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February 8th, 2011

Robert Gibbs has been President Obama’s press secretary and trusted advisor for many years. This week is his last week in office. Occasionally I enjoy tuning in to the Presidential briefing each day around lunch time, so I’ve become quite accustomed to hearing Gibbs speak, along with his nuances,  repetitions,   ability to cram a one sentence answer into 5 minutes, and overuse of words like “obviously” and “look”.

Political put together a funny video tribute to Gibbs entitled “What Robert Gibbs is Not”. Check it out below.

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Tyson Politics

November 15th, 2010

The NY Times has a really cool interactive puzzle this morning – the Budget Puzzle. Basically, it gives you a bunch of options and let’s you attempt to balance the U.S. Budget. If you didn’t know, the guvmit is broke. And that’s an understatement when you’re talking about a trillion dollars.

So anyways…I just balanced the budget. Here’s a link to my version.

Here’s all it took: (dollar figures represent short-term and long-term savings)

  1. Eliminate earmarks – $14B / $14B
  2. Eliminate farm subsidies – $14B / $14B
  3. Cut pay of civilian federal workers by 5 percent – $14B / $17B
  4. Reduce nuclear arsenal and space spending – $19B / $38B
  5. Cancel or delay some weapons programs – $19B / $18B
  6. Reduce the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to 60, 000 by 2015 – $51B / $149B
  7. Enact medical malpractice reform – $8B / $13B
  8. Reduce the tax break for employer-provided health insurance – $41B / $157B
  9. Cap Medicare growth starting in 2013 – $29B / $562B
  10. Pres. Obama’s proposal on investment tax – $10B / $24B
  11. Allow expiration for income above $250, 000 a year – $54B / $115B
  12. Payroll tax: Subject some incomes above $106, 000 to tax – $50B / $100B
  13. Taxes: Eliminate loopholes, reduce rates (Bowles-Simpson plan) – $75B / $175B
  14. Taxes: Reduce mortgage-interest deduction by converting to credit – $25B / $54B

So there you go…fourteen cuts, modifications and tax increases (gasp!) that will balance the budget.

Let’s look at a couple of the biggies.

First, #8 – slowing the growth of Medicare. It’s going to be nearly impossible to balance the budget if Medicare spending continues on its current course. Frankly, this just has to be done.

#12 – Eliminate tax loopholes and adjust tax rates. If you have seen the Bowles-Simpson plan that came out last week, definitely Google it. They proposed many changes, but the most noteworthy was dramatic changes to the personal and corporate tax rates that would increase revenues while lowering overall rates. Basically, your tax rate would be lowered but you might not get to deduct charitable contributions, or local taxes, etc. I like this also because it broadens the tax base (you know only about half of us pay any taxes currently??).

#7 – Reduce the tax break for employer-provided insurance. Once again, this speaks to the growth of medical expenses. If we limit the growth rate of health insurance expenditures, employers will be more likely to shop and search for a great deal on insurance, or offer more choices to their employees.  Or, given the health exchanges will be live in 2014, maybe they won’t offer medical at all and each employee can simply buy a plan from the exchange.

OK, so I went out on a limb…now I’ll admit, I didn’t study these for hours and hours. I reserve the right to change my mind. But it sounds good right now. What do you think? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.

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Tyson Politics

January 17th, 2010

The Houston Chronicle has a story today reporting that a new Rasmussen poll shows that only 40% of Americans believe that the Shuttle program has been worth the cost. This is the last year of the Shuttle program, with 5 missions to go.

President Bush had planned the shuttles retirement at the end of 2010, and Obama has agreed with his budget this year.

It costs half a billion dollars every time the shuttle flies. I like what Michio Kaku says in his article in Forbes:

The space station costs upward of $100 billion, yet its critics call it a “station to nowhere.” It has no clearly defined scientific purpose. Once, President George H.W. Bush’s science adviser was asked about the benefits of doing experiments in weightlessness and microgravity. His response was, “Microgravity is of microimportance.” Its supporters have justified the space station as a terminal for the space shuttle. But the space shuttle has been justified as a vehicle to reach the space station, which is a completely circular and illogical argument.

What do you think…should we continue manned space exploration?

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Tyson Politics

November 10th, 2009

At almost midnight last Saturday, the House passed a health care reform bill by a razor-thin margin of 220-215.  By the end of the night, almost every Democrat had either been stabbed in the back or thrown under the bus, but the bill passed.  Speaker Pelosi relented and passed a bill with a negotiated-rate public option, as well as the highly publicized Stupak amendment restricting federal money from paying for abortions.

Unfortunately for Pelosi, she has major problems:

  1. Her bill is DOA in the Senate…they don’t like her funding source (tax on millionaires) or her public option.
  2. Her bill is too expensive (way more than Obama’s target of $900B)
  3. Her bill doesn’t really bend the cost curve (as compared to the Baucus bill, which discourages expensive health plans)
  4. Everyone in the House of Representatives hates each other right now.

If the Senate votes on and approves a bill with a weaker public option, it’s unclear if liberal members in the House will approve. However, Senator Reid is going to have trouble getting to 60 votes with any kind of public option at all.  It’s really getting more and more complicated every day. Stay tuned…

P.S. The best place to stay caught up on health care reform news is Politico’s LivePulse blog.

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Tyson Politics

October 29th, 2009

Speaker Pelosi just introduced the merged health reform bill for the House of Representatives.  The bill is 1, 900 pages long, so let’s split it up.  Report back when you are finished reading the first half, and I will read the second half.

