Sunday, March 30, 2008

Most Powerful MN Republican in Congress ? Coleman – No; Kline – No; Bachmann – Maybe

Query : Who will be the most powerful Republican representing Minnesota when the next Congress convenes in January 2009 ?

To answer the question, it’s best to define what is meant by “powerful”. For the purpose of this question, “powerful” is defined by influencing legislation or attracting media attention.

Also, the answer assumes that the three currently serving Republicans will be re-elected; that Jim Ramstad will not seek re-election; and that any new Republicans elected will not be assigned as high ranking members of significant committees.

First, let’s look at the current rankings by Congress.Org : Senator Norm Coleman (#82 out of 100);
Jim Ramstad (#203 out of 435);
Michele Bachmann (#363)
and finally John Kline (#396).

One would think that the Senate would present the most opportunity for power but with the entrenched party seniority system, that has not helped Coleman. Currently, the Senate is technically evenly divided with 49 seats for the Democrats and Republicnas, but the Republicans must defend 23. In addition, five Republicans and no Democrats have announced that they are retiring. Coleman should move up four spots on the ranking based on those retirements ( Larry Craig is rated below Coleman having been disclipined for his “behavior issues”.) Coleman currently has two high profile committees. Coleman is assigned to the Committee on Foreign Relations where he is behind Dick Lugar (IN) while George Voinovich (OH) was elected in 1998 (versus Coleman in 2002). As many Minnesotans know, Coleman is on the Committee on Agriculture whose ranking Republican is Saxby Chambliss (GA) with five other Republicans ranked higher than Coleman’s seniority. Also, as most of us rural areas of Minnesota know, Coleman has been unsuccessful in getting his Republican counterparts to get the 2007 Farm Bill enacted. The latest is another temporary extension until April 18, 2008 of the Paul Wellstone negotiated bill.

Due the Senate’s filibuster rules, unless VOTE 60 is achieved, legislation will remain firmly entrenched in limbo mode.

The House is another story.
Here the number of members that started the session that will not be returning seems to be growing everyday. 22 Republicans have announced their retirements at the end of the session. Another 12 Republicans will not be returning next year for a variety of reasons (seeking a different office, etc.) In contrast, maybe seven House Democrats are not seeking re-election.
The Democrats currently hold a 233 to 198 advantage over the Republicans.

The smart money is that the Democrats will hold the advantage in January 2009.

The interesting question is, who will the Republicans assign to the major committees?

In my opinion, the two most powerful committees are the Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees.

The House Ways and Means Committee is charged with writing tax legislation and bills affecting Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs. Of the 24 Republican members on the Ways and Means Committee in 2006, only nine will return in 2009 — and that’s assuming every GOP panelist wins reelection this November. Jim Ramstad is Minnesota’s voice on the Committee.

The House Appropriations Committee is responsible for writing each of the 13 annual federal spending bills. Six of 29 Republicans are retiring and the ranking Republican, Jerry Lewis, is connected to a federal investigation. No Minnesota Republicans currently serve on the Committee.

John Kline is currently assigned to three committees, most significantly, the House Committee on Education and Labor where he is eleventh in the pecking order.

Michele Bachmann is currently assigned to only the House Committee on Financial Services.

Considering the number of openings on the Ways and Means Committee it would not be surprising for Congresswoman Bachmann to seek a seat. Considering her work on Minnesota’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights and being former federal tax attorney, she would be a logical candidate.
Logical, yet potentially disappointing if you desire any health care reform. While Jim Ramstad was a leading advocate for insurance reform, Bachmann has voted against SCHIP and Mental Health Parity.
Bachmann has become a media darling – making media appearances on Bill Bennett's Morning in America, the Laura Ingraham Show, the O’Reilly Factor, etc. She has also penned commentary on Townhall and initiated legislation such as the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act that appeal to a certain group of supporters that are likely to make contributions for her campaign committee. It’s a smart strategy that may return her for another term. Yet, the concern is not only for what may not happen with health care reform, but her ideas on tax policy.

The thought of “Powerful Congresswoman Michele Bachmann” just put shivers down my spine.

Voters in the Sixth and Second District have a choice, do you want Bachmann or Kline assigned to these committees to continue their efforts to neglect Health Care Reform and continue Tax Policies that grow the federal deficit ? This election is not only about who will represent your district but who will be assigned to these important committees.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

IF School Buses and Ambulances cannot use it, is the Bridge Safe ?

Another day, another bridge story.

By now most of us seen the headline that the Highway 23 bridge over the Mississippi River was closed last week.

