Friday, September 29, 2006

Bush Speaks To Gutknecht, Shays, Hagel, Jones, Fitzpatrick and the Democrats

Simply stated, George Bush has had a bad week.

* Three Republican Senators rebuffed his legislation for interrogation and prosecution of terror detainees.
* President Clinton energetically defended his efforts to efforts to kill bin Laden and vowed that he would have more troops targeting bin Laden today.
* The April National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach.
* Bob Woodward is set to release “State of Denial,” the third in his series of books documenting the inner workings of the Bush administration. Some of the tidbits include :
-- On July 10, 2001, George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice at the White House to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence the agency was collecting about an impending attack. But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Condi Rice had not taken the warnings seriously. Further, that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, Tenet believed that Donald Rumsfeld was impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill bin Laden.
-- President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Bush lashed out yesterday (Thursday - September 28), saying "Five years after 9-11, Democrats offer nothing but criticism, and obstruction and endless second guessing."

Although the stated target was the Democrats, I believe it was instead a warning to his fellow Republicans not to abandon ship.

Some Republicans in solidly conservative districts, and some not facing re-election this year, have publically changed their views on the war.

In North Carolina, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., a staunch conservative whose district includes the Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune, originally supported the war. In 2005, he said there had been little reason to go to war and called on Bush to apologize for misinforming Congress.

When Gutknecht returned from his first visit to Iraq, he declared that Americans don't have "strategic control" of the streets of Baghdad and advocated a "limited troop withdrawal — to send the Iraqis a message."

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam War veteran who is not up for re-election, said last year that the U.S. was "getting more and more bogged down" in Iraq and stood by his comments that the White House was disconnected from reality and losing the war.

In a mailing to constituents in mid-August, Pennsylvania Republican Michael Fitzpatrick urged an alternate course. "American needs a better, smarter plan in Iraq," said the mailing. "Congressman Fitzpatrick says NO to President Bush's 'stay the course' strategy.”

Connecticut Republican Rep. Chris Shays on August 28th said that the US needs time frame for troop withdrawal.

But will public comments translate into how these Republicans vote and perform their job?

So with weeks until the November election, voters are faced with a choice of supporting Rove-Robots who may appease voters concerns with comments that they have qualms about Bush’s strategy in Iraq but do nothing about it; or honest candidates that will support and protect our troops while enforcing their Congressional oversight responsibility.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Observing Fall Colors

I just spent the last week traversing portions of the First District looking at the colors. Now, the meteorologist may think that it is too early, but the political scientist knows that this is the time to get a sense of the political landscape. The lawn signs are out and for the past twelve years, I have observed plenty of patriotic-inspired signs - blue with white lettering and a red ribbon. But, this year a new color scheme can be seen -- maize letters on an azure blue background and, when appropriate, a hint of white lettering. Rather refreshing – straightforward without being patronizing.

During the course of my travels ( somewhat following the DM&E tracks), I observed the expected (Gutknecht in New Ulm), the slightly surprising (Walz in St. Peter), the encouraging (Walz in Waseca) and the disappointing (Walz in Winona). With some of the letters to the Editor in the Winona papers over the past nine months, I expected to see a warm reception from Winona, but it was not evident.

Lawn signs are a good indicator – if someone is willing to put a sign in the yard and accept the verbal slams from their neighbors, they’re pretty committed. Some yards had multiple candidates while others only had one, but I get a sense when someone has a Dem or Republican sign that they will most likely vote for that party’s candidate in the Congressional election.

Jesse Ventura may have thought he “shocked the world”, but I wasn’t shocked. As I traveled the state, you could see it in the people’s eyes who displayed bumper stickers and lawn signs, that Ventura would win easily. They were committed voters.

On one college campus, I saw two students talking and one was carrying a lawn sign for a State Senate candidate. I asked how he thought his candidate would fare in November. He went on to extol that “the Democrats have got a message this year and they’re gonna win.” I asked, “So what’s the main challenge?” He responded telling me about the Republican candidate. I had to tell him that he was wrong as the Republican candidate could get 30-40 % of the registered voters in the district and win the election. He looked at me with a funny look wondering how that was possible. I explained the main challenge is Apathy. The real goal is not only to get the Democratic vote out but also to convince the 20-30 % that they have a real opportunity to shape this election.

Committed voters are what counts, not poll numbers. Polls express an opinion and provide candidates with talking points that voters want to hear. The recent SEIU poll should only be a guide to voter awareness of who the candidates are. Without knowing how the poll questions were asked, it is impossible to interpret the results. The fact that Walz did so well is encouraging, but the key is to get the Apathy Vote. September polls mean nothing, the only poll that counts is on November 7th.

So, get a lawn sign and convert a neighbor.
Oh, and by the way, I noticed that the trees are just changing now with maximum viewing over the next weeks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CRIME SOLVERS : Gingrich and Gutknecht

Identifying the obvious : Gutknecht learns from Gingrich

Gil Gutknecht adds a footnote concerning Iraq on his weekly eline :
“NOTE: Former Speaker Newt Gingrich said last week that one of the true measures of progress should be the number of unemployed males under 30. He's right. The lower that number, the smaller the pool of recruits for militants.”

Insightful analysis ? Hardly. Gutknecht almost sounds giddy, praising his mentor as if these words of wisdom had never been spoken before. Heck, John Murtha in his November 2005 press conference cited the high unemployment in Iraq as one of the main problems … as well as other aspects of the failure of the Iraqi Reconstruction program.

But let’s accept it as a monitoring metric. The Brookings Institute monitors the Iraqi Reconstruction program and has reported the nationwide unemployment to be between 25-40% which in essence is where it has been since January 2005. The Iraqi Ministry of Planning states a 30% unemployment rate, whereas the Iraqi Ministry of Social Affairs claims it to be 48%.

Unfortunately, Gutknecht only identifies the metric but offers no proposal for how to increase employment.

Solving Iraq may be impossible, but how is Congress addressing this subject at home?

Should the same metric– the lower the number of unemployed, the lower the crime rate- be used to address US crime?
The National Association of Chiefs of Police is reporting that the 2005 Uniform Crime Report issued annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate an increase in violent crime.
Statistics provided in Crime in the United States, 2005, include:
* Nationwide in 2005, there were an estimated 1,390,695 violent crimes reported.
* The estimated volume of robbery increased 3.9 percent, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter increased 3.4 percent, and aggravated assault increased 1.8 percent from 2004 figures.
* Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) lost an estimated $16.5 billion: $7.6 billion in motor vehicle thefts, $5.2 billion as a result of larceny-thefts, and $3.7 billion in burglaries.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said the recent increases in violent offenses could reflect a convergence of factors: a rise in gang membership, the spread of highly addictive methamphetamine and the increasing numbers of young people who are 18 to 24, the age group that generally commits the most crimes.

