Saturday, October 31, 2009

GINO Pawlenty is New (Ulm) In Town

Like the movie character Lucy Hill who was seeking career advancement, Tim Pawlenty came to New Ulm to talk business. In the film, New In Town , Lucy Hill had never been to Minnesota before so she had a lot to learn … yet somehow Tim Pawlenty seems to want to ignore that he has been Governor of the state since January 6, 2003 and that things have not gone well on his watch.

GINO Pawlenty is how many Minnesotans think of him today … Governor In Name Only … ignoring Minnesota while traveling around the country, and planning trips to Sao Paulo, Brazil and Santiago, Chile in December after a trip to Mexico in November.

Pawlenty took the time to visit New Ulm as part of the Job Growth Summit tour. His visit, like his Apple Valley session, was Chamber of Commerce event. Somehow a visit to the New Ulm Country Club is not the same as a walking the factory floor but that’s what a GINO would do.

Unlike his out of state travels where Pawlenty’s audience is interested in his Presidential ambitions, these Minnesota events prompt questions about Minnesota problems.
The questions can lead to some rather enlightening answers.
In Apple Valley, Pawlenty addressed the increase in minimum wage by advocating “a credit to hospitality businesses where employees earn tips.” Minnesota does not have a tip credit … for those states that allow it, a reduced pay rate for tipped employees can be as low as $2.13 under federal law.
In New Ulm, he faced questions regarding agriculture regulations which he responded requesting “farmers to write down specific examples” … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he sounds like this is the first he is hearing of the problems.
Then there was the complaint from a construction company owner that "The highway department doesn't bid work, and there is no incentive to change" … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he should have address this issue a long time ago. At least since his MN-DOT awarded the I-35 Bridge to a foreign-owned company over Burnsville-based Ames Construction and C.S. McCrossan of Maple Grove, one would have thought he would be senstive to local construction business concerns.

Yet, he did take time to join in the complaining by proclaiming that “too many public employees get paid for doing nothing” … gosh, for somebody that has been Governor this long, he sounds like he is complaining about his own failings.

But the best was when Pawlenty fielded a complaint from a New Ulm dentist about Minnesota's health care provider tax. “Pawlenty said he adamantly opposed the tax but couldn't get it replaced.”
WOW … now that’s an answer.
First, Pawlenty failed to acknowledge how essential that program was to his unallotment process in balancing the state budget. The Dental Access Alliance protested in advance of his unallotment due to past cuts. As Dr. Lee Jess, president of the Minnesota Dental Association explained “The state has already cut funding for oral health care by $18 million, or about 20 percent of the state’s total dental spending, during this past legislative session. This is enough. Further cuts to the remaining adult dental benefits of the Critical Access Dental Provider Program will be devastating, and in fact increase state health care spending in the long run.” Pawlenty’s response was to cut “$6.2 million to the Critical Access Dental Provider Program, which funds clinics that treat low-income and rural patients, as well as those with special needs. These cuts may force some clinics to close and force patients to visit hospital emergency rooms for treatment of their oral pain rather than the more cost effective use of dental offices. Statewide, there are currently more than 20,000 emergency room visits for dental care each year.”
Second, it has been stated repeatedly that businesses do not pay the tax … the tax gets added on the bill and paid by the consumer. In this case, since I write my check to the dentist who asked the question, I am paying the tax.
Third, ironically I have praised this dentist’s staff for being one of the 2,500 volunteer dental professionals that participate in the annual Give Kids a Smile outreach effort provided 5,200 needy children with free dental care.
Fourth, it is surprising that the dentist stated that the “Minnesota's health care provider tax drives dentists to other states where there is no such tax”. It’s possible that could be correct, but how well compensated are dental professionals in our state ? According to May 2008 US Labor Bureau statistics, Minnesota ranked third highest in the nation … and easily surpassing our bordering states (Wisconsin being the most competitive with Minnesota dental professionals earning a 23% premium and Nebraska being the lowest at a 38% lower wage). So, Doctor please stop complaining about an insignificant 2% Health Care Provider tax (which I pay) and address why your payroll is so high !