The Twin Cities may get the media attention, but that doesn’t mean that there are not problems throughout the state.

Brown County, where New Ulm is the county seat, authorized an independent bridge inspection of the CSAH 8 bridge over the Minnesota River. The firm that inspected the bridge found several significant deficiencies that it felt require action or close monitoring. Recommendations included posting the bridge as a 5-ton weight limit, scheduling it for replacement if a bridge is needed and monitoring its condition at six-month intervals.
The county elected to put a 5-ton limitation on the road … which means that school buses and ambulances cannot travel on it. However, farm equipment will still be able to cross the bridge regardless of weight, thanks to a legal exemption.
So Mr. Farmer your kids’ bus will be re-routed but be carefully crossing it because if you need an ambulance, it may be awhile for it to get there.

Previously, CornerHouseComments wrote about the Rock River Bridge which was rated fourth worst bridge in the state! Nobles County engineer Stephen Schnieder said “Right now, there is no bridge money.The last bonding bill was in 2006, and the next one is in 2008 for bridges. If they don’t provide us with any money or not enough, we may end up waiting until 2010 or later to replace these two bridges.”

Adjacent to Brown County is Blue Earth County which is replacing a bridge that many are questioning. VoxVerax wrote about the Dodd Ford Bridge (which spans the Blue Earth River on Highway 147, west of Amboy. Highway 147 is a dead-end road between Highway 169 and Highway 40 — 1.9 miles in length) that Blue Earth County will replace a bridge that carries only about 35 cars a day --- cost to the taxpayers $1.6 million. Residents think it is unwise including Jerry Friesen of Faribault who wrote in an Op-Ed “County officials, it seems, don’t want to listen the concerns of people affected by this. I would hope that the taxpayers of Blue Earth County would question the commissioners spending tax money that could be used for more pressing needs …”

One of the Republicans voting to override the Governor’s veto of the Transportation Funding bill was Dennis Frederickson of New Ulm. Frederickson is a State Senator and he knew the DFL had more than enough votes for the override, but he voted for the needed investment in our infrastructure. That’s the type of leadership the state needs … at all levels (hint Blue Earth County Commissioners.)

As the candidates discuss their issues for the state legislature, solving our bridge and transportation needs should be at the top of their agenda. It will be interesting to hear Republican hopeful Ruthie (Ruth) Hendrycks assessment of CSAH 8 bridge since Brown County is in Minnesota House District 21B. Candidate Hendrycks seems to be a one-issue candidate and unless she thinks that closing bridges will impede the movement of illegal immigrants, she needs to inform voters her views on solving the infrastructure investment challenge.

It’s all about leadership.
Governor Tim Pawlenty is past his deadline to announce a new nominee for Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Minnesota needs a coordinated effort to ensure that bridge safety is beyond question and that a statewide priority of projects is used to ensure that some counties don’t suffer while other counties waste.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How much is that Prebate Check Worth ?

When mail from the IRS arrives in my mailbox, it gets my immediate attention. Yet when I opened the Economic Stimulus Payment Notice from the IRS, my first thought was “How much did this mailing cost????”. Well, according to IRS spokesman John Lipold notices are going out this month to an estimated 130 million households who filed returns for the 2006 tax year, at a cost $41.8 million.” So add $41.8 million onto $168 Billion that Bush has already approved.

Two thoughts.
First, at a Congressional hearing the IRS was questioned about scams yet, the IRS notice fails to warn consumers about that. The IRS response at the hearing was that Congressmen may want to include a warning in their mailings to their constituents.

Second, for a Congress member to issue that mailing it would be through the Franking Privilege. Karl Bremer penned an interesting article on how members of the Minnesota delegation use franked mail.

When Congressmen issue a mailing the cries arise from the opposition party that the incumbent is just trying to pander to the voters. Recently letters to the editors have appeared in Winona and Mankato newspapers chastising Congressman Tim Walz for a mailing that was sent discussing the Economic Stimulus Package. Not mentioned was that in 2005, then Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht sent out 174,770 pieces of franked mail.

One of the concerns with franked mail should be whether it is target marketing or necessary information for constituents.
During the past decade, Members of Congress have begun patronizing innovative mailing list vendors to ensure that the mailings are sent to the right people. I found it interesting in 2006, that since I have a rural route address, I received a mailing from then Congressman Gutknecht concerning his ethanol legislation while friends in urban centers received mailings on illegal immigration. True, both are voter education, but I felt like a target.

