Sunday, November 27, 2011

What’s killing Republican’s Strategy to Privatize Social Security and Medicare?

Keywords or Terms: Privatization; Medicare; Social Security; Republican’s Strategy; Elderly and Disabled; Returns on Investments in Social Welfare Programs; Statistics and Accounting Principles; Will to Change; Alleviation of Poverty;  Democrats; and, Republicans

Republican lawmakers are at the vanguard of privatizing Social Welfare Programs. Privatizing Medicare has been reported as the bane of contention why the Super Committee failed to reach accord over the nation’s mounting deficit. At the heart of discontent from Democrats is the concern for senior citizens and the disabled who would suffer direct impact of unsavory machination that may arise from the privatizing of Social Security and Medicare. At least there have been two separate attempts to privatize Social Security and or Medicare with Republicans’ inklings, which failed woefully in congress in the past three decades. With the insinuation that an accord could not be reached between Republicans and Democrats on cutting the nation’s deficit because of Republican’s desire to privatize Medicare, and the Democrats’ discontent over the move in the congressional super committee, it is worthwhile to evaluate the Republicans’ strategy to privatize the pillar stone of Democrats’ effort in lightening the load of America’s Senior Citizens and the disabled through the support for Social Security and Medicare Programs.

Why haven’t Republicans fulfilled their desires over Social Security and Medicare? For Republicans, Social Welfare Programs are a drain on the nation’s purse and during the time of deficit, they must be the first to be on the chopping block. For Democrats, Social Security and Medicare are corner stone programs of what it takes to be responsible to pair constituents in our society who are either old or disabled; and, can hardly help themselves. While Republicans portray themselves as fervent advocate of fiscal responsibility, Democrats characterized their support for Social Welfare Programs as social cost that must be borne to make the face of capitalism, humane. While Republicans place their bets on the doctrine of everyman for himself, God for us all; Democrats see the need for an invincible hand of fairness to the failures of the free-market system in a pluralistic Democracy.

Republicans’ position on the issue of efficiency of social welfare programs are rooted in staunch free-market enterprise doctrine. Democrats’ position are rooted in the natural progression of slight imbalance in the free-market enterprise system, which they construe as needing corrective measures to make the system work, fairly; especially for many in the fixed income group in their golden years, dependent on social security checks, retirement checks, IRA and 401Ks. While Republicans base their evaluation of social welfare programs on specific metrics of efficiency derived from accounting principles and proxy statements, Democrats see the face of the teaming millions of retired citizens crying for help in their golden years and some disabled citizens, who could have been productive except for the misfortune of illness or natural biological failures. Republicans seek the greatest returns for government investments in social welfare programs; Democrats not only seek the same results but clamor that such results must have a human face.

At any given time, Republicans often denigrated Democrats as big spenders, especially on social welfare programs, while Democrats have painted Republicans as ruthless and often willing to throw the elderly and disabled under the bus, in their quest for efficiency of social welfare programs. Absent conviction that either group may move their metrics of measuring efficiency of social welfare programs to an amicable ground, leads to the type of stalemate found in the recent congressional super committee debacle. While Congressional Republicans are largely interested in aggressive maneuvers to convince Congressional Democrats and the public that the answer to deficit spending from social welfare programs can only be found in letting the forces of the free market dictate the efficiency of each of these social welfare programs; drumming up the usual brouhaha that government should get out of the way as it is the real problem for failure in the system, Democrats advance a defensive maneuver that without government involvement, the forces of free market enterprise system annihilate the disadvantaged, the elderly and disabled; especially during the burst period of the sequential boom and burst scenario legendary of our capitalistic economic system.