This event is supposed to be a Job Growth Summit, but the New In Town movie is an example of Minnesota’s failed job opportunity … at one time, it seemed that Minnesota had a vibrant film industry and although the movie was fictionally set in the real city of New Ulm, it was filmed in Winnipeg Canada . And the future does not look good for this industry, as Governor Pawlenty used his line item veto to the Economic Development and Housing Budget bill cut funds.

For the viewers of the film that invested 97 minutes of their time probably got what they expected … nothing special … no life altering revelations … no deep thoughts … just an opportunity to take a mental break with a mindless romantic comedy set in Minnesota.

For the invited luncheon guests that invested an equivalent amount got something entirely different. What should have been heartfelt and frank business discussion of how to grow jobs seemed to be nothing more than a social event for Governor Pawlenty, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove (32-B), Senate Republican leader Dave Senjem (29), and Representative Paul Torkelson of St. James (21-B) to glad-hand with potential donors and supporters.

For the working people – either currently employed or seeking work – this was another show that makes one wonder why it was called a Job Growth Summit since they were not invited … it should have been called a Republican Self-Promotion Job-Preservation Political Summit.

When the cities were announced for the Jobs Tour (St. Cloud, Apple Valley, Red Wing, Sauk Centre, Minnetonka, Rochester, Blaine, New Ulm, Faribault, Shoreview, Bemidji, Eagan, Woodbury, Princeton, La Crescent, Monticello, Chisago City, Fergus Falls and Willmar), the list seemed to be slanted toward cities where Republicans have elected officials …. where’s Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Hibbing, Mankato, St. Paul and other cities that are experiencing high unemployment ?

Fortunately for Minnesota, other leaders are looking at jobs also. Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher has established a Jobs Task Force … what is different about this is that it is bi-partisan … and interesting that the members come from a more varied group of cities. The first meeting included State Economist Tom Stinson, State Demographer Tom Gillaspy, Art Rolnick from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and others, who described Minnesota's economic situation and the challenges in creating jobs, workforce development, worker retraining programs and how to help speed Minnesota’s economic recovery.

I won’t spoil the plot ending for anyone who has not seen the New In Town movie by telling you whether Lucy Hill was able to save the New Ulm small business … but
Pawlenty’s show is getting old to Minnesotans … he seems to be only interested in his next job and not taking the responsibilities of his current job seriously.

Monday, October 12, 2009

MN-03 : Guest Blogger Erik Paulsen Misses Free Trade Opportunity

Using old data, Representative Erik Paulsen becomes a guest blogger on The Heritage Foundation website to advocate for free trade agreements.
Why, he didn’t included a copy on his personal blog is for others to question (but my guess would be that your collection basket will grow when you preach to the choir.)

Reading his piece, there are three immediate observations.

First, he cites “a Peterson Institute study, the average American household is about $9,000 per year richer as a result of the country’s integration with the world economy since World War II."
Call me skeptical, but why does Paulsen go back to WWII as his starting point ? First, Representative Paulsen fails to mention that the report was written in 2004 … which begs the question, is that comment still current today. The report was criticized for its selective use of data … and if the time frame was from ”1982 to the present (a time that saw the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the passage of permanent normal trading relations with China) added only $9 per U.S. household, not $9,000.” Reading the study cited, speaks significantly about the impact of China … somewhat making the WWII reference point inappropriate when the focus should be on the future and not the past. Also, Paulsen fails to acknowledge other comments cited in the Peterson study related to job and/or wage losses : “Manufacturing workers dislocated in trade-impacted industries also experience average wage declines of about 13 percent in their new jobs, losses that may be offset only partially by the lower prices they pay for imports.”
Representative Paulsen should be embarrassed for using a report that misleads the reader.

Second, Representative Paulsen promotes the benefits of free trade on “countless businesses, small and large, ” mentioning ONLY one company in his district -- ”Bloomington-based Donaldson Incorporated, a leading manufacturer of air filtration systems and other industrial products.” No doubt that Donaldson is a great company … as testified by its global reach with 40 manufacturing facilities worldwide and an employee base in the 10,000 range …. hardly a small business. Paulsen fails to mention that one of business segments of Donaldson that was hit hard … “Sales decreased in the United States by 56.6 percent primarily as a result of a 50 percent decrease in Class 8 truck build rates and a 53 percent decrease in medium duty truck build rates by the Company's Customers over the prior year quarter.” … somehow the necessity to stabilize the automotive industry was not deemed appropriate to be acknowledged.

