Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raising Medicare Age Creates Major Problems, Republicans Hear About Cuts at Home, Joint Committee $$$

Here's the latest summary of news and political tricks from TMDR.  I do apologize that the "Reality-Free Zone" has escalated in size today.  As Red Skeleton said, "I just do them; I don't explain them."  If they're out there (really out there), they they're in here.

Raising the Medicare Age: 8 Reasons Why It's the Worst Presidential "Bargain" Since 1854

"Othe [sic] people are using our lives as bargaining chips.  Whether it's the so-called Congressional 'Super Committee' or the president's push for that grandé-sized deal, they want to look 'grand' while we get stuck with the 'bargain.'  The Capital's misplaced focus on austerity has led to plenty of bad ideas, but one of the worst is raising the Medicare retirement age to 67.  It may be the most destructive deal to come out of Washington since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  It's unfair, short-sighted, and will actually cost the economy more money than we're spending today."

Richard (RJ) Eskow gets it right.  Read his eight significant reasons why messing with Medicare -- our well-earned, pre-paid public health care benefit -- is a really bad idea.  But, as we've said here before, for far too many politicians, the Conservative Republican ideology is more important than is the common good of America.

Republicans Told To Support Medicare and Social Security

"As Republican lawmakers held constituent meetings in their home districts over the August recess, they were often confronted for taking hard-right positions on everything from taxes to entitlement reform, sending a message that at least Sen. John Thune (R-SD) seems to have noticed.  Thune said the main things he heard from constitutes was frustration over Congress’ inability to work together and opposition to cuts to social safety net programs."

"Constituents waved signs and gave boisterous applause when one Iowan after another stood up and urged Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to strengthen Social Security rather than cut the retirement program at a town hall in Carroll, Iowa on Monday."

This is the feedback that Republicans in particular need to hear.  They also need to know that if they truly support and strengthen Medicare, they will be re-elected.  The important thing is that they not pretend to support Medicare by saying that future retirees would get something else or that the recent health care reform took money from Medicare.  These lies cannot be allowed to stand.  Simply admit honestly that the problems Medicare has are NOT eligibility problems.  -OR-  Simply admit honestly that you don't believe in pre-paid public benefits like Medicare and Social Security and that you believe the aged and disabled don't need or deserve the protections of Medicare and Social Security.

"Democrats and union activists have made a concerted effort to play the town hall game this summer, pressing lawmakers to preserve Medicare and end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  In 2009, tea party activists overwhelmed town halls around the country, creating angry confrontations over health-care legislation that dominated the news."  It appears that the the Democrats have gained a partial victory.

One of the most interesting results of the Medicare fallout for Conservative House Republicans was that so many of them had so few open meetings at home in their districts.  The appearance is that they did not want to deal with constituents who were angry with them for trying to repeal or weaken Medicare.

Joint Committee Campaign Fundraising Continues

"The super committee created by the debt limit deal to plot $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts is set to begin hearings in the next two weeks.  Members of the super committee are also set to continue fundraising -- despite calls from campaign finance watchdogs to stop seeking donations while negotiating the proposed cuts."

And, you should not be surprised to find out that it's both Republicans and Democrats who are raising campaign funds even as they take on what may be America's most important short- and long-term task.  In fact, it appears that of the 12 joint committee members, the only ones not having fundraising events are Republicans.  Remember, they all of the play this "game."

Of note:  "'Super Committee' co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have announced that the panel's top staffer will be senior Republican Senate Finance Committee aide Mark Prater."

The Republican Reality-Free Zone

Michele Bachmann: Hurricane, Earthquake Remarks Weren't Serious (Shouldn't the question be:  Why are the people on stage laughing about these disasters?)

The Republican Reality-Free Zone - Hurricane Irene Edition


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Health Care Costs To Rise, Perry and Health Care Reform, Funding Security for Social Security

Good News - Bad News

"The Congressional Budget Office has released a new report pinning this year’s deficit at $1.3 trillion -- the third-largest in the last 65 years -- and predicting that real GDP will rise 2.3 percent this year and 2.7 percent next year.  Federal spending on health care will continue to increase faster than GDP, but CBO notes that some of the cost will be contained by the cost-saving mechanisms in the Affordable Care Act."


"Gov. Rick Perry routinely attacks federal health care reform, calling it a massive overreach that intrudes into the lives of every American.  But in the presidential contender’s early days on the campaign trail, he has revealed little about what his own 'Perrycare' could look like -- or how much changing American health care will figure into his candidacy.  Political strategists say, don’t hold your breath: Republican candidates talk very little about health care in primary campaigns because the issue isn’t a top priority for their voters, and because anything beyond hammering 'Obamacare' could become a target for critics."