Over time, however, this blog believes that while both groups have great points to support their position or conviction, because the motivation for their individual position is based on completely immeasurable quantitative and qualitative metrics, either group will never triumph with their relative advancement on social welfare programs in the public arena. From record of historical upward and downward swing in the Americans economy, it will be difficult for Republicans to demonstrate that if we actually privatize social welfare programs, Social Security or Medicare, the nation will be better-off; or the quality of life enjoyed by all citizens, will be appreciable than what we now have. For example, in the last effort by Republicans under the Bush Whitehouse, if the privatization effort on Social Security had been realized or received the blessing of congress, how would the elderly and disable have fared when we went into a recession in 2008.

In similar argument, the obsession by Democrats that funding for Social Security are Sacrosanct and Medicare costs could be managed with better scrutiny of health services’ providers and associated health insurance costs, one is apt to believe that their support for Social Security and Medicare are based on justifiable empirical evidence of the infrequent failures of the free-market system; thus, there is a place for their position in the realm of public discuss. For example during the Clinton’s Whitehouse, budget deficit were better managed and the nation was able to pay down some of its debts; however, the nation was unable to curtail its rising Medicare cost or prevent congress from borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to address other national problems. Moreover, Republicans’ and Democrats’ agreement to invest in two foreign wars in the late 2001 practically eroded whatever gains accruing from better fiscal management during the Clinton’s or Democratic Whitehouse. The failure of each major political party to address the issue of fiscal responsibility with respect to raiding the social security trust fund make both incapable of advancing the ‘holier than thou’ argument for or against fiscal responsibility with respect to social welfare programs.

Ideally, the wish of either political party’s congressional lawmakers to demonstrate with some degree of success that each is fiscally more responsible than the other would have been possible, if either had advanced unblemished arguments or positions that are empirically or historically verifiable. However, that is not the case, and either congressional leader of both major political parties is oblivious of the shortcomings of their individual arguments and or position in current day American economy. What’s not obvious or easy to demonstrate for either political party leader in congress is that their casual association of prescriptions for not bankrupting Social Security or Medicare stand on shaky grounds and the significance of opposing arguments to either’s position, gradually erodes when subject to objective quantitative and or qualitative scrutiny.

The ability of predicting what will happen if Social Security or Medicare is privatized is very unclear. Profitability of either social welfare programs in a privatization scheme cannot rely on empirical data or results from a country as Chile or similar experience in a European country, as each of these examples are not replicable of our country, because of the size of our economy and life-span of Americans. America has a bigger economy than any around the globe and we have the fortune of our elders living longer than many citizens of the world. What will happen if Chile invests billions of dollars in medical research and elder care as is done America will their social security program survive easy liquidity? How much capital is invested in elder care or retirement savings or expenditures in Chile or France? Are the bedrocks of argument of bankruptcy of America’s Social Security and or Medicare Programs, really estimable without the concrete evaluation of quantitative and qualitative factors that are likely to doom these programs? The nation has the wherewithal to make correction in factors that may doom Social Security and or Medicare into bankruptcy, without privatizing either program. What the nation cannot afford is a prescription of privatization of these programs that could actually damage other social indicators that makes the country the first in the world in many areas of assessments.

How about a re-evaluation of a culture of entitlement to some social welfare programs? There are different points of view on whether the reform to the health care system enacted in 2010, can rally address the problems of health care cost and inflation without some additional tweaking. There are even critics in the health care industry that laments that the nation is saddled with an illness treatment industry rather than a health care system. On one hand, there are those who believe that we need a one-payer health care system to address the shortcoming of an illness treatment industry; and, through asking of the right questions, collection of the right data from patients, health care providers, hospitals and doctors clinics, drugs manufacturers and setting up an advanced electronic medical record management infrastructure, the nation will be able to cut waste and address the problem of rising health care costs and inflation. Unresolved issues regarding these variable factors have been part of the problem associated with the bloated Medicare cost. On the other hand, what about reviewing the benchmark for contribution to Social Security by employees and employers? Should there really be a one hundred and six thousand dollars income threshold rather than all earned incomes? And, is it necessary to have an exclusion clause on income threshold for any American when it comes to saving Social Security or Medicare?

