Category Archives: News

Why Bill Clinton is Right on Medicare

Written By Ogenec

Another politician falls victim to the “hot mike.”  This time it’s good ol’ Bill.  Caught, as it were, in fragrante delicto with Paul Ryan.  As all good liberals and progressives know, Paul Ryan is the bete noire of all that is decent in the world, because he had the temerity to put forward a plan to reform Medicare.  Democrats ran on that in NY-26, turning a ho-hum special election in a Republican bastion into a referendum on the Ryan plan.  And the Democrat won!  For the first time in a long time, Democrats have Republicans on the run.  Visions of retaking Congress are dancing around in Democrats’ minds.  Hence the dispatch with which Senate Democrats forced a vote on the Ryan plan.  To the Dems’ delight, all the Republicans voted for it except for the self-avowed centrists and Rand Paul (whose beef is that the Ryan plan is insufficiently draconian).  So why, cry Democrats in anguish, would Bill Clinton choose now to play footsie with the enemy?

Here’s why.  It may be the case that the Ryan plan is a bad idea, on both political and policy grounds.  But that does not negate the fact that Medicare is a serious, and growing, problem.  The NY-26 lesson should not be to abandon efforts to reform Medicare.  Yet that is precisely the lesson Democrats seem intent upon drawing.  They will enjoy a short-term political boost as a result.  But in the medium- to long-term, they — and we — will suffer greatly for the abdication of leadership.

It’s difficult to discern the severity of the problem when one talks about Medicare in abstract terms, as I just have.  So let’s talk numbers.  Fortunately, I have the 2011 Medicare Trustee’s Report, published just this month. It’s a 273-page report, but you don’t have to read all of it. Virtually all the bad news is right up front in the Overview section:

  • The hospital insurance part of Medicare (Part A) is projected to go bankrupt in 13 years (2024).  That’s a full five years earlier than projected last year(!)
  • Part A has not met the Trustees’ test for short-term financial adequacy since 2003.  In 2010, $32.3 billion of trust assets were redeemed to cover the expenditure shortfall.
  • “The difference between Medicare’s total outlays and its ‘dedicated financing sources’ is estimated to reach 45 percent of outlays in fiscal year 2011, the first year of the projection.”  In plain English, Medicare is borrowing from the Federal Government nearly 50% of what it pays out.
  • As dire as the projections detailed above are, the reality is much, much worse.  That’s because the projections assume that the cuts in Medicare spending embodied in current law apply.  But, as everyone should know, the cuts are virtually certain not to apply.  Back in 1997, as part of the Balanced Budget Act, the Clinton White House and Congress agreed on “sustainable growth rate” triggers that would restrict Medicare reimbursements to doctors.  Medicare costs quickly outstripped growth projections in the Act, so the SGR cuts should have kicked in, right?  Well, no.  Each year since 2003, Congress has postponed implementing the cuts, even as the Trust Fund is required to assume that they will come into effect.  The cumulative effect of all the postponements is that in 2012, Medicare reimbursements would have to decline by 29.2% to comply with the Balanced Budget Act.  Never gonna happen.  Which is why the Medicare trustees take a dim view on whether the cost-containment measures contained in the Affordable Care Act will ever materialize.  Given the SGR experience, the Trustees — masters of understatement, they — call the prospect of ACA cost savings “debatable.”
  • If you are not scared by now, this last statistic should leave you slobbering in abject horror: The present value of the Medicare deficit through 2085 is $33.8 TRILLION.  That’s trillion with a T.  And that’s the present value of the deficit, not the aggregate amount in nominal terms.  Moreover, the $33.8 trillion merely represents the difference between Medicare assets and estimated outlays.  In 2085, Medicare assets would be zero.  Lastly, the $33.8 trillion number is based on the same optimistic scenarios discussed above, the same ones the Trustees concede are unlikely to materialize.  As a result, to quote the Trustees again, “actual long-range present values for HI expenditures and SMI expenditures and revenues are likely to exceed the amounts shown in table V.D2 by a substantial margin.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the cold, hard, incontrovertible facts.  We need to come up with at least $33.8 trillion in today’s dollars — and probably much more — just to keep Medicare going through 2085.  After which time the Medicare fund will have exactly zip, zero, nada, left.  This is the reality that Bill Clinton is reacting to.  And that is why he is cautioning Democrats not to sacrifice courage on the altar of political expediency.  Yes, the Ryan plan is a bridge too far.  But there is a wide gulf between Ryan’s proposal and doing nothing.  Democrats must do something.  It’s a moral imperative.

