Monday, July 27, 2009

How a Bill Becomes Law: Chicago Style

Posted July 27th, 2009 at 6.18pm in Ongoing Priorities.
You might think that passing a bill through Congress is a really difficult and honorable task that involves late night debates, hours spent analyzing proposals and reading legislation, policy wonks splitting hairs over detailed issues and a healthy dose of respectful opposition and transparency. Oh boy, would you be wrong. In this Congress, it’s rahm rahm rahm, Chicago-style.

According to recent reports, Congressional leaders are censoring congressional mailings to avoid the appearance of two sides to the health care debate. And what is being censored? Democrats should be called “the majority,” and the “public option” cannot under any circumstances be called “government-run.” Not being able to say the “public option” is government-run is like being told you cannot call the Earth a planet. It’s simply incompatible with common sense, and the facts.

So for education purposes, here is an updated lesson on how a bill becomes a law in Washington.

Introduce a Bill, But Not the One You Really Plan on Passing: On Friday, June 26, 2009 the House of Representatives voted on final passage of the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill, a major piece of global warming legislation this year that will have a huge effect on the economy and the price Americans pay for energy. Both sides of this debate spent months arguing over the details. And then, at 3:09 am on June 26, the morning of the vote, the majority added over 300 pages to the bill. As of the final vote, not one member had a clear idea what was contained in that amendment.

Do Not Under Any Circumstances, Read the Bill: Reading the bill will only confuse the process and according to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), it will also take upwards of two days and two staffers so it is not worth it. At the National Press Club this week, Congressman Conyers said: “I love these members that get up and say, ‘read the bill.’ What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages, and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

Further, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said “If every member pledged to not vote for [the health care bill] if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes.” Hoyer continued: “I’m laughing because a) I don’t know how long this bill is going to be, but it’s going to be a very long bill.”

Make the Bill Very Long and Very Complicated: The best way to achieve the previous objective of not reading the bill is to take the length of War & Peace, double it, and then use that as a starting point. The current House version of health care legislation is over 1,000 pages long. The stimulus bill was over 1,500 pages long. The Cap and Trade bill was over 1,000 pages long, and remember, had 300 pages added at the last minute. No sneaky spending hidden in there, you can trust ‘em.

Bypass Your Committee: If the moderate voices of Congress wish to debate a bill in committee and propose alternative ideas, bypass the committee entirely. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) knows this rule well, and has suggested there is “no alternative” to bypassing the committee if Blue Dog Democrats don’t accept the terms of the deal he sets on health care reform this week. Yes, there is clearly no alternative.

Keep the American People in the Dark: When President Barack Obama took office, he promised on his transition website he would “not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.” He failed to live to this promise on his very first piece of legislation. In fact, the website the White House unveiled to detail “transparent” stimulus spending was so bad, and lacked so little detail, that a cottage industry of private websites popped up to fill the void.

Censor the Opposition: If nobody reads the opposition, did it really exist? Of course not. In an attempt to keep the American people in the dark, you must not let them hear opposing views, especially during a week where the President sets aside one hour of primetime network television time to address his side. Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) tried recently to send a chart detailing the expansion of government under the current plan, and the House Franking Commission told him no, even though it did not challenge the chart’s accuracy or purpose. Congressman John Carter (R-TX) tried to call the public plan “government-run” and was promptly told to cease saying such obvious things. It’s much easier to pass a bill when you can write the talking points for both sides.

When the CBO Says Bad Things, Bring the Director in for a “Chat”: Last week, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf was summoned to the White House after his office released an analysis showing that the President’s health care plan would increase the deficit and not produce the savings it promised. This move was absolutely unprecedented, as Congressman Tom Pryce (R-GA) points out: “[This] reeks of the type of Chicago-style politics that American’s were warned about. The CBO was created to be independent and nonpartisan. To spoil that with political dealings in the West Wing only adds to American cynicism about the President’s misguided health care plan.”

Finally, Pass the Bill on a Friday: When passing really expensive bills that hurt the economy and fail to meet their objective, it is imperative this be done as late on Friday as possible, so by Monday people will have mostly forgotten, like the Waxman-Markey bill. The only thing better than a Friday is a Saturday in August when Americans are on vacation. Saturday, August 1 would be ideal for the health care bill, if there were to be one voted on before the recess. Luckily, that is the current plan.

So there you have the 2009 guide to passing a bill through Congress. There will certainly be changes to these rules, but we can’t promise you’ll be told of them.

Joe Biden vs Joe Biden on the Stimulus

Posted July 27th, 2009 at 2.55pm in Enterprise and Free Markets.
The care with which we are carrying out the provisions of the Recovery Act has led some people to ask whether we are moving too slowly. But the act was intended to provide steady support for our economy over an extended period — not a jolt that would last only a few months.

