Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meehan defends his Medicare vote, sort of

It was with the deepest interest that I read U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan’s letter to the Delaware County Daily Times today defending his vote for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, including its proposed changes to Medicare.  I was really hoping I would get some answers from that letter, but alas, no.
The letter points out that various fact-checking websites have found that various Democratic characterizations of Ryan’s Medicare proposal to be lies, false, misrepresentations, distorted and misleading.
He then ends the letter with, “Now you and your readers will have all the facts next time you hear these false charges about a GOP proposal to save Medicare, especially when they come from political partisans with no plan of their own.”
Unfortunately this is not the case.  Spending an entire letter just calling the other side liars does not explain just exactly what the facts are, what your stance is or what the Ryan Medicare plan would do.
Medicare, as we now know it (I qualified for Medicare this year), pays for 80 percent of our medical expenses.  We pay into Medicare through payroll taxes all our working lives, then we continue to pay into it after retirement, and we also either pa yout-of-pocket for the additional 20 percent that Medicare doesn't cover or we  buy Medigap insurance to pay for that 20 percent. 
In my case, that means I pay $115 a month into Medicare and $132 a month into Medigap.  I also pay an addition $32 a month for a prescription plan.
(Editor's note:  I did not put in the hyperlinks here and cannot see how to get them out.  I am NOT shilling for AARP or any other supplemental insurance plan.  My only links are to the CBO and Ezra Klein in case that isn't clear.)
Ryan’s plan would have Medicare, beginning in 2022, pay insurance companies a fixed annual payment of about $8,000 and then those seniors entering the system would shop for supplemental insurance from private companies to make up the difference, much as we do now with Medigap.  I assume we would also continue to buy Medigap and prescription plan insurance too.  No one has said.
Ryan’s plan also provides for higher “insurance support” (let’s not call them vouchers since everyone is sooo sensitive on that characterization) for people with greater healthcare needs, but that’s all kind of vague.
I submit that Ryan and the GOP really are proposing to “change Medicare as we know it” because no matter how you cut it, it will be different and it will cost seniors a heck of a lot more.   
In 2030, the Congressional Budget Office estimates, traditional Medicare insurance would only cost 60 percent as much as the private options Ryan is offering.  But under Ryan’s plan, seniors would pay two-thirds of the cost, while under traditional Medicare, they’d pay only 25 percent.   
So the plan is not so much to cut Medicare spending as to transfer a great deal more of it to seniors, many of whom are currently unemployed and underemployed and therefore not able to pay into Social Security and make the Medicare payroll payments they would otherwise be amassing. 
Read the CBO’s 29-page analysis of the Ryan budget plan here.  Pay particular attention to Pages 4, 5 and 8. The nonpartisan CBO estimates that in 2022 government spending for all people over 65  would be about $15,000 under traditional Medicare, but that Ryan’s proposal would cost the government only about $8,000 per senior. 
Granted that would be a huge savings for the government and a huge windfall for private insurers.
But who’s going to pay the difference?  Our future seniors (otherwise known as our children) will pay, probably both in high insurance premiums and greatly reduced services. 
There are many other ways of reducing Medicare spending without cutting benefits or forcing recipents to pay so much more, and the Democrats do have a plan for at least beginning that process.  They enacted it into law two years ago.  It’s called the Affordable Care Act.
Just a few of those ways include eliminating the estimated $60 billion a year in healthcare fraud that goes both to scam artists and to legitimate healthcare providers, prohibiting Medicare from paying for useless tests and medications, particularly at end of life, and encouraging recipients to adopt a “medical home,” such as Riddle or Crozer-Keystone, where all one’s medical treatment can be coordinated. (I am doing this on my own, gradually transferring to one system.)

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who knows more about tax policy than most of us, summarizes the entire Ryan Plan thus:  
“Ryan’s savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed.  It is not courageous to attack the weak while supporting your party’s most inane and damaging fiscal orthodoxies.  But the problem isn’t just that Ryan’s budget is morally questionable.  It also wouldn’t work.”

