Saturday, August 29, 2009

Brokedown Senate

Earlier today I mentioned that the "hyper-partisan Senate" was basically broken. But as BooMan reminds me, it's not the Senate that is broken, but the Republican Party.
Take a look at the elected officials in the GOP. There are no black Republican members of Congress. With the retirement of Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, there are no Latino Republicans in the Senate. The only Latino Republicans in Congress are the three Cuban-American representatives from the Miami area. There are no Mexican Republicans or Puerto Rican Republicans. Now that Arlen Specter has switched parties, the only Jewish Republican in Congress is Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. I can't think of any Republicans of East Asian ancestry other than freshman Rep. Joseph Cao of New Orleans. There are no openly gay Republicans in Congress. And consider this:

In the House there are 75 female Representatives. The Senate has 17 females. These are the highest numbers of women Members in the history of the Congress.

Of the 17 female Senators, 13 are Democrats and 4 are Republicans. Of the 75 female Representatives, 58 are Democrats and 17 are Republicans.

The demographics of the country and the degree of female participation in politics have changed dramatically since 1962 when Ted Kennedy was first elected to the Senate. So, too, has that tolerance for gays and the rights of racial and religious minorities. But it seems like the Democratic Party has absorbed all of that change, while the Republican Party has been trapped in amber. The two Muslims in Congress are Democrats. The two Buddhists in Congress are Democrats. The three Unitarians in Congress are Democrats. The only averred atheist in Congress is a Democrat.

The Republican Party is hostile to non-white immigration. It considers religious tolerance to be an infringement on the free exercise of Christianity. It opposes gay rights and hate crimes legislation. And it holds anachronistically paternalistic views of human sexuality and reproductive rights. Overtly racist comments are made by Republican leaders (usually unelected leaders) on a regular basis. And, finally, the party has an uneasy relationship with science since much of its base rejects basic scientific theories like of evolution, plate tectonics, and climate change.

All of this has resulted in a deeply divided political culture that is rife with the types of disagreements that cannot be resolved by debate and compromise.
And that's really the bottom line. The GOP has become the last bastion of reactionary, antiquated, 20th Century demographics. They hate and fear change, and America is changing rapidly.

Republicans are wholly unprepared to handle it.

The Lion's Funeral

President Obama delivered Ted Kennedy's eulogy today, and Presidents, family and others paid their respects in Boston, including his son Ted Jr.
President Obama hailed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy as "a champion for those who had none; the soul of the Democratic Party; and the lion of the U.S. Senate," at Kennedy's funeral Saturday.

Kennedy "never stopped trying to right wrongs," his son Ted Jr. declared at the towering Washington figure's funeral Mass Saturday at Boston's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica -- Boston's famed "Mission Church."

"My father was not perfect, but he believed in redemption," he said.

"Although it hasn't been easy at times to live with this name, I have never been more proud of it than I am today," Ted Jr. said.

He said his father had made light of his failure to become president, despite the weight of expectations on him as a Kennedy.

"I don't mind not being president, I just mind that someone else is," he quoted his father as saying, closing his eulogy with a line from Kennedy's famous 1980 concession speech that ended his presidential ambitions: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream will never die."

The Senate will miss Kennedy. Despite however you felt about the man personally, he was greatly respected and had over four decades of legislative service to the country. Lawmakers like Kennedy are in rather short supply on both sides of the aisle.

Today's hyper-partisan, win at all costs Senate is a much more grim and unyielding place, and it will only get worse. Notably absent from the funeral was Poppy Bush, who let his son represent the Bush family at the proceedings.

That's classy for you.

Another View On Health Care

ZandarDad flagged me an editorial on health care reform this morning from the Editorial Board of the Cincinnati Enquirer and asked me to take a look at it.
President Barack Obama should call a time-out on health care reform, go back to the drawing board, and actually listen to what all Americans are saying instead of dismissing those who object as simply uninformed stooges. Polls show that Americans increasingly agree with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who argues for a more incremental approach and says it's "a real mistake to try to jam through" the proposed Democratic overhaul.

Even some of Obama's supporters seem unsettled by the botched message and bumbled strategy on health care reform. They wonder why he ceded the job of crafting a plan to the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her left-leaning allies who have yearned for a government-run, universal single-payer plan - an overhaul far more radical than Americans were ready to accept.

Obviously, there's little reason to believe that the end product will turn out to be bipartisan in any meaningful sense.

Merely re-labeling it to make it more palatable won't help: It's Health Care Reform. No, it's Health Insurance Reform. No, it's Entitlement Reform. No, it's Hospital Gowns with Open Backs Reform.

So here's our message for Congress:

Tear it up, folks.

Just tear it up and start over.

