Archive for February, 2011

Utah, not D.C., points the way for Georgia on health reform

When a judge last month declared ObamaCare unconstitutional, many people in Georgia and the other states suing to overturn the law wondered if they had been freed from its onerous taxes and regulations.

Georgia could stand pat, gambling that the ruling will hold up on appeal. A more prudent tack is to copy a reform model that predates the federal law — and might satisfy it.

Utah created a health-insurance exchange in March 2009, around the time President Barack Obama began his health-reform push. A pilot version was in place later that year, and last fall the exchange went statewide. More companies in Utah offer health insurance to workers now. And they didn’t get subsidies to do it.

Utah’s exchange gives consumers information about plans and helps them enroll in one. Crucially, it allows them to pool health dollars, whether from their employer(s) or their own money, as never before.

“It’s the easiest idea in the world,” says Cheryl Smith, who helped launch Utah’s exchange and …

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A couple of things coming up tonight

As you may have surmised by now, I’m off today. I’ll be back Tuesday, March 1.

In the meantime, my column for Sunday’s print version of the AJC will be posted online by 7 p.m. today — and, as a bonus, I’ll also appear at that same time on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Prime Time Politics” show. The topic is immigration reform.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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A clear constitutional choice from two ObamaCare rulings

One of the key legal arguments in the various ObamaCare lawsuits concerns the “individual mandate.” Can Congress require citizens to buy a good or service under its Commerce Clause power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”? Does the specific decision not to purchase health insurance constitute an “economic activity” that Congress can regulate?

This week, we got an answer from U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler that contradicts the determination made last month by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson. While the Supreme Court may not directly compare the two judges’ respective reasonings when it eventually decides the fate of the health-reform law — and I’ll note again that the “score” on the district- or appeals-court level doesn’t matter in the end — I think the following passages get to the heart of the conflict.

First, Kessler’s conclusion, which pretty well tracks the Obama administration’s argument:

It is pure …

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Tea party made clash with public-sector unions inevitable

A showdown like the ones we’re seeing in state capitals across the Midwest has been building since the idea of a tea party movement was born on a Chicago trading floor.

It’s fitting that union members began amassing in, and Democratic lawmakers fleeing from, the Wisconsin state Capitol within days of the second anniversary of CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s now-famous, on-air tirade from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Santelli, you’ll recall, ranted about federal bailouts and then called for “a Chicago tea party” to protest them.

Two months later, tea parties were held nationwide, and American politics was transformed. Just ask any member of Congress who was involuntarily retired last year by the voters.

The tea party caught on as a popular movement in large part because, in the aftermath of the financial panic and the bailouts and the stimulus, the common American taxpayer looked around and realized he was the only “special interest” without a seat at the table. The tea party …

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Lies about tea party come true in Wisconsin

The public-sector union protests continue in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states. James Taranto,who writes the Best of the Web Today column at WSJ.com, finds it “quite striking the way almost every lie the left ever told about the Tea Party has turned out to be true of the government unionists in Wisconsin and their supporters:

Extreme rhetoric. The Wisconsin Republican Party has produced what Mediaite.org calls an “incredibly effective” video juxtaposing liberal complaints about allegedly extremist Tea Party rhetoric with unionist signs likening Gov. Walker to Hitler and other dictators. Left-wing journalists are making similar invidious comparisons: “Workers Toppled a Dictator in Egypt, but Might Be Silenced in Wisconsin” read the headline of a Washington Post column by Harold Meyerson last week. The other day on CNN we saw scenes of a Madison crowd chanting, “Kill the bill” — which was said to be violent and invidious a year ago, when “the bill” was ObamaCare.

• …

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Governor Deal’s HOPE plan sounds pretty good to me

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal for putting the HOPE scholarship on sound financial footing came a little closer than I expected to the idea I floated a few days ago.

I like the fact that HOPE — which is supposed to be a merit scholarship, after all — will cover the full cost of tuition for high-achieving students under a new program called the Zell Miller Scholarship.

We will have to see whether future tuition hikes hamper the state’s ability to keep paying all tuition for high-school graduates with a 3.7 GPA and 1200 SAT/26 ACT score who attend Georgia’s public universities. But we are, according to Deal this morning, talking about only the top 10 percent of HOPE scholars, who in turn represent roughly the top 40 percent of all Georgia high-school grads. So, the extra cost may not be too great.

One quibble with this aspect of the plan: the requirement to keep a 3.5 GPA in college.

These Zell Miller Scholarship recipients represent our best and brightest students — the ones we …

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Turnout figures not very promising for Georgia Democrats

The AJC’s Political Insider has posted an item about voter turnout in last November’s election by race, noting that African Americans made up 28 percent of the electorate. The post cites Democratic consultant Jim Coonan, who, looking at the turnout figures as well as some data from Gallup that also came out Monday, concludes that

the underlying partisanship of the electorate says that Democrats are very competitive in Georgia.

And yet, Georgia Democrats got clobbered. That our base is turning out and voters are evenly split in their underlying partisanship and yet we are still getting clobbered tells us just how bad a job our Party has been doing at persuading swing voters that our platform and our programs actually work for them.

With all due respect to Coonan, I think Democratic optimism about is unwarranted based on the numbers. A few thoughts why:

1. The fact that Gallup’s party-identification polling from 2010 shows Republicans with an edge of just 43 percent to 41.4 …

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Wisconsin protests not about budget? In a way, yes

It didn’t take long for the meme that the government-versus-unions showdown in Wisconsin isn’t about the budget to make it from Ezra Klein’s blog to the rest of the liberal blogosphere. Maybe the JournoList lives after all.

But in a sense, our friends on the left may be correct. For people outside Wisconsin, this story is not about whether Gov. Scott Walker has to make public employees contribute X dollars more to their pensions or Y percent of their health insurance in order to close a deficit of Z dollars in 2012-13.

It’s about whether public-sector labor unions — and the disproportionate power they wield over the elected officials who are supposed to be their bosses — are an antidemocratic anachronism.

Actually, “anachronism” implies that they were appropriate at one time. No less of a progressive icon than Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it “unthinkable and intolerable” to have government-worker unions which could strike against the taxpayers who fund their livelihoods …

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Protests rage in Libya, Iran (video)

The scenes from Libya, where protesters have wrested control of the country’s second-largest city and now are moving in on the capital city Tripoli, are every bit as stunning as those in Egypt and Tunisia were. I think this line, from the son of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, is a bad sign if you’re a supporter of the regime:

We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.

Normally, a government claiming a monopoly on force wouldn’t be talking about “the last bullet.”

ABC News has some astonishing footage of the protests in Libya as well as Iran, where protesters have been dragging police officers out of their cars and mobbing them in groups:

The results of these protests, in terms of what kind of governments will follow them (democratic, or more of the same), remains to be seen. But the domino effect of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is unmistakable.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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Fixing HOPE: What would we do if we could just start over?

Imagine you could take the wayback machine to 1993 and try to shape the HOPE scholarship based on what we know now about its growth and the state of its finances, but before public expectations were set.

You could report to the governor at the time, Zell Miller, that his brainchild would become wildly popular. You could tell him it would help lower-income students further their education and would keep many of Georgia’s brightest high school graduates in the state for college and beyond.

But you’d also have to tell Miller that HOPE’s promises would, within two decades, far exceed his lottery’s ability to pay for them. You would have to explain that having the Legislature write a blank check from its lottery account, for an ever-increasing amount set by the Board of Regents, had become as unsustainable as third-party-payer health care (another topic of contemporary interest).

And you could offer Miller your services in constructing HOPE to avoid those problems.

You could tell …

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