In the House, the franked mail postage allowance is based on the number of addresses in each Member's district. Each Representative's mail allowance is combined with allowances for office staff and official office expenses to form a Member's Representational Allowance (MRA). Members may spend any portion of their MRA on franked mail, subject to law and House regulations. Within the limits of their MRA, House Members are not restricted as to the total amount they may spend on mass mailings.

Managing the MRA should be a fair tool for how well the Congressman is committed to exercising fiscal restraint. Many offices use funds still unexpended near the end of the year to stock up on supplies, upgrade or pay off existing equipment, and give staff bonuses.

In 2007, the Member's Representational Allowance was roughly $1.34 million ranging from $1.07 to $1.78 million. Congressman Walz reported that he will return approximately $100,000 in unspent funds from his 2007 MRA to the U.S. Treasury.

Next time voters in the Second District hear John Kline complain about earmarks they need to remind him of his 509,784 pieces of franked mail that he sent out in 2005 and question why his MRA spending was in excess of 96% of the maximum budgetary amount. A true fiscal hawk would find ways to trim his own budget ... like Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) who did without $518,036 of his MRA. Leadership begins by example.

= = =
And a follow-up comment concerning the Economic Stimulus which I opposed as wasteful spending. More proof that it was unwise, as the Center on the Budget estimates that Minnesota could lose $151 million dollars depending upon how it handles the bonus business depreciation.

And remember this is a Prebate … in other words, this is monies that you will receive in 2008 based on the assumptions that you will earn that payment when you report your income taxes in April 2009. Worse yet, the funding is from borrowed money … borrowing that will have to be paid by future generations.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

NBL Walz –vs- OOS Bachmann on Freedom

As Congress is officially on the Spring District Work Period, it interesting to compare how two of Minnesota’s newest Representatives are spending their time.

First District Congressman Tim Walz is holding Veterans Forums in Mankato, Waseca, New Ulm, Rochester and Austin to acknowledge their efforts --- and their families – to protect our Freedoms.

Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann promoted her “Freedom" legislation – specifically H. R. 5616 at the Sherburne County Republican Convention.

This week’s Fifth Anniversary of the liberation of Iraq provided a great opportunity to discuss the implications to our military readiness and the impact to soldiers and their families. Walz continues to show his commitment to them.

How refreshing is it that the First District now has a Congressman that is accessible and promotes openness. Previously, Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht would hold closed meetings – for example, in December 2005, Gutknecht and Iowa Congressman Steve King held “immigration” forum in Worthington that was closed to the public. When the first wave of National Guardsmen returned from Iraq, Congressman Gutknecht held a private luncheon with some of the troops … afterwards he said that what was discussed was not for the public record. We may not know what was discussed, but Gutknecht eventually traveled to Iraq for a weekend visit in the war zone. He said a partial withdrawal of some American troops might be wise and that “All of the information we receive sometimes from the Pentagon and the State Department isn't always true."

The Iraq conflict has caused no sacrifice on the part of everyday Minnesotans. Walz is making sure that he hears from the Veterans who have acted on the Frontlines to protect our Freedoms.

Bachmann has a different concern with Freedom. She is concerned with the overreach of the federal government into our daily lives. She has introduced H. R. 5616 the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act.

Bachmann is responding to the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 which President Bush signed in December.

President Bush touts in a press release The Lighting Efficiency Mandate will phase out the use of incandescent light bulbs by 2014, and improve lighting efficiency by more than 70 percent by 2020 yet the Congresswoman feels this legislation was enacted in haste and in error.

That bill was properly debated and many consider that America was actually years behind in enacting this legislation.

The incandescent bulb is an energy hog. Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses goes to light the bulb; the other 95 percent is heat. Lowering demand for electricity from coal-fired power plants, which emit carbon dioxide, is the goal. CO2, most climate scientists say, is the single largest contributor to global warming.

In 2006, about 200 million compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs were sold in the U.S. One retailer, Wal-Mart, said it wants to sell 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) by 2008.

So voluntarily, many consumers are switching to CFL bulbs and manufacturers are increasing production.

In 2007, Australia said it would become the first country in the world to ban traditional, incandescent light bulbs. The European Union, representing 490 million citizens in 27 member states will be expected to switch to energy-efficient bulbs by 2009.

Bachmann does have a valid concern as about five milligrams of mercury are used in the typical CFL bulb. Mercury is toxic.
Well good news, Congresswoman Bachmann. XBULB offers a bulb that does not contain mercury.
That does not mean that people who have mercury-CFL bulbs can be reckless in disposal of those bulbs.

