April 25, 2013 Editorial



“…the irony is the fact that the spending they propose would benefit those uninsured who, throughout the debates of the law were of no particular concern to them then.”

     The ‘cut spending’ Republicans aren’t holding to that mantra when it means undermining a law they don’t want.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, (ACA), more than any new law of recent memory, has drawn constant fire from those who opposed the law from the beginning; mostly Republicans. Before it became law we heard it was going to leave many with insurance without it; We heard it would break the bank, and, of course, it most certainly was unconstitutional. Well, it’s not unconstitutional, it will increase those with insurance. As far as breaking the bank; should we believe that one, too?

Since the law was enacted House Republicans have put forth over 50 bills that would modify or repeal the law. We saw bills brought to the floor promising to create jobs but to vote for the bill meant voting to repeal the ACA or some critical element. So, the law didn’t get repealed because Democrats would not vote against the law they created or at least not vote to cripple it, but having voted against the job bill they found flak in the 2012 elections that they voted against a jobs bill.

That election, too, blew up in the Republican faces. Now we see HR 1549 a bill that says it will pull $5 billion from an underutilized provision in the ACA to another provision in the law; take money from the Preventive and Public Health Fund and sweep it into the high-risk Fund intended to cover people with preexisting conditions who have been denied by insurers and has been without insurance for six months or more. The justification, supporters hold, is that the Prevention Fund is underutilized and the money should be spent elsewhere. Opponents to HR 1549 hold that this sweep is unnecessary and, in the end, would harm the efficiency and success of the ACA,

After years of Republicans insisting that spending must be cut, and after the sequester they refused to mitigate kicked in, we are beginning to get the idea that the ‘cut spending’ Republicans aren’t holding to that mantra when it means undermining a law they don’t want. They would spend $5 billion for that purpose.

Adding to the irony is the fact that the spending they propose would benefit those uninsured who, throughout the debates of the law were of no particular concern to them then.. What the bill over looks is that likely in 2014 when the ACA is fully implemented, underutilized funds can be returned to the Treasury. What the bill also over looks is that the high-risk Fund is funded sufficiently already and in 2014 preexisting conditions can no longer be used to deny coverage so the high-risk Fund can be dissolved.

The ACA will have to be tweaked before and after implementation in 2014. It is not a perfect law, but it is an important law when you are talking about a health care system run amuck with way too many Americans simply dying or being forced into poverty just to get well. Maybe that doesn’t bother you. It certainly doesn’t bother those Republicans who, we might add, are benefiting from good health insurance coverage at the expense of the same taxpayers they would deny that coverage.##




Tired of Budget Shenanigans? Here’s an Answer

by Lee Hamilton

“…budget-making skills on Capitol Hill are eroding. Its in danger of becoming a lost art.”

Lee_Hamilton     We are weary of a government that appears addicted to budgeting-by-crisis. Congress must return to a fair and structured way of debating and reaching consensus on the divisive issues that go along with taxing and spending. With the formal release of President Obama’s budget, the pieces are finally in place for a reprise of the Washington drama we’ve all come to know. There will be high-stakes negotiations, lines in the sand, and enough intrigue to keep Beltway insiders riveted by every piece of breaking news.

     The rest of us, though, are already worn out. In repeated conversations with ordinary people, I’ve been struck by the immense frustration I’ve encountered. They’re tired of brinksmanship and constant fiscal crisis. They’re fed up with accusations, spin, fear mongering, and intransigence. They’ve had it with a complex, opaque process when the outline of a solution; controlling spending and entitlements, raising revenues to meet the country’s obligations, and investing in economic growth; seems evident. Above all, they’re weary of a government that appears addicted to crisis.

     Why, they wonder, can we not pass a budget in an orderly, rational way? It’s a good question, though the answer is hardly reassuring: I believe Congress no longer knows how. Talking to a group of younger members recently, I realized they’d had no experience of following regular procedures to craft a budget. They’ve spent their congressional careers watching the leadership put it together in an ad-hoc, crisis-fueled manner. True budget-making skills on Capitol Hill are eroding. It’s in danger of becoming a lost art. Yet it need not be. There is a time-honored process that we can rejuvenate at any time for constructing a budget. On Capitol Hill, it’s known as the regular order. This is the insider’s way of referring to procedures that Congress developed over our history as a nation. Their guiding principle is to provide a coherent and well-structured way of deciding in detail where our national priorities ought to lie, and then funding them. They were designed to give members of Congress a clear, fair way to scrutinize, consider, debate, and reach consensus on the divisive issues that go along with taxing and spending.

     The last time Congress passed a regular-order budget, not an omnibus spending bill, was 1997. Though it was far from a tidy process, its abandonment, I believe, is what has produced our current mess. So what is the regular order? The President submits a budget on time (not two months late, as President Obama has just done). Then congressional committees and subcommittees take it up, dividing their work according to the departments of government; agriculture, defense, transportation and the like. They hold hearings, call witnesses, explore what the executive branch has done with its money in the past, and consider its plans for the future. They debate and draft their own proposals, and allow amendments from both parties. Once the full committee acts, its measure goes to the floor for further debate, amendments, and a vote. Eventually, the bills arrived at separately by the House and the Senate, get reconciled and go to the President to be signed. The advantage of the regular order, in addition to its transparency and accountability, is that it spreads the work load and makes room for the expertise and considered judgment of a wide array of legislators. In the past, the leadership deferred to experienced committee chairmen who knew the issues they were confronting inside and out, and who had a talent for drafting legislation. Rank-and-file members had a chance to influence the outcome through amendments and debate. The process played to Congress’s core strength of deliberation. Not any longer.

     Now, huge omnibus bills and continuing resolutions, not to mention the mindless cudgel of the sequester’ are put together by a handful of leaders and their staffs. They don’t have specific, detailed expertise, and they’re more interested in seeking partisan advantage than in fair process or effective legislating. Too often in the past, members of Congress have sought some automatic budget mechanism; a balanced-budget amendment, say, or budget caps to solve their problems. Mostly, these have been a way to avoid the hard choices required by the regular order. In the end, there’s no substitute for experience, knowledge, hard work, compromise, and a resolve to seek solutions. That’s what the regular order would encourage. It’s time for Congress to stop paying it lip service and actually revive it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.