Several police officials who have complained that the U.S. government has allowed anti-crime initiatives to languish as it has focused on anti-terrorism efforts here and abroad. "This report should serve as a strong wake-up call," said Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske in Seattle, which recorded a 25% increase in gun-related crime last year. "We better realign our focus to the war going on in some of our cities." Edward Flynn, police commissioner in Springfield, Mass., said local police agencies have yet to recover from the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led the federal government to redirect tens of millions of dollars in grants away from policing projects and toward homeland security programs. "Police can't be good homeland security partners if they cannot do their core missions," said Flynn, whose city of 155,000 had 18 homicides last year, double the number from 2000. "People need to see this as a sign for concern."

Mayors and police chiefs at a recent crime conference said they were seeing spikes in violent crime for 2006. They have called for greater support from federal law enforcement, expressing concern that the Bush administration might be too complacent. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated earlier this month that additional crime-fighting funds for cities were not in the offing, noting that the war on terror remains the greater priority.

The Bush administration has failed to build on the Clinton administration's success in funding more police through its COPS crime-control program.

Is it fair to ask Congress how to address unemployment, youth and crime? Is part of the equation the recognition that many policemen are currently serving as National Guard reservists in Iraq?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Is Gutknecht confronting the political reality of his legislative agenda?

Ah, it must be the election season, when the failure to enact legislation is masked by heralding of a House Resolution to address America’s addiction to foreign oil.

The subject of this week’s eline from Congressman Gutknecht is renewable fuels.
One might have thought that this would be just another plug for Gutknecht’s 10/10 plan which would require a 10 percent blend of renewable fuels in all gasoline sold in the United States by 2010. But since that legislation has just languished in the Republican controlled House, Gutknecht trumpets that “House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing to discuss the future of renewable fuels in America. We examined and passed a resolution (H. Con. Res. 424) that sets a goal for the United States to provide at least 25% of the total U.S. energy consumption from renewable agricultural resources by the year 2025.”

WOW. From a Law to a Resolution and from 2010 to 2025 – that’s must be what Gutknecht considers progress. I considered it to be insulting and illustrative of his non-performance and ineffectiveness.

Facing reality that this DoNothing Congress has squandered the time required to achieve a goal by 2010, why move it out to 2025?

I contacted Congressman Gutknecht earlier this year when I noticed that H.R. 4409 The Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005 seemed to be a better bill than his 10/10 Act. Included in H.R. 4409 was a 10 % ethanol requirement with a deadline of 2015, but also many more provisions; such as vehicle efficiency improvement, promoting hybrid technology, and requiring a 20% petroleum reduction by 2015 for vehicles used by federal agencies. H.R. 4409 has a broad group of 83 co-sponsors including Mike Pence (who is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee – a group that promotes fiscal discipline), and fellow Republican fiscal hawks John Hayworth and Tom Tancredo; and Democratic US Senate candidates Sherrod Brown and Harold Ford. Gutknecht wrote me that he has concerns with H.R. 4409 since it would repeal the tariff on imported ethanol. Gutknecht is embracing protectionism while not acknowledging that the industry is not in place to process what we grow. The Star-Tribune reported on September 7th, of a “plan to plow under 10 percent of the crop was drafted recently, in case the processing plants are unable to handle”.

Gutknecht seems to indicate an Isolationist Worldview and that is troubling in a global economy. This concern was addressed in President Bush's State of the Union Speech
America rejects the false comfort of isolationism.
Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need.
In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors, like China and India, and this creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears. So we're seeing some old temptations return. Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy. … We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them. (Applause.) All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction -- toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.

Also, our gas stations do not have the pumps and fuel storage tanks to handle the demand. Minnesota has North America's largest network of E-85 gas stations, with approximately 260 stations now operating. Some states such as Tennessee have only two stations.

In Gutknecht’s eline, he trumpets that gas prices are down to $2.22 per gallon. Well, since my tractor runs on diesel which is at $2.59 per gallon, it’s got a ways to go. But since most people use unleaded gas, let’s look at gasoline prices. When Gutknecht was campaigning for re-election in September 2004, I was paying $1.799 per gallon. One year later, it was $2.499 and topped in August of 2006 over $3.00. Although the price is down today, Gutknecht is ignoring the overall trend of higher prices. That’s akin to being happy that you lost those five pounds that you put on since Christmas and not acknowledging that you’ve put on ten over the previous year.

He closes his eline with “If Brazil can become independent of OPEC, so can we.”
Brazil may have done that because had the political strength to confront reality. Cars in Brazil have been retrofitted to run on E85-type products. Currently, only specifically built Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) can use E-85, and Gutknecht has failed to lead efforts to work with Environmental Protection Agency to affect a change. This is despite Minnesota Center for Automotive Research at Minnesota State Mankato is currently working on conversion equipment. Additionally, Brazil with extra capacity in sugar beet production is actually in a position to help America with current ethanol, but Gutknecht would rather support tariffs than lower consumer prices.

Gutknecht eline

H. Con. Res. 424
Expressing the sense of Congress that it is the goal of the United States that, not later than January 1, 2025, the agricultural, forestry, and working land of the United States should provide from renewable resources not less than 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States and continue to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed, and fiber.

H.R. 4409 The Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005

Bush State of the Union

Star-Tribune story

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Gutknecht votes to suppress democracy; foster apathy

Lead by a Republican majority that has been non-responsive to many of America’s needs, the 109th Congress has been branded as DoNothing Congress, but their main accomplishments lie ahead … sadly, those accomplishments may be a degeneration of the advances that our society has made over the past 100 years.

This week, Gil Gutknecht, Mark Kennedy, John Kline, Jim Ramstad and other Republicans voted to step back in time to disenfranchise its citizens.

During the past century, Congress, faced with a question of individual citizens’ rights and national interest, determined that states rights would be subservient to federal law in right to vote issues. From women getting the right to vote in 1920, the exposure of poll tax, and cumulating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress repeatedly enacted laws to make voting inclusive. My first opportunity to vote was a result of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution.

On September 20th, this Republican House of Representatives approved H.R. 4844 – the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006. The intent of this legislation is to require proof that the individual is a citizen of the United States to prevent fraudulent voting in Federal elections.
If any state enacted this legislation fifty years ago, Congress would have stepped in … but now, the House is leading the charge.

Quickly, I see four problems with this legislation.

One, it is solving a problem that may not be there.
With Congressional Districts drawn to ensure incumbents retain their seats, most Federal Elections are non-competitive. Many pundits believe that this year might have the largest changeover – but no more than fifty of the 435 districts are in question. I believe the last close election in Minnesota was Minge-Kennedy in 2000 which Kennedy won by 439 votes (138,972 vs. 138,583). Generally, incumbents win by tens of thousands of votes. Does Congress really think that illegal aliens are going to expose themselves by voting? If they did, how many elections would be changed? Since it is reported that so many illegal aliens have fraudulent identification, wouldn’t being on the voter’s rolls actually reinforce their bogus identity?

Two, this is another federal mandate without funding for the states to implement.