It is somewhat of a tempting prospect. Obama really has fumbled the message. I've said numerous times that for the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, President Obama sure does seem to act like he wants to pass a bill. He's left it completely up to Congress to handle, and Congress has no intention of passing a real reform bill. So what do we do about it? The Enquirer suggests Wyden-Bennett:

Sharp-eyed readers may note that many of these principles align well with an alternative bill proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. It may be the only truly bipartisan plan out there, with support from key senators in both parties.

Wyden-Bennett would move America away from employer-provided insurance:

Money that employers pay for coverage would go directly to workers.

Workers would use the money to choose their own insurance on the competitive, open market.

Everyone would be required to have insurance.

Since government wouldn't have to help fund employers' plans any more, that money would help pay premiums for lower-income (up to 400 percent of poverty) Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office says this plan could quickly pay for itself, and studies indicate it could reduce health care spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, not increase it by $1 trillion or more as the Democratic plans might.

A more radical plan? Perhaps.

But its rational simplicity is appealing.

Maybe that's why Wyden-Bennett is getting the stiff-arm from Democratic leadership - it's too simple, and it gives control-driven bureaucrats fewer levers to pull in the future.

To be clear: We're not endorsing Wyden-Bennett here. It needs more work and serious public debate. But it shows that it's possible to envision reform that doesn't resort to the tired old top-down, command-and-control mode Washington seems to favor.

And actually, I agree with the CE here. Wyden-Bennett does need a lot of work. As it stands right now, it's a huge gift to the insurance companies. I've discussed it before and the reasons Wyden-Bennett won't work as is: it really is too simple. Having employers give that compensation to employees to pay for insurance means yes, employees can take that money and shop around. It also means that insurance companies have every incentive to offer the least comprehensive plans as possible for maximum profit, because everyone will have to have insurance. Wyden-Bennett with a public option that would lower costs and foster competition would actually be a great plan. Wyden-Bennett without a public option would result in tens of millions of underinsured Americans with catastrophe only health insurance, the way car insurance is today. Now granted, there's much more competition in the auto field. But think about how many auto insurance companies for high risk drivers with low incomes are out there just so you can keep your car barely legal? God help you if you need the insurance. The same prospect awaits millions of Americans on health insurance.

Besides, Wyden-Bennett gets rid of the tax deduction for companies. If they're forced to offer coverage money to employees, and don't get deductions for it, that will be another game-changer in the American landscape. Employers would seek to hire whichever employee costs the least for them to give insurance compensation to. Single parents with kids on health insurance plans would find themselves to be the first let go...or not hired a all. And finally, let's not kid ourselves here, 200 million Americans shopping for health insurance? Informed shoppers will find the best deals. The rest are going to find out the hard way that there's always fine print. Wyden-Bennett still doesn't solve the major problem with health insurance: it's a for profit industry, and it does nothing to remove the rationing of health care by ability to pay for it, in fact it mandates it.

While the editorial does have good points, I disagree with the notion that none of the bills before Congress are worth passing. Anything that does pass needs at minimum the public option, and all the four bills that have come out of committee have it. Only the Senate Finance Committee refuses to consider it. The insurance companies are still calling the shots here. A truly "radical plan" would give them direct competition.

This Week's Busted Banks

Three more banks went under on Friday, raising the 2009 total to 84.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was named receiver for Affinity Bank of Ventura, California, Bradford Bank of Baltimore and Mainstreet Bank of Lake Forest, Minnesota, after yesterday’s closings, the FDIC said. Assets of $1.9 billion and deposits of $1.7 billion from the three banks were turned over to new lenders at a total cost of about $446 million to the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund, according to agency statements.

Regulators have closed banks at the fastest pace in 17 years and more are likely as losses mount from soured real- estate debt. A total of 416 banks with combined assets of $299.8 billion failed the FDIC’s grading system for asset quality, liquidity and earnings in the second quarter, the most since June 1994, the regulator said in a report Aug. 27.

Pacific Western Bank of San Diego will assume the deposits of Affinity Bank, the FDIC said. Affinity, with $1 billion in assets and $922 million in deposits, had 10 branches. Two, based in San Mateo and San Francisco, will open today as Pacific Western branches; the rest will open Aug. 31 under new ownership, according to the FDIC. The regulator agreed to share losses on $934 million of the assets.

Central Bank of Stillwater, Minnesota, assumed $434 million in deposits at Mainstreet Bank, the FDIC said. Central Bank will pay a premium to purchase Mainstreet’s $459 million in assets, with the FDIC sharing losses on about $268 million. Mainstreet’s eight branches will open today as Central offices.

The bank body count continues to rise as the commercial real estate collapse claims more and more victims. The pace is beginning to accelerate.

The days of the local bank with 10-20 branches is rapidly coming to a violent end. We continue to pay for each failure as a nation, while the government-deemed victorious banks continue to grow, fed the bodies of the losers.

StupidiNews, Weekend Edition!

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