the Obama administration in business matters.

"Jurisprudentially, moreover, the sorry Didden episode reveals an important lesson about constitutional law. It is always possible to top one bad decision (Kelo) with another (Didden). This does not augur well for a Sotomayor appointment to the Supreme Court. The president should have done better, and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, should subject this dubious nomination to the intense scrutiny that it deserves."

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