- Vice President Joe Biden New York Times, July 26, 2009.

The Recovery Act, as we call it, provides a necessary jolt to our economy to implement what we refer as “shovel-ready” projects, meaning projects that were on the books that were needed in the municipalities and the states that would improve the quality of life for our constituents, the competitiveness of our businesses, but were unable to be funded.

- Vice President Joe Biden, Remarks at The Progressive Governance Conference, March 28, 2009.

Jolt or not jolt, President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan is proving to be a colossal failure. President Obama promised the American people that if his stimulus passed, unemployment would not rise above 8% and that the U.S. economy would have 138.6 million jobs by 2010. In reality, the Obama stimulus has already witnessed 9.5% unemployment and is 6.4 million jobs short of what was promised by 2010. Heritage fellow J.D. Foster explains where Obama and Biden went wrong:

The Keynesian stimulus theory fails for the simple reason that it is only half a theory. It correctly describes how deficit spending can raise the level of demand in part of the economy, and ignores how government borrowing to finance deficit spending automatically reduces demand elsewhere. Exculpatory allusions to idle saving simply do not wash in a modern economy supported by a modern financial system. Deficit spending does not create real purchasing power and so it cannot increase total demand in the economy. Deficit spending can only shift the pattern of demand toward government-centric preferences.

Here is one of the Democrat leaders talking about the health care bill.

Six Straightforward Steps to Better Healthcare

To create a system that delivers more choices of higher quality health care at lower cost we need to take the following six straightforward steps:

Stop Paying the Crooks. First, we must dramatically reduce healthcare fraud within our current healthcare system. Outright fraud -- criminal activity -- accounts for as much as 10 percent of all healthcare spending. That is more than $200 billion every year. Medicare alone could account for as much as $40 billion a year. (Read about our latest CHT Press book, Stop Paying the Crooks, edited by Jim Frogue.)

Move from a Paper-based to an Electronic Health System. As it stands now, it is simply impossible to keep up with fraud in a paper-based system. An electronic system would free tens of billions of dollars to be spent on investing on the kind of modern system that will transform healthcare. In addition, it would dramatically increase our ability to eliminate costly medical errors and to accelerate the adoption of new solutions and breakthroughs.

Tax Reform. The savings realized through very deliberately and very systematically eliminating fraud could be used to provide tax incentives and vouchers that would help cover those Americans who currently can’t afford coverage. In addition, we need to expand tax incentives for insurance provided by small employers and the self-employed. Finally, elimination of capital gains taxes for investments in health-solution companies can greatly impact the creation advancement of new solutions that

create better health at lower cost.
Create a Health-Based Health System. In essence, we must create a system that focuses on improving individual health. The best way to accomplish this is to find out what solutions are actually working today that save lives and save money and then design public policy to encourage their widespread adoption. For example, according to the Dartmouth Health Atlas, if the 6,000 hospitals in the country provided the same standard of care of the Intermountain or Mayo health clinics, Medicare alone would save 30 percent of total spending every year. We need to make best practices the minimum practice. We need the federal government and other healthcare stakeholders to consistently migrate to best practices that ensure quality, safety and better outcomes.

Reform Our Health Justice System. Currently, the U.S. civil justice system is the most expensive in the world -- about double the average cost in virtually every other industrialized nation. But for all of the money spent, our civil justice system neither effectively compensates persons injured from medical negligence nor encourages the elimination of medical errors. Because physicians fear malpractice suits, defensive medicine (redundant, wasteful treatment designed to avoid lawsuits, not treat the patient) has become pervasive. CHT is developing a number of bold health-justice reforms including a “safe harbor” for physicians who followed clinical best practices in the treatment of a patient. Visit CHT's Health Justice project page to learn more.

Invest in Scientific Research and Breakthroughs. We must accelerate and focus national efforts, re-engineer care delivery, and ultimately prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease and diabetes which are financially crippling our healthcare system.

Senator Jim DeMint’s “Health Care Freedom Plan.”

You see, Senator DeMint has done a great job in laying out the issue.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it based on the response from the Democrats. Did you know that in his primetime press conference, President Obama referenced folks like DeMint, blaming them for opposing Obama’s plan, trying to paint conservatives with no ideas of our own? Did you know that the day after that, the Democrats came out with a video against Jim DeMint, again saying his answer on health care was “No,” and that he didn’t have a plan of his own?

We at American Future Fund Political Action deplore their tactics and we feel you should have the record set straight.