"At least on the campaign trail, Medicare would probably be excluded from that conversation, because talk of changing the federal health insurance program for the disabled and elderly could frighten seniors -- a key voting group, particularly in primaries."

That's right.  Don't talk about "things that don't matter."  As usual, broad platitudes are easy, and action or an actual position can only get you in trouble.  That's one reason why President's have so many ups and downs in their popularity; they can't avoid doing something.

Funding Security for Social Security

Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill to lift the payroll tax cap, ensuring full Social Security funding for nearly 75 years.  "To keep Social Security strong for another 75 years, Sanders’ legislation would apply the same payroll tax already paid by more than nine out of 10 Americans to those with incomes over $250,000 a year.  [...]  Under Sanders’ legislation, Social Security benefits would be untouched.  The system would be fully funded by making the wealthiest Americans pay the same payroll tax already assessed on those with incomes up to $106,800 a year."

Amen.  We should consider something similar for Medicare.  Social Security and Medicare are our most important pre-paid public benefits.

Fox News Viewers Tricked Again: The Fox News Reality-Free Zone


Monday, August 29, 2011

SPECIAL REPORT - GOP Presidential Hopefuls: Where They Stand On Medicare

Much of the following is from GOP Presidential Hopefuls: Where They Stand On Health Care prepared by Kaiser Health News.  Our focus is on Medicare, the aging, and the disabled.

Michele Bachmann

               >> Voted for the Ryan budget plan, but later qualified her support, saying she thought it could hurt senior citizens.
               >> Supports reducing future Medicare benefits for people who are now 55 or younger.
               >> Claimed during the health overhaul debate that the law would create death panels and lead to rationing.
               >> Opposes creation of the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board, saying the panel, charged with making binding recommendations to reduce Medicare spending, will cause seniors to lose control over their care.
               >> Voted against allowing the government to bargain with pharmaceutical companies to get lower drug prices for Medicare Part D, arguing it would lead to draconian price controls.
               >> Voted to override President Bush's veto of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, which temporarily blocked a Medicare pay cut for physicians, prohibited some Medicare Advantage marketing practices, expanded coverage of mental health services and authorized Medicare to cover new preventive services.
               >> She says, "Senior citizens will lose control over what they actually get in Medicare, because a politically appointed 15-member board that's unelected and unresponsive to the will of the people called IPAB will make the decisions about what care we get and what care we don't." -- Bachmann to conservative bloggers, June 2011
               >> TMDR Factor:  Generally ridiculous and not credible on any issue.  Member: The Republican Gaffe-Free Zone, The Republican Delusion Zone.

Jon Huntsman

               >> Backed the Ryan budget plan, which proposed turning Medicare into a “premium support” program to curb spending.
               >> Supported the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal, which leaves entitlement programs untouched in its first phase; the only GOP presidential hopeful to take this position.
               >> He says, “I admire Congressman Paul Ryan's honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare's ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.” -- Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2011
               >> TMDR Factor: Scary.  Subtle.  Anti-Medicare.  Member:  The Republican Reality-Free Zone.

Ron Paul

               >> Argues that Medicare and other entitlement programs create undesirable dependence on the government, worsening the nation’s financial woes.
               >> Views the Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program as an unwarranted expansion of the government’s role in health care and a “reminder that the GOP sometimes can't resist the temptation of big government.”
               >> Didn’t take part in Medicare when he practiced medicine; offered low-cost or free care to those who couldn’t afford his services.
               >> Proposes redirecting resources from defense spending and foreign aid to fund Medicare for those already enrolled, while weaning younger people away from such assistance programs in favor of free market approaches.
               >> He says, “Why exactly should Americans be required, by force of taxation, to fund retirement or medical care for senior citizens, especially senior citizens who are comfortable financially?  And if taxpayers provide retirement and health care benefits to some older Americans who are less well off, can’t we just call it welfare instead of maintaining the charade about ‘insurance’ and ‘trust funds’?” -- Texas Straight Talk weekly address, Nov. 2010
               >> TMDR Factor:  Triple scary. Extremely Conservative.  Anti-Pre-Paid Public Benefits.

Rick Perry

               >> Argues that, based on the 10th Amendment, states should be able to opt out of Medicare and develop their own means of providing health care.
               >> Led the charge in 2005 against a provision of the Medicare Part D program, which was designed to relieve states of prescription drug costs for low-income elderly people.  The policy required states to pay a portion -- known as “clawback payments” -- of their savings back to the federal government.  Perry argued this was unfair to states that had already reduced their Medicaid drug spending.  His administration filed a lawsuit in 2006 charging that the policy was unconstitutional.
               >> He says, "I think every program needs to stand the sunshine of righteous scrutiny.  Whether it’s Social Security, whether it’s Medicaid, whether it’s Medicare.  You’ve got $115 trillion worth of unfunded liability in those three.  They’re bankrupt.  They’re a Ponzi scheme." -- Newsweek interview, Aug. 12, 2011
               >> TMDR Factor:  Dangerous opinions; baseless facts.  Views of Federal governance border on sedition.  Member:  The Republican Knowledge-Free Zone, Republican Reality-Free Zone, The Republican Shame-Free Zone.