Third, the hassle of obtaining the necessary paperwork for a citizen to exercise the right to vote will create additional apathy and non-participation in the process.
The queue will increase as people show their identification delaying the process of voting. I live in a rural area and when I go to vote, it’s a chance to see the neighbors. The election judges know me – either personally or at least enough to say a quick hello at the grocery store – but under these rules, if the judge is doing the job correctly, ID will have to be shown. During the 2004 election, our precinct had observers from the Twin Cities; I’m sure they would demand ID be evaluated. The same ID requirement is applicable for absentee voting which may reduce the number of seniors and handicapped citizens.

Fourth, the ramifications are that only activists will participate in the election process.
Although this is applicable to Federal Elections, State Elections take place at the same time. The spill down to local elections is where the smaller voter turnout will be felt. Case in point, the recent September 12th Primary Election was used to trim a large number of candidates for the November elections. One School Board District in Rochester had over 9,000 votes … and the margin between first and third was less than 100 votes.

This is an outrage and every Representative who voted for it should be ashamed.

In an era, when more people vote for American Idol, shouldn’t Congress be trying to increase voter participation? But then again, more people can probably name the winners of American Idol then their Congressman … but that may be what Congress wants – apathetic and ill-informed voters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Manipulation, Bias, or Ineptness - Gutknecht & KEYC

Question : Does Mankato’s television station have a favorable bias for Congressman Gutknecht? Or is it, the power of the incumbency that allows Gutknecht to manipulate the media in his favor? Or is it the ineptness of KEYC’s reporters?

Being a concerned citizen, I pay attention whenever the media presents a story with Minnesota politicians. Over time, I have noticed that Gutknecht and Coleman get a number of stories. I’ve heard WCCO’s Pat Kessler state that Coleman is on constant-press-release-overload while Mark Dayton rarely tries to influence the media. I do not see the same frequency coming from Gutknecht’s press releases on his website. But somehow, Gutknecht gets “good” coverage from KEYC – recently stories included: farm listening sessions; Kids for Hunger Relief; and yesterday, a “prescription drug importation hearing”. He shows up and they film him. These appear to be nothing more than an opportunity for Gutknecht to vocalize his position without any prodding or challenge from the “journalist”. A check of the KEYC website, indicates only one similiar story involving Tim Walz - a veterans benefit picnic in St. Peter - and as I recall, Walz was not interviwed.

I have sent an email to KEYC (see below). I have to wonder if the same activity is happening with other television stations? In a radio interview, the listener can judge the dialogue between the candidate and interviewer, but on TV it seems to be one-sided.

Mr. Dennis Wahlstrom
PO Box 125
N. Mankato, MN 56002

Dear Mr. Wahlstrom,

After viewing Monday’s news report concerning Congressman Gil Gutknecht prescription drug importation hearing held at Old Main village, I have to wonder how does KEYC-TV distinguish between a campaign event and a news event?
Although it was advertised as a “hearing” it was not advertised on his website and it was held in a private residential facility. I suspect that the room that the “hearing” was held in can accommodate 60 people and from the new footage it did not look like the room was filled.
KEYC has been a great service to the community providing wonderful coverage to numerous events and activities but during the political season, I believe that judicious evaluation is required before running a story that may be more political than news. To me, the line is drawn once political advertisements begin, then promotion pieces must stop. Since Tim Walz has been running ads since last week, this story should have only been handled as a news event. As a news event, the reporter should have asked questions of the candidate not provide free access for the candidate to make a campaign speech. I believe that the reporter should have asked the following questions :
H.R.328 (Prescription Drug Importation) was introduced by Gutknecht on January 25, 2005 and has been sitting in committee for over a year-and-a-half. Despite 121 cosponsors, it has not been moved forward by the Republican majority. Why haven’t you started a discharge petition to get a vote on your legislation?
Your presentation points out the price discrepancies between US and Foreign prices on a select group of drugs as a reason to allow importation. But couldn’t the same be accomplished by aggressive negotiations. The Veterans Administration has successfully done this. There is legislation pending in Congress that would accomplish this – H.R. 376 which has 167 co-sponsors including Gutknecht. It was introduced on January 26, 2005 but is being held up by the Republican leadership. A discharge petition has been started; why haven’t you signed the petition if you support the bill?
Does it bother you that Amy Klobuchar has television ads running embracing the same proposal that you are endorsing ? Why cannot you convince your fellow Republican Mark Kennedy that your solution is better for the country?
If 38,000 packages have been siezed, should you be advocating that citizens be involved in a process that may be illegal? How should citizens react if they find out that their medicines are stopped by the customs bureau?
Those are the types of questions that are appropriate for viewers to consider when eveluating a candidate, but the KEYC story only provided a sound bite for a Congressman running for reelection. Was there any real “news”? Or, was this just an opportunity for Gutknecht to iterate a policy that he has been advancing for years and that the Republican majority has rejected.
My comments are addressing Mr. Gutknecht, but are applicable to anyone running for office after KEYC starts to accept ads.
Congressman Gil Gutknecht made a stop in Mankato today. Gutknecht held a prescription drug importation hearing at Old ain Village to address the rising costs of prescription drugs. He also discussed how Americans can get prescriptions from other countries for half the cost, but are being seized by customs. Gutknecht says American's are being held hostage and he's hoping to change that. With virtually every other product, we can go to Canada and but whatever we want, that's called NAFTA, but prescription drugs are held separately, a point of this hearing is to at least let people know that we're aware of this and to let them know what we're doing to try and stop the customs bureau from treating American citizens like common criminals. Gutknecht says between November 2005 and July of this year, nearly 38 thousand packages of drugs have been seized by US customs.

Looking forward to your reply,

McPherson Hall

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lesson to Learn from Mark Kennedy’s Negative Ad : Evaluate the Assertion

I’m surprised by Mark Kennedy’s latest ad … not that it is negative, as negative advertisements work … but that he Paid and Authorized the ad as the assertions made are better made by advocacy groups.

The quality of the ad does not have the “warm fuzzy good feel” of the previous “family guy, Mark”. It starts off with grainy, jiggly footage of Klobuchar … that’s a tip-off that the ad will be negative, but ends with a picture of Kennedy that is of the quality of a mugshot that seems to accent his narrow, piercing eyes.

The gist of the ad is : Klobuchar was a registered lobbyist; “extreme liberal” groups donate to her campaign; and she has invested in oil and pharmaceutical companies yet complain about them.
Scary stuff … but let’s ask a few questions.
Kennedy has effectively connoted that lobbyists are bad. Do we know who Klobuchar was lobbying for? Was it a cause that you believe in? For example, did she act as a lobbyist to get woman the right to a defined stay in a hospital after giving birth? If you are acting as a lobbyist, aren’t you advocating a position … that does not mean that you have offered a bribe. If Kennedy is so concerned about lobbyists, why isn’t he at the forefront in Lobbyist Reform?
Since America does not have government funded campaigns, accepting monies from advocacy groups is part of the process. How you define “extreme” is open to interpretation. Kennedy has received $10,000 from Tom DeLay's PAC Americans For A Republican Majority. He also received monies from John Thune’s Heartland Values PAC (whose contributions came in part from DM&E employees.)
Klobuchar’s investments are part of her retirement mutual funds that she does not control how the mutual fund invests the monies.