Third, Representative Paulsen calls for “Opening the South Korean market.” It’s not open ? --- Look around your house for items that are currently imported into America and no doubt you find some Korean built products. Year to date, South Korea has exported $25,747 million while American producers have sent $17,700 million to South Korea … repeatedly over time, America has been on the unfavorable side of the trade balance.

Summing it up, free trade is not necessarily fair trade.

All that stated, Representative Paulsen goal of generating jobs through foreign trade makes sense … but he has not identified a clear opportunity that would directly benefit Minnesota --- Cuba !

Opening export opportunities to Cuba is not a subject that Representative Paulsen should be unfamiliar. Prior to being elected to Congress, then State Representative Paulsen had the opportunity to vote on resolution in 2008 to that effect. The opportunity was stated that “under an ideal trade scenario, Minnesota farmers could enjoy at least $45 million in new exports annually; the state's total economic benefit would be nearly $92 million, including 900 new jobs.” These are opportunity dollars …. as “Minnesota is ideally positioned to benefit from the market opportunities that free trade with Cuba would provide, as trade restrictions succeed only in driving sales to competitors in other countries that have no such restrictions”.
When it came down to the vote, it was passed in the House by a vote of 86-9 … but State Representative Paulsen declined to state his opinion and abstained.
It must be noted that not only did Paulsen not want to confront this issue, but Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) vetoed despite having met with representatives of the Cuban government in Minnesota’s state capital and expressing to them that "he supported free trade and friendship with Cuba." …. Ah, that was before Presidential politics came in to Pawlenty’s mindset.

Today, the opportunity is more desperate for Minnesota’s agricultural industry. Minnesota Congressmen John Kline (R), Jim Oberstar(D), Collin Peterson (D) and Tim Walz (D) along with 60 other representatives have requested that the US Trade Representative to open export markets closed to US pork producers.

Additionally, Representative Paulsen has not joined 179 other co-sponsors of Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) to support HR 874. The legislation would lift travel restrictions to Cuba for all Americans, restoring our right as citizens of the United States to travel freely.

Representative Paulsen, if you want to create new jobs in Minnesota, start with supporting your fellow Congressmen’s efforts to open Cuba for American business opportunities. Cuba could be a rare opportunity for America to actually have a trade surplus with net job gains.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

MN-03 : Paulsen Joins Minority to Oppose Workers

Country First !
That was the message at the Republican National Convention held in Erik Paulsen’s back yard … yet, he seems to have rejected that idea.
The concept was simply expressed as putting the good of the Country ahead of personal ideology, state, or partisan interests.

No doubt that there many stark difference between the political parties and those differences are on display when roll call votes reflect party line votes.
But it’s the measure of “Country First” when a majority of both parties approve legislation.
But what stands out is when somebody stays in the minority to their party.
Increasingly, that is where voters will find Erik Paulsen.

Case in point … on Roll Call Vote 722 : Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2009 a majority of Republicans (104) voted in favor of the legislation while sitting in the minority was Erik Paulsen.
A year earlier, when similar legislation was being considered (Roll Call 683 :Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008) , Minnesota’s Third District was represented by someone else … Republican Jim Ramstad … who joined with 141 other Republicans to approve it.

Representative Paulsen is well aware of the national employment situation as he wrote on his 10/2/09 blog entry : “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report of an increase in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent – a 26-year high – is bad news for American workers and their families. The U.S. lost another 263,000 jobs in September and 5.4 million workers have now been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.

Looking at our state, about 120,300 Minnesotans lost jobs and went on unemployment from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 while an estimated 1,000 people currently exhaust unemployment benefits each week, said Dan McElroy, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). State figures show that for every job vacancy, there are 7.7 people looking for work.

Representative Paulsen knows the problem exists.
Representative Paulsen believes that jobs must be created.
Representative Paulsen misses the point that to create jobs, demand … customer demand must be there … but too many people are curtailing demands because they are working less hours, are in fear of losing their jobs, or do not have jobs. The simple fact is that businesses want customers ... and after they get customers, then they will rehire.
The need is now … people want to work … but if there is an oversupply of workers, does the Country want to encourage more foreclosures, more people scrimping on healthcare needs, and draining food shelves ?

