Thursday, October 15, 2009

Healthcare Reform: If you can't get a Public Option, repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act

The calls are growing louder to repeal a little known law that exempts the Health Insurance Industry from Federal Antitrust laws. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the competitive advantage that the Health Insurance Industry has due to the exemption that the McCarran-Ferguson Act gives the industry from Federal Antitrust laws. This latest salvo comes in response to a questionable report from the Health Insurance Industry that if the current Senate Bill becomes law, that premiums will skyrocket for all Americans. Passed back in 1945, the McCarran-Ferguson Act exempted the fledgling Health Insurance Industry from antitrust laws. Only Major League Baseball is exempt from antitrust laws in the same way.

This exemption has allowed the Health Insurance Industry to work together to collectively establish rates on premiums and manipulate other costs associated with payments to doctors for treatments. We see how well being exempt from antitrust laws has helped Major League Baseball - with multi-million dollar contracts for players and billion dollar ballparks in NTC. The affordability of going to a Major League Baseball game has long since left the average American to enjoy a day a the ballpark with their family. Now, the affordability of Health Insurance is beginning to cripple the financial underpinnings of the nation.

Most Americans, I'm willing to assume, didn't know that the Health Insurance Industry was exempt from Federal Antitrust laws. If Congress repeals the law, it would allow them to break up large Health Insurance Companies the same way that they did to Ma Bell (AT &T) back in the 1980s. This make the most sense, and if the Health Insurance Industry wants to compete across state lines, then do it without the security blanket of the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel Peace Prize goes to... Barack Obama?

Certainly a surprise choice, but if you can't land the 2016 Olympics not a bad consolation PRIZE. Sooo... TAKE THAT SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE!!!!

President Obama is only the third sitting United States President to wind the prize, joining Presidents Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt and President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson won his in 1919, after the end of World War I. This is truly an exclusive club and also puts President Obama is rarefied company.

Obama has been widely criticized by Republicans and many conservatives for spending too much time traveling the world and not focusing on domestic economic issues and not being more engaged in the Healthcare Reform efforts in the United States. The truly stunning move by the Nobel Prize Committee in naming Barack Obama the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is that it usually goes to someone who has spent a significant part of their life in the pursuit of peace. President Obama has only been in office for 9 months.

I don't think that the Nobel Peace Prize has ever gone to a leader of any nation that is engaged in any war, let alone two wars. But, Obama has reached out to almost every corner of the world to make that case that the United States is back and intends to full fill the promise that it has been hyped up to be for so long.

So again, TAKE THAT SNL!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

VA 5th Congressional District: State Senator Rob Hurt signaling he intends to run

I've had many conversations over the last year about the bench strength of the Republicans in the 5th Congressional District. Nearly 15 people have either announced or indicated their intent to run, but the strongest among them has now indicated he intends to challenge Tom Perriello. According to the Lynchburg News Advance, State Senator Rob Hurt (R-Chatham) will file papers with the Federal Election Commission to become a candidate for the GOP nomination in the 5th Congressional District. While Hurt is little known outside of Southside Virginia, he definitely fits the mold of the young conservative with a traditional wife and kids. Just to be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Rob Hurt's campaign themes are clear - low taxes, less government, less regulation, conservative social values will put this country back on track. There is little doubt that he is going to bang this drum all day and everyday through the 2010 Midterm Elections, but the questions that he will have to answer at some point are how are we going to pay for all the rural infrastructure that is needed spur economic development, promote job growth and creation, and also digitally connect rural communities with high-speed Internet that is holding so many things back. Our overall national infrastructure has been rated a "D" and this has the greatest impact to economic development and commerce than cutting taxes. At some point, we have to pay for something and cutting taxes will not build roads, bridges, and overpasses. But again, we get the government we deserve.

I can see the money spent in this race exceeding $5 million, easily. The only other question about Rob Hurt is his ability to raise the kind of money it is going to take to mount a serious challenge, and he has not had a race where he has needed to raise more that $200,000 to win. We shall see...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Healthcare Reform double take: Former Senator Bill Frist giving a wink to the Public Option

While promoting is new book today on CNN's American Morning, former U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) gave a wink to the Public Option. In his interview with John Roberts, Senator Frist acknowledged the out of control cost associated with the current Health Care System, $15,000 per year Health Insurance Premiums for a family of four in the United States that continue to rise, and that the number of people that absolutely can't afford current Health Plans is around 20 million, out of the nearly 50 million (which is still a massive number of uninsured Americans).

When asked about the proposed Public Health Insurance Option, Bill Frist indicated that something needed to be in place that would hold the Health Insurance industry's feet to the fire and at the end of the day, the possibility of the Public Option should be available, more or less endorsing the "Trigger" proposal by moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.

There are many liberals and progressives out there that are less than pleased with President Obama and the less than assertive way he has participated in Healthcare Reform efforts. But, it must be pointed out that this is the most that has been done to address Health Care in the United States since FDR. It is unlikely that a Public Option will come out of the Senate and if it survives in the House, it is going to be very difficult to get the two bills reconciled with a Public Option. Maybe having the figurative "Gun to the Head" approach with the Public Option "Trigger" will work and get the Health Insurance industry to do the right thing. Regardless, this seems like the best that can be done at this point.

The saying goes, two things you never want to see made is sausage and laws. Americans got to see how laws are really made in this country and it made them sick. So much for Healthcare Reform...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How can you be Taxed Enough Already if almost half don’t pay Federal Income Tax?

How can people claim they are taxed to death when 47% of households will pay no Federal Income Tax? According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, nearly 71 million households will pay no Federal Income Tax during 2009. Now, this isn’t to say that these same household don’t pay sales, property tax [renters pay a portion of this through their rent], various forms of state taxes, or payroll taxes. But for all this uproar and angst about the heavy tax burden that so many people are carrying on about, are people really overburdened with taxes or are the ones that are paying the lion share of the taxes overburdened?

There are several schools of thought out there about the most equitable way to share the tax burden, or responsibility. One group wants to eliminate the IRS all together and replace all Federal Taxes with a national consumption tax (a.k.a. Fair Tax) at a 23% tax rate. Then there’s the Steven Forbes “Flat Tax” proposal which would cap all Federal Income Taxes at a certain percentage (say 10% to make the math easy to figure out). This would mean that everyone, over all income levels, would pay the same proportional income tax rate. Then there’s the Progressive Tax system that the United States currently uses, where over the years the tax rates have increased and decreased with the political winds of the nation. Also, our Federal “Progressive Income Tax” system is honeycombed with loopholes, exemptions, and tax credits which shifted the larger tax burden-responsibility to middle income earners.

Keep in mind, this discussion is only about personal income and not corporate taxes, which is a whole other debate. Do we base our tax codes off of a person’s ability to pay or disregard ability to pay and base it off of everyone pays no matter what your individual income level? There is no question that there needs to be massive tax reform and we need to tackle the eternal question again - what is the most fair and equitable tax system to fund the Federal Government. But, I find it disingenuous when a group of people claims they are Taxed Enough Already when most of them will pay little or nothing in Federal Income Tax. So, let’s be real honest here and admit that you don’t want to pay any taxes and expect the country to run and function at the same level or better by defunding all forms of government. We need tax reform, but not the kind that TEA Baggers are pushing.