Now, compare that negative ad to Tim Walz’s television ad that does have some negative consequences. Walz’s ad is very good. It speaks of general issues, gives a brief candidate profile and includes a zinger on Gil Gutknecht’s ever-increasing salary. Hey, I like it. I wrote challenging Gutknecht to justify his pay increase based on performance before Walz issued his press release. Walz’s ad combines positive and negative and leaves the voter with a better understanding of the candidates without implying questionable, unverifiable assertions.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Do Klobuchar and Walz scare Bush ?

George Bush is a complex man. From the questions that were asked at Friday’s a press conference, Bush must have felt tortured. He was at times combative, at times a smart aleck, at times assertive but at his best when he use fear-mongering.

From Friday September 16th press conference :
Q Thank you, sir. Polls show that many people are still more focused on domestic issues, like the economy, than on the international issues in deciding how to vote in November. And I'd just like to ask you if you could contrast what you think will happen on the economy if Republicans retain control of Congress versus what happens on the economy if Democrats take over?
And so I shouldn't answer your hypothetical, but I will. I believe if the Democrats had the capacity to, they would raise taxes on the working people. That's what I believe. They'll call it tax on the rich, but that's not the way it works in Washington, see. [snip]

This is an argument that has a big flaw but also effectively scares voters away from Democrats. The Congress cannot effect tax law changes unless the President approves the change. Bush found his veto pen when the Stem Cell bill reached his desk, and there is no doubt that he would veto any tax bill that did not meet his requirements.

In fact, the Democrats have a greater incentive to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. With the 2008 Presidential election at stake, the Dems will want to prove to the voters that the Clinton-era of fiscal management of pay-as-you-go budgeting works better than the Republican’s tax-cut and spend policy.

Why is it that pro-growth tax policy sounds so righteous and yet is just code-speak for tax subsidies? Damn the deficit, if it means helping big business. Gil Gutknecht’s June 30th eline trumpeted the importance of passage in the House of H.R. 4761 which concerns itself with allowing drilling for oil on Outer Continental Shelf. Those of us that are concerned about our fiscal future heard a different trumpet and that one was expressed on June 29th, when the White House issued a statement on that bill. “The Administration strongly opposes the bill’s revenue-sharing provisions because of their adverse long-term consequences on the Federal deficit . The Administration’s preliminary estimate is that the revenue-sharing provisions of H.R. 4761 would reduce Federal Receipts by several hundred billion dollars over 60 years.”

America’s fiscal future is not at risk with Democrats in Congress. It is at risk with individuals that use fear-mongering to mask the real issues. Bush has been consistent in that he views his Presidential legacy issue as Social Security Reform. “Reform” is another euphemism for changing a program in ways that may not help you. Although, Social Security funding may have some problems in future decades, it is not the imminent problem as the health care policy. Why is Ford Motor offering incentives for employees to terminate employment? What is the issue at the heart of the airlines solvency issue? What is the fastest growing expense to any business that provides health coverage for their employees? The answer is health care. We need a Congress that will fundamentally change health care. That needs to be the top issue of the next Congress.
During this fall’s debates, ask the candidates which program do you want to see fixed first – Social Security or Health Care. If they say Social Security, they are being honest and will “Reform” it under Bush. If they say Health Care, they will make a more prosperous America.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Health Care Reform that Gutknecht SHOULD support

Another Open Letter to Congressman Gutknecht,

I have written before on the condition of our health care system.

Think about the following before judging this proposal.
Yesterday, Ford Motor Company announced that it will offer its 75,000 U.S. hourly workers buyouts and incentives to leave the company. The packages, which could range from $35,000 to $140,000, are similar to those General Motors offered earlier this year.
The U.S. automobile industry spends more per car on health care than on steel – depending upon the model; the health care cost is double the sheetmetal cost. The cost of providing health care adds from $1,100 to $1,500 to the cost of each of the 4.65 million vehicles GM sold last year, according to various calculations. GM expects to spend at least $5.6 billion on health care this year, more than it spent on advertising last year. For every vehicle that DaimlerChrysler AG builds at one of its U.S. plants, the company pays about $1,300 to cover employee health care costs.
Nationally, workers pay an average of 16% of the premium toward single coverage and 28% of the premium for family policies, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers shows. That's an average of $558 a year for single employees and $2,661 for families. Doing the math, companies are picking up the tab for $2,371 for single coverage and $4,182 for family coverage.

In reality, all these costs are passed on to the consumer. If you buy an American-made product from a company that provides health coverage, you are paying for that employees health care.
Is part of the equation when a company considers having a component made – or complete item – overseas, the health care obligation ?

Now, let’s look at the Health Care problem. Simply, rising costs and excessive overheads are contributing to unnecessary cost increases. Yes, some costs are justified, such as advancements in technology, some are understandable such as the aging of America, but some due to our culture such as the expanding waistline of America, and others are due inefficiencies in the medical care process, etc.

If the objective is to provide medical care for America’s citizens, the question is how to pay for it. The current model has three main components : #1. Employers, possibly with some employee contributions, providing insurance coverage; #2. Private policies borne entirely by the purchaser; #3. The un-insured who may or may not receive some assistance through some governmental agency; or may receive care through non-profit hospitals which treat and pass the bill on as part of their overhead onto insured and paying customers, etc.

To resolve this, universal participation in the payment process is needed. My solution is a pretty simple one – a national health care sales tax. The health care expense is roughly 9% of our Gross National Product. So, just put an extra 9% onto everything we buy. Wow, that may seem like a hefty premium, but remember that since you are already paying for much of these expenses in the product purchases or your payroll deduction. The good news is that some companies will be able to reduce their product prices as they will not have to pay for their employees health care --- bam, new car prices just dropped over a thousand dollars. Businesses will properly value employees’ work ethic and realize that they do not want to move production overseas. Additionally, one of the major concerns with illegal aliens is there impact on the health care system as freeloaders … well, since they pay sales tax, they will be contributing.

Now, with universal participation and universal coverage, costs should go down.
First, layers of bureaucracy should be eliminated as there does not need to be all the confusing paperwork and insurance companies.
Second, preventative medicine will be the norm. Today, so many treatable diseases are not detected until it is too late. Emergency rooms are filled with people that wait too long to go to the doctor.
Third, charging more for the service if uninsured than insured will be eliminated.

Congressman Gutknecht, you have been pushing a Flat Tax as a campaign issue. As far back as 1998, the concept of a Flat Tax has been an actively debated as an alternative to the current Income Tax system. My initial reaction was skeptical, but the more I read about it, the more that I see there is possibilities that this could work.
If America is not ready for a full blown Flat Tax system, why not prove it out by a Flat Health Care Tax? I may be wrong on the tax rate, but the concept is appropriate and the rate could be tweeked based on funding requirements.
So, what do you say, Gil … wanna sponsor a meaningful piece of legislation ? If not, I’ll try my idea on your competitors.