Jim DeMint’s plan offers the following:

My plan puts individuals back in control of their health care decisions by offering every American a health care voucher — worth $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families — to purchase a plan that best works for them. It doesn’t force anyone who likes their employer-sponsored health care to leave it. If you like your current plan, you can keep it. If you don’t have insurance, or if you do have insurance but might want to shop around, you can claim the voucher. My plan finally allows comparable tax benefits for those without employer-sponsored care, like small business workers and the self-employed.

The plan also breaks down barriers and creates a nationwide insurance market that doesn’t restrict individuals from purchasing insurance plans in other states. It also allows greater flexibility to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to pay for insurance premiums.

To bring down overall health care costs, my bill reduces predatory malpractice lawsuits against physicians and hospitals and brings more transparency to the industry by requiring that true costs of health care are disclosed before patients receive treatment. My plan also ensures that Americans with pre-existing health conditions would be provided access to affordable coverage through federal block grant funding of state high-risk projects.

This is the leading, conservative plan in the Senate, yet Democrats paint its author as one who has no plan.

Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, Democrats continue to ignore conservative plans because they frighten them. You see, Democrats know that conservatives, with their common sense solutions to health care reform, have them beat already. And they don’t want YOU to know it.

Why the Census Needs to Let ACORN Go

I wanted to share with you a column that I wrote with my colleague, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (GA), regarding our concerns about ACORN’s involvement in the 2010 Census. It was published last week in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

Don’t let ACORN taint the 2010 census

The Constitution doesn’t specify many duties that the federal government absolutely must carry out. For as long as our republic lasts, Americans will debate the meaning and intentions of the Constitution, but on requiring a decennial census, the Framers wrote with such clarity that no analysis is needed.

Today our nation has 100 times as many people as it did at our founding. Though much has changed, the headcount of Americans remains an essential function of our federal government. It’s how we apportion representatives in Congress and direct spending.

For such an endeavor to succeed, the process must have the trust of the American people. Unfortunately, the blatant politicization of the 2010 survey has undermined many Americans’ faith in the system.

From the get-go, the Obama administration sought to use the census for partisan gain. First, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — a former leader of the House Democrats’ campaign committee — tried to usurp the census authority of the Commerce Department. A public outcry killed that West Wing power grab, but the partisan undertones continued when the administration announced ACORN as a national partner in the census soon thereafter.

ACORN’s involvement casts a cloud of suspicion over what should be a nonpartisan process. ACORN has been under investigation — and at times indictment and consent decree — for various counts of voter registration fraud related chiefly to the 2006 and 2008 elections. In more than a dozen states, prosecutors and investigators have pursued ACORN for violating the public trust in one of the most critical of public functions: the electoral process. Yet, this is the organization that the Census Bureau wants to tout as a “national partner” in the collection of some rather personal information.

Just last week, Senior District Judge Richard H. Zoller, in hearing a case against an ACORN employee for voter registration fraud in Allegheny County, Pa., urged prosecutors to zealously pursue the “real culprit” in these criminal cases. “Somebody has to go after ACORN,” the judge said. A few months ago, Nevada’s Democrat attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, said ACORN’s own training manuals “clearly detail, condone and … require illegal acts.”

The Census Bureau says that ACORN is just one of thousands of organizations that help to promote the census. Fair enough. But no organization other than ACORN has raised as many red flags or engendered such a high level of distrust among the American people.

The Census Bureau says that ACORN won’t actually go door to door and that the bureau will thoroughly screen all the enumerators. Nevertheless, ACORN will recruit enumerators and provide space where people can fill out their surveys. In fact, on the form that ACORN officials filled out to become a partner, they also indicated that they will “appoint a liaison to work with the Census Bureau, encourage employees and constituents to complete and mail their questionnaire, identify job candidates and/or distribute and display recruiting materials, provide space for Be Counted sites and/or Questionnaire Assistance Centers, engage regional and local chapters of [its] organization” and a host of other activities.

Any organization so intimately involved wih helping Americans fill out census forms should have credibility beyond question. ACORN, a group credibly accused of filling out fraudulent voter registrations with the names of the Dallas Cowboys, utterly fails that test.

The Census Bureau alone determines who qualifies as a national partner. Unlike most rules written by government agencies, there’s no congressional involvement, no opportunity for public input and no public notice. The Census Bureau says that it will partner with any group that can encourage participation in the census. Only law enforcement organizations, tax assessors and hate groups are specifically excluded. Given the fears and concerns that many Americans have toward ACORN, its involvement may actually discourage participation.

If the Census Bureau wants to allay mistrust and encourage full participation in the 2010 census, it can take a giant step in that direction by dropping ACORN from its national partnership program.