Otherwise, you can read a nice 11 page summary here: http://www.politico.com/static/PPM41_hcr_complete_summary.html

This bill contains a public option with negotiated rates, however, it’s looking less and less likely that the Senate will pass anything with a public option (save Snowe’s trigger option).

One of the things that I saw for the first time was the requirement for employers to contribute 72.5% of employees premiums, and 65% for the premiums for families. This would make a significant difference for me, as my employer contributes quite a bit for employee insurance but much less for families.

Now it’s time for Senator Reid to make his bill public!

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Tyson Politics

July 20th, 2009

More than most people, I’ve been following the health care debate very very closely.  Health care is not a new subject for me – in fact I should probably have a health care category.

The house is set to pass a health care bill fairly soon, but all eyes are on Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee. For months he has been working on a bipartisan bill that is budget neutral and can pass the Senate without the reconciliation tactic. He has even had some not-so-nice words for Obama in the past week.

Earlier in the week, the CBO issued a dagger of a statement to Congress, stating that current bills in the House will do more harm than good for the national health care deficit over the several decades. With medicare costs already threatening to bankrupt the nation, Congress must ensure that any bill that goes for a vote will convincingly budget neutral or better.

I am cautiously hopeful about health reform, especially since my employer-sponsored plan rose 25% this year! (It’s not even a Cadillac plan either, maybe a Honda.)

With that said, here are my biggest questions and concerns about health reform as I see it:

  1. Can Obama assure us that the U.S. will avoid long waiting lists and rationing that we see in other countries like Canada, France and the U.K.? By guaranteeing health coverage and providing subsidies for much of the population, health care demand will go up. On the other side of the fence, by enacting cost-controls for doctors and with the cuts already agreed to by hospitals, supply is sure to go down.  We’re already at a shortage for primary care physicians (only 2% of medical school graduates), and if millions more are added to the health care roles, what will the consequences be?
  2. Will U.S. tax dollars pay for millions to have access to abortion that is covered under the public option? The current version of the House reform bill includes this provision, which is even making some Democrats squirmy. Will the democrats fold under pressure to remove this provision? Last week, White House budget director Peter Orszag (already not a fan) was asked if “no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions?” he replied, “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.”

    Currently, medicaid does not cover abortions, and most private insurance plans do not either. The White House is wanting the Secretary of Health & Human Services to be able to dictate an essential benefits package.

  3. Obama promised I could keep my current plan, but will I end up on the public plan eventually anyways?The biggest point of contention between Donkeys and Elephants right now is the so-called public option, or government health plan.  And no, it’s not what Congress and federal employees are already getting – they get a massive menu of private plan options from which to choose. Democrats believe the public plan is necessary in order to keep private insurers from ripping us off. Republicans think the private plan will have unfair advantages and suck millions of customers away from private insurance.

    To me, the public option will necessarily lead to single-payer health care down the road – I see no scenario where that isn’t the case. I’m not necessarily against single payer, though.  The other day I went into my CEO’s office and asked him straight up: “if there was a government health care option, would you continue to provide insurance to your employees, or just let us use the government plan and save the hassle?”  I would encourage you to ask similar questions to your employer.

  4. Is taxing the rich the best way to pay for health care reform?Current proposals by the House rely on a surtax on the richest Americans to pay for health care reform, but Baucus and many others are pushing to instead use a tax on health benefits that would affect far more citizens. There are two good arguments taxing benefits: First, it would generate much more income than the proposed surtax – likely 2-3 times as much. To this end, Congress would not have to rely on assumed savings which they are currently. Secondly, it brings money from the health care sector to pay for health care. This would encourage customers and unions to be more selective and consumer-like in the health care choices, and would tax those with very expensive health care plans.
  5. Are the savings figures just pie in the sky, or is it real money?Much has been made of the agreements and cost-cutting measures taken by the administration and different medical groups recently, and Democrats are counting on savings as much as income to pay for health care reform.  But can we trust that those savings will really appear down the road? What if they don’t? To me, this is similar to purchase a home with an ARM, anticipating interest rates to go down instead of up in the future.
  6. What are the unforeseen consequences that we should anticipate and plan for?Everything that Congress does has unintended consequences, and we need to look long and hard for those. Hope for the best, plan for the worst is a cliche that should be applied universally when drafting legislation.

    For example, last year congress enacted the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act it put millions of children and teenagers at risk.

    Health reform will be the same way. State governors are already balking at the idea that the states will be required to pick up the tab for the proposed expansion of medicaid (states pay 43% of the medicaid bill). It is conceivable that state income taxes across the nation would rise in order to pay for this reform, and would surely affect those under the magic income level of $250, 000. This is just one example, but we need to expect there to be unintended consequences. So many times we draft legislation based on rosy assumptions (the current White House is notorious for this – look at their budget).

With all these questions, you might think I’m against reforming the health caresystem. No – I’m definitely for reform. The facts are undeniable – the U.S. spends way more for health care than other countries that are equally cared for, and millions who would like health care are without it. Further more, there are way too many unnecessary services being performed that just drive the cost up.

So, with the August recess quickly approaching for Congress, will the health care bill make the cut?  Post your thoughts below…

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Tyson Politics

June 22nd, 2009

Many of the readers of this blog are nerds, so you will appreciate this. John Hodgman (he’s a PC) at the White House Radio & Television Correspondents’ dinner last weekend.

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