A concerned citizen looking for an effective Congressman who will truly serve the First District.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is Rochester rejecting Gutknecht ?

Oh, I’m in a quandary … what to do … what to do? I had planned to write Congressman Gutknecht today with my Health Care Plan that would reduce costs, save industrial jobs, and provide health care for all …. but now, I’ve taken a look at some of the Primary Election results and I am concerned that my Congressman will not be there to implement my plan.

OK, I’ll be serious now. I know that primaries get only about 10 % of the registered voters and that most of those that vote consider themselves to belong to a political party. But, there are some intriguing aspects of the results that should concern Gutknecht.

Obviously, that 11 % of his home base voted for a former Green-party candidate from Lake Crystal (near Mankato) rather than Gutknecht sends a rather telling message of some level of voter dissatisfaction.

But, the real area of concern is the strong interest in the Democratic Party. There were mostly non-competitive races, such as the Governor, Senator, but the Democrats did have a Attorney General race that actually meant something. So there may have been some interest in the Dems showing up to vote.

I think Rochester’s vote is relevant since Rochester had a number of “qualifying elections” --- that is, to trim the number of candidates done to the final two for the election --- Mayor, a number of School Board Representatives, and County Attorney. Those positions are not normally dictated by the political party affiliation. The Mayor race had 8,328 voters while the City Attorney had 9,812 voters. That should be a broad group of GOP, Dems and Independents. Now, in the Minnesota Governors race there were a total of 11,765 votes out of a possible 80,248 registered voters. Here’s the kicker. The Dems, with Mike Hatch getting solid support bested the Republicans … 6,100 versus 5,480 for the Republicans and 185 for the Independence Party. My inference is that I am surprised that the Republicans did not do better … historically Rochester has been considered a Republican stronghold.

Maybe, I’m reading too much into this, but this should be looked at by the Democrats that they need to excite the other 68,000 voters – apathy is as much a challenger as is Gutknecht. Also, they need to show solid support from Governor race through the US Senate and House all the way to the Minnesota House and Senate races.

Now, the bad news for Walz is the poor showing in Mankato. The thought was that the young students would come out strong for Walz. But in Mankato, a college student ran for City Council … he got only 43 votes and will not be on November’s ballot. Better get those students registered at Winona State, MnState-Mankato, etc.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Open Letter to Congressman Gutknecht

Thank you for your eline concerning health care. In it you state : “My concern is that my friends on the left are offering a false choice. They are saying we can either continue the status quo which is costing too much and leaving too many uninsured, or move to a government-run, single payer system. There are other alternatives that should be explored.”

Now, your staff may have been busy checking out driving records in Dawes County Nebraska, so they may have missed some recent news.
- Trust for America's Health issued their annual report on Tuesday, August 29th that 31 states had a greater percentage of their residents classified as obese in this year's report than last year's. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke, ultimately costing the country $117 billion a year in medical costs and lost worker productivity.
- Twenty million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated seven million of those are undiagnosed. Another 41 million have pre-diabetes, two million of which are teenagers. The vast majority of this latter group has no idea they are in the formative stages of the disease, which is why diabetes has been called the silent epidemic. Worldwide, the International Disease Federation estimates 195 million people have diabetes, a figure expected to reach 330 million by 2025 -- only 20 years away.
- Harvard University released a report on September 11th, that in Nicollet County, the average life expectancy in 1999, the most recent data available, was 81.1 years -- a year longer than the average Minnesotan and more than four years longer than the national average. Among the top 100 counties in the United States, 21 are in Minnesota.

The jest is that America is facing a crisis and cannot live with the status quo.

Former Republican Senator David Durenberger and the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs identified a number of steps to reduce the costs of care. A main point was access – not just for the uninsured, but to achieve universal participation.
Other points that they addressed included :
With as much as 40% of our health care dollars being spent on paperwork and administration, the health care industry needs uniform standards for electronic billing, electronic medical records and reports.
Prevention instead of reactive medicine - patients save money by investing heavily in preventive medicine, an area in which the private sector — which makes money by treating the sick, not by keeping people healthy.

Besides Durenberger’s ideas, Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota, called for a moratorium on prescription drug advertising.

Clearly these are Republicans that understand the status quo is not serving us and that significant changes are needed. Your alternatives do not address the problems cited by your fellow Republicans. In fact, they do not offer “false choices” or the “status quo”, but identify real problems and solutions.

My concern is that your voting record indicates that your solution to the “status quo” is to shift federal obligations onto the state. For example, you supported the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 which actually will reduce Medicare spending by $6.4 billion and Medicaid spending by $4.7 billion from 2006 to 2010.

Medicare changes. Savings will be realized by reductions in spending in hospital – especially small rural hospitals, home health, imaging services, and Part C programs.

Medicaid changes. Changes in the Medicaid program will limit payments for certain outpatient prescription drugs, change rules and penalties related to asset transfers, improve program integrity, increase cost sharing, and expand home- and community-based services for people receiving long-term care. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 13 million poor recipients would face new costs and 65,000 enrollees would lose Medicaid coverage altogether.

The Deficit Reduction Act was heavily debated. Pressure from the managed care and pharmaceutical industries persuaded conference negotiators to drop provisions that would have saved money from Medicaid and Medicare programs – and instead placed the burden on low-income beneficiaries. After the bill was passed by the Senate, it went back to the House for approval. Congressman Gutknecht, you as well as the other Minnesota Congressmen, were alerted that this bill would have unfair consequences to Minnesota. Congressman Gutknecht, you met with county officials, announced that you “understood the problem” … and then voted for the cuts. Fellow, Republican Jim Ramstad, changed his vote.

Durenberger's report has some glaring concerns. The cost of health insurance has grown over four times faster than the rate of inflation. The average Minnesota household pays $11,000 per year for health care in taxes, premiums, and out of pocket costs for themselves and others. Most Minnesota households pay less than a third of the cost of health care directly out of their own pockets. The rest is paid by employers and government in ways that are hidden from view. Businesses are being hit hard by the increasing health care costs. As health care costs continue to grow, employers have less money to spend on wage increase and other benefits for employees.

Kevin Paap, a farm operator near Garden City and president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau recently said "We in agriculture feel the rise in health care costs as much or more than anyone else. We're responsible for our own [health insurance], and most farmers pay more for medical insurance than the family food budget."

Your alternatives do not address the rising costs.
So, despite the fact that we have an aging population with more enrollees and higher costs, Congress is just cutting federal programs and leaving it to the states to handle the problems.

Additionally, a provision of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act calls for nearly 1.5 million seniors to face premium hikes ranging from 10 to 55 percent over the next three years.

This is not leadership .. this is not compassionate conservatism … this is wishful thinking … this is ignoring our citizens needs and promises that have been made.

I contend that it is your false choices that are the barrier to important reforms. Citizens of the First District are ready for a change. Ignoring the challenge with misguided, recycled alternatives are not the addressing the growing problem. Delay is no longer an option.