With advancements in information technology, the government can go for gold: by collecting social security and Medicare from organizations that have now be defined as a person for political mischief? The focus is saving Social Security from bankruptcy, how about driving growth in the Social Security trust fund by collecting equitably contributions from all earned income generated by all factors of production?

Apart from all these issues addressed on the blog tonight, here are the following bullet points, preventing Republicans from achieving privatizing of two major social welfare programs that are criticized as contributing to the nation’s deficits:

  • An increasing application of statistics and accounting to explore correlation and causation factors bloating the implementation of these programs;
  • The concept of one jacket fits all, in the delusion that privatization will solve all the associated problems found in implementing the two social welfare programs;
  • An increasing desire to lambast government regulatory responsibility or involvement as detrimental to the free-market enterprise system;
  • Poor leadership tactics engaged in galvanizing the required votes from both isle of congress in support of privatization of the welfare programs; and,
  • The indisputable contribution of both and either of these programs from alleviating poverty among the disadvantaged and elderly among us.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Is the Balanced Budget Amendment Bill a Political Gimmickry: new lessons from the failure of this initiative in current congress?

Keywords or Terms: Balanced Budget Amendment; Deception; Deceit; Betrayal; Fiscal Conservatives; Whimsical; Historical;  narber Conable (R-NY); Ed Jenkins (D-GA); Tip O'Neil (D-MA); Charles Stenholm (D-TX); Katrina; Iraq; Afghanistan; and, Modern Democratic Governance

It’s historical, it’s whimsical, it’s seasonal and many congressional representatives dream about it, Republicans and Democrats alike. Rather than promote a balanced approach to government spending that eventually helps the nation dig out of debt, Republicans and Democrats in congress often lead a bandwagon of famed or defamed fiscal conservatives to seek the passage of a balanced budget amendment bill, every now and then. What inspires them to do this is sometimes defensive and maybe liken to the incredible desire to appear as better managers of the national fiscal issues, whenever either party holds a majority in either or both congressional chambers

Incidentally, history has shown that neither Republicans nor Democrats are good custodians of the national kitty-bank! Previous attempts to pass a mandated balanced budget have been fraught with defections, reversals and sometimes, betrayals. After several failed attempts in the period 1930 - 1982, Republican Representatives in the house were able to pass a balanced budget amendment by circumventing parliamentary procedures through the use of discharge petition about three decades ago. Representatives Barber Conable (R–NY) and Ed Jenkins (D–GA) in 1982, when for the first time the measure was able to garner 236 supporting votes in the House, a number short of the required two-thirds majority, attempted to circumvent the then Speaker of the House, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill (D–MA), to his disdain; however, the measure went nowhere in Senate. Subsequent attempts in the 1990’s, including a bipartisan effort led by Charles Stenholm (D–TX), fell woefully short and remained unsuccessful till today.

Emotional reactions during those times that these efforts have been made to pass the ephemeral balanced budget amendment, historical experiences have always been ignored; and, the approaches taken to move the initiative through congress, indicate poor homework by the lawmakers, flawed and arbitrary efforts by party leaders, and an unmistakeable unwillingness to do all it takes. Worse more, the routine woeful failures at each time, shows how unprepared and sometimes mischievous, the moving groups are every time. For the records, I am in support of prudent national fiscal policy; however, when a proposal is completely infeasible in light of modern day governance, it is ridiculous to find lawmakers pushing an unworkable proposal, especially when it is being done half-hardheartedly.

The idea of balanced budget amendment has been around for centuries, but it has often failed to garner the necessary two-third majority support, when brought to a general vote in both or either chambers of congress. Interestingly, it often gains an arousal or support in congress around the period after a recession, 1930, 1973, 1983, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2011; and, every time a movement to pass the initiative in congress is advanced, those lawmakers who are initially behind it at the committee stages and floor debates, often back out and vote against the proposal when it comes to a general vote. For instance, in 1798, when the proposal was first mouthed, Thomas Jefferson opined that if there was any single amendment that he wished, that would have been one limiting the power of the federal government to borrow. That proposal may have been applicable three centuries ago; however, in modern day governance and public sector management, it is far from possible and in some quarters, will be considered ridicules. Can you imagine, during a huge natural disaster like Katrina or elongated foreign wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, if the federal government looses the power to borrow?

