Sunday, November 19, 2006


Gil Gutknecht, who voted against the Prescription Drug plan known as Medicare Part-D, has endorsed legislation to alter that law to allow the government to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. The Republican leadership would not allow this legislation to be voted upon and this became a rallying cry for the Democrats in November’s election. No doubt, this will be addressed early when the next Congress convenes in January.
But, for many Americans there are changes coming that cannot wait until January.

Last year, the federal government randomly assigned 6 million people, who had received their medicine through the Medicaid program for low-income families. Now, the government is telling an estimated 1 million low-income seniors that they will be randomly assigned - again - to a new plan next year because their current plan was canceled or raised its price. At the same time, some enrollees also are receiving letters from their current plans telling them they can stay. These letters don't mention they will have to pay for the privilege, even though they qualify for a waiver of the premium and other fees. If low-income drug plan members disregard the wrong letter, they could end up paying a bill they didn't expect.

Confusion seemed to be the norm when the program started. Pharmacists often couldn't confirm coverage with the government's computers. Many seniors wound up in plans that didn't cover their drugs, were enrolled in two plans or were overcharged.

We don’t need this happening again.

Gutknecht has a chance to step up and lead on legislation to delay the government from implementing these changes until the next Congress can thoroughly review this poorly managed and excessively costly program.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Rumsfeld crisis : Mutiny or Wasted Words ?

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been a hot topic during this election season punctuated by calls from Republican candidates and officeholders to resign (Hagel, Shays, Kean) joining those who have previously expressed a voice of no confidence by Senators McCain, Snow, Lott and Minnesota’s own Norm Coleman.
Retired generals have spoken out before but on Monday, an editorial appeared in four military newspapers calling for Rumsfeld to be replaced. The editorial rehashes a number of mistakes and questions whether he still has the allegiance of the military establishment.

From the editorial

Now, the president says he’ll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.
This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.
Obviously there is a question of confidence in leadership, but as a fiscal conservative, I am as concerned about the Bush/Rumsfeld handling of the funding for the war on terror.

The wars have contributed to the rising deficit. And how the war spending is authorized has created a situation of irresponsible budgeting whereby the wars have been paid for through emergency spending bills and “bridge funds” that amount to about $450 billion so far. Congress recognized that we are masking the problems of the future by not including provisions for war funding in the budget process. An amendment requiring war funding to be included in the regular defense budget, introduced by Sen. John McCain, was approved 99 to 0 by the Senate in July. It was accepted by the House in September. In a “signing statement” released when Bush signed the 2007 Defense Authorization Act on Oct. 17, the President listed two dozen provisions in the act that he indicated he may or may not abide by. Among the provisions is Section 1008 of the Authorization Act, which requires the President to submit defense budgets for 2008 and beyond that include funding for the wars.

Centcom’s commander, Gen. John Abizaid, likes to refer to it as the “long war,” where “long,” means generational, with no end in sight … so why isn’t it being included in the budget ?

At a press conference during the last week of October, Rumsfeld was asked about funding shortfalls and his response was to wave it off as insignificant since they would rely on supplemental spending bills … obviously rejecting the efforts by Congress to include some degree of fiscal responsibility for the Department of Defense.

Q I've got a quick question on the Army budget. Last week, Gordon England came out with his three-page fiscal guidance to the Army, giving them $120.6 billion in '08 instead of the $138 billion that you and General Schoomaker have pressed OMB on.

Question one, why did you not get the larger figure? And two, how are you going to make up this rather large shortfall where the Army --

[snip to his answer]
SEC. RUMSFELD: You see, the trouble with chasing that number until you look at the totality of it is that in the environment we're in, we have to give guidance, so the work has to be done, and then the services do the work. And then they start putting all that together, and simultaneously there is a -- the issue of a supplemental. And it is very difficult to know what ought to go in the budget and what ought to go in the supplemental.

The question is will it make any difference if Rumsfeld resigns, as the Bush’s management of the will not change ?
Past experiences (i.e. replacing the CIA Director, Chief of Staff, Press Secretary, etc). seem to be more akin to changing chairs on the Titanic than addressing the problems of accountability – both of the operation of the war and its fiscal management.
When the 109th Congress returns next week, it needs to address the Bush Administration's financial management of this war.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Remember Father Tim when you vote

I have previously written about a priest from Minnesota who was injured in Iraq; initially when CBS ran a story and subsequently when Congress was considering cutting funding for veteran’s treatment.
The Star-Tribune has an update on Father Tim.

Just three weeks ago, one of his doctors said she thought he'd never speak again. The hospital was preparing to cut off his speech therapy because they had seen no progress.
And then he spoke.
On Oct. 26, Phyllis Vakoc of Plymouth got a phone call from her son's hospital room.
"Hi, Mom," he said, and she froze. It had been two and a half years since her son had suffered a devastating head injury in Iraq. Two and a half years since he had spoken. "I thought I was hearing things," she said last week. "I thought I'd never hear that voice again."
The Rev. H. Timothy Vakoc, a Catholic priest, was so seriously wounded that doctors at first thought he wouldn't survive. But in recent days, he has started to speak, to the astonished delight of family, friends and caretakers.

Here's the rest of the story :

Treatment and care of our soldiers is the nation's duty. Funding is a battle. According to the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army, 64 percent of soldiers recently wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom have sustained "blast injury," which is the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries for active duty military personnel in war zones.

As we go to the polls on Tuesday, the Disabled American Veterans have issued their ratings on Congressmen in our area :
20 % - Gil Gutknecht
0 % - John Kline
20 % - Mark Kennedy
And for reference, although they are not on the ballot Tuesday, Norm Coleman received a 50 % rating and Mark Dayton a 92 %.
Also, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) issued the following ratings :
C+ Gil Gutknecht
C John Kline
C+ Mark Kennedy
D Norm Coleman
A- Mark Dayton

I know that Gil Gutknecht is proud of his 2001 Charles Dick Award of Merit from the National Guard, but that was five years ago. The soldiers, and their families, need help today and tomorrow. Let's elect leaders that will not go wobbly when it's truly time to support the troops and their families.

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