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Archive for March, 2009

Steve Gottwalt, my adopted state legislator, recently subitted a health care reform bill. Yesterday, it passed its first test in the Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee. Steve’s legislation was so solidly constructed that it passed unanimously:

News Release

REP. GOTTWALT’S HEALTH CARE REFORM INITIATIVE UNANIMOUSLY PASSES COMMITTEE

ST. PAUL – State Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, today presented a health care reform bill (HF1865) that would improve how Minnesota provides health care coverage to low-income adults, while saving the state an estimated $100 million per year.

Gottwalt presented the Healthy Minnesota Plan (HMP) to the Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee, which unanimously approved the bill, moving it on to the Health and Human Services Finance Division.

The HMP would cover 84,000 Minnesota adults currently on MinnesotaCare with a more generous private market benefit package, and a deductible covered mostly by the state. The plan would pay providers market rates for the health care they deliver, eliminating cost-shifting, and opening more health care access to those enrolled in the plan.

The HMP would save state administrative costs, provide greater flexibility for the enrollee, tap into savings of large private insurance pools, and fit well with other health care reform initiatives. Gottwalt described the bill as a “demonstration project that will improve care for 84,000 Minnesotans, and save the state about $200 million in the coming biennium.”

“The plan benefits consumers, providers and the state,” Gottwalt said. “Even if Minnesota were not facing a huge budget deficit, we need to explore better ways of covering more Minnesotans in a manner that is financially sustainable and engages consumers more directly. The private market can deliver better access to high quality, cost-effective health care.”

Gottwalt said Minnesota currently spends about $7,000 per year for every adult enrollee on MinnesotaCare. He said conservative estimates show the HMP will save the state more than $1,000 per adult enrollee, or about $100 million per year ($200 million per biennium).

“The savings actually grow over time,” Gottwalt said. “We think this approach could be used to provide coverage to other public enrollees, saving even more.” Given the current state budget deficit, this is seen as a sustainable way to provide coverage to people in need while saving the state significant money.

Gottwalt said the HMP generates state savings several ways, starting with tapping into larger, private insurance pools to capitalize on more efficient administrative, education and enrollee services now provided by the state.

Also, the cost to the state for covering most of the deductible under the HMP is based on actual expenditures, not a per-member-per-month capitation payment. The Healthy Minnesota Plan Account (structured as a Health Reimbursement Account or HRA) requires the state to maintain a reserve, but not full funding up front. HF1865 does not include copays, but it is structured to be flexible in addressing cost sharing issues.

The HMP offers an even greater level of benefits than currently available under MinnesotaCare, including dental, vision and pregnancy coverages. The plan provides first-dollar coverage of primary and preventive care, all the covered benefits of MinnesotaCare, and a $5 million lifetime maximum (much stronger than MinnesotaCare’s $10,000 inpatient maximum).

“Instead of being denied access to care by providers who do not get paid enough from existing Minnesota public programs, these enrollees will now be considered on par with other privately insured people,” Gottwalt said. “Also, these enrollees will have a debit card with which to pay eligible expenses within the deductible. No more being shunned for lack of a cash co-payment or deductible payment. And, unlike
MinnesotaCare, the Healthy Minnesota Plan major medical coverage is completely portable; it belongs to the enrollee.”

This sentence jumped off the page at me when I read it:

Gottwalt described the bill as a “demonstration project that will improve care for 84,000 Minnesotans, and save the state about $200 million in the coming biennium.”

Think about this: Rep. Gottwalt’s legislation would create a private sector option to 84,000 Minnesotans currently on MinnesotaCare, which will save Minnesota’s taxpayers $200,000,000 this biennium alone. This is the other showstopping paragraph in the statement:

“The savings actually grow over time,” Gottwalt said. “We think this approach could be used to provide coverage to other public enrollees, saving even more.” Given the current state budget deficit, this is seen as a sustainable way to provide coverage to people in need while saving the state significant money.

The fact that the plan created by this legislation creates ever-growing savings is a big thing. What’s bigger is that this plan eliminates a great deal of cost-shifting, a major driver of health care costs.

It’s important that this reform comes with Minnesota facing a state record deficit, too.

This is just another piece of proof that Republicans have been driving the reform agenda in St. Paul this session. While we must give credit to the DFL for voting for this legislation, it’s only appropriate that we give the lion’s share of the credit to Rep. Gottwalt for researching, then writing this legislation. It’s impossible to call this a ‘tinkering-around-the-edges’ reform. This legislation is transformational.