In many instances, where the federal or state governments have sought to borrow, it is out of necessity to meet some unavoidable national spending obligations; and, in some cases where the needs have been frivolous, both major political parties in congress, at one time or the other, have either failed to exercise their power to curtail the governments, or abdicated their responsibility to be fiscally prudent for the sake of other interests. Convincing ourselves that it is possible to completely restrained governments, federal and state, from exercising the power to borrow, is close to self-deception. Lawmakers are often focused primarily at advancing their careers in congress or state capitols and are hardly going to pass a law that will work against them when they are in a majority. Each, Republicans or Democrats, have some primary objectives to advance in a congressional session where they are in a majority, and any proposal or bill that will scuttle their chances of effecting those objectives, is a personal non-Grata! That is why you see the repeated failures of the balanced budget amendment, every time the initiative comes up for a general floor vote in congress. The failure of the balanced budget amendment bill is a re-affirmation of this reality; and, probably a reminder that this initiative is more of a wishful thinking than many of our lawmakers are willing to concede.

Either groups of lawmakers in congress, Republicans or Democrats, are more attuned to the balanced budget amendment debate, whenever either is not in a majority. Either group is motivated to ram the initiative through, when they find themselves in a disadvantageous end in fulfilling their party’s emblems; and occasionally, seek defection from lawmakers of opposing party to achieve their dream of balanced budget amendment. But neither group of these lawmakers, Republicans or Democrats, has been able to truthfully achieve the objective of passing the balanced budget amendment bill in both chambers of congress. Because of this, one can be certain that the next generations of Americans will always find that their country is in a hole for the foreseeable future in terms of fiscal responsibility.

As a matter of history and experience, the balanced budget amendment bill is gradually becoming an archaic and unreachable initiative in congress – commitment by two-third majority of congressional members and states’ resident are essential – and often, it looks rather difficult to achieve all concurrently in the same congressional session and year. Further, the political dynamics of understanding what line item constitutes a federal budget and which item has been subtracted or included for various interpretation of a balanced federal budget, has made it difficult or confusing for the average American to understand where each proponent of the balanced budget amendment initiative are coming from, every time they rise up again..

Fascinatingly, Republicans have attempted to push further this initiative to the goal post every time they hold a majority in the House of Representatives. The Democrats haven’t been bad too; however, one finds that either group lack the character to push this initiative through.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

PPACA Challenge: The New Case to be heard by the United States Supreme Court just before the 2012 General Elections!

Keywords or Terms: US Supreme Court; Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal Ruling; US Congress: Constitutional Argument; PPACA; Medicaid Eligibility; 2012 General Elections; Mandatory Provisions; Congressional Powers;  Democrats and Republicans.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the challenge to the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act, an act designed to overhaul the American Health Care System. The agreement was widely covered in the press as a story of resolution – over lower court decisions which have kept everyone wondering if the health care reform law is about to be junked - in the face of antagonism and unwelcome criticisms  of the right of congress to make a law that has a mandatory provision; or, one that requires citizens to obtain or buy health care insurance as a product. But I believe it is a story about the right of the United States Congress to make law.

Did the United States Congress fail to address all the parliamentary procedures for enacting a bill? Did constituent members of congress fail to debate the provisions in the health care reform law in both chambers of congress? Did Congress violate some parliamentary procedures  in either chambers of congress in the process of passing the health care reform law? Did the constitution permit the United States Congress to issue a mandate in a law? Has congress exceeded its constitutional authority by extending the eligibility converge thresholds that States must adopt to participate in the Medicaid program? First, we may be able to get answers to these questions by checking the congressional records. Second, we may be privy to the wheeling and dealing on congressional floors when the highest court of law hears the case over the constitutionality of the health care reform law. Third, we may end up being confused or disenchanted by the effort of critics of the law to bring this case before the highest court in the land, hoping to discredit the whole law as unconstitutional. However, my guess is, answers to all these questions will pit two opposing teams of of brilliant lawyers against each other; and, either will re-affirm congressional authority to make laws or erode the powers of our lawmakers.