Mitt Romney

               >> Said, as president, he would sign the Ryan proposal, but also pledged to put out his own plan for reforming Medicare and Social Security.
               >> Wants to publish federal yearly balance sheet to help people understand the impact of entitlement spending on the budget and economy.
               >> Promises he won't slice benefits for current seniors or jeopardize their retirement security.
               >> TMDR Factor:  Talks much, says little.  Biz-friendly and slippery.  Member: The Republican Reality-Free ZoneRepublican Shame-Free ZoneRepublican Reality-Free Zone (again and again).

TMDR Says . . .

We can't support any of these candidates based on their positions regarding Medicare.  Is there a "Republican" anywhere who will stand up for Medicare?  Is there a "Republican" anywhere who believes in Medicare?


Friday, August 26, 2011

SPECIAL COVERAGE - The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction

The joint Committee will be the main focus of potential Medicare and Social Security changes for the rest of the year.  (Of course, there will be some interesting things from the Republican Presidential candidates.)  Here's a look at where things stand:


"Few observers of Congress think a new bipartisan panel will achieve its goal of approving a federal deficit reduction plan of at least $1.2 trillion during the next decade and preventing automatic cuts to Medicare, defense and other areas.  Either way, hundreds of billions in cuts to federal health care programs are on the table."  Read:  Medicare pay cuts among tough choices for bipartisan debt panel.

The members:  FACTBOX - U.S. deficit super committee members (from Reuters).

Right Now

"The supercommittee might not have a staff director, rules in place, or a room to meet in, but leaders of the powerful budget-slashing panel insisted Wednesday that progress is being made.  Co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said in a joint-statement that they’re engaged in 'serious discussions' on the details.  'We are confident that most Americans will agree that when building an organization from the ground-up with a short timetable for success, it’s important to get it right the first time,' Murray and Hensarling said in the statement."

The Panel Members Speak (Sometimes)

A little bit about where each Joint Committee member stands right now:

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) -- Chair of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over taxes and health care spending; a key architect of the Affordable Care Act --
               > Baucus says partisanship in D.C. must stop

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) -- Former Presidential candidate, one of the more liberal Senators and a veteran congressional negotiator --
               > Debt panel to test Kerry’s diplomacy

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) -- Chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and official co-chair of the Joint Committee --
               > Patty Murray visits Sammamish

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) -- The second ranking Republican in the Senate, part of the failed bipartisan negotiations led by Vice President Biden earlier this year --
               > No statements or coverage noted.

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) -- Freshman Senator from Pennsylvania, voted against the debt ceiling increase and vehemently opposed to any new taxes --
               > No statements or coverage noted.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) -- Freshman Senator from Ohio, former Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for President George W. Bush --

Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) -- The third ranking Democrat in the House --
               > No statements or coverage noted.

Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) -- Ally of Nancy Pelosi, voted against the debt ceiling deal because it was not a balanced approach (did not include new tax revenue) --
               > No statements or coverage noted.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) -- Ranking member on House Budget Committee, played key role in debt ceiling negotiations and the former chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee --

Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) -- Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which overseas health care spending issues --
               > GOP's Upton decries Social Security changes

Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) -- Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction over taxes and health care spending --
               > No statements or coverage noted.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) -- Vice Chair of House Financial Services Committee and official co-chair of the Joint Committee --
               > Liberal group protests GOP congressman


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Evils of Medicare, Sen. Murray Under Pressure, Spinning for Republicans

Other than earthquakes and hurricanes, times are relatively quiet.

Medicare - Social Security Bad for America

"Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), maybe the risingest of the rising stars of the GOP, gave a speech in Washington in which he declared that key social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare have 'weakened us as a people,' i.e., undermined the moral fabric and strength fo [sic] the American people."

"Weakened us as a People?"  Is he nuts?  How does he mean this?  Are we too generous?  Not selfish enough?  Everyone should send him a letter:  317 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC, 20510.  Or call him:  Phone: 202-224-3041.  Yes, he's young.  Clearly, he has no sense of history.  Please, we need the aged and disabled to explain to him in the most human of terms how beneficial Medicare and Social Security are.  They are our premiere pre-paid public benefits.

Joint Committee at Home

"A coalition that includes many important Democratic Party backers is asking Sen. Patty Murray for a public 'listening session' about her role on the debt-reduction 'super committee.'  The groups, representing low-income, medical, labor and senior-citizen advocates, say they want Murray to hold a public session to hear their concerns about the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."