Now that I have your attention, I will offer my proposal tomorrow ... and it's one that is based on a funding proposal that you are quite familiar with.

The Citizens of the First District

Please read

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why hasn’t America been attacked since 9/11 ?

As we remember 9/11, a common question that is asked is “Why hasn’t America been attacked again?”

Dick Cheney on 9/10/06 Meet the Press, said “VICE PRES. CHENEY: But the fact of the matter is, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. And I don’t know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of, of defeating the efforts of al-Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans. You’ve got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right.”

Or, maybe there are some other reasons.

Richard Perle and David From made an interesting assertion in their 2003 book An end to evil : how to win the war on terror . They theorized that al-Qaeda would only launch a devastating attack that would be comparable to 9/11 in terms of death and destruction otherwise they would be seen as weakened. In other words, al-Qaeda’s mantra is large scale multiple pronged attacks or nothing. Perle/From’s opinion is that unless it is bigger than 9/11, don’t bother.

In Ron Susskind’s 2006 book, The One Percent Doctrine, he writes essentially the same storyline; specifically that U.S. intelligence believed al-Qaeda plotted a hydrogen-cyanide gas attack on New York City subways in 2003 — only to have it aborted by al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, because, some U.S. intelligence officials surmise, it wouldn't be dramatically bigger than al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks.

When we hear with great fanfare about the aborted terrorist plot in Great Britain, and then we find out that the plotters did not even have passports yet, it is very obvious that these plots are in their early stages of development. The successful attacks (London/Madrid/ Manila/etc.) may be more of an effort by separate groups with different, and local, agendas.

So maybe before Cheney pats himself on the back, maybe he should consider that maybe al-Qaeda doesn’t feel it needs to attack to spread its message … since everyday, al Jazeera televises the image of America supporting the attacking of Muslims.

I’ll liken it to the fact that I haven’t had a driving accident since I was a teenager … but that doesn’t make me a safe driver.
I would feel safer if the borders were secure; the cargo was inspected; and airline security system did not have so many undetected security lapses.

SOURCE :,8599,1206001,00.html

FYI - I am about a quarter of the way through Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton's book - Without Precedent : The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. It brings back lots of memories that still choke me today.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Born in the middle of the night … Loans for DM&E and Medicare premium increases

Once again, the RoveRobots shirk their constitutional duties and pass a bill that many members did not know what it contained.

A little-known provision of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act calls for nearly 1.5 million seniors to face premium hikes ranging from 10 to 55 percent over the next three years if they earn at least $80,000 a year, or $160,000 for married couples. The move, designed to help shore up Medicare's shaky finances, has enraged many because it was adopted without public debate. A Republican-led conference committee added the measure to the Medicare bill even though neither the House nor the Senate version contained it.

As a fiscal conservative, I support the concept of means testing … but it is irresponsible that a major change to an existing program was not adequately debated … much less that the Representatives did not know what it contained. The legislation has been much discussed due to the arm-twisting, extended voting time in the middle of the night, and alleged offering of a bribe (see Washington Post). This was not emergency legislation … in fact John Kline and 40 other members of Congress wrote to the Republican leadership requesting that the House deserves adequate time to review and consider this bill's 681 pages of complex, detailed minutiae. In the end, John Kline and Mark Kennedy didn’t demand to study the bill --- instead shirked their responsibilities and marched the party line.

Today, while seniors learn of the costs, Kline and Kennedy have had Chamber of Commerce paid commercials on television thanking them for their votes.

This secret middle of the night changes to bills is how the provision for the DM&E loan went from $3.5Billion to $35Billion.

With a DoNothing Congress that has delayed Lobbyist Reform and Earmark Reform, it’s time that we vote for people that will put the time in to study a bill and not just listen to what their leadership commands.




Friday, September 08, 2006

Should Gutknecht require Health Savings Accounts for all FEHB participants ?

In last week’s eline, Congressman Gutknecht discussed Health Care.

The Problem as outlined by Gutknecht :
The increasing cost of health insurance prevents individuals and families from purchasing policies and causes many businesses to drop health care as a benefit. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent of uninsured adults say cost is the main reason they are uninsured.

The Solution as outlined by Gutknecht :
Prescription Drug Importation
Medical Liability Reform
Medicare Part D
Health Savings Accounts

Since I have already discounted the first three solutions, Health Savings Accounts is left.

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) have been portrayed as the panacea for all that ails the health system.

HSA is a great program … if you’re healthy and wealthy. On the other hand, even the Government’s website states : If you have significant medical expenses that do not approach catastrophic limits, you are probably better off in a traditional plan. (Source )

So who does take advantage of a Health Savings Account?
Let’s say you have a net worth of $20.9 million dollars, would you want a Health Savings Account ? Well, one of the advantages is that it offers tax-preferred aspects. According to The Washington Post, President Bush disclosed in his annual financial report a health savings account worth as much as $15,000 … and I thought he got health coverage as part of his job !
(Source )

HSA by design are a high deductible insurance program which allows the individual to also invest up to the deductible amount into an investment vehicle. Let’s say, you’re a family and select a policy with a deductible of $5,450, then you could also put away $5,450 (assuming that you have the available cash) into an investment fund that would grow tax-free. The monies could be invested much like an IRA - including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and certificates of deposit. The value of the HSA at death is income to the estate or other entity.

Essentially, this is a catastrophic health insurance plan – since you pay all expenses until the deductible is satisfied. Catastrophe plans may make sense for home owners insurance since we do not normally experience disasters every year (unless you live in the hurricane belt) … maybe once in our lifetime; but most of us have health expenses every year.

The unanswered question cited by Gutknecht and the Kaiser Family Foundation is, does this make insurance affordable ? Yes, the insurance premium is less than a traditional policy with a lower deductible, but you are responsible for the medical expenses. These types of policies were available before HSA … the big new feature is that you can establish your own savings account for future medical expenses. But if you didn’t have the monies before, how does this help?

HSA do not address the underlying problems of rising healthcare costs in the U.S.

Former Republican Senator David Durenberger and the Minnesota Citizens Forum presented a study that said one of major problems with the health care system is that we do not have universal participation. HSA may not be available to if you have received any health benefits from the Veterans Administration or one of their facilities, including prescription drugs, in the last three months. Nor, if you are active-duty military and have Tricare coverage. Nor, can you establish separate accounts for your dependent children. Nor, if you are on Medicare. Nor, if you have insurance plan coverage through a spouse. And I suspect there are other exclusions.

Now, if Gutknecht believed that HSA is such a great program, why not require it as the only option for the Federal Employees Health Benefits program (FEHB)? With the rising cost of government under the Bush Administration, wouldn’t this help ? Congressman Gutknecht has repeatedly approved pay increases for himself (most recently $3,300 which he could easily slide into a HSA), so why not offset this by asking him to take responsibility for his own health care? But to do that could expose that HSA do not serve working families that happen to be federal employees.

In summary, the establishing Health Savings Accounts as the solution is non-responsive to the problem ... just another tax break for those that may not need it.