The other thing the $33.8 Trillion number points out is that the “solutions” proferred by liberals and progressives are anything but.  A surtax on the rich won’t generate anything near the kind of revenue required.  Sen. Sanders has advocated a 5.4% surtax on incomes above $1 million, which he estimates would generate approximately $50 billion in annual revenue.  That’s a mere pittance, given the enormity of the Medicare deficit.  Plus, it’s unlikely to pass.  Sen. Conrad has proposed a far more modest 3% surtax, which would cut nearly in half the expected revenue.  Most importantly, as James Kwak notes at Baseline Scenario, Medicare taxes already are progressive:

In some abstract sense, I would prefer to raise taxes on the rich instead. But I think we should look other places rather than Medicare to make the tax system more progressive. Medicare, like Social Security, is a progressive system even though its taxes on their own are not. Because everyone gets the same benefit, there’s already a large amount of redistribution going on; in addition, that benefit is worth more to poor people, because they are less likely to have other sources of insurance.

Neither will using Medicare to leverage lower drug prices — in fact, the drug portion of Medicare already is indexed to costs.  Per the Trustee’s report:

The SMI trust fund is adequately financed over the next 10 years and beyond because premium and general revenue income forParts B and D are reset each year to match expected costs.

Which makes the solution rather obvious, no?  Increase the payroll tax to reflect the rise in Medicare spending.  And let’s undertake a real effort to reduce healthcare costs.  And by that I mean real reductions, not artificial measures that don’t address costs at the source, but merely shift the increases in healthcare costs to others.  That’s what Congress tried with the SGR, and that’s why it doesn’t work.  And, as a certain someone predicted in 2009, that’s why the ACA putative cost savings won’t materialize either.

So Bill is right on Medicare.  There are any number of compelling reasons for Democrats not to demagogue this issue.  33.8 trillion on them, as it happens.

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Tip O’Neill is Right

Posted by: ogenec

In the wake of last night’s contests, Washington is involved in its favorite parlor game: declaring winners and losers. Politico says the activists won. And, sure, that argument has superficial appeal: Rand Paul prevailed over McConnell’s hand-picked candidate; Blanche Lincoln is in a dogfight; and, perhaps most telling, Sestak beat Specter like a drum. Much to the chagrin of the White House.

But isn’t the real lesson — so far, little remarked upon — that “all politics is local”? To my mind, the famous Tip O’Neill statement was never more true than yesterday. Sestak beating Specter had, I think, more to do with reflexive aversion to the White House imposing Specter on the local electorate as if from on high. Even from my far-removed perch, it struck me as quite arrogant for Washington insiders to decree who the local representative should be, especially when the hand-picked candidate is not a Democrat, but a Republican seeking shelter from the Tea Party maelstrom. In that sense, the WH took a well-deserved loss. They should learn from it: Nobody appreciates having their mind made up for them by the party apparatchik.

But, elsewhere in PA, Mark Critz won the special election for Jack Murtha’s seat. And he’s no activist darling: he’s opposed to the Obama agenda, would have voted against health care, and is anti-choice. Hardly the poster boy for progressives. And yet, he won.   That is further proof to me of the “Big Tent” theory: Democrats win, and will retain their majority, when they elect Dems who represent the cultural make-up of their districts.  Whether they adhere to notions of progressive orthodoxy is, frankly, irrelevant.

So I applaud Sestak.  But I also applaud Critz, despite the fact that his views are so different from mine.  And I hope Blanche Lincoln pulls it out in AK.  The Republicans are on a party purification bender, but  I see no reason for Democrats to join them in that foolhardy endeavor.  Especially when wins like Critz’s portend that the rumors of the Dems’ death in November are, like Mark Twain’s, greatly exaggerated.

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Fox Used Footage of Celebrities Without Permission for Palin’s New Show

Posted by: Bluedog89

CNN~Rapper LL Cool J appears to be upset with Sarah Palin and Fox News for using footage of a 2008 interview in its promotion for the former Alaska governor’s upcoming television special.

“Fox lifted an old interview I gave in 2008 to someone else & are misrepresenting to the public in order to promote Sarah Palins Show. WOW,” the musician Tweeted on Tuesday night.