Sen. Murray clearly is trying to walk the very fine line between what many of her constituents expect of her as a somewhat liberal Senator, and her need to be careful not to say too much too soon -- even before the Joint Committee meets.  It's an interesting exercise and deserves careful reading to understand how such things can be handled.

Danforth Spins for the Republicans

Former Sen. John Danforth who co-chaired the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform in the mid-1990s talks with KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey about the politics of deficit-cutting commissions and what it will take to tackle the ballooning federal debt.

"So, there was near unanimous agreement about the problem.  But when it came down to making recommendations, we couldn’t get more than about six people out of thirty-some-odd to agree to anything.  And the reason is that even when there is recognition of the problem, the solutions are so controversial and so politically difficult that, at that time, it was impossible to do anything about them."

His voice sounds reasonable -- and the truth is mixed in occasionally -- but understand the meaning.  I couldn't disagree more with Sen. Danforth on what he says here.  He spins almost everything in favor of Conservative Republicans and omits anything that might be damning to them.  Something favorable to Democrats or a progressive view?  Forget it.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Joint Committee Preview, Perry Wants Regressive Taxes - Diminished Federal Role, Medicare Cuts

Rep. Upton Manages Crowd

"The event [at the Cass County Council on Aging] is an early glimpse of what the 12 supercommittee members could face after they try to slice $1.2 trillion in spending this fall: they’ll head home to sell their decisions to voters, many of whom are wary of losing Medicare and Social Security benefits, afraid of seeing their taxes increase -- or will be peeved that Congress could not shift the fiscal trajectory of the country.  In Upton’s case, his approach is to head off the criticism early, warning voters they won’t all be happy - and he didn’t even want the job in the first place."

Sen. Upton seems to have done a good job of describing his own difficult situation to the crowd.

Perry Continues to Assail Medicare and Social Security

"Rick Perry's recent political manifesto Fed Up doesn't just hint that Social Security should be privatized.  It also advocates for a farther-reaching overhaul of the tax code than most conservatives support.  Perry says that government's access to new sources of revenue should be fundamentally limited -- either self-imposed by Congress, or by the Constitution itself."

Why would that be so?  "He [Perry] envisions a federal government that's highly circumscribed.  The book is a root-and-branch critique of post-New Deal America, from which Perry calls for a 'renaissance' -- to a government that eschews direct services like Medicare and Social Security (programs he says are Constitutionally dubious) and provides mainly for the national defense."

Most people disagree that Medicare and Social Security -- our most important pre-paid public benefits -- are unconstitutional.  In fact, these programs are critical to America's welfare as long as business fails to provide defined benefit pensions or adequate health insurance in retirement or disability.

More Perry Probing

"Now that Texas' governor [Perry] is a GOP candidate for president, opinions in his book -- that Social Security is unconstitutional, for example -- move into the spotlight."  He says, "Social Security is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years.  And there stands a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal . . . all at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government."

Wow!  I don't think we've been forced to accept Social Security or Medicare.  Hey, anyone can refuse to accept them.  Oh, and while they may be monuments to the New Deal, they certainly are not crumbling.  A little history from Wikipedia: "The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936.  . . .  The programs were responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the "3 Rs": Relief, Recovery, and Reform.  That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression."  If you look back, you can see that one reason for the economic problems we have experienced recently is the backsliding on the protection of citizens and the enhancement of the positions of big business.

Limited [limping] government, at least at the federal level, is what Mr. Perry is all about.  Clearly, if every one of our 50 states were nation-states, like Europe, we too would become balkanized, without a nation -- without "national" standards to hold us together as a Country.

And the Story Continues

Find out "Why Rick Perry’s War On The 16th Amendment Is The Third Prong Of His War On Seniors."  "Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is taking a lot of well-deserved criticism for his absurd claims that Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution. But these are hardly the only part of Perry’s constitutional agenda, which seem designed to inflict unnecessary cruelty on America’s seniors.  Perry also wants to repeal the federal government’s 16th Amendment authority to enact income taxes and replace it with a tax system that would slash millions of Americans life savings."

How to Cut Medicare

"MEDICARE is going to be cut.  That is inevitable.  There is no way to solve the nation’s long-term debt problem without reducing the growth rate of federal health care spending.  The only question is whether the cuts will be smart ones.  Smart cuts eliminate spending on medical tests, treatments and procedures that don’t work -- or that cost significantly more than other treatments while delivering no better health outcomes.  And they can be made without shortchanging patients."

On the surface, these sound like smart, effective ways to save Medicare costs and make it more effective.  But would physicians say that these decisions should be reserved for doctors?  That only doctors should practice medicine?  Of course, one of the greatest drivers of increasing health care costs are health care providers.  Accountability and outcome-based medicine would help with these questions.

The Republican Shame-Free Zone