Yet, if safety was the concern, why isn't Congresswoman Bachmann requiring the elimination of CFL bulbs? Fluorescent bulbs have been used in homes, schools and industry for years. What is the real reason why Congresswoman Bachmann opposes this law ? The overreach of government ? The hoax of climate change ? A lobbyist's wish ?

Knowing that Congresswoman Bachmann is concerned about wasteful government spending, I hope that she re-evaluates her legislation before she requests a Congressional Budget Office analysis … we don’t need to waste any monies on her trite legislation.

At the start of their House careers, I penned Spotlight pointed at NBL Walz while OOS Bachmann spins . Re-reading that commentary today, I still see a Natural Born Leader in Congressman Walz and that Congresswoman Bachmann is still Out Of Step.

Monday, March 17, 2008

McCain Correct Forecast : GM adds 900 Jobs – Time to Support H.R.5602

Which member of the Minnesota Congressional delegation will connect these dots first ?

Story #1 : General Motors Corp. plans to increase the number of employees at its plant in Sao Caetano do Sul, Brazil to 1,500.

Story #2 : the Labor Department estimated that the nation had lost 63,000 jobs in February. It was the second consecutive monthly decline, and third straight drop for private-sector jobs.

Story #3 : Northrop Grumman and the European parent of Airbus were selected over Boeing in for a contract that could be worth as much as $100 billion over 30 or more years, as the Air Force seeks to acquire 400 tankers at a rate of about 15 a year.

Story #4 : An American contractor set up two Cayman Islands companies (Service Employers International Inc., and Overseas Administrative Services) "in order to allow us to reduce certain tax obligations of the company and its employees" while their American employees who were assigned jobs in Iraq. As a result, workers hired through the Cayman Island companies cannot receive unemployment assistance should they lose their jobs. While the use of the shell companies saves workers their half of their Social Security and Medicare taxes, it deprives them of future retirement benefits.

Story #5 : Staying on the subject of Iraq, the House Oversight Committee plans to investigate private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide who obtained $144 million in contracts set aside for small businesses and avoided paying as much as $50 million in withholding taxes.

Story #6 : President Bush issues his budget that will see spending cuts of $208 billion over the next five years in Entitlement programs (short for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). The cuts in these programs that primarily affect senior citizens are even larger than earlier estimates.

Story #7 : The 2007 study by the consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. found that 18 percent of the veterans were unemployed within one to three years of discharge, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year.

Connecting the dots is not hard.

Business is taking jobs overseas and uses whatever tax havens available to avoid paying taxes. The result is that government coffers are not being filled resulting in lower monies available for obligations that have been made.

Congress needs to address these issues before it gets worse.

The first step is to contact members of the Minnesota delegation and ask them to co-sponsor H.R.5602 which will amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and the Social Security Act to treat certain domestically controlled foreign persons performing services under contract with the United States Government as American employers for purposes of certain employment taxes and benefits. Although this is a bill originated in the House, Senators Coleman and Klobuchar should be encouraged to contact Senators Kerry and Obama who plan to offer a companion bill.

Second, Congress needs to do more than just hold hearings on the Boeing Tanker deal. It’s not only American jobs at stake, but also American prestige .. this story even made the Tehran Times. The House Armed Services Committee held hearings last week. Rick Larsen (D-WA) pointed out that the U.S. Trade Representative has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization charging the European Union with providing unfair subsidies to Airbus for commercial planes.
Congress needs to ensure that the contract is awarded on the “lowest evaluated cost” … which does not mean the lowest price. Boeing has said roughly 85 percent of its tanker components would be American-made and its bid would create or support 44,000 American jobs. That needs to be factored in the equation. American content is critical even if Boeing does not get the job … that is not an outlandish request. Heck, if an American company does business with the Government of Israel, the Government of Israel requires that Israeli businesses be given an opportunity to supply goods and services to the US company. Boeing may need to "sharpen their pencil" to eliminate any excessive costs, but with foreign governments providing health care services, Boeing is at a distinct disadvantage.

John McCain may have told Michigan voters that "Those jobs are gone and they're never coming back" in discussing the auto industry, but that does not mean that Congress should not support American industries and American jobs. I want my tax dollars to support American jobs.

There is no time like the present to start, so contact your Representative today.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

FISA Vote Proves Republicans Protecting the President -- NOT Us from Terrorists

According to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) "The No. 1 job of the American government is to protect her citizens."

