Monday, September 14, 2009

A few political observations

It's been awhile since I shared some political observations. Here goes:

> Opponents to misguided health-care "reform" should start hitting other issues than the so-called "public option."

It seems clear to me that the government-operated insurance program, called "the public option," is sinking fast. President Obama's handling of it suggests to me that, when it fails, he will say that he went to bat for it, but the votes weren't there. Now they are casting about for something approximating it, such as a so-called "co-op."

What I also think is happening is that the advocates of a big-government solution are setting up the "public option" as a kind of scapegoat. The term "scapegoat" comes from Scripture: God's people would take a goat, and symbolically put all their sins on that goat, and send it off into the desert. Likewise, the White House and its allies on this are preparing to cut the public option adrift, hoping that all the fears and opposition to their proposals will go off with it--and they can get through the rest of the proposals.

But there are a lot of problems with the bill.

The President said his bill would tell insurance companies all the things they couldn't consider when they wrote an insurance policy. They couldn't consider any pre-existing condition; they couldn't take into account actual differences between men and women in insurance costs; they couldn't put any caps on the benefits they would pay out. Big applause.

No one wants to be a meanie and explain why these are bad ideas. So let's apply this to other forms of insurance. What if companies that provide flood insurance were not allowed to take into consideration the history of floods in that area? You had six floods in 20 years? So what--you still are "entitled" to be insured against flood damage. What do you think will happen?

The obvious thing to do is to charge more. If you were the insurance company, what would you do? The alternative is a fast lane to bankruptcy.

Charging different premiums for men and women--how terrible! Well, auto insurance companies do it--and they do it, not because of some irrational bias against men (who pay higher auto premiums) but because of higher risk. After all, if there were not some fact to this, why doesn't some health insurance company come out and say, "we give women the best rates!" There are a lot of women in this country, and they are not powerless, politically or economically.

OK, at this point someone may say, but it's not about a business decision, it's about doing the right thing: meaning, it's not right to take pre-existing conditions or different costs associated with sex into account.

But in any case, the fact remains that these mandates will have real-world costs. And what the President is doing is airily mandating these insurance companies somehow to solve these problems. When premiums surge upward, or what is provided to everyone is diminished--and these are the obvious outcomes to expect--who will the President and his allies blame? Why, the greedy insurance companies (boo! boo!). This is a lousy way to do things--unless what you want is to lay the groundwork for another go at a government-run system.

Speaking of mandates, what about the individual mandate? Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government can do this? The comparison is made to auto insurance; however, it is not true to say the government (in this case, state government) actually compels anyone to have auto insurance. Rather, drivers or automobile owners are so required. The rationale is that this is a condition of venturing out onto public roads.

But with this, the only way to escape this mandate--other than begging for a special exemption--is to cease existing.

The target of this individual mandate are those "selfish" young people who correctly make the calculation that a comprehensive health insurance policy is a lousy deal for them. The spectre of a costly, catastrophic health emergency befalling them--and then being paid for by everyone else--is always raised. However: such a more limited policy would be relatively cheap, and very easy to incentivize folks to adopt. If that is what you want, give these folks a tax deduction or even a credit for that, and I bet millions of folks would happily purchase such a policy. After all, it is very reasonable to insure oneself against such an outcome. Part of the problem is actually finding such a policy.

But let's be clear--that stated reason is not actually what this is about. What it's really about is funding the rest of "the system." The idea is that these "selfish" healthy people should be made to pay steep premiums (which will escalate rapidly if the President has his way), to pay for others' health care, and that somehow, they can be assured that "when it's their turn," some other unfortunate folks will be tapped to provide for them.

Have we seen this before? Yep--it's called Social Security. And it's on its way to massive failure. And Social Security is more financially sound--or I should say, less unsound--than this scheme.

Let's remember what our supposed goal is: to find ways to assure as many people as possible (we can't do the impossible) have quality and affordable health care. I think we can all say that we favor some sort of "insurance" or risk-sharing. And we all say we want to keep costs from getting to be too much.