When the question of extended unemployment benefits was being voted on in 2008, it was cited that “Extending unemployment benefits has the potential to help the entire American economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it is one of the most cost-effective and fast-acting ways to stimulate the economy because the money is spent quickly. For every $1 spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.64 in new economic demand.”
Denying extension of benefits actually hurts the country.
At that time, the complaint was about Republicans John Kline (MN-02) and Michelle Bachmann (MN-06)] and their failure to support this increase … now Erik Paulsen has joined the minority.
As pointed out in that commentary, the Federal Unemployment Tax Trust Fund is over-funded … these funds were saved for this rainy day. Business paid into the fund, so that if there would be a downturn, that their workers could get some money to pay for basic needs … and keep local businesses going.

In the past, Representative John Kline has said federal unemployment benefits are needed only when there are desperate economic conditions … well, Represenative Kline acknowledged on February 13, 2009 that “our nation facing economic distress” as evident by Le Sueur County unemployment rising to 10.1 percent. Yep, in case you were wondering, Representatives Kline and Bachmann voted again against this extension.

Why ?

Let’s look at what Country First is supposed to preclude : personal ideology, state, or partisan interests.

First, Representative Paulsen voices a personal ideology of government spending needs to be curtailed … okay, but these funds are coming from an overfunded FUT Trust Fund. Representative Paulson can fall on the old line that “such assistance threatens to stem the economic upturn” if businesses have to pay higher taxes, but since the monies are already in the FUT Trust Fund, that argument is invalid. Representative Paulsen’s opposition may please a segment of the Republican faithful, thus his opposition may be more to ensure that he does not have a primary challenger from within his party.
Representative Paulsen fails on this test putting his personal ideology (and self-interest) over Country First.

Second, it is true that “today”, only 22 states will benefit from this extension and Minnesota is not one. And that is why this is good legislation … there is a high threshold … helping only those states that really need it now … but the forecast is that Minnesota will soon be in that group. Also, when Federal benefits cease, there is an impact on state resources.
Representative Paulsen fails on this test putting his state over Country First.

Third, partisan interests does not apply as a majority of Republicans supported these extensions.
Representative Paulsen fails on this test.

In my view, Representative Paulsen is not putting Country First … much less his constituents and makes me appreciate more how great a Congressman Jim Ramstad was.

Monday, October 05, 2009

MN-02 : Why Isn’t Kline Condemning Increased Federal Role in Education ?

From MinnPost, Representative John Kline (R-MN) speaks about his new legislation : “The Teacher Incentive Fund puts states and local communities firmly in control of efforts to improve teacher quality. This is precisely the type of reform we should be embracing - models that allow parents, teachers, and local school leaders to work together to develop systems that meet each community’s unique needs.

Does it do that ?

My reading of HR 3683 doesn’t indicate that.
Parents are not mentioned in the legislation but the Secretary of Education is given the authority to distribute the funds as deemed worthy. There is a requirement for matching funds from “State, local, or philanthropic funds which should be sufficient to “sustain the activities at the end of the grant period”. Those eligible to apply for the grants include charter schools and depending upon the interpretation possibly religious-based schools … not necessarily the theoretical “troubled inner city school”. Funding is not required to be spent and may not exceed 3% of the budget.

IF Representative Kline really wanted to enact legislation, then where are the co-sponsors ? Where is the companion bill in the Senate. 96 members (82 Representatives and 14 Senators) have worked as educators, as a teacher, professor, and/or school administrator … but do the legislation’s prime authors, Representatives Kline and Tom Price M.D. (R-GA) have any real world experience teaching in elementary or secondary schools ?

Most surprising is that the legislation is being offered by two Representatives that warn of the “takeover by the federal government”.
The question should be coming straight from the Heritage Foundation playbook : Only the federal government can handle national defense, international relations, and the administration of federal laws. But why should politicians in Washington decide how education dollars are spent in Lakeville, Minnesota or Marietta, Georgia ?
Typically, the message from Conservatives is to shutdown the Department of Education and allow states flexibility and control over their own education programs, but this gives more authority to the federal government !