In Bachmann’s Star-Tribune Op-Ed, she accused Speaker Pelosi of failing to move forward legislation. However, when given an opportunity to vote on H.R. 3773, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Bachmann voted NO thus she did what she was most concerned about -- she "shirked that most fundamental responsibility -- the safety of the American people."

By now all of us - including Congresswoman Bachmann - have seen the paid television advertisement “Midnight” by Defense of Democracies. As FactCheck delinated, the advertisement took great liberty with the facts … yet the concern is valid …. Why would any responsible Congresswoman not want to approve H.R. 3773 ?

By Bachmann and all the others who voting NO (that would be every member of the Republican delegation) are essentially agreeing that the current FISA legislation is adequate. It truly is not that FISA is lacking, but the desire to award amnesty to the telecoms and protect the Bush Administration.

In the Speaker’s address, Pelosi: FISA Bill Meets Our Responsibility to Protect America While Protecting Our Civil Liberties , she questions the opposition to this legislation : "Why would the Administration oppose a judicial determination of whether the companies already have immunity? There are at least three explanations:
"First, the President knows that it was the Administration's incompetence in failing to follow the procedures in the statute that prevented immunity from being conveyed -- that's one possibility. They simply didn't do it right. Second, the Administration's legal argument that the surveillance requests were lawfully authorized was wrong; or third, public reports that the surveillance activities undertaken by the companies went far beyond anything about which any Member of Congress was notified, as is required by the law.
"None of these alternatives is attractive, but they clearly demonstrate why the Administration's insistence that Congress provide retroactive immunity has never been about national security or about concerns for the companies; it has always been about protecting the Administration.”

Thus, the real question is Executive Power versus Congressional Power and Judicial Review.

The Republican opposition can best be surmised as blind loyalty to President Bush.

And that is the way it is in the Bush Administration.
Tow the line or you’re gone.
Just this week, CENTCOM Commander William Fallon's resignation (dismissed for hubris which amounted to insubordination).
He was not the first … President Bush’s economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, Chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster, eight United States attorneys, and the list goes on …

One may think that if you are in the Congress, you would be immune … not so.
The Party enforces discipline through campaign support and committee assignments.
Some members of Congress may not want President Bush to campaign with them, but they sure appreciate the fundraising that he generates.
And the telecoms have sway through lobbying.
Verizon, one of the telecoms who has a great deal of interest in this legislation, has lobbying expenditures of $13,733,000 in 2007.

When the carrot (campaign support) doesn’t work, then the stick is applied. The Club for Growth spent over $600,000 on television and radio advertisements attacking Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) who was defeated in a Republican primary by State Sen. Andrew Harris, who ran a campaign highlighting his conservative bona fides on fiscal and foreign policy issues.
So when the supporters of Defense of Democracies want to run their next set of commercials, what Republican Congresswoman would want to be attacked ?

What Bachmann and her cronies don’t understand is that Bush is on his way out … they need to ask the question, How much executive power do they wish to grant to the next administration ?

To paraphrase Congresswoman Bachmann, the Republicans in Congress are shirking that most fundamental responsibility – to the U.S. Constitution and its inherent Separation of Powers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tony Cornish Radio Spots Are Out of Tune with the District 24-B

By now most of know the news, yet the whining just continues.

Minnesotans will see their first state gas tax increase in 20 years as part of an ambitious $6.6 billion over 10 years for Minnesota roads, bridges and transit transportation solution. The basis is a 5.5 cent-a-gallon increase in gas tax by October 1st ; plus a gas tax debt surcharge phased in up to 3.5 cents would be established to repay the trunk highway bonds; and increase vehicle tab fees on newly registered vehicles. Additionally, it would authorize counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area to impose a 0.25 percent metropolitan transportation sales tax without referendum and a $20 excise tax on vehicles sold at retail. In the other 80 counties a tax of up to 0.5 percent could be raised by voter referendum and only for a specific project.

Overall, a broad approach for a long overdue necessity.

But the cries from those who opposed grow louder every day. And not just in grousing on Internet websites, but now over the radio. My State Representative, Tony Cornish, is now on the radio announcing "I was voting for my commuters this is a bad bill it really doesn't help us and I wanted a rewrite."

Yet despite his cries, Cornish is a co-sponsor of H. F. No. 2219 which would have raised the gas tax by a nickel. So, is the extra half-cent worthy of all the belly-aching?