This is why Rep. Gottwalt, only in his second term in St. Paul, is considered one of the House GOP’s go-to guys on health care issues, a reputation he’s had since half way through his first year in St. Paul.

It would be wrong if I didn’t note that this legislation is a free market-based solution, which is the starting point for all of Steve’s health care reforms.

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During his tenure as DFL Party chair, Brian Melendez has presided over some impressive gains for his party. One thing he isn’t good at, though, is spinning things into the DFL’s favor. Based on this SC Times article, I’d say that he’s badly in need of a life. Here’s (theoretically speaking) what started Melendez’s blood boiling:

Bachmann has invited Chris Horner, senior fellow and author at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, to be a guest at both events. He is a lawyer and counsel to the Cooler Heads Group, a global warming skeptics subsidiary of CEI.

Last week on a WWTC-AM radio talk show, Bachmann said she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.”

“Thomas Jefferson told us, ‘Having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people, we the people, are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country,” she said. “And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.”

Having participated in a blogger conference call with Rep. Bachmann, I can state with total certainty that Rep. Bachmann wants people dealing with real facts instead of the left’s misinformation when she says that she wants Minnesotans “armed and dangerous” with regards to cap and trade.

Though I can’t state with total certainty is whether she’s trying to needle politically correct liberals when she talks about revolutions, I suspect that that’s what she’s trying to do.

Mr. Melendez certainly has an ‘interesting’ take on Rep. Bachmann’s statements:

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez on Wednesday criticized Bachmann for those and other remarks made on the Twin Cities station, in which she described herself as “a foreign correspondent on enemy lines” letting everyone know “the nefarious activities…in Washington.”

“There is plenty of room for thoughtful, respectful debate and criticism,” Melendez said in a statement. “There is no room for hatred or for demonizing those with whom you disagree. Calling one’s colleagues ‘enemies’ and oneself a ‘foreign correspondent’ is not only a roadblock to results, it is the exact spirit and tone that the American people so overwhelmingly rejected.”

Calling Michele Bachmann’s tongue-in-cheek statements hateful tells me that Mr. Melendez is wound just a little too tightly. If I knew him well enough, I’d tell him that he needs to pour himself a cocktail and light up a stogie and relax a bit.

On a more substantive note, Rep. Bachmann is right in opposing President Obama’s cap and trade policy initiative because it would drive prices through the roof for residents of northern tier states. President Obama even admitted that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

It’s likely that Chairman Melendez isn’t likely to want to discuss the merits of Rep. Bachmann’s arguments. That’s because he knows that a thoughtful discussion of President Obama’s cap and trade policies will only help people focus on the dramatic increase families would feel when their energy bills arrived.

I’m certain that Chairman Melendez doesn’t want to talk about this:

She has advocated for an energy policy of drilling for more oil and natural gas in parts of the country that are now protected, and has argued that global climate change is not due to human activity.

She has argued that a cap-and-trade proposal to cut carbon emissions, considered by most in the scientific community to be a leading greenhouse gas, would amount to a carbon tax that would cost families more than $4,000 a year.

I’ve seen varying amounts on how hard families would be hit but none of the estimates are less than $2,500 per family per year for the next 8 years. That’s just how much families’ energy bills would increase.

That isn’t including how much Cap and Trade will increase gas and diesel prices at the pump. That isn’t including how much groceries will jump if this tax increase is passed into law. (Let’s remember that groceries must be transported, which will cost more.)

Finally, let’s remember that then-candidate Obama said that he wasn’t opposed to $4 a gallon gas; he just didn’t want it to get that high that fast.

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Chairman Melendez doesn’t want to get into substantive debates about President Obama’s, Prime Minister Pelosi’s or Speaker Kelliher’s policies. He’d rather just keep issuing incoherent statements whose main purpose is to distract people’s attention away from the GOP’s subtantive policies.

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Then-Sen. Obama promised that he’d restore America’s image around the world if elected. That’s hit a bump in the road:

The president of the European Union slammed President Barack Obama’s plans to have the U.S. spend its way out of recession as “a road to hell,” underscoring European differences with Washington ahead of a crucial summit next week on fixing the world economy.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, told the European Parliament on Wednesday that Obama’s massive stimulus package and banking bailout “will undermine the liquidity of the global financial market.”

It doesn’t sound like respect for us is increasing. Instead, it sounds more like people are criticizing our new president, almost to the point of mocking him. In this instance, I think that’s appropriate. Peter Orszag, President Obama’s budget director, has even been quoted as saying that the current debt and deficit levels aren’t sustainable.