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Next up : The Status Quo
Then : My suggestion

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gutknecht Health Care Solutions – Medical Liability Reform and Medicare Part D.

Yesterday, Gutknecht’s Prescription Drug Importation solution was discussed with my assessment that the Republican leadership has stonewalled this legislation and only the Democratic leadership wants it.

Today, we move on to the next two “solutions” that Gutknecht proposes.

Medical Liability Reform – A Red Herring

First a disclaimer, I and my family, are healthy and have experienced only excellent health care, so I have never had cause to considering suing for malpractice. I do have empathy for those that are in that situation.

No doubt whenever we hear the amounts of some settlements, the lawyers and juries are blamed. But do we hear about the excessive awards because they are rare ? We’ve all handled hot coffee, but most of us have never sued anybody over it. For argument sake, let’s stipulate that some reform may be warranted ( i.e. impose caps on awards for non-economic and punitive damages, reduce the statute of limitations on claims, and restrict attorneys' fees.)

But what is the impact of the malpractice issue on the cost of total health care system ?

According to a Congressional Budget Office report “Malpractice costs amounted to an estimated $24 billion in 2002, but that figure represents less than 2 percent of overall health care spending. Thus, even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.”

The CBO report also looks at the premiums paid for medical liability. During Clinton’s eight years, the expense moved less than 10%, but has exploded since then. Why ? The stock market. Insurance companies’ income from those premiums is based on their total costs (including the cost of providing a competitive return to their investors) minus their income from investing any funds they hold in reserve. Lower investment income means higher premiums. So, the price increases have nothing to do with jury awards or high-priced lawyers, but instead it is all about the insurance companies needing to satisfy their investors.

The other obvious concern is that doctors may not continue in practice due to the liability risk. The biggest area of concern is Ob-Gyns but even their exposure may less than we might imagine.
Ob-gyns have an average of 2.6 claims filed against them during their career.
Of cases that do proceed to court, ob-gyns win eight out of ten times (81.3%).
Almost half (49.5%) of claims against ob-gyns are dropped by plaintiffs' attorneys, dismissed or settled without payment.

I wonder if it isn’t a supply and demand issue … meaning that there are not enough doctors … which goes back to cuts that Gutknecht supported by voting for the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 which reduced student loans by $15 billion over 5 years.

In summary, although some form of Medical Insurance Reform may be desirable, it may have little impact on the average citizen’s health insurance expense. It’s a red herring. For an issue that Bush and the Republican Congress campaigned so heavily, why hasn’t any legislation been passed while they have been in power? Maybe, even some Republicans know that this is a better campaign issue than a good piece of legislation.

Medicare Part D – D as in Disaster

Whoa ! Yes, Congressman Gutknecht voted against this, but now is encouraging people to use it.
Here’s an analogy … the doctor warns you of obesity and then invites you to his patient appreciation event where he serves cake and cookies.

Once again, let’s refer to the most recent CBO report that I could Google. CBO estimated on March 4, 2005 that net Medicare spending for the Part D program will total $593 billion over the 2004-2013 period. That is an increase of $41 billion over the prior $552 billion estimate of net Medicare spending for Part D.

As I recall, when the bill was originally passed by Congress, the estimated cost was projected to be less than $400 billion. Fiscal conservatives, like me, are concerned about this impact to federal budget. My objection is not to the concept of the program, but how it is being funded --- through increasing the debt.

Additionally, how the program is structured --- to say it meekly – is flawed.

On July 18, 2006, The New York Times reported :
The pharmaceutical industry is beginning to reap a windfall from a surprisingly lucrative niche market: drugs for poor people. The windfall, which by some estimates could be $2 billion or more this year, is a result of the transfer of millions of low-income people into the new Medicare Part D drug program that went into effect in January. Under that program, as it turns out, the prices paid by insurers, and eventually the taxpayer, for the medications given to those transferred are likely to be higher than what was paid under the federal-state Medicaid programs for the poor.

On top of that benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the law does not allow any price negotiations by the Federal government. Gutknecht eline points out the price discrepancies between US and Foreign prices on a select group of drugs as a reason to allow importation. But couldn’t the same be accomplished by aggressive negotiations. The Veterans Administration has successfully done this. But there is legislation pending in Congress that would accomplish this – H.R. 376 which has 167 co-sponsors including Gutknecht. It was introduced on January 26, 2005 but is being held up by the Republican leadership. There is a discharge petition in process to force action – sadly, Gutknecht nor any other Minnesota Republican Congressman has signed it … but Democrats McCollum, Oberstar, and Sabo have. So why would you c-sponsor the bill, but not move it along ? Another example, illustrating that the Republicans are good talkers, but are operating a DoNothing Congress that advocates legislation they know we want, but stonewall it from passage.

Surprisingly, Gutknecht is advocating that seniors sign up after the initial sign-up period closed. This seems confusing since his website plainly states that the next enrollment period is “November 15 - December 31, 2006, with coverage starting on January 1, 2007” and I thought if you signed up now, there would be a penalty?

Other problems include the “donut hole” benefit period where seniors pay 100 % of the prescription; provisions in some plans that allow for specific drugs to dropped after seniors have locked in to specific plans; and the lack of a plan offered directly by Medicare ( would one-stop shopping reduce paperwork? ).

Wouldn’t a program modeled after the Veteran's Administration program, which allows the government to negotiate the best price, and would serve consumers and taxpayers more efficiently, be something that First District voters/beneficiaries want ? The Vet’s TRICARE health insurance program is one that Congressman is familiar with … after all, he voted against expanding access to thousands of Reserve and National Guard members on HR 1815 – vote #221 May 25,2005.

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Next up : Health Savings Accounts
Then : The Status Quo
Then : My suggestion

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Gutknecht offers Health Care Solutions ?

Every week Gil Gutknecht sends out an email “eline” in which he highlights actions that he is working on in behalf of the First District.

I looked forward to reading it as outlines his philosophy and intentions.

In this week’s email, the focus was on a health care forum held in Owatonna with Rep. Don Manzullo of Illinois. I am afraid that although this was “advertised” as a public forum, I have a hunch that only invited guests were allowed to participate – much like his Immigration Forum in Worthington last December, or his Renewable Fuels sessions in Blue Earth last July, or the FRA / DM&E Forum on August 25. I have a passionate interest in health care and have requested on a number of occasions that his office notify me when he will hold public meetings, but have yet to be invited.

His eline states “My concern is that my friends on the left are offering a false choice. They are saying we can either continue the status quo which is costing too much and leaving too many uninsured, or move to a government-run, single payer system. There are other alternatives that should be explored.”
The solutions as outlined by Gutknecht are :
Prescription Drug Importation
Medical Liability Reform
Medicare Part D
Health Savings Accounts

I will commend Gutknecht for recognizing that there is a problem; after all, the first step to resolving a problem, is admitting it. For a member of the Republican Party that professes itself as “party of ideas”, Gutknecht is offering proposals that are stale, non-responsive, inadequate or recycled.