Affecting the price of gas has not always been a problem. Previously, Cornish introduced (with potential Congressional candidate Randy Demmer) H. F. 216 which increased the minimum ethanol content from 10 percent to 20 percent. In fact, ethanol is so good for our state, that the legislature increased the subsidy rate last year. So taxes are bad, but subsidies are needed ?

Yet, has Cornish addressed the concerns of Counties that are being impacted by the desire to produce more ethonol ? Nicollet County Engineer Mike Wagner said that the alternative fuel boom in southern Minnesota creates a new set of transportation problems. Specifically, county and township roads aren't built to handle the heavy truck traffic going to and from ethanol and biodiesel plants.

Further, Lehman Brothers analysts are concerned about overproduction of ethanol but that the “transportation bottlenecks are a bigger problem."

It should be acknowledged that others do not agree with Cornish.
State Senator Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm) saw the need for this investment as did State Representative Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake). For anyone traveling out of Cornish’s district, they will quickly find themselves in Frederickson or Hamilton’s districts.
Even the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce disapproved of Cornish’s vote stating “Although not perfect, this transportation funding bill represented an important investment in the roads and transit systems that move Minnesota's goods and people. The bill included a 5 cent fuel tax increase; 3.5 cent fuel tax surcharge for bonding; 1/4 cent Twin Cities metro are only sales tax for transit; and, a transportation strategic management and operations task force to bring forward strategies that will improve efficiencies at MnDOT and the Met Council. All of these investments are important for building a maintaining a transportation infrastructure for today and beyond.

It’s time for Cornish to grow up and shut up. And believe it or not, Representative Cornish, there are residents in District 24-B that believe in safer roads and bridges and do not like the idea of the next generation paying through bonding.

These radio spots may be an early re-election campaign tactic, but this listener feels you are out of tune.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

John [Pork-Free] Kline Votes with Money on Mental Health Parity

Do campaign contributions affect how members of Congress vote on legislation ?

According to CongressDaily, NRF Employee Benefits Policy Counsel Vice President Neil Trautwein, who testified before John Kline’s Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions opposing the House bill, said active lobbying on the part of his group kept the 268-148 vote well below a veto-proof margin, which was a concern.

Do you think the following groups would support H.R. 1424 Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007 ?

• Aetna
• American Benefits Council
• Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
• ERISA Industry Committee
• National Association of Health Underwriters
• National Association of Manufacturers
• National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors
• National Business Group on Health
• National Restaurant Association
• Retail Industry Leaders Association
• Society for Human Rescource Management
• The National Retail Federation [NRF]
• U.S. Chamber of Commerce

These are the groups that voiced opposition to this legislation.

On the flip-side, other groups, such as American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Child Welfare League of America, Mental Health America, etc., were in favor of this legislation.

Dan Newman, of which looks at correlations between campaign contributions and legislation points out that "Simply put, candidates who take positions contrary to industry interests are unlikely to receive industry funds and thus have fewer resources for their election campaigns than those who vote in favor."

MAPLight reports that groups gave an average of $22,693 to legislators who voted No on this bill, compared to $14,183 to legislators who voted Yes. The disparity is 160% more money given to a No vote.

This begs the question: Are “Earmarks” more of a problem then the influence of lobbyists ?
As previously stated, there are No Earmarks in this legislation.
But the lobbyists influence is still there and without a Veto-proof majority, Kline’s NO VOTE is in sync with big money.
Kline and NRF's Neil Trautwein argued for the Senate version. As it was pointed out during the debate "one thing is clear, the bill is better for patients than the Senate bill, yet the cost is almost exactly the same.
Republican Senator Norm Coleman said that he considers the House bill to be the stronger version between the two chambers.”

Readers may want to monitor the Federal Elections Commission listing of John Kline contributors and MAPlight’s listing of top industries to see how the various interests attempt to influence legislative outcomes.

Kline maybe on a “Pork-free diet”, but he may serve his district better if he just said NO to special interests.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bachmann Offers Selective Analysis During Mental Health Debate

Minnesota’s Congressional delegation was front and center on March 5th during the debate concerning the PAUL WELLSTONE MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION EQUITY ACT OF 2007.

Speaking on behalf of the legislation was Jim Ramstad who participated in fourteen listening sessions around the country … and opposing it was Michele Bachmann who cited her life experiences as a "wife of a clinical therapist.” For the record, John Kline expressed his dissatisfaction by offering an amendment to scrap the entire bill. With two Republicans attacking their fellow Republican, Tim Walz spoke in support of Mr. Ramstad’s legislation.

To anyone who saw the event via CSPAN, it was evident that health care reform will not happen while Bachmann and Kline are in Congress.