We have already heard Meehan insist that he did NOT vote to “change Medicare as know it,” or to destroy Medicare, that he only voted for the Ryan Plan as a “blueprint” for what the Republicans would like to do to "save" Medicare.  If the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House right now, that plan would be law, so “blueprint,” “law,” you decide.
I look forward to asking Congressman Meehan just what it is he does support in the way of changes to Medicare (and Medicaid, which pays for 40 percent of the nursing home care for the elderly) at one of his town meetings next Wednesday.  Concord 2 p.m., Springfield 7 p.m.
I trust he can get past the “Democrats are liars” talking point and really tell us where he stands.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Toomey takes on the EPA for all our sakes

Corporations hate the Environmental Protection Agency because it enforces federal laws, adopted by Congress, to make them clean up their own environmental messes.  
Now their knight in shining armor, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, Teapublican-Pa., is riding to their rescue because, he says, the EPA is a “job killer.”
He is particularly incensed because the EPA is enforcing new standards to make cement kilns take hundreds of tons of mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and fine particulates out of the atmosphere beginning in 2013. 
According to the EPA, the new regulations will affect 158 of 181 Portland cement kilns around the country. 
Fully implementing the regulations will yield $7 to $19 in public health benefits for every dollar of costs, prevent as many as 2,500 premature deaths, 1,500 heart attacks, 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma, 740 hospital emissions and 130,000 lost workdays due to respiratory illnesses per year.
The problem from the cement industry’s point of view is, it will be paying that $1 in costs while the public will be reaping that $7 to $19 in health benefits.  Totally not fair!  Just because it’s doing the polluting, why should it have to pay to clean it up?  Especially in this down economy, etc., etc.
Toomey has introduced a bill, S. 1292, “the Employment Protection Act of 2011” (get it? “EPA”) that would require the Environmental Protection Agency “to consider the impact on employment levels and economic activity” prior to issuing any new regulations, implementing any new or substantially altered program or denying any permit.
The problem here is that the EPA started the process of setting higher standards for cement kilns in 1999 when, if I recall, the economy was perking along pretty good.  It did an extensive evaluation of the economic and social impacts of the proposed regulations culminating in a 115-page report, Regulatory Impact Analysis: National Emission standards doer Hazardous Air Pollutants from the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry, which it published in 2009. It concluded that the cement industry would suffer a 4 percent decline in revenues and greater competition from foreign manufacturers.
The EPA published the proposed rules in the Federal Register, took public comment as required, analyzed those comments and published its final rules (97 pages) in the Federal Register, Vol.  75, No. 174, Sept. 9, 2010.  The whole record runs to many thousands of pages (you can look all this up on the EPA site, should you want something to put you to sleep for the next month or so). 
Thus the rulemaking took 11 years and withstood a couple of lawsuits, all while the economy was going up and down as economies tend to do.   Actually implementing the rules will take 14 years.  Please note, it was NOT initiated by the Obama Administration and it was carried out throughout the Bush Administration. 
Toomey’s proposed “EPA” bill requires that if a new EPA regulation costs more than 100 jobs (not to be offset by the creation of any new jobs) or more than $1 million in economic activity (across the entire affected industry) in a year, the EPA would be required to hold public hearings and citizens (read corporations, since, after all, corporations are people) can sue to enjoin the implementation of the regulation.
Notwithstanding that the EPA can never know if a regulation will cost 100 jobs (or if the industry will just fire 100 people to prevent its implementation), this absurdly low bar and short time frame would, of course, totally cripple the EPA and lead to its demise.
But if S. 1292 doesn’t do the trick, Toomey has also signed on as a cosponsor, along with 16 other Republican senators, of S. 892, which would do away with the EPA as an independent agency and fold it in with the Department of Energy.
That bill would also kill billions of dollars in energy and environmental programs (not to mention the jobs they generate), including the weatherization program, deep water gas and oil research and development programs, pollution control programs, state drinking water loan funds, certain watershed grants, climate change grants, tribal assistance grants and a host of others too numerous to mention.
