Sunday, March 18, 2007

Norm Coleman still needs to be concerned with Political Sensitivity

Just over a year ago -- March 14th to be precise -- Norm Coleman gave President Bush a little push.

As GOPWingman reported in his blog :

Saying the White House has been afflicted by a political "tin ear," Sen. Norm Coleman on Tuesday called on President Bush to bring in a new team.
"I have some concerns about the team that's around the president," said Coleman, a Minnesota Republican with close ties to Bush. "I think you need to take a look at it."
“All of a sudden we’re hearing the phrase ‘tin ear,’” Coleman said in a telephone interview. “That’s a phrase you shouldn’t hear. The fact that you’re hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear-to-the-ground that you need in the White House, isn’t there at the level that it needs to be.”
Coleman declined to specify which staff members should be replaced, or what new people should be brought in. He said he hadn’t talked to Bush or anyone at the White House about his concerns. “Ultimately the president has to make a decision about his team,” Coleman said. “And the president knows what he needs. I think it’s obvious to those on the Hill - and it’s got to be obvious to those at the White House - that we’re skipping too many beats nowadays. We’re not operating at the highest level of political sensitivity that you need.”

Emphasis added.

Since Coleman did not specify who he was referring, the conjecture could be that he was referring to someone who is now gone or the individual(s) could still be there.
Scott McClellan (announced resignation 4/20/06), Andy Card (announced resignation 4/28/06), and Don Rumsfeld (announced resignation 11/8/06) are gone, but Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Condi Rice and many others are still there.

It’s time that Coleman re-evaluates the situation of March, 2006 versus today, and asks if the changes that have occurred have made improvements and if further changes are needed.

First let’s acknowledge that Bob Gates has been a breath of fresh air.
He was the guest on today’s Face the Nation. While he is staunchly implementing Bush’s Iraq policy, yet he seems to be concerned with military readiness as he cited concerns about Afghanistan, Iran and Korea. Further, his response to the Walter Reed situation and sending handwritten notes to families of the fallen soldiers is a far cry from the Rumsfeld era. Gates is also reviewing the intelligence gathering mission of the military.

So, Gates proves that change can be good.
But Bush is still being plagued by “ political sensitivity” from his leadership team and the root of the problem is Rove. From Plame-Gate to the Gonzales-Eight, Rove has been at the instrumental in furthering problems and not resolving them. Rove did see a demotion of sorts when McClellan was replaced as reported by USAToday Rove remains a deputy chief of staff, but sheds his policy development role to focus on strategic and tactical planning, including the November congressional elections, the White House said.
We know how those November elections turned out and the other major issues such as Social Security reform and simplifying the tax code do not appear to be any closer today than they did in November 2004.
If Rove’s “expertise” is campaign strategy, why does he need to be in the White House today? Don’t worry about Rove finding a job once he resigns … I’m sure that fellow-Texan Bob Perry of Swift Boat fame would find a job for him in Mitt Romney’s campaign.
But then again, if Romney is smart he’ll be mindful of Ron Suskind story of what other Republican operatives think of Rove : “Where’s Karl? we’d wonder. The line was always ‘Oh, he’s out ruining careers.’ "

Some may think that Gonzales should resign … I would not object … but the question should be: did Gonzales initiate the Firing Fiasco or was he just the “unwitting bystander” from Rove’s action plan to create an everlasting Republican majority?

Discussing the US Attorney dismissals, Coleman has commented that he was "deeply concerned about how this whole process has been handled."
If he wants Minnesotans to support him in the next election, he needs to be more than just “concerned”.
He also needs to understand that his election will be for six years … long after Bush, Rove, Gonzales, etc are gone.

Cut your losses now, Norm … speak up now as there is still 21 months left in your (and Bush’s) terms to address the issues that need action.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why is John Kline pushing Gutknecht’s agenda ?

The November elections should have sent a message to John Kline, but apparently he does not realize why so many voters turned away from his party’s message. No, I am not talking about Iraq, but instead fiscal discipline.

The Republican Study Group, whose members advocated a fiscal and social conservative agenda and included John Kline as a member, has seen their membership dwindle. What do Chocola (IN), Beuprez(CO), Northrup(KY), Pombo(CA), Hayworth(AZ), Hostettler(IN), Sodrel(IN), Ryan(KS), Taylor(NC) and of course, our own Gil Gutknecht have in common … all defeated Congressmen who were members of the RSG. And on the Senate side, when Mark Kennedy, Rick Santorum(PA), Mike DeWine(OH) and Conrad Burns(WY) were in the House, they also were members of the RSG. These people were not rookies, but candidates that had principally ran campaigns that promised fiscal discipline.