The question is, are these the way to do it? I think not. And I think an awful lot of Americans have sound reason to be concerned. The so-called "public option" is only the most visible problem, and the advocates of a big-government approach are about to toss it overboard. It's time to focus on the many other problems, some of which I've mentioned.

> I don't want the GOP to take control next year.

Of course this is premature, but even the President is now acknowledging what I've had in mind from before he was elected: that if Obama or Hilary Clinton were elected, the likelihood of the GOP taking control of Congress would grow. Those who despaired at the thought of Obama's election, you may recall I said don't assume he will just be able to do whatever he wants, without opposition, and without the American people having ways to bring pressure to bear. That is now happening--rather faster, I concede, than I expected; but nonetheless.

Some of my friends on the right will be very encouraged by the possibility of the GOP taking back even one house of Congress; but I am not. In my judgment, the GOP is simply "not ready for prime time." It is far from clear to me that the GOP has yet learned the lessons it needs to learn about the past eight--and really, I'd say 10-12 years--of its governance. It may be that the GOP wasn't really ready to take over in 1994, but I can't say I had that insight then. But I really think they aren't deserving of it now. Not yet.

I'm speaking, of course, as someone who believes in limited government.

I know--"but won't that be better than what we have now?" Not necessarily. It could easily be worse. How worse? Having the so-called "small government" party repackage big-government, and thus helping the big-government party enact it is how. Hello--isn't that what we saw during the Bush years? Isn't that one of the big reasons so many are so viscerally disgusted with the GOP? It's certainly why I feel that way.

What's important to me is to have more voices in Congress for the prolife cause, for limited government, and for personal freedom, than we have now. Which help-yourself partisans actually control the gavel matters little to me--it's which causes can command the votes.

At this point, I think if prolifers and small-government folks saw a lot more of their advocates win--and their opponents sent to retirement--in 2010, without the GOP actually taking control--that would be the best-case scenario. That would mean enough votes to stop bad things, and even to do an occasional good thing, but without the GOP being given power it still lacks the vision or integrity to handle. We can have a prolife majority in Congress without a GOP majority; and the same on many other issues. It's the issues that matter, not the party label.

The damage President Bush and the Republicans in Congress did to their credibility and integrity is very deep, and it has not yet been addressed, in my view.

> Casinos in Ohio. What a rotten mess.

We're having a vote in November on whether to allow four cities to set up casinos--Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The advocates are making a big thing of "34,000 new jobs!"--of which 19,000 are construction jobs; and the remainder are permanent jobs as casino dealers, restaurant servers, and so forth.

Then we have the sordid spectacle of the advertising, in which we're told how terrible these casinos will be--by folks who run casinos themselves, but don't want any competition!

Now, some will say that the Church is engaged in the same hypocrisy. And to some degree, it is fair to fault us, to the extent we rely on drawing income from year-round gambling. We have a bingo at St. Boniface, and it has been a significant source of revenue; and I've said many times I feel uneasy about it. However, it should still be pointed out that the reason St. Boniface runs a bingo is to fund charitable operations; the folks who put in all the time and labor do not profit from it. They do it for the parish and the school.

However, there is nothing hypocritical about finding fault with the way government tends to handle this. Here's what they do: they call it "vice" and "corrupt"--right up until the moment the government sets itself up in the gambling business; then, presto-chango! what was corrupt is now virtuous and your patriotic duty! Either taking a chance on the numbers is morally wrong or it isn't; but it isn't made virtuous by the fact that one mob controls it, versus the other--especially when that mob controls the levers of government.

Of course, the government says, "we're doing it for schools too!" OK, but--you have the power to tax; and you alone have the power to regulate your "competition." How sweet an arrangement is that? The Church has no such power.

But back to this casino thing. My reaction was, these 34,000 jobs--of which most are temporary--this is the best we can do? This is a desperation play; it's what you (meaning those running things) do when you cannot or will not address the real problems.

Yes, we'll build the casinos and that will involve real construction jobs. But those will go away.

Yes, the casinos will hire waiters and dealers. And some of those will represent a net increase in jobs--but almost certainly something less than 15,000, although I'm not sure how much less.