Dig past the current acrimony of whether the health care reform law is unconstitutional, unworkable or unpopular, the decision from the United States Supreme Court will show how relevant congressional authority is to the way we live our lives as ordinary Americans. Can our lawmakers actually bind us in a democracy and if they may, why are Americans not taking conscious effort to find all the answers about the past of our lawmakers, their beliefs and convictions, their education and abilities, their sponsors and financiers, and their past experience in leadership and their shortcomings. Why? Answers to these questions and inquisitions about these questions, will allow us make better judgment about who is representing us in congress; who may actually mandate us to do some things that we may not in totality be in agreement with or who is actually serving the public by his or her representation in congress. My premonition is that fear is causing the acrimony over the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act. Many people in the right would like the Supreme Court to strike down the whole law as unconstitutional; those in the left, seek an alternative ruling that will allow the law to stand. The fear in both cases can either be described from the context that, if the court rules in favor of the constitutionality of the law, Democrats win and by default their leader, President Obama, stands a better chance at the polls in the 2012 General Elections. On the other hand, if the mandatory provision in the law is invalidated and the whole law is found unconstitutional, Republicans win and by default their candidate for the office of the Presidency, whoever it maybe, stands a better chance at unseating the current President.

Delivering a judgment either way, very close to general elections, has the potential or power to tilt the result of the general elections either way. Political Party leaders, who are more interested in preserving their position(s) in congress or the dominance of their respective party in congress, want a favorable ruling for their position from the nine-member judgeship of the Supreme Court. Either leadership group in the respective major parties in the US, do not want their wishes dragged down so close to a general election. Unfortunately, their demands are essentially inconsequential at this time as the Supreme Court, is exerting its prerogative of independence from the two branches of government, executive and legislative branches, by determining to hear the case just few months before the general elections next year. A case has been appealed from the eleventh district circuit court of appeals and the Supreme Court has assigned on its schedule, the month of March 2012, to hear the argument on the case. Whether their potential ruling runs afoul of the interests of either parties or their positions on the health care reform law, is essentially, irrelevant; or as they say in my neck of the woods: "Ain't the judges’ problem!"

Although what I have discussed on the blog tonight seems largely a criticism of the challenge to the mandate provision of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act or the choice of the highest court to hear the case on an election year, I do not want to appear unduly despondent about the possible reach of congressional powers in making laws; or, the Supreme Courts’ prerogative to hear the case from the eleventh circuit court at their convenience or just before the general elections. Even if I appear to be in complete support of the law in my past entries on this blog, and by default the mandate provision in the law, I still believe that implicit in this requirement, is the desire to hold down health cost inflation that has been the bane of contention over whether Medicare and or Medicaid can survive another half a century. The ideal situation would remain the need to improve health care delivery to many more Americans and create a better health care system, thereby assuaging the criticisms from many doctors, hospital and professionals in the health care industry; that, what we now have, is an illness treatment industry not a health care system. The point of my argument is that there are good enough reasons to sort out the constitutionality question; however, I have some decrepitude over whether the year of a general election is an ideal time to hear a case like this.

The mandatory provision of the health care reform law answers two central questions to health care delivery in America: 1) how can we challenge insurance companies to cut down on premiums paid by consumers in the effort to manage health care cost inflation? 2) Since the mandate provision of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act has been construed as closely tied to two other provisions in the law, one forbidding insurance companies from turning away applicants and another barring the companies from turning away patients with pre-existing condition, how can we make underwriting health insurance policies palatable or somewhat profitable for the insurance companies to want to remain in the business? Consideration of these central questions is rather essential for attorneys arguing un-behalf of the federal government as to constitutionality of the mandatory provision of the law. The government attorneys must be deliberate and spontaneous in their argument before the highest court in the land. To show less spontaneity in argument or failure to close-out the opponents of the law as mischievous and unwholesome in their advancement before the Supreme Court, is to allow trivialities to overtake the substance of the health care reform law.