Since the EPA regulates what the Department of Energy facilitates, this could, and probably would, lead to the same ridiculous results that we saw in the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, where the same DOE agency supposedly oversaw drilling safety standards and collected revenues from BP.  How’d that work out?
Toomey, like the rest of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, is attempting to reframe the debate into the kind of “Newspeak” where only his logic can prevail. 
Let’s talk only about how the EPA “kills jobs,” and never, ever talk about its actual reason for existing.  Let’s never mention the amazing job the EPA has been doing since 1970 keeping our air pure and our drinking water safe, preventing future Love Canals, acid rain and burning Cayahoga Rivers and saving millions upon millions of lives that would have been lost to respiratory diseases and poisoning by heavy metals and radiation. 
The EPA, proposed and signed into law by that radical socialist Richard Nixon, is the reason we are not China, where you can see the air as you try to breathe it, where countless rivers run thick with sewage and garbage, where millions suffer from preventable respiratory diseases and where hundreds of millions of people have no access to clean, safe drinking water.  By the way, the soil in China’s industrialized regions isn’t safe for growing food either.  How’d you like to live in that country?  Apparently Toomey would.
It’s true that all government regulations may be job killers to some extent and at certain times, though that is not their purpose, and many regulations create jobs and save money – inspections, green energy, construction, prosecution of fraud, competition among companies and prevention of diseases. 
On the other hand, the lack of government regulation is absolutely people-killing all the time.  The government has a legitimate, even an honored place, doing the work that no private entity could or would do to look out for our health and safety. 
These two bills are unlikely to become law, unless the voters are crazy enough to keep on sending Tea Partiers to Congress or to the White House, but now that Toomey is on the “Super Congress” panel, we can expect to see many of the programs listed for elimination in S. 892 on his list for cutting in any case.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oh look, cute little puppies! Meehan gets my vote

Now we know what our congressman, Pat Meehan, stands for: puppies. Cute little roly-poly, squirmy, furry, adorable little puppies.
News broke Monday that Meehan, R-7, and neighboring Republican Congressman James Gerlach, of Chester County, are cosponsoring federal legislation to regulate puppy mills nationwide.
Never mind that puppy mills are a state regulatory problem, one that has already been tackled here in Pennsylvania by former Gov. Ed  Rendell and former State Rep. Bryan Lentz, both Democrats. 
Never mind that regulating puppy mills goes against the Republican mantra of less regulation and smaller government.
Pat Meehan knows a crowd-pleaser when he sees one and, by gosh, puppies are definitely it.  No one can possibly criticize him for defending cute little puppies and their mothers, can they?  No, of course not.
He might even be sticking his neck out a little here because, as we all know from Fox News, any regulation whatsoever is a job killer.  How many jobs do you think he's going to kill by backing this puppy mill regulation thing? Probably not a lot.  Maybe a kennel mucker here or there.
Still, I wonder if we can hear from Meehan on some other important federal stuff, like creating jobs, protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, bringing the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a close, taxing the wealthy and corporations, preserving the environment and supporting education.
I looked up Meehan’s voting record and I am proud to report that he has sponsored a bill!
That's right. One bill, according to, but it's an important one: H.R. 2764: WMD Intelligence and Information Sharing Act of 2011.  
This bill would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 "to establish weapons of mass destruction intelligence and information sharing functions of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security and to require dissemination of information analyzed by the department to entities with responsibilities relating to homeland security, and for other purposes."
Far be it from me to tell a member of the House Homeland Security Committee how to perform his duties, but honestly, I would have thought that the various agencies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would already be sharing information about weapons of mass destruction with each other and other government and private entities concerned with protecting our country. 
I would not expect that it would require an act of Congress to accomplish this.
Let's look at the rest of his voting record so far.  According to, Meehan has voted pretty much down the party line. 
For abortion restrictions, check; against funding Planned Parenthood, check; against the Endangered Species Act, check, and for every one of those Teapublican and Republican debt limit and deficit-cutting bills that helped put our economy so deep in the toilet (How much did your retirement savings lose?).
And, in case you were wondering, yes, he did vote for saving the incandescent light bulb from oppressive government regulation.
