Archive for July, 2009

Congress has many clunkers

An old saw holds that no one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session — reason enough to cheer Congress’ August recess.

Yet this year’s break comes at a very opportune time. Georgia’s members of Congress have plenty of questions to occupy them during their time off, starting with:

What’s in the latest version(s) of the health care bill?

This year, there has been much speculation that few members of Congress had even read, much less understood, the lengthy bills they were passing so hastily.

With 33 days off, members have plenty of time to read the latest drafts of the legislation – and to find the unpleasant surprises sure to be lurking in them.

As they read these tomes that make “Gone With the Wind” look like a short story, they might ask:

Can Washington accurately forecast the real cost of a new, $1 trillion-plus health-care entitlement, given that the $1 billion in “cash for clunkers” money ran out two months early?

Was up to $4,500 per car …

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Obama saving jobs? Not at Subway

When Washington mulls economic policies like raising the minimum wage or requiring small businesses to provide employee health insurance, the debate tends to have a theoretical, academic, even surreal feel to it.

For Ed Singleton, it’s about whether he stays in business and his employees keep their jobs.

Singleton runs 11 Subway restaurants, with plans to open two more soon. In 18 years, he has expanded from his home in Ellijay to other towns in North Georgia and North Carolina. Some of his hiring is seasonal, but he has 200 employees on average.

Those 200 people’s livelihoods, he told me this week, are threatened by the agenda of President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

“The things that Obama’s doing are detrimental to small businesses, which are the lifeblood of this country,” Singleton says.

Indeed, the Small Business Administration reports that such firms employ nearly 60 million Americans, or about half of all private-sector workers in the U.S. What’s more, they account …

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Wild 2010 race will be wet, too

Too much water makes for ruined basements and canceled baseball games. Too little of it might set the stage for good politics in next year’s gubernatorial race.

A federal judge’s ruling this month will leave much of metro Atlanta dry three years from now if we can’t reach an agreement with Alabama and Florida on how to use Lake Lanier’s water.

Without a new deal, Georgia’s take from the lake will revert to what it was in the 1970s, when Atlanta was much smaller than it is now.

The prospects for a negotiated settlement appear grim. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson throws the issue to Congress, where Georgia has 15 members compared with 36 from Florida and Alabama combined. Getting the rest of Congress to sign on to an equitable plan will be a tall task for our delegation.

The three states’ governors are all Republicans, but that hasn’t yet yielded a settlement. This isn’t a partisan issue.

And the likelihood that Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue can strike a deal …

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Choice is a casualty of ObamaCare

Much has been made of President Obama’s repeated promise that under Democrats’ health care reforms, as he restated just Monday, “If you have health insurance, and you like it, and you have a doctor that you like, then you can keep it. Period.”

The point is crucial to his claim that a taxpayer-funded health insurance program will be just a single, solitary, tiny, unobtrusive new option that you can totally ignore if you wish.

It’s a claim that’s utterly false.

The health care bill before the House of Representatives – the very one Obama is urging Congress to pass before members, much less the public, can even understand it – shreds the president’s promise.

Under the heading “Protecting the Choice to Keep Current Coverage,” the House bill grandfathers current private health insurance plans into law. There are just three little ol’ exceptions: The terms and conditions of coverage can’t change; premium rate changes must be approved by the new Health Choices commissioner (which has …

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Atlanta’s problem is pensions

The scarlet letter on Shirley Franklin’s time as mayor, and on the current City Council, will be F for finances.

T for taxes would make sense to many Atlantans after the City Council last month approved Franklin’s request to raise the city millage rate for 2009 by three mills, a 42 percent rise from last year. The move will cost the average homeowner $240 this year. That’s on top of a 12.5 percent water and sewer fee hike that will cost the average homeowner another $200 this year.

But choosing T would ignore the root of the problem: P for pensions. The city’s pension obligation was about $56 million higher this year than it was in 2005. The city raised taxes this year to cover a $56 million budget shortfall.

You do the math.

It didn’t have to be this way. The city’s underfunding of pension liabilities is chronic, but as recently as 2003 the obligations were 70 percent funded. That was short of the accepted standard of 80 percent, but it was a golden era compared with …

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F-22 still needed to secure skies

You need to know only one thing about the debate over the F-22 Raptor’s future: It is about whether we secure air superiority for the coming years or risk losing it. The rest is details.

The fighter jet’s immediate fate hangs on the 2010 defense budget. In June a Senate committee including Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss added $1.75 billion to buy seven F-22s. A House committee earlier approved $369 million to go toward a dozen F-22s.

These funds would keep the fighter, the most advanced in the world, alive to face another budget (and possibly to be cleared for export to allies like Japan). If it dies, the last F-22 will probably roll off Lockheed Martin’s assembly line in Marietta in 2012.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the entire $500 billion-plus defense budget if it includes F-22 money. Unlike many defense-spending issues, this doesn’t break down on partisan lines. John McCain, to name one Republican, also opposes it.

Make no mistake: The F-22 is faster, …

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Politicians sharing too much?

There are moments in politics that make you say, “Really?” One such moment came this week, courtesy of John Oxendine.

There on YouTube was the state insurance and fire commissioner, in a hospital room with his wife, Ivy, and infant son, Jake, who’d been born just hours earlier Wednesday. Mrs. Oxendine reclines in bed, still in blue scrubs. The proud papa looks down at little Jake and jokes that they want him to sleep this well in the months and years to come.
It’s a tender moment. But Oxendine doesn’t leave it alone.

“When I see this,” he now tells the camera, “and my other three kids, it reminds me of why it’s important that I run for governor, and why it’s important that we transform government. … We need your help. Thank you.”

Really?

“Transforming government,” when many parents would still be counting toes? A GOP candidate who touts family values turns the maternity ward into a studio for a campaign spot?

Stunned, I called campaign manager Tim Echols for an explanation. …

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Real health change is ‘fire’ power

The most important thing we need from health care reform isn’t insurance for the uninsured or lower costs of care. It’s the ability to tell a health insurer, Trump-style, “You’re fired.”

Health care consumers don’t have that ability today, and the so-called public insurance option that liberals favor won’t give it to us, either.
Look, hardly anyone thinks our health system doesn’t need to change. And government can have solutions — to the problems it’s created. Just don’t create any more problems along the way.

Give us “fire” power, and watch the other desired changes fall in place.

Why don’t we have fire power now? Easy. In our current, employer-based system, health insurers don’t answer to patients. They answer to HR departments.

If I don’t like the co-pay I have to make, or the list of “in-plan” doctors, or the service I get when I call the insurance company, there is precious little I can do about it. I can’t fire that company and choose another one.

The customer may still …

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Cap and trade will be tax and fail

Having sneaked through the House of Representatives last week, “cap and trade” is now a Senate vote away from becoming part of our everyday lives. The experience with such CO2-cutting plans elsewhere suggests there are just two problems with it: the “cap” and the “trade.”

One does not have to doubt, as I do, claims that the complex science of the Earth’s climate is “settled” to see that this bill is a sham. True believers may like it even less, as Greenpeace’s disavowal of the bill attests.

The premise of cap and trade is that it’s a magical way to change the way we heat and cool our homes, transport people and goods, grow crops and raise livestock — that is, live our lives — with minimal pain. In reality, it is income redistribution from consumers to the firms with the most clout in Washington.

I spent part of the last few years covering Europe’s cap-and-trade scheme. Like our putative plan, it is based on the Kyoto Protocol’s conceit that a market can exist for a “good” — …

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