So why is Representative Kline offering a bill that gives greater authority to the federal government while creating an unfunded program that states would be stuck with the bill if the program ends ?
I don’t know, but I do know if a Democrat offered the same plan, Representative Kline would be the first to condemn it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

MN-01 GOP Blind to NICE

In The Republican Party of Minnesota's First Congressional District blog, Bruce Kaskubar warns about Eye Care in the UK.

I don’t know if Mr. Kaskubar is an ophthalmologist and I do not think that his intention was to scare us, but instead was to express concerns about healthcare legislation – specifically a “rationing board”.

Mr. Kaskubar cites an OpEd that was printed in the Wall Street Journal concerning the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) – the UK board that promotes "best practices" in medicine.

One might think that if it is printed in the WSJ, that it is current and factually correct, but be warned it can also be misleading and ill-informed.

Mr. Kaskubar accurately cites “In 2007, the board restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers."

OK, blindness is scary … but shouldn’t the question be asked : Why did NICE restrict use of these drugs?

On January 2, 2007, Genentech Inc., the manufacturer of Avastin™ (bevacizumab) and Lucentis™ (ranibizumab), informed ophthalmologists that the ongoing SAILOR clinical study revealed a higher incidence of stroke in the 0.5-mg Lucentis™ dose group. When Lucentis™ was initially approved for use, the warning label expressed concerns of the theoretical risk of thromboembolic events with intravitreal inhibitors of VEgf,3 a drug class that also includes Macugen™ and Avastin™.

Ah, that poses an interesting question --- is the risk of a stroke worth preserving the patient’s vision ?

There is also the question of cost. In the US, Lucentis™ runs close to $2,000 per monthly shot (and if the coverage is through Medicare, the co-pay is $400). By contrast, Avastin™ — a close biochemical cousin to Lucentis™ — is priced for use in far larger doses as a cancer treatment, so the tiny amount needed for injections into the eye costs only about $40 a shot. Genentech makes both medicines and has been under pressure for the pricing of Lucentis™ when Avastin™ is apparently effective in treating wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) … as it is in treating colon, lung and breast cancer.

Those two reasons would seem to be valid justification for NICE to restrict usage while it studies the drug.

In the US, the FDA is involved in the CATT Study which has the primary aim to evaluate the relative safety and efficacy of treatment of subfoveal AMD with both Avastin™ and Lucentis™, determine an appropriate dosing schedule and, to see if there is any clinical difference between the two drugs.
I wonder if the FDA had issued the same ruling as NICE did, would Mr. Kaskubar or the WSJ writer complain that the motivation was due to rationing ?

Incidentally, Mr. Kaskubar and the WSJ writer failed to update the status from NICE’s 2007 instructions. NICE in August 2008 issued a report authorizing the use of Lucentis™ with the UK government paying for the first 14 injections in each eye being treated. If people need more than 14 injections per eye, the manufacturer has agreed to provide the drug at no additional cost.

The obvious question is : What is the price of Lucentis™ in the US versus what it is in the UK ?

Now, I am not an ophthalmologist … and that’s the point … the concept of a second opinion is always beneficial … and NICE seems to be contributing to that goal.

Common folks, like me, rely on the medical community to know what to do … but that may be idyllic.

Governor Tim Pawlenty has complained about direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising resulting in increased number of patients asking physicians for treatments because they heard about it on TV or a friend told them about it. Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry pays physicians to give “educational” seminars on their products creating a potential conflict of interests. Eli Lilly was fined $1.4 billion dollars in January to settle a lawsuit by the federal government that it illegally promoted drugs while Pfizer paid $2.3 billion fine in September for the same activity. Recently, Schering-Plough offered a variety of psychiatrists around the country up to $1,600 a day and $170,000 total to talk about Saphris, a new psychiatric drug.
Clearly, costs are being impacted ... and that's where the issue should be --- not "rationing".

Let’s not be blind to misleading stories … it is a fact that “rationing” occurs today when insurance companies decide if they will cover a drug or procedure.

Let’s not promote fear.

Mr. Kaskubar is concerned about a “rationing board” but fails to acknowledge that the Obama Administration's proposal for a Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research does not have the same authority as NICE does.
IMO, that is a mistake.

Let’s enact reforms that promote “best practices”. Controlling costs and ensuring best practices can best be achieved when government is involved protecting consumers and patients.