Bachman argued that the bill would cost too much and Kline argued for the Senate version. As it was pointed out during the debate "scare tactics or offer red herrings to distract from the underlying issues, but one thing is clear, the bill is better for patients than the Senate bill, yet the cost is almost exactly the same.
Republican Senator Norm Coleman said that he considers the House bill to be the stronger version between the two chambers.”

Bachmann cited the CBO estimate "that the cost of these mandates in the private insurance market will total $3 billion annually by 2012.

As a point of reference, the financial cost for the activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the war on terrorism, another CBO reports If the Administration’s request for 2008 is funded in full, appropriations for those purposes will rise to $188 billion this year and to a cumulative total of $752 billion since 2001. (An additional $40 billion has been appropriated for diplomatic activities and foreign aid over that period.)”
Essentially, then the cost of less than one week would cover this legislation that would potentially be impose on the private sector.
And another sidenote, that was pointed out in the debate : "This bill will also help our servicemembers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as they transition to civilian life because national barriers to mental health care ripple out to everyone. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related conditions can take months, if not years, to develop after discharge. Many of these veterans will not have access to VA health facilities and will rely upon private health insurance to obtain treatment.

That aside, while Bachmann elected to site the $3 billion price, she did not put it in perspective of the impact to existing premiums. The CBO report also stated : "We estimate that the direct costs of the additional services that would be newly covered by insurance because of the mandate would equal about 0.4 percent of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums compared to having no mandate at all.
Since Bachmann stated that ”the average premium families' paid last year $12,106” then the potential would be $48.06 per year. In reality, we know that the cost of most employer-sponsored plans are actually borne by the consumer, the employee may not even pay that.

The CBO also states some potential offsets, such that the .4 percent may actually be closer to .2 percent.

Bachmann’s points were disputed by Jim Ramstad who cited a Wall Street Journal report :” If you don't believe the Wall Street Journal, certainly those on our side of the aisle, what do you believe? Cost businesses $70 billion, just depression, untreated depression alone.
Mr. Speaker, all the empirical data, including all the actuarial studies, show that equity for mental health and addiction treatment will save literally billions of dollars nationally. At the same time, it will not raise premiums more than two-tenths of 1 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That's our own CBO numbers. So, I don't know where these people are getting these numbers, these inflated cost figures. Pulling them out of thin air is the only thing I can surmise.
The CBO says it will not raise premiums more than two-tenths of 1percent. In other words, for the price of a cheap cup of coffee per month, several million Americans in health plans can receive treatment for chemical addiction and mental illness. And it's unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, that some opponents of this legislation have misrepresented the costs of enacting parity.

Jim Ramstad’s voice will be sorely missed in the next congress.

The first sixteen minutes of the Clinton-Obama debate at Cleveland State concerned health care. Akin to debating whether a cake should have cream cheese or butter cream frosting when you haven’t even acquired the cake ingredients, it is preposterous to debate the finite details of health care policy when House Republicans proved in the Mental Health legislation that they are unwilling to support anything.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Will Kline ultimately support Ramstad and Wellstone’s Legacy ?

To Jim Ramstad (R-MN-03) "It's not just a policy issue, it's a matter of life and death for a lot of people." Meanwhile, fellow Minnesota Republican John Kline (R-MN-02) describes Ramstad's legislation as "overreaching".

The legislation, H.R. 1424 - Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007, has 25 Republican co-sponsors and additionally the complete Democratic side of the Minnesota delegation -- Ellison, McCollum, Oberstar, Peterson, and Walz.

Now, it would be wrong to imply that this is good legislation because it has Paul Wellstone's name on it, or because Jim Ramstad is the primary Republican sponsor, but instead it should be based on Ramstad’s comment … "it's a matter of life and death for a lot of people."

Mental health is just as relevant (and potentially damaging) as physical ailments. Addiction comes in many forms and can impact not only the individual but family, friends and co-workers.

The House bill would establish a federal parity as a minimum and not pre-empt states that have stricter parity provisions in place (46 states currently have laws regulating mental health coverage.) Parity equalizes care between mental health and medical benefits which are important since many people are still left without sufficient mental health coverage. The legislation does not force mental-health insurance upon private carriers. Rather, insurers who offer any treatment for mental illness must use the same basic rules that they apply to the treatment of cancer or broken bones or other physical ailments. For example, a managed health-care company cannot impose a higher co-payment for a session with a clinical psychologist than it charges the same patient for a visit to the internist.
There are reasons to be disappointed with this bill … but more so because it does not go far enough. Small Business (less than 50 employees) are exempt … that makes no sense … if mental health is a problem, it needs to be addressed … should physical ailments also be discriminated based upon the ailment?