A promotion for the show – called “Real American Stories: Hosted by Sarah Palin” – features an announcer saying, “They’re famous faces. Now hear the real story behind their incredible lives.” In addition to LL Cool J, country music star Toby Keith and former General Electric CEO Jack Welch are pictured.

LL Cool J wasn’t the only one surprised to see that he was part of Sarah Palin’s upcoming Fox News program, “Real American Stories.”

A representative for country star Toby Keith told CNN that she too was unaware that Fox News was using an old interview of Keith’s, conducted sometime in early 2009.

Toby Keith also unknowing participant in Palin's show.

“I had no idea Toby’s interview was going to air on Sarah Palin’s special. I found out after the press release went out and was contacted by a reporter asking about the show,” Keith’s publicist said. “It is an old interview….I was never contacted by Fox requesting permission. I still have not heard from Fox.”

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FBI warns (Guardians of the Free Republic) extremist letters may encourage violence

cross-posted from T-Time

Group appears to promote military coup of U.S. Government

“The Restore America Plan is not a patriot scheme.  IT WAS PROPOSED TO US BY THE MILITARY MORE THAN A YEAR AGO.  Having developed the necessary tools, we are now ready to execute the plan beginning Sunday night” Sam Kennedy “The Final Remedy”

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is warning police across the country that an anti-government group’s call to remove governors from office could provoke violence by others.A group that calls itself the Guardians of the free Republics wants to “restore America” by peacefully dismantling parts of the government, according to its Web site.

As of Wednesday, more than 30 governors had received letters saying if they don’t leave office within three days they will be removed, according to an internal intelligence note by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The note was obtained by The Associated Press.

Investigators do not see threats of violence in the group’s message, but fear the broad call for removing top state officials could lead others to act out violently.

Governors whose offices reported receiving the letters included Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chet Culver of Iowa and Jim Gibbons of Nevada.

Screening machines for visitors and packages were added to the main entrance to the Nevada Capitol as a precaution after Gibbons received one of the letters.

“We’re not really overly concerned, but at the same time we don’t want to sit back and do nothing and regret it,” Deputy Chief of Staff Lynn Hettrick said.

more here:  AP


No surprise that it’s the: Ron Paul Crowd These people advocate a non-violent “coup” to restore the country to “pre-civil war status” They claim to have the backing of “high level” military brass.

“The responsibility is enormous – and so are the risks if we fail.  THE MILITARY HAS CHARGED US WITH THE HIGH RESPONSIBILITY OF ENDING THE SPIRAL TO WORLD WAR III being orchestrated by the Rulers of Evil.  Never have men borne such responsibility.  We are the last best hope for mankind.   Essentially, we have been asked to provide the military with an alternative to a corporate CEO as their commander, and to re-inhabit all the de jure institutions that have been pre-empted from governance.”
Sam Kennedy “The Final Remedy”

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Violence Erupts Over Health Care Bill

Posted by: Bluedog89

The Monroe County Democratic Committee in Rochester, New York, is vandalized by anti-health care legislation protesters. Photo courtesy WHEC.

CNN~Shots fired at a congressman’s campaign headquarters. Windows smashed at Democratic offices across the country. A coffin placed on a lawmaker’s lawn. Hate-filled voice mail messages left on members of Congress’ phone lines.

Those are just some of the incidents reported since the House passed historic health care reform legislation Sunday — a bill that became the law of the land.

The issue has unleashed a deep-seated anger from those worried about a government takeover of health care, and what they deem as the process being “rammed through” Congress.

James Leach, with the National Endowment for the Humanities, said that while many of the acts may be protected under First Amendment rights, “that doesn’t mean that they’re morally justified.”

“And we have to think of ourselves as, ‘what kind of people are we?’ ” Leach said. “Are we one people working together with rival thoughts, or are we enemies within? And I think there’s something that’s been let loose in American politics that has to be thought about.”

That anger was visible in unruly protests by health care activists at the Capitol over the weekend.

Republican House members encouraged protesters outside and inside the House gallery, some of whom carried messages like “Vote no or else” or “If Brown won’t stop it, a Browning will” — a reference to newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown accompanied by a silhouette of a pistol.

But the anger has boiled over into physical and verbal threats. Windows have been smashed at Democratic offices in at least three states, and federal agents are investigating whether a cut gas line at the home of a Virginia congressman’s brother was related to the lawmaker’s yes vote.