Personally, I find it easy character assassination that he bemoans of “my friends on the left” and yet when I look at his first solution to the problem and who is supporting it. H.R.328 (Prescription Drug Importation) was introduced by Gutknecht on January 25, 2005 and has been sitting in committee for over a year-and-a-half. Despite 121 cosponsors, it has not been moved forward by the Republican majority. Who are some of those cosponsors? Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, John Conyers, John Murtha – all influential Democrats who some may even consider being “on the left”. Who is not a cosponsor? Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Republican Majority Leader John Boehner, and Republican Whip Roy Blunt.

And what about Mark Kennedy? At the MPR State Fair Senatorial debate, Amy Klobuhar asked him why he doesn't favor reimportation of drugs from Canada. "I would expect somebody that had an education at Yale and Chicago Law School to be able to figure that out." Kennedy, answering the question, said "we cannot set aside the safety concerns." Klobuchar responded "So you think Gov. Pawlenty is endangering the health of our state?"
{ Wow … slamming a Yale graduate … must be another attempt to separate himself from another Yale alumni … President Bush.)

If Gutknecht really believes that Prescription Drug Importation is part of the solution, he better hope for a Democratic majority in the next session.

Health care is too important of a topic for this single commentary, so during this week, I will continue to address the rest of Gutknecht’s proposals and offer my own suggestion - which believe it or not is an enhancement on one of Gutknecht's prior campaign initiatives.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Does Mark Kennedy’s Ad Blame Congress ?

Let’s give Mark Kennedy credit for a very entertaining batch of television commercials.

In his latest, entitled “Family Meeting,” Mark hears his daughter’s complaint of rising gas prices, and responds that a line-item veto is needed in Washington. ( The logic is befuddling – if we had low gas prices, would that mean that we wouldn’t operate a budget deficit?)

Kennedy for months has been attempting to campaign as a Washington-outsider, yet his votes have been critical to the financial mess that we are in ( quick examples : Medicare Part-D Prescription Drug and the TransPORKtation bill with its Bridge to Nowhere and the largest government loan to a private business -DM&E railroad.)

So, now is Kennedy saying that Congress is so inept, irresponsible, and corrupt that it should alter the Constitutional principle of Balance of Powers and give the Executive Branch the power to determine what projects are funded?
Isn’t the real problem that Congress is doing its job of restraining pork-barrel spending?
Look in the mirror, Congressman Kennedy – the problem is you … not the Constitution.

Considering that this is an election year, one would think that Congress would be financially prudent. Let’s consider a major spending bill that was approved on June 14, 2006 for the FY2007 budget. It is H.R.5576 (aka the next TranPORKtation bill) and it was approved by a vote of 406-22 with Kennedy voting in support although, according Representative Jeff Flake, the bill includes 1,500 earmarks. Due to the way that the House of Representatives operates, there can be votes on amendments to a bill before final passage. Some are amended based on voice votes – for example $300,000 was eliminated for the funding of a Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles while $1.5 million was approved for the construction of the William Faulkner Museum at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS. Other amendments actually require a roll call vote. Through the Congressional Record, the House approved such projects as : $500,000 in funding to be used for renovations to the Banning, California city-owned pool ( why did Gil Gutknecht support this? See Roll Call 277) although San Bernardino Sun reports that Banning city officials have been “stockpiling” this federal funding in order to build the new pool, which will serve a town of 26,000 and will cost approximately $4 million to build; and $250,000 in funding by the Strand Theater Arts Center in Plattsburgh, New York, to convert the Strand Theater into a performing arts center (why did John Kline support this? See Roll Call 280).

With what the media has reported involving criminal investigations regarding earmarks – notably by Randy Cunningham (R-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-Ca) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV) – this should be adequate warning that Congress needs to address its role in how it operates.

Reforming how Congress operates should be a priority. Besides restraining earmarks, Congress should require a mandatory time period so that bills may be reviewed before final passage. Case in point, the authorizations for loans such as DM&E which went from $3.5 Billion to $35 Billion overnight without anyone noticing, should have been caught and debated. A three day minimum makes sense … but with this Congress that may be in voting session only 80 days this year which could be a problem.

Passing the responsibility for government spending to the Executive Branch is abdicating Congressional responsibility and power.

One of the reasons that are often cited for a line-item veto is that most state governors have that power. Well, let’s remember that all state governors also have the responsibility for a balanced budget.

Congress needs to operate under a Pay-As-You-Go budget process and operated a balanced budget.

Congressman Kennedy, with your CPA and MBA, you should know that already.

Is Congress so enmeshed in its reelection efforts to see that the people currently in Congress are the problem? Responsible change is needed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mark Kennedy warns on Corporate Influence … what about DM&E ?

During Friday’s State Fair Senatorial debate, Mark Kennedy made an interesting – actually mind baffling – assertion … that Amy Klobuchar’s personal investments would drive her decision-making.

WOW ! I hadn’t thought of that before …I wonder if he realized that Dick Cheney had previously been CEO of Halliburton ?

So, what is Kennedy’s concern about Klobuchar :
"I'm wondering if you are troubled by the fact that … your largest single holding in your mutual funds is Exxon Mobil," Kennedy said. He said that was inconsistent and she should have, as she has said she does at the county attorney's office, "follow the money."
Klobuchar said she didn't know about all of her mutual funds' investments. Five hours after the debate, Klobuchar said she didn't know if Kennedy's claim was true but that even if it is, it doesn't make her uncomfortable. She said she doesn't own any individual stock and simply picked among her employers' mutual fund offerings.
At the debate, she retorted: "You are running an ad saying you want to go after the oil companies when, in fact, you have taken more than $55,000 from oil company PACs for your campaigns over the years. … I don't think this was the best question for you to ask."

WHOA ! Now, you may assume that a person who for less than three years was employed as a CPA and has an MBA from the University of Michigan (doesn’t the U of M have a MBA program?) would know that when you are an investor in a mutual fund, that the fund manager makes the decision about what companies to own based on the fund’s objectives and handles company proxy votes. Exxon-Mobil, which is ranked number 1 in the Fortune 500, is a widely held many mutual funds especially by indexed funds and a staple in 401k investment funds.

So how does Kennedy guard himself against influence peddling ?
I don’t know but maybe he got some insight from Senator John Thune during their joint campaign/State Fair appearance the previous Friday. Thune, who operates the Heartland Values PAC and has collected monies from Kevin Schieffer, Kurt Feaster, Steven O. Scharnweber, Daniel L Goodwin, Lynn A. Anderson, Clyde F Mittleider, Herb M. Jones, Mack A. Hailey, Michael E. Holley --- all of whom are affiliated with the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern family of railroad companies. Heartland Values has contributed the maximum amount to Kennedy’s Senatorial election campaign.

I have less a concern the potential influence of a mutual fund then I do about someone who collects monies from individuals who actively seeking approval of the largest governmental loan to a private company in history. Let us remember that Kennedy was the swing vote on that TransPORKtation bill.

Source :

DISCLAIMER : I personally own Exxon-Mobil stock directly, in my 401k plan, and in various mutual funds.