While he did vote against federal funding for National Public Radio (that Commie propaganda machine), he voted to allow federal funding of NASCAR sponsorships.  Gotta know where your priorities  are.
And, hmm, what’s this?  Her voted for reducing Navy and Air Force appropriations but voted against reducing Navy and Air Force aircraft procurement. 
Can you say, Osprey jobs, boys and girls?  One man’s pork is another man’s bacon (as in bring home the…). 
He also voted for school vouchers for Washington, D.C., but for repealing funding for school-based health center construction. We can’t have places for school nurses to give out condoms and birth control information, can we? 
Speaking of health care, Meehan has voted for every last, pathetic attempt to repeal the health care reform act.  He has also voted to repeal every federal program designed to help foreclosure victims, against extending the FAA funding extension act (see my last blog) and every other bill that would have encouraged or allowed collective bargaining.
But he voted for every bill to extend the provisions of the Patriot Act.
In essence, he voted for every bill that he knew would make him look good to conservative voters but that he knew would never make it through the Senate or past President Obama’s veto.  Party over country every time.
So, aside from the Navy and Air Force aircraft procurement bill, where, I ask you, Mr. Meehan, are the jobs bills? 
Can you forget about the cute little puppies for awhile and work on that? Can you work on something your constituents, other than Boeing employees, really, really need? Can you?
We love cute little puppies but we love being able to put food on the table more.
Next week I'll tell you what our U.S. senators have been up to.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Revenues, Schmevenues – we can’t let those airline workers unionize!

Every day, in every way the conservative/Tea Party Republicans show how little they really care about ordinary Americans, jobs, fiscal responsibility and actual governing, and how devoted they are to sticking it to Obama and the Democrats no matter what the cost to the entire country.
Case in point: after their gigantic hissy fit over the debt ceiling, the House Republicans stuck the Democratic-controlled Senate with one of their “My Way or No Highway” ultimatums regarding the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration and went home.   
Either the Senate swallows their ridiculous demands, which Obama says he will veto in any case, or 4,000 FAA employees will remain on unpaid furlough and tens of thousands of construction workers working on airport construction projects around the nation will be idled and unpaid for at least five weeks until the House comes back after Labor Day.  It could, of course, go on for a lot longer than that.
Fortunately for all you people who will be flying in the month of August, the government has required the air traffic controllers to stay on the job as essential employees despite the stalemate.  Let’s hope they get paid.
But the big number here is this: the government will not collect $1.3 billion in taxes from the sales of tickets during the shutdown.  
$1.3 billion!  In one month.  Or $15.6 billion a year.  That’s a fair amount of revenue.  But I forget, we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.  So apparently we can just throw revenue like this away without a thought.
According to Tea Party Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the, only way to end the shutdown is for the Senate to rush through a previously passed House bill containing $16.5 million cuts in annual air service subsidies to 13 rural communities, many of which are served by Democratic legislators.  
$16.5 million in subsidies.  Really?  The government lost more than $200 million in tax revenues in the first week of the shutdown, which began July 23.  Again the Teapublicans prove they can’t do the math, or they don’t want to.
By the way, four of those 13 rural airports are in Pennsylvania, the most in any single state:  Bradford, Pa.; Johnstown, Pa.; Franklin/Oil City, Pa., and Lancaster, Pa. 
But wait, did you, the air traveling public think you would get a break because the government can’t collect those taxes?  Perish the thought.  The airlines instantly tacked the equivalent of what you would have paid in taxes to the price of an airline ticket.
And that’s not even the best part.  It’s not really the rural airport subsidies that have the House Republicans ticked off.  They are demanding a provision in the FAA funding bill that would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes.
Democrats and union leaders say the new rule puts airline and railroad elections under the same democratic rules required for unionizing all other companies.  Unions?  Hell no, there’ll be no unions if the Tea Party has anything to say about it.
It’s just another example of the vicious gamesmanship we can expect over and over again from the far-right Republicans on every single issue from here until Election Day when, I hope, the American people will wake up and stick as many of these toads back under their rocks as possible.   And please don’t give us any more of them!