Republicans have the right to be angry over the Democrat’s health care bill, but “resorting to violent measures is exactly the wrong way to send a message,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Thursday night.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York, confirmed Thursday that his district office in Queens received an envelope containing white powder and a threatening letter.

Later Thursday, Weiner told CNN that initial tests indicated the powder was not a biological agent, but that he still was awaiting final word from the New York Police Department. Workers at the office turned over their clothes for testing and were given protective suits before being allowed to go home a few hours later, Weiner said.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are now looking into the threats, and at least 10 House Democrats have been given extra security.

The voice mail has been vicious toward Michigan’s Bart Stupak, who switched his vote to seal the deal for the bill. He has released one of the voice mails.

“Stupak, you are a lowlife, baby-murdering scumbag, pile of steaming crap. You’re a cowardly punk, Stupak, that’s what you are. You and your family are scum,” an unidentified caller said. “That’s what you are, Stupak. You are a piece of crap.”

“Go to hell, you piece of [expletive deleted]” another caller said.

On Sunday, Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri had a coffin placed on his lawn, said his spokeswoman, Sarah Howard. She said Tea Party protesters at his office in St. Louis had a coffin with them and later brought it to his house. The coffin was later removed, she said.

Democratic congressional leaders have demanded Republicans join them in condemning a spate of threats and vandalism that has followed Sunday’s vote on the health care system overhaul.

The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, condemned the threats and vandalism, telling reporters Thursday that it “should not be part of a political debate.”

“There are ways for people to channel their anger, and they should do it in a constructive way,” he said.

Liz Mair, a Republican consultant, said protesters “are unfortunately crossing a line.”

“When we’re talking about violence, vandalism, threats, that crosses a legal line, in addition to being in plain old bad taste,” Mair said. “And I think that there’s a lot that is in plain old bad taste that is going on.”

Democrats aren’t the only ones being targeted.

Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, said Thursday that a bullet had been fired through a window at his campaign office in Richmond, Virginia.

A Richmond police spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that a bullet was fired at the congressman’s office. “We are investigating the circumstance surrounding it,” spokeswoman Karla Peters said.

Cantor also said that he had received threatening messages but that he would not publicly release the messages out of concern that doing so would only incite further violence.

He also accused Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — a member of the Democratic House leadership — of “fanning the flames” of violence by using threats that have been made against Democratic members “as political weapons.”

“Enough is enough,” Cantor said. “It has to stop.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse hit back against Cantor’s claims.

“We disagree with the charge made by Rep. Cantor today that Democrats are using acts of violence for political gain,” he said. “Let’s be clear: Calling on Republican leaders who have contributed in part to this anger by wildly mischaracterizing the substance and motives of health reform to condemn these acts is entirely appropriate.”

Another Republican — Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida — said in a news release Thursday that she received what appeared to be a death threat on her district office’s voice mail.

“Just wanna let you know I have 27 people that are going to make sure that this b**** does not live to see her next term. Goodbye,” the voice mail said, according to the release.

Brown-Waite said she contacted both the Capitol Police and the Hernando County sheriff, and they are “looking into the matter and subpoenaing telephone records.”

At least one of the threats aimed at lawmakers appears to be racially based.

House Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn, who is African-American, said he has received a fax in his office with a picture of a noose drawn on it and had threatening telephone calls at his home.

“We’re giving aid and comfort to these people, and this stuff gets ratcheted up,” Clyburn told CNN. “We in this Congress have got to come together in a bipartisan way and tamp this foolishness down. It doesn’t make sense. That’s not what a democracy is all about.”

Democratic officials and liberal Web sites are also upset that Sarah Palin used an image of crosshairs in a Facebook post this week listing 20 vulnerable Democrats who voted for the legislation. She plans to target them this election year with money from her political action committee.

Palin’s political “hit list” includes: Which Democrats has she singled out?
The list includes: Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Harry E. Mitchell (AZ), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), John Salazar (CO), Betsy Markey (CO). Allen Boyd (FL), Suzanne M. Kosmas (FL), Baron P. Hill (IN), Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL), Charlie Wilson (OH), John Boccieri (OH), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA), Christopher Carney (PA), John M. Spratt, Jr. (SC), Tom Perriello (VA), Alan B. Mollohan (WV), and Nick J. Rahall II (WV).

Palin’s team is fighting claims that she is encouraging threats of violence. One House member mentioned her Facebook posting during a Wednesday meeting on safety concerns, a Democratic source told CNN’s Dana Bash. Mention of the map brought audible groans to the room, the source said.