Why do I say that? Because some share of the business and customers these casinos will draw, will be not from out-of-state entertainment and gambling sites, but from in-state businesses. Who believes 100% of the projected customers for the Columbus casino all currently drive many hours outside the state for gambling or other thrills--and now they will all stay in-state? Some portion of the folks hired at these casinos will be offset by folks who get fewer hours at other entertainment businesses whose customers will be drawn to these casinos for buffets, or entertainment packages, etc.

Is this really the best we can do to create jobs?

Plus, what's with this business of these four cities getting the "benefit"--taking the advocates at their word that this is a good thing--while other cities are left out? Why not Youngstown? Steubenville? Ironton? Sandusky? Dayton? Akron? Findlay? Springfield? Middletown? I could go on and on.

Of course, I can think of lots of reasons why you'd site a casino in the four cities mentioned--and not these others. But really, how should such decisions be made?

To me, this whole thing reeks. And it's a distraction from dealing with the real issues Ohio faces. Since the recession of the early 80s, Ohio has been hit harder than most states by that and subsequent downturns, and not recovered as well. A good chunk of Ohio was still waiting to recover from the 2001 recession when this one hit--i.e., a lot of Ohio is in permanent recession. And when this recession ends, and whatever recovery unfolds, unless something fundamental changes in Ohio, it'll be the same again.

Meanwhile, a lot of our political class has a vision for our future: Detroit! A city that is imploding, but look at our pretty casinos!

Why don't we instead insist Gov. Strickland and the legislature take a hard look at what makes Ohio a place where new businesses don't want to locate? Why do they prefer to go almost anywhere else? I think that should be the issue they face in 2010. Fellow Ohioans, you and I must insist on it.


Chris Osgood said...

Great job on informing us!

Rudy said...

I am totally against the Obama Administration's Health Reform in any shape or form. In my opinion this is just a giant power grab disigned to increase the control of government over the people of the United States.

President Obama's statement that health care reform is essential to balance his budget and alliviate the deficit is just ridiculous.

Thank you for your posts Father.

Greta said...

Father, agree with your post. Have a few thoughts. Agree that the republican party is not ready for prime time. However, also feel the USCCB is not ready for prime time and would like to see that situation change. I cringe everytime I see them get involved in almost anything for fear of what will come out. What is their position on healthcare reform? It seems to me that if they simply remove the abortion issue, that the USCCB is somehow for the plan to give the right of free healthcare to the masses.
On the Republican party, it also seems that some of its problem stems from the war between the so called moderate wing that wants to stop talking about issues like abortion and gay marriage and the conservative wing that wants to try and stop abortion and fight that marriage between one man and one woman is the right and only path. Yet, we see the USCCB and many bishops and cardinals who seem to be siding with those leftist Republicans to move the party away from core issues such as these and of course also working closely with the loved democratic party. As a solid Republican fighting in the party and as a Catholic, it really ticks us off and is discouraging to see this happening by Catholic leadership. The Ted funeral is a good example of where the message is being sent to Catholics who are for abortion and pro gay that the Catholic church sees no issue with not only burying, but doing so with honors, a Senator who many will argue could have changed the debate on abortion and gay marriage and chose to defy the teaching of the church not only with voice, but also with votes and giving aid and comfort to those who would follow his leadership or hide behind his rather broad coatails.
So I will fight to keep the Republicans in line with Church teaching in their support including fighting them on the death penalty as part of the life debate and fight them to become more conservative with spending. I think the church needs to work on not pounding them on being unfair to the poor and also in church supporting big government programs when republicans are trying to introduce market solutions which will help the poor far better. It would also help to have the USCCB push to have the Catholics who support abortion to face a much more severe spanking so as to help them find a path to heaven through the narrow gate. 54% of Catholics elected Obama as the most pro abortion person ever. The bishops voter info was so bad that anyone could interpret it as they pleased by finding issues like racism as the reason to elect Obama even with his abortion stance. Help those who say they are democrats and trying to fight the abortion stance of their party by giving them clear support that unless the democrat is pro life and votes that way they cannot be supported.

If the USCCB had their act together, abortion could be ended in a voting cycle or two.