But overall, this legislation – like most legislation – is a compromise.
As usual, some will exaggerate what may be covered … would jet lag and caffeine addiction be covered? Those are just two of the reasons that some will use to vote down this legislation.

Much like the SCHIP debate, I suspect that the real concern is that some do not want to engage in health care coverage legislation for fears of where it may lead.

This legislation is needed. Anyone who has fought with an insurance company over benefit coverage will attest, or has seen the movie SICKO knows, having insurance is not the question … the question is what is covered by the insurance policy. Every day people ignore mental health and addiction problems because of fear … fear of admitting that there is a problem and fear that the treatment will not be covered.

Insurance companies denying coverage is wrong.

If you are in John Kline's or Michele Bachmann's districts, please call them to express your support for this legislation ... the vote may happen on Wednesday.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Jim Ramstad should be congratulated for his efforts.

FOOTNOTE : Since John Kline is on a "Pork-free diet", it should be noted that this legislation has NO EARMARKS.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

FISA Non-Alert :
IF FOX doesn’t Report,
How can I Decide ?

Confession time – ever since Defense of Democracies started running advertisements educating me that "the law that lets intelligence agencies intercept Al Qaeda communications expire[d]", I have barely left the inner confines of my bunker.

Patiently, I have waited … and then the words I needed to hear … My Friends At Fox were going to get answers.

From today's TV Guide, “Fox News Sunday” leads with the surveillance debate, with interviews with Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Good. I had to hear if Durbin had changed his tune from his previous statement (Sen. Durbin, Congressional Record, S.1035, 02/14/08) “The Law, As It Currently Exists, The FISA Law--Even If We Do Not Change It--Gives Ample Authority To This President To Continue To Monitor The Conversations Of Those Who Endanger The United States.” And Feinstein is a key player since she authored the amendment that states FISA is the exclusive means for conducting electronic surveillance (it failed but is a sticking point and may be revamped in the House bill.)

I tuned in and listened intently to hear FOX defend our liberties and attack these liberal Democrats … but alas, it was just mindless babble about next November’s election … not only from Durbin and Feinstein … but also from Karl Rove.
IF Karl Rove doesn’t feel the threat, what is an ordinary citizen to conclude ?

Was this just an exploitive commercial to attack First District Congressman Tim Walz ?

From Bluestem Prairie, “House Republican attempts to gain political traction against Democrats on the delayed overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act aren't having the impact GOP operatives had hoped for.

OK … so maybe it was just “political theater” … but the claims must be basically true?
Well, reviewed the ad and objected stating “false claims and twisted facts in support of this or any other legislation.

So what’s the real reason?
First off, the Senate bill was passed without a majority of Democrats (19 in favor versus 29 opposed, so not exactly overwhelming bi-partisan support.)
Second, it was passed without leaving any time for the House to study it. The House Democrats lead by Michael Arcuri of New York wanted to pass a 21-day extension of the existing legislation. John Kline (R-MN-02) spoke out
We should be doing nothing short of providing our intelligence officials with every tool necessary to always stay a step ahead of these radical extremists.
In the end, instead of insuring that the existing “tools” were continued for an additional 21 days, the Republicans voted that down. Arcuri is under attack by the Defense of Democracies Smear Machine.
Too bad .... if the Republicans could have voted this extension, America could still be intercepting ”Al Qaeda communications”.

The dispute is not really about ”Al Qaeda communications”, it’s about amnesty for the telecoms.

Did the Bush Administration do something illegal ?
The Washington Post reported ”disclosures in the lawsuits could clarify the scope of the government's surveillance and establish whether, as the plaintiffs allege, it involved the massive interception of purely domestic communications with the help of the nation's largest providers …”

On February 28th, Durbin said ”I have seen the documentation presented to us in closed session. All I can say about it is, it was extremely limited. There was no legal brief given to the telephone companies saying, this is the authority of the President. It was a very scant document with very little information in it. But this program went on way beyond 2001, 2002. It went on for years. And for years the telephone companies were surrendering this private information about their customers and access to their customers' conversations in a questionable situation under the law.”

That’s the crux of the matter. Amnesty for telecoms.

This week, the House will probably split the Senate bill in to two halves … including one that concerns amnesty for the telecoms … at that time, we will see how John Kline and Tim Walz truly feel.