The Republican Party advertised itself as advocating smaller government and market-based responses -- not mandates. The voters see the rising deficit, earmark spending and corruption and realized that accountability belonged to those that promised to address our fiscal future.

Now, Kline has introduced HR 349 [Title: To amend the Clean Air Act to require all gasoline sold for use in motor vehicles to contain 10 percent renewable fuel in the year 2010 and thereafter, and for other purposes.]
To those of us in the First District, we’ve heard of this legislation before … essentially it is the same as H.R.4357 which Gil Gutknecht talked about ad nausea over the past two years. Gutknecht’s bill had 44 co-sponsors (plenty of those Representatives are now longer in Congress) and was issued during a Republican controlled Congress. Kline’s bill has seven cosponsors and will need plenty of support from the Democrats if it has any chance of being turned into law.

So the first question is, is this legislation necessary ? Or, are market-based actions not working such that mandates are required ?

US News and World Reports did a Special Report “Overselling Ethanol” in their February 12 edition.
Consider the following statements from that report.

Even though the ethanol industry profited handsomely last year, it continued to benefit from billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
… in 2005, when, with gasoline prices ratcheting higher, Congress wrote into its big energy bill a renewable fuel standard, an unprecedented mandate requiring refiners to double the amount of ethanol they blend into the nation's gasoline by 2012.
… ethanol tax breaks—now at 51 cents per gallon—the government sent $2.5 billion last year to the flush oil industry to blend ethanol it would have needed anyway.
Nearly half of the gasoline being sold in the United States now contains 10 percent ethanol. But that leaves half the market open to conquest. Some 76 ethanol refineries are now under construction, including in such unlikely states as New York and Oregon, adding to the 112 already squeezing fuel from corn. By some counts, 200 more have been proposed.
… growth in ethanol gobbled up 20 percent of the U.S. corn crop. That surpasses all the corn Americans consumed last year—whether in cereal, corn-syrup-sweetened soda, or on the cob. And the strain has become severe on the nation's primary use of corn—as feed for dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens. Meat, dairy, and egg producers are reeling from corn prices that have doubled in one year—now trading above $4 a bushel for the first time in more than a decade.
Because of its lower energy content, it takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to drive as far as 1 gallon of gasoline. Consumer Reports calculates E-85 ended up costing motorists about a dollar extra per gallon last year because of the need to buy more fuel.

So, in summary, Congress has already mandated a 2012 date, half the goal has already been met, and the industry is building refineries in response to market needs. In the end, consumers may pay more for other corn-based products and yet not realize a reduction in fuel consumed.
For the fiscal conservatives, this appears to be another tax break -- that at one time was a necessary inducement to start the industry -- but now is costing the taxpayers.

So now to the second question, why would Kline offer this legislation? If you read his press release that announced the legislation, there is a picture of Kline with representatives of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
Ah, huh … so is it all about campaign donations?
The US News and World Reports also states : “The Renewable Fuels Association have increased its lobbying spending 60 percent in the past seven years. The 10 largest ethanol producers and their trade groups have handed out $4.7 million in federal campaign contributions since 2000, says the Center for Responsive Politics.

Com’n Kline … stand up for responsible government spending that does not require mandates to reward your political cronies with tax breaks.

The US News and World Reports concludes with an assessment from Lee Lynd, Dartmouth College engineering professor and cellulosic pioneer. “Ethanol would make its greatest dent if Americans drove less and highly efficient cars were deployed widely.

Improving CAFÉ standards and advancing fuel cell technology would do more to address our energy needs than hyping ethanol production.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Is Norm Coleman going Gutknecht or Wellstone on the Health Care Issue ?

I am an independent voter with no allegiance to any political party. I vote on the issues and the number one issue to me is Health Care. So when Norm Coleman issued a number of press releases in February announcing new proposals that he touts as a “comprehensive rural health legislative agenda”, I am naturally interested.

Coleman states “The quality of your healthcare should not be a reflection your zipcode, and my rural healthcare agenda seeks to efficiently enhance the quality, affordability, and accessibility of healthcare in rural Minnesota.”

His comment sounds more like a campaign speech then an actionable comprehensive solution to the health care problem. His attention to this issue admirable, yet somehow I sense that these are the issues that Paul Wellstone would have been pushing harder and longer than in the year prior to re-election. I thought that based on Coleman complaints about Wellstone's performance, that Coleman would have been pushing these legislative ideas earlier. Coleman said "People should be angry and they should be angry that nothing's been done. The senator's been on the health committee for 12 years and you know I think people are tired of pointing fingers and saying we didn't get it done because of this and because of this."
Well, it's only been four years, but Norm, why has it taken so long for you address this issue ? ? ? Remember, that for the first four years of your term, the Republican Party had both chambers of Congress and the Presidency.