That isn’t a starling revelation for anyone with a high school math comprehension level.

I appreciate Prime Minister Topolanek speaking bluntly about President Obama’s budget. It’s time people started telling President Obama that his economic policies aren’t sustainable and his spending habits are irresponsible.

Prime Minister Topolanek’s statement undercuts something President Obama said during Tuesday night’s dismal press conference:

At the end of the day, the best way to bring our deficit down in the long run is not with a budget that continues the very same policies that have led us to a narrow prosperity and massive debt. It’s with a budget that leads to broad economic growth by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.

At the end of the day, President Obama’s budget sends the deficits skyrocketing. Because they invest most of their money in ideological policies, they’re really creating alot of things that simply won’t last. That means high inflation.

President Obama’s cap and trade policies are nothing more than a backdoor attempt to ratify Kyoto without formally ratifying the treaty. It’s also the enactment of a massive job-killing, regressive tax increase. Enacting this tax increase will hurt every blue collar family in America. President Obama said so in this video:

There you have it. Then-Sen. Obama told people that his cap and trade legislation will bankrupt coal power plants. In this video, President Obama admits that “energy prices will necessarily skyrocket”:

President Obama is putting Democrats in a difficult position by pushing this legislation. If they vote for cap and trade, Capitol Hill Democrats will be on record as saying they’re for energy prices “necessarily skyrocketing.” That’s a difficult sell when times are good. It’s understatement to say that times aren’t good.

President Obama campaigned with the mantra that “95% of Americans won’t see a tax increase.” While that might be true in terms of income taxes, his cap and trade tax will hit blue collar families, especially those in nortern tier states, with an earthshattering hit. That’s before considering the inflation spike it will cause.

That’s before considering the inflationary, anti-growth effect the stimulus bill, the omnibus bill and his first budget will have.

That’s before considering the possibility that Mr. Geithner’s TARP II blueprint might fail miserably.

The closer you examine President Obama’s policies, the more difficult it is to see the economic worthiness of his policies.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Conservatives have rightfully complained about the Democrats’ intended march toward nanny statism. Now it’s getting ridiculous. Sen. Benjamin Cardin has proposed extending nanny state protections to newspapers:

With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks.

“This may not be the optimal choice for some major newspapers or corporate media chains but it should be an option for many newspapers that are struggling to stay afloat,” said Senator Benjamin Cardin.

A Cardin spokesman said the bill had yet to attract any co-sponsors, but had sparked plenty of interest within the media, which has seen plunging revenues and many journalist layoffs.

Cardin’s Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as nonprofits for educational purposes under the U.S. tax code, giving them a similar status to public broadcasting companies.

Under this arrangement, newspapers would still be free to report on all issues, including political campaigns. But they would be prohibited from making political endorsements. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt, and contributions to support news coverage or operations could be tax deductible.

Because newspaper profits have been falling in recent years, “no substantial loss of federal revenue” was expected under the legislation, Cardin’s office said in a statement.

When will the government’s appetite for nanny statism be sated? Will it ever be sated? This is ridiculous.

“We are losing our newspaper industry,” Cardin said. “The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy.

Sen. Cardin isn’t wrong that the newspaper industry is dying. It isn’t because people crave information less. It’s been my experience that it’s the opposite. People crave more information now. Newspapers are dying because they aren’t providing the information that people want.

Changing them from for profit businesses to non-profits won’t fix this. Only changing the product will fix the newspaper industry’s problems. Based on what I’ve seen, this legislation won’t correct that.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

It isn’t often that Democrats oppose the first budget a Democratic president submits but that’s exactly what’s happening. Kent Conrad is leading the opposition to President Obama’s budget:

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said the Senate Budget Committee, which he chairs, will vote on his version Wednesday.

“We’ve made hundreds of billions of dollars of changes to make this work to get down to the deficit goal and at the same time maintain the president’s priorities, education and energy and health care,” Conrad said as he left a closed meeting in the Capitol, where he briefed Senate Democratic colleagues on his plan.

Conrad and other centrist Democratic senators, whose support is critical to passing the legislation, have raised concerns about the long-term impact of the president’s spending plan on the deficit.

Sen. Conrad is doing President Obama a favor in rewriting the budget. President Obama’s budget wouldn’t have garnered the votes needed to pass. Had that happened, a serious case could’ve been made that that defeat was a no confidence vote against President Obama.

That would’ve been political disaster for President Obama. With his approval ratings on a steady decline, President Obama couldn’t have taken such a hit. Right now, his personal popularity is significantly higher than is support for his radical policies.

