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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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Friday, August 21, 2009

Continuing with health care reform is a bad strategy

Posted by: Peter Roff - written for U.S. News on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 9:32:52 pm Comments (0)

The Democrats have been trying to pass nationalized healthcare ever since Harry S Truman. With Barack Obama, who campaigned on the issue, they won their first presidential mandate since Lyndon Johnson, a sizable majority in the House and a filibusterproof majority in the Senate. And, six months into a period in which they can do anything they want, they still can't seem to get healthcare done.

In the meantime, they are losing the support of the country for change.

The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll of 1,001 U.S. adults found that 50 percent of the country now disapproves of the job President Obama is doing on healthcare, up 6 points from 44 percent who felt that way in July. And a minority, 49 percent, think he will be able to "make significant improvements" in the U.S. healthcare system.

Many people now believe, based on the results of the poll, that it may in fact be better to do nothing at all. A whopping 80 percent of those surveyed said the quality of their healthcare would, at best, stay the same or get worse if the healthcare system is changed.

The electoral implications of the failure to keep it together on healthcare are, for the Democrats, potentially severe. Several recent polls have shown the Republicans now leading on the generic congressional ballot for 2010. The ABC News-Post poll found that healthcare is likely one reason for the shift. Just 23 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who supports the proposed changes to the health system being developed by Congress and the President—while almost a third, 32 percent, said it would make them more likely to oppose that candidate's election or re-election.

It may be, after almost 50 years, it is time for them to give up on the idea of a European-style government take over the healthcare system. Like Republican hopes to fundamentally alter the Social Security system by adding private accounts to the calculation, the Democrats' intentions for the American healthcare system may just be one bridge too far.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Idea for Virginia Republicans: Abolish the Commonwealth's Corporate Income Tax

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 12:55:15 am Comments (0)
July 29, 2009 05:01 PM ET

By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Until last year, the Commonwealth of Virginia had not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, the year LBJ trounced Barry Goldwater. Obama's victory along with his party's back-to-back wins for governor and the election of not one but two Democrats to the U.S. Senate have some conservatives thinking its time for some new ideas.

Enter Bob Marcellus, the president of the Richmond Group Fund Co. Ltd., who is assembling a coalition of business leaders and academics in support of a single, simple idea: the complete elimination of Virginia's corporate income tax.

According to Marcellus, the idea is not as radical as it might sound. "During the past 20 years, dozens of countries have concluded that the corporate income tax is one of the most economically destructive mechanisms for raising revenue because it destroys production."

Statistics indicate that U.S. business tax rates are now about 50 percent higher than in non-U.S. OECD countries. The combined federal and state corporate tax rate in the United States is at just below 40 percent versus an average rate of about 26 percent for the rest, which may help explain why so many U.S.-based companies are looking for ways to move part or all of their operations overseas.

"While other countries have been cutting corporate income taxes year after year, our corporate taxes have remained the same, destroying our competitive position," Marcellus says.

Of late, the prevailing mood on Capitol Hill has been to look for ways to punish companies who seek to move all or part of their operations off shore in search of tax relief. Marcellus says the better idea would be "to stop punishing them for staying here" by restructuring the tax code to make it economically advantageous for them to continue to operate in the United States.

Eliminating Virginia's tax on corporations would have a stimulating effect on its economy, as opposed to the Obama stimulus, which focused on vast amounts of new federal spending and putting people to work on public sector projects. That, along with the repeated calls for income redistribution, higher taxes and punitive taxes levied against those in the economy who are the most successful are probably a good part of the reason the Obama program is not working as advertised, as the increase in the U.S. rate of unemployment to its current 9.7 percent attests.

According to supporters of the idea, the corporate tax hits hardest on the most productive, innovative and successful companies when what government should be doing is promote the retention of corporate earnings for reinvestment and expansion that in turn would create new jobs and keep businesses in the commonwealth. According to a study of 50,000 companies conducted by the European Union, a 1 percent increase in marginal corporate income tax rates produces a .92 percent decrease in real wages for workers.

To provide support for his idea Marcellus points to places like Ireland, where in 1988 a national 12.5 percent flat rate tax was put in place. Over the next 14 years Ireland's national wealth more than doubled, growing four times faster than the European average. In one small Swiss province, the influx of new business was so strong after the overall corporate rate was reduced to 6 percent that tax revenues actually increased by 6.6 percent.

It is not clear that either candidate in Virginia's race for governor, Republican Bob McDonnell or Democrat Creigh Deeds, will embrace the idea. If one of them does, however, and they win, look for this idea to be replicated in gubernatorial contests through the country in 2010 and in the 2012 presidential contest- especially if it appears to work as advertised.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Democrats' Healthcare Censorship Shows How Desperate They've Become

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, July 27, 2009 at 1:38:08 pm Comments (0)

July 24, 2009 03:45 PM ET

 

President Barack Obama's prime time press conference having done little to reassure a wavering public, it seems the Democrats hope to create a national healthcare system may once again have slipped out of out reach. The president agrees that his timetable has been thrown off and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says they won't take up the issue before the recess despite the fact that he has a filibuster-proof majority of Democrats behind him. The committee process in the House has ground to a standstill, with the less liberal "Blue Dog Democrats" almost in rebellion against House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., over the cost of the so-called tri-committee health care proposal.