Hence, I ask the question is Coleman, “Gutkencht-ing” the issue ? What is “Gutkencht-ing”?
Simple stated it is when a politician realizes that there is an issue that will appeal to his constituents and that he can talk endlessly, while realizing that the full Congress will not adopt it. I coined the term based former Congressman Gil Gutknecht’s 10/10 Ethanol plan (10 % ethanol by 2010). Gutknecht pandered to rural voters about his proposal, yet failed to get even get a hearing in Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. At every farm event, Gutknecht talked ad nauseam about the 10/10 plan while he should have been working his colleagues for legislative action. The 10/10 plan was an attempt to address America’s oil dependence problem, but it was ten years late and by itself would not solve the problem.

Reading the press release, Coleman is offering baby steps that address a portion of the health care problem. In some ways, it mirrors a standard mission statement from an insurance company :
Improve access,
Simplify the health care experience;
Promote quality;
and Make health care more affordable.
The cynic in me makes me wonder how much these proposals were created in concert with some of his political contributors, such as UnitedHealth Group which is the number 2 contributor to his campaign fund.

Health care is an important issue that affects every voter … heck, America spends more on health care than food. But the debate is being controlled by the insurance companies and pharmaceutical/medical device companies, with input from the medical community. The access and influence that those industry lobbyists have on legislation clearly impact politicians (and hence the government) in undertaking action, or inaction.

Last month, McKinsey and Company issued a report on the cost of Health Care in the United States. The analysis attributed some of the cost problems in that we spend $98 billion a year in excess administrative costs ( such as marketing – think of those commercials for Restless Leg Syndrome.) Further, McKinsey estimates excess drug costs to be $66 billion a year. Interestingly, the report estimates the cost of providing full medical care to all of America’s uninsured at $77 billion a year. Thus, if the Healthcare Industry could be squeezed of waste and excess spending, the uninsured problem could be solved. Resolving this issue is critical to all of us, as even Wal-Mart is forming a coalition dubbed "Better Health Care Together," pledged to convene a national summit by the end of May to recruit other leaders from business, labor, government and non-profits with the objective of providing universal health-care coverage for "every person in America.”

Since Coleman is the Ranking Republican on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations it would seem logical that he would want to review the claims reported by the McKinsey report.

So, while I applaud Coleman addressing the subject, it is with some skeptism. The most intrigueing legislation is to increase the nursing workforce. There is a simple supply-demand solution to this … provide free education to every person that passes a qualifying enterance exam … if our tax dollars can provide K-12 education, why not provide additional training for selected and needed occupations? On the other hand, his proposal for a hospital in Cass County is an example of earmark spending that if it was for any other state other than his home state would be riducled by fiscal conservatives.

Where will Coleman get the money for funding his legislation? How about CEO compensation … for example former UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire received a total compensation of $124.8 million last year. This outlandish amount is enough to fund many Rural Hospitals. Note : McGuire may seem to be a unique example, but consider others in the industry Wellpoint’s CEO Larry Glassrock received $25 million, Aetna’s CEO John Rowe received $22.2 million and Cigna’s CEO Edward Hanway received $13.3 million.

If Coleman is to be successful in taking this from a campaign speech to enacted legislation, we should see co-sponsors signing on and hearings being held. By this summer, if there is no action, then we’ll know it was a hallow effort.

As I recall in his 2002 campaign, a focal point was his little daughter telling us that when he promises Diary Queen, he keeps his promises. Well, Norm were waiting.


S.628 : A bill to provide grants for rural health information technology development activities.
S.629 : A bill to amend the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to provide direct and guaranteed loans, loan guarantees, and grants to complete the construction and rehabilitation of rural critical access hospitals.
S.630 : A bill to amend part C of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for a minimum payment rate by Medicare Advantage organizations for services furnished by a critical access hospital and a rural health clinic under the Medicare program.
S.631 : A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for coverage of remote patient management services for chronic health care conditions under the Medicare Program.
S.632 : A bill to provide for a hospital in Cass County, Minnesota.
S.633 : A bill to provide assistance to rural schools, hospitals, and communities for the conduct of collaborative efforts to secure a progressive and innovative system to improve access to mental health care for youth, seniors and families.
S.646 : A bill to increase the nursing workforce.
S.716 : A bill to establish a Consortium on the Impact of Technology in Aging Health Services.