Judd Gregg isn’t letting Sen. Conrad’s blueprint plan off the hook without fighting back:

Conrad’s budget also curtails Obama’s fix of the costly alternative minimum tax and doesn’t account for increased payments for doctors who care for Medicare recipients, said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.

“You can get these presidential numbers down by using a lot of gimmicks that the president didn’t use. That would be a mistake. Let’s be honest with the Americans,” Gregg said Tuesday.

“It’s certainly not a gimmick,” Conrad responded. “We faced up to changes.”

Republicans were also critical of Conrad’s plan to calculate the budget deficit over five years instead of 10, meaning a common measure of government spending, the 10-year cost, wouldn’t officially be part of the price. Gregg accused Conrad of trying to hide the true cost of the plan.

I haven’t reviewed Sen. Conrad’s budget so I can’t certify that his plan is filled with gimmicks but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Sen. Conrad is putting a 5 year budget together but people already know that President Obama’s budget is irresponsibly spendy. They know that because they’ve read the articles telling about the $9,300,000,000,000 increase in the debt over the next decade due to President Obama’s budget.

Whichever way you present it, President Obama’s budget still spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much. Whichever way you slice it, his deficits still average $1,000,000,000,000 per year. That figures out to being 25 percent of President Obama’s FY2010 budget. By comparison, the best post-9/11 deficit from President Bush came in at $160,000,000,000, which is approximately 5 percent of that year’s budget.

In this instance, the numbers really do tell a tale. Unfortunately for America’s taxpayers, the tale they tell is one of presidential irresponsibility.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Earlier tonight, I participated in the SD-15 BPOU convention. The highlight of the night was the election of a new set of officers. Rich Vander Haar and Jeff Ratcliff are the new co-chairs. Though they’ve got big shoes to fill, I’m confident that we’ve put two very capable people in charge.

Dan Ochsner was elected to be the HD-15A vice-chair while Barbara Banaian, King’s wife, was elected to be the HD-15B vice-chair. Leo Pusateri is our new secretary. Darlene Thompson was re-elected to a third term as treasurer.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt addressed the gathering, too. Rep. Gottwalt talked about the silly bills that the DFL is introducing this session, many of which are frivolous. He said that few of the DFL’s bills address the budget deficit or job creation.

Color me unsurprised.

It was a big night for the SCBA. Jack Tomczak of the Bachmann campaign gave King, Leo and myself an award saying that we’d been “recognized for outstanding volunteerism for the conservative cause.” To say that we were surprised would be properly categorized as understatement.

The only bigger surprise was the BPOU recognizing Leo, King and myself for our “dedicated involvement with the [insert blog name here].”

I’m confident that I speak for the three of us in saying that it’s been a rewarding couple of years for the SCBA. Our first ‘meeting’ was held at the St. Cloud Airport after Gov. Pawlenty’s press coference following the 2006 legislative session. Since then, Jeff Johnson and Josh Behling have linked to our posts in order to inform our activists. Legislators have used our blogs to shine the spotlight on the foolish bills that the DFL has submitted or the stunts that they’ve tried getting away with.

The SD-15 Republican BPOU has adopted a blogger-friendly position in much the same way as Rep. Bachmann has. This BPOU and Rep. Bachmann are to be commended for their use of all the tools at their availability.

The last election of the night was for state central delegates. One of the highlights of the process was when Leo’s son Leo III submitted his name to be a delegate for the state central committee. As Leo notes here, he was one proud dad. Since I was sitting next to Leo, I was able to see the pride in Leo’s face when his son gave a wonderful speech. That’s all I’ll say. I’ll just direct you to Leo’s blog to read Leo’s reaction.

There’s alot of work to do if we want to get Michele re-elected in CD-6, Steve re-elected in HD-15A and to throw a retirement party for Tarryl Clark and Larry Haws. That work begins with a good leadership team in place and some ambitious foot soldiers chomping at the bit.

Rest assured of this: the intesity gap that was totally apparent last year has essentially disappeared. Let the battle begin.

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This Michael Barone post suggests that there’s a momentum shift happening in the electorate. Here’s what Mr. Barone is reporting:

Yesterday I noted that Republicans are doing better in polls on the generic ballot question—which party’s candidate would you vote for in congressional races—better, Scott Rasmussen tells me, in his polls than they have done since January 2004. Now I see that Republican candidates lead in Bill Ballenger’s Inside Michigan Politics poll for governor of Michigan. This is at least a little startling. Barack Obama carried Michigan 57-41 percent and in 2006 Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, ineligible to run in 2010, won her second term in 2006 by a margin of 56-42 percent and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow was reelected by a margin of 57-41 percent: a pretty clear pattern. But now Democratic Lt. Gov. John Cherry seems to be running behind Republicans like Attorney General Mike Cox and Rep. Pete Hoekstra—with none of the three particularly well known to most Michigan voters.