The benefits of the health care reform law have to be re-asserted before the Supreme Court. Just as the sixteen hour work day was outlawed about a century and a half ago, so must the attorneys for the government, argue that the nation is better-off with a health care system where majority of the citizens of the country are mandated to carry health care insurance than one without, thus leading to the high volume of hospital emergency room traffic. While recognizing that opponents of the law may have some reservations regarding some provisions of the law that hardly justifies the argument that the law or the mandatory provision in the law makes the whole law unconstitutional. The attorneys representing the federal government must insist that there is a long-term benefit to the law; and the opponents of the law have not given the provisions in the law a chance; as many of the provisions in the law that opponents are arguing against are hardly implemented yet; and if not implemented, how can these critics of the law crucify the whole law; or, argue against events and experiences that have not occurred or materialized.

We must not be surprised if the US Supreme Court upholds most parts of the law and still rule against the mandatory provision in the law. The ideal situation is to have the highest court in the land leave intact congressional powers to make law, whether the law has a mandatory provision or not. The court could isolate some parts of the law that thread on constitutionality question and leave it unto congress to issue amendments to take care of the constitutional question of any part of the law, if there is actually, any. The court does not have to rule on hyperbola or hypothetical situation that has not materialized because some of the provisions in the law that are contested have not been implemented. The court usually in cases like this is always ahead of the litigant and defendant and attempts to provide room for possible visitation of issues in the future by congress, where it is essential, and in some cases rule in finality as to the question of constitutionality. Based on the recent ruling from the Washington DC Appellate court, it is possible that the court will rule in favor of the mandatory provision.

There is one more point in this communication which I would like to mention. This is the fact that two days and five and half hours have been set aside by the US Supreme Court to hear arguments from the opposing teams on the act before the court. Attorneys representing the opposing camps are expected to present arguments on the four main issues emanating from the Eleventh District Court of Appeal, Atlanta: 1) Can congress impose individual mandate in the purchase of health care insurance;  2) Can congress demand that State comply with threshold provisions to participate in Medicaid; 3) Can the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act remain intact, even if parts of it are invalidated on the grounds of constitutionality; and, 4) Does the Anti-injunction Act guarantees the Supreme Court to rule on a case as this. If the tendency is to adjudged congressional powers in lawmaking, an half and half, each from either side is enough to represent their position or fail to justify their grounds. The constitutional provision of the right of congress to make laws, should not take too long to make or debunk. If the issue is to address the mandatory provisions of the law, maybe another thirty minute at most.

The arguments over the mandatory provision of the law will probably tell us two things: 1) Congress has the power to make laws, whether with a mandatory provision or not; Congressional powers to make law are unlimited and in some circumstances, where the provision(s) in the law run afoul of constitutional requirements, there are room for call to amendments to the law, especially, where some of the provisions in the law, have not come to play, or have not been phased in. the fact that attorneys can argue over the extent of congressional powers is in order; however, the fact that the law passed is constitutional or not, is one that may be subject to debate. Where the commonsense argument comes in is simply this: can opponents of a provision in a law argue against it under the question of constitutionality, if the provision has not been implemented? The purpose for which congress make law is to address issue of concern that has been brought before the body as a bill working its way through committee and work groups. Where there are some provisions that are out of line with the constitution, it is probably identified before the law is passed. If there was an omission, it is imperative that observers bring a case before the court as is rightly done in this case. However, if the essence of the issues before the court is to discredit all the provisions of the law in totality, there is probably a suspicious of mischief which the court cannot entertain.