Privately, the word is moving through Washington that the White House is prepared to abandon the idea of the public option that is causing so much concern, particularly in the medical community, which is not likely to endorse anything that leads to further federal price controls on healthcare.

Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., claims to have the votes to pass a package of legislation—and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel insists Congress will vote on health care reform next week before it adjourns for the August recess—things look very bad, with the majority growing more desperate as the days pass.

A clear sign of their growing desperation is the way in which the Democrats are censoring the GOP's official communications to their constituents. On Thursday Roll Call reported the majority party is "preventing Republican House Members from sending their constituents a mailing that is critical of the majority's health care reform plan."

At issue is this chart—

 

—developed by Republican staff of the Joint Economic Committee at the direction of Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Tex., which the majority claims is inaccurate. Brady labeled the criticism, delivered in an eight-point memo, "laughable," saying the chart "depicts their health care plan as their committees developed it."

At the same time comes word from Rep. John Carter, R-Tex., that the same franking commission that is causing problems for Brady's chart won't let Carter use the words "government-run heath care plan" in a recording to be used to start a telephone town hall meeting. "What we proposed as language was as follows, 'House Democrats unveiled a government-run health care plan,'" Carter told a conservative publication. "Our response from Franking was, 'You cannot use that language. You must use, 'The House majority unveiled a public option health care plan,' which is Pelosi-speak or 'just last week the House majority unveiled a health care plan which I believe will cost taxpayers...'"

Republican staffers say this kind of censorship of the minority by the majority is almost unheard of on Capitol Hill, certainly during the years the GOP was in power. Moreover, they say, it is a clear sign that the Republicans are, for the moment, winning a fight once thought unwinnable. Rather than get them down, they are taking the efforts to suppress their message as a badge of effectiveness.

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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Did House Democrats Buy Moderate Votes on Global Warming Bill?

Posted by: Peter Roff on Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 1:50:48 am Comments (0)

For the U.S. News Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Back in the days when the Republicans controlled the U.S. House of Representatives, the Democrats repeatedly accused them of abusing the power of the majority to further their agenda. In one particularly onerous charge, repeated for days in the media, they accused the GOP of trying to "buy" the support of then-Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich., for President Bush's signature Prescription Drug Reform package with the promise of campaign contributions for his son, who Smith hoped would succeed him in Congress.

To show how seriously the Democrats took the issue, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stood in the well of the House in December of 2005 to offer a privileged resolution which, in part, accused the Republicans of "bullying and threatening Members to vote against their conscience."

Pelosi's resolution, which also accused the Republicans of "violat(ing) their own rules and the customs and decorum of the House to win votes," called on then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to take whatever actions might be necessary to prevent further abuse of the House rules.

But that was a long time ago. Things are different now that Pelosi is Speaker and the Democrats have a comfortable majority—or are they?

On Friday Politico's Mike Thrush reported on what the publication called a "Big Dem cash dump on eve of climate vote." Thrush wrote that, "Three House Democratic leaders who were whipping members on the climate change bill gave tens of thousands in campaign cash to party moderates around the time of the 219-212 vote on June 26, according to Federal Election Commission records."

And one of those leaders doling out money was, don't get ahead of me, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Thrush does allow that not all those Democrats who got money voted to pass the Waxman-Markey legislation but the timing of the contributions is suspicious.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who co-authored the bill, and who gave at least $16,000 in contributions to members who voted "Yes" on his bill, said through a spokesman that the contributions were nothing more than the usual "end-of-quarter activity." Which sounds a lot like the kind of thing the Republicans might have said when they were in the majority.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A new post from the U.S. News & World Report Opinion Blog

Posted by: Peter Roff on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 3:40:40 pm Comments (0)

Sotomayor Does Not View the Constitution as "Settled Law"

By Peter Roff, for the Thomas Jefferson Street blog

An exchange between Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl and Sonia Sotomayor during her first day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee made me think of Animal House. Kohl, who before becoming a constitutional scholar was the owner of a professional basketball team, quizzed Sotomayor on her views about privacy as relates to the U.S. Constitution. "As you know Judge," he asked Sotomayor, "the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut guarantees that there is a fundamental constitutional right to privacy as it applies to contraception. Do you agree with that? In your opinion, is that settled law?"

"That is the precedent of the court, so it is settled law," she said.

...continue reading.

 

 

 

 

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."

Attacking First Responders is a Poor Strategy

Posted by: Peter Roff on Monday, July 13, 2009 at 12:17:06 pm Comments (0)

Over the weekend the McClatchy news chain reported that supporters of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor were urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to attack "troubled and litigious work history" of firefighter Frank Ricci, the lead plantiff in the workplace discrimination case upon which, in essence, Judge Sotomayor recently ruled - and on which she was overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

To be clear -- attacking first responders in an effort to burnish the credentials of a presidential nominee for any office is a bad strategy.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/227/story/71660.html

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