An adviser to Palin responded by pointing to several instances in which the former Alaska governor has urged supporters to focus their energies on civil debate and action at the ballot box, not extremist activities.

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Georgia Attorney General Faces Impeachment Threat

Posted by: Bluedog89

Georgia Attorney General refuses to sign a multi-state lawsuit blocking the new health care bill. Now Georgia lawmakers are calling for his impeachment. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)

HP~Georgia lawmakers reacted to Wednesday’s news that their Attorney General, Democrat Thurbert Baker, would not sign on to a multi-state lawsuit to block the health care bill in his state by filing papers to have him impeached.

The blog Peach Pundit reports that the resolution to impeach Baker, also a candidate for Georgia governor, now has at least 30 signatures and is still going forward.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, petitioned Baker to sign on to the joint lawsuit filed by more than a dozen attorneys general across the country earlier this week that seeks to shield states from the effects of the new health bill, including the so-called “individual mandate,” which forces most people to buy insurance.

“I cannot justify a decision to initiate expensive and time-consuming litigation that I believe has no legal merit,” Baker wrote in a two-page response to Gov. Perdue. “In short, this litigation is likely to fail and will consume significant amounts of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in the process.”

On Thursday Gov. Perdue said he would appoint a “special attorney general” to sign on to the lawsuit challenging the health care bill since Baker would not do it himself, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Perdue made the announcement a day after state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat running for governor, told Perdue, a Republican, he would not pursue a lawsuit.

Though the impeachment process appears to be in motion, some see it as a futile distraction that will not succeed because the threshold for impeachment is so high. It requires a vote of one-half of the State House and two-thirds of the State Senate.

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What the Health Care Bill Does for Average Americans

Posted by: Bluedog89

President Barack Obama addresses doctors at the White House.

HP~After months of fierce debate around the country and after an intense day of voting on Capitol Hill, a health care reform bill is on its way to President Obama’s desk.

Once Obama signs the bill into law, as he is expected to do on Tuesday, it will mean an end to the current health care system as we know it.

Pundits on the right and left have been reacting to passage of the legislation, but what does the bill actually mean for the average American?

The immediate effects of the health care bill as well as some that will take effect in the first year of implementation are as follows:

1. Health Insurers cannot deny children health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. A ban on the discrimination in adults will take effect in 2014.

2. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will get tax credits covering up to 50% of employee premiums.

3. Seniors will get a rebate to fill the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare drug coverage, which severely limits prescription medication coverage expenditures over $2,700. As of next year, 50% of the donut hole will be filled.

4. The cut-off age for young adults to continue to be covered by their parents’ health insurance rises to the age 27.

5. Lifetime caps on the amount of insurance an individual can have will be banned. Annual caps will be limited, and banned in 2014.

6. A temporary high-risk pool will be set up to cover adults with pre-existing conditions. Health care exchanges will eliminate the program in 2014.

7. New plans must cover checkups and other preventative care without co-pays. All plans will be affected by 2018.

8. Insurance companies can no longer cut someone when he or she gets sick.

9. Insurers must now reveal how much money is spent on overhead.

10. Any new plan must now implement an appeals process for coverage determinations and claims.

11. This tax will impose a 10% tax on indoor tanning services. This tax, which replaced the proposed tax on cosmetic surgery, would be effective for services on or after July 1, 2010.

12. New screening procedures will be implemented to help eliminate health insurance fraud and waste.

13. Medicare payment protections will be extended to small rural hospitals and other health care facilities that have a small number of Medicare patients.

14. Non-profit Blue Cross organizations will be required to maintain a medical loss ratio — money spent on procedures over money incoming — of 85% or higher to take advantage of IRS tax benefits.

15. Chain restaurants will be required to provide a “nutrient content disclosure statement” alongside their items. Expect to see calories listed both on in-store and drive-through menus of fast-food restaurants sometime soon.

16. The bill establishes a temporary program for companies that provide early retiree health benefits for those ages 55‐64 in order to help reduce the often-expensive cost of that coverage.

17. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will set up a new Web site to make it easy for Americans in any state to seek out affordable health insurance options The site will also include helpful information for small businesses.

18. A two‐year temporary credit (up to a maximum of $1 billion) is in the bill to encourage investment in new therapies for the prevention and treatment of diseases.

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