Mr. Barone uses this post to point out that these polling results are being caused by massive movement away from the Democrats:

Some significant bloc of voters, heavily loaded toward independents, seem to have soured on the Democrats since Barack Obama took office and the 111th Congress went to work. How would this translate into votes in actual elections? Probably in the way we’ve seen in the special elections that have been held since November: the Senate runoff in Georgia, the two Louisiana House runoffs, three special elections for Virginia House of Delegate seats, the chairmanship of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and the election of a new supervisor in Fairfax’s Braddock district. These, by the way, can’t be dismissed as purely Southern results; one of the House of Delegates seats and the two Fairfax races are in Northern Virginia, which voted heavily for Barack Obama in November 2008.

I think that one thing that’s contributed mightily to the D’s decline is that they haven’t focused on solving problems. The stimulus bill could’ve been that vehicle for them but they chose instead to fill that bill with unconscionable amounts of pork. Once the House bill was published and bloggers started reading through it, people were appalled that the bill wasn’t more about cutting taxes and building roads.

The people were told that we faced an economic crisis. Had the Democrats made a good faith effort to jumpstart the economy, they’d still be leading the generic ballot question and President Obama’s approval rating would likely still be high. Instead, they chose to overreach. Now they’re paying the price for their overreaching.

Another thing that isn’t helping them is President Obama’s growing image that he’s more show horse than workhorse. I’ve heard people questioning whether he’s a narcissist. (I think he is.) Giggling his way through his 60 Minutes interview didn’t help President Obama’s image or the Democrats’ image.

If the Democrats don’t get serious about solving problems, they’ll soon have real troubles, especially if the House Republicans’ budget alternative is appealing.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Monday night, I got an email from Dave Dziok, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s e-communications director, announcing the specifics of two townhall meetings Rep. Bachmann will be hosting. Here’s the specifics about those meetings:

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to host forums on Climate Change & Cap and Trade

Special Guest: Chris Horner, Senior Fellow and Author, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Thursday, April 9, 2009:

1:00-2:15 pm
St. Cloud State University
Atwood Memorial Center, Cascade Room

4:30-5:45 pm
Woodbury Central Park Community Center, Room B
8595 Central Park Place (off Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive)

This will be a big event because of the Democrats’ attempt to push through President Obama’s cap and trade legislation and because of the Republicans’ intentions of fighting against President Obama’s anti-production, pro-tax increase legislation.

Follow this link to read Mr. Horner’s bio.

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Rep. Mike Pence’s statement on energy policy is a shot across the Democrats’ bow. When they take up President Obama’s budget blueprint, they’ll be voting on a bill that includes a major tax increase via the cap and trade provisions of the bill. Here’s Rep. Pence’s statement:

“The President’s energy policy is yet another example that his budget taxes too much. Buried beneath the promise to not raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans is a ‘light switch tax’ that will impact every working family at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. Raising the costs of energy by up to $3,100 on every American household will have a devastating impact on our nation’s families and small businesses.

“Americans vividly remember the days of spending more than $4 for a gallon of gas. The President’s misguided energy policies will limit supply and ensure that high prices are the way of the future. Rest assured, House Republicans will continue to fight for energy independence.”

I wrote frequently about the AEA or American Energy Act. I still think that it’s the best energy reform legislation in a generation. The AEA is legislation worth fighting for. Though it won’t replace the cap and tax provisions of President Obama’s budget, it will be on the record as being the Republicans’ alternative to the Democrats’ plan.

I’d frame it as a choice between a job-killing anti-fossil fuel bill and a balanced all-of-the-above energy plan. The AEA contains conservation provisions, increased production provisions and alternative energy provisions. What isn’t contained in the AEA, though, is a tax increase.

I’d love seeing the Democrats defend their anti-coal, anti-production, anti-nuclear power, pro tax increase bill against the Republicans’ pro-production alternative.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Last week, I found out that President Obama’s teleprompter has his own blog. Tonight, I found out that his teleprompter is issuing ultimatums via YouTube:

If I were advising President Obama, I’d tell him to immediately give his MVP everything he wants ASAP, especially with an important press conference tonight.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative