|February 7, 2007|
||An Unusual Partnership|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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An Unusual Partnership
“The U.S. health care system is a scandal and a disgrace” — nearly 47 million Americans lack health insurance, and health care premiums have jumped 87 percent over the last five years. The United States spends more on health care per person than any other country, yet Americans on average die at a younger age than citizens of comparable nations. The American people are sick of paying more and getting less — 71 percent believe our health care system is in a state of crisis. But there are hopeful and optimistic signs that positive change can be accomplished. Today, Wal-Mart, AT&T, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Center for American Progress, and other businesses and non-profit organizations are launching a campaign to tackle a health care crisis that neither businesses nor workers can afford. ”One goal is universal health coverage” by 2012, founded on the idea of shared responsibility, “emphasizing that individuals, businesses and government all play roles in financing health care and expanding coverage.” While the coalition is a “case of America’s health care crisis creating strange bedfellows,” it more importantly symbolizes “a combination of pragmatism, idealism, and desperation” because “health care has become a devastating issue” for business and labor, said University of California-Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken. Next month, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) and SEIU will host a non-partisan presidential forum focused on health care, with the hope of elevating the issue to the forefront of the 2008 campaign. “Health care is the most important domestic issue facing our country,” CAPAF President John Podesta said, “and the electorate deserves to hear how each candidate intends to address it.”
COMING TOGETHER TO TALK HEALTH CARE: Employers are “straining under runaway costs for providing health insurance,” and “many executives and their representatives see the time as ripe for starting to overhaul the system” because of the enormous costs. “Health costs are the single largest cost pressure that employers face,” said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable. In the Wall Street Journal, SEIU president Andy Stern acknowledged the drag on the bottom-line businesses face and urged “corporate leaders to come forward.” “Here’s how bad it will continue to get,” Stern wrote. “McKinsey & Company projects that by 2008, the average Fortune 500 company will spend as much on health care as they make in profit. How can we possibly compete in the global economy with that kind of burden?” Last month, SEIU joined with the Businesss Roundtable and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to focus on health care. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the progressive Families USA, and more than a dozen groups have for years been a part of the “Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured.” Unfortunately, their recent proposal fell “far short of covering all Americans.” But as David Broder of the Washington Post writes, “The emergence of these coalitions is one more sign of the growing momentum for systemic reform.”
THE PUSH FOR AFFORDABLE COVERAGE: What is the most pressing problem facing the economy? “A good case can be made for the developing health care crisis,” the New York Times reported. “Soaring costs, growing ranks of uninsured, and a steady erosion of corporate health benefits add up to a giant drag on the nation’s future prosperity.” Total spending reached nearly $2 trillion in 2005. “Maybe, just maybe, 2007 will be the year we start the move toward universal coverage,” Krugman hoped. The right wing continues to attack universal coverage proposals as “socialist” and a “nightmare for America.” Yet countries with universal health systems — such as France, Britain, Canada, and Australia — have all shown significant savings can come without hurting the overall health of the population. “The truth is that we can afford to cover the uninsured,” Krugman wrote. “What we can’t afford is to keep going without a universal health care system.” (The Center for American Progress has a plan to do it.) Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe the federal government has the responsibility to ensure all Americans have health care coverage. “Public concern about the state of health care today is not enough to move this issue forward by itself,” wrote Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation and Robert Blendon from the Harvard School of Public Health. “But what health needs most to rise up in American politics is for national political candidates, whether from the political left, right, or center, to begin talking about the issue again as they did in the early nineties. Most important of all are the presidential candidates, who receive so much national media attention.” One candidate, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, has already issued his plan, and at least three others — Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) — have expressed their commitment to universal coverage. Next month’s Presidential Forum on Health Care will give all the candidates a platform to put forward their own ideas.
STATES FORCED TO FILL HEALTH CARE VOID: Under President Bush’s watch, the number of uninsured Americans has increased by 6.8 million. His latest budget would cut Medicare and Medicaid spending by $102 billion and would “provide insufficient extra cash to maintain coverage for poor children currently enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” In his State of the Union, Bush put forward a plan to replace the current tax break for employer-sponsored health insurance with a standard tax deduction for health insurance coverage. The plan would do nothing to make health care more affordable for the uninsured, and “could lead to a downward spiral in employer coverage.” “It’s not solving the uninsured problem and it’s not solving the cost problem, so it’s not really advancing what we need to have happen,” said Karen Davis of the Commonwealth Fund. The states have had to pick up the slack. Last year, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine moved to provide universal coverage. This year, governors of California, Pennsylvania, and Washington state are unveiling their own proposals. The complicated patchwork of state plans across the country ultimately calls out for a federal solution.
MILITARY — PACE ADMITS MILITARY LACKS EQUIPMENT TO SUPPORT BUSH’S ESCALATION: In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace admitted that finding enough equipment to support President Bush’s escalation plan to send an addition 21,500 combat troops to Iraq would be a “problem.” He said further that the “41,000 armored vehicles in Iraq” would be “fewer than will be needed to cover all the the troops that are deploying.” One senior Army official suggested to the Washington Post last week that five brigades of Humveess would have to “fall out of the sky” to meet the shortfalls. Last year, the chief of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau expressed similar sentiments, telling Congress that “at least two-thirds of his units in the United States are not combat-ready.” Such shortages are not new. Indeed, the Post reported last week that Guard units have “on average, 40 percent of their required equipment,” and according to Army data, “the Guard as a whole is not expected to return to minimum equipment levels until 2013.” Reports of cascading supply failures are not likely to end soon. Last week the Pentagon’s Inspector General told Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) that two ongoing audits of the procurement of armored vehicles and body armor for American soldiers would be forthcoming in July and October 2007.
IRAQ — TOP RECONSTRUCTION OFFICIAL FLOWN TO BAGHDAD TO AVOID OVERSIGHT HEARING: For the first time since the war began, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) is holding aggressive oversight hearings into the billions in waste, fraud, and abuse of U.S. funds in Iraq. On Jan. 10, when President Bush first made his plans for escalation public, he also announced plans to “appoint a reconstruction coordinator in Baghdad to ensure better results for economic assistance being spent in Iraq.” The next day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named career diplomat Timothy Carney to the position. During yesterday’s hearings, Waxman revealed that the State Department has blocked Carney from appearing at the hearing, despite the fact that Carney personally told Waxman he “was willing to come.” Moreover, the Bush administration has apparently rushed him to Baghdad despite claiming that the reason he could not appear at the hearing was because he “did not yet know what he was going to do in Iraq.” Waxman added that the State Department has “now told us that they may make him available to Congress in six months.”
IMMIGRATION — HATE GROUPS EXPLOITING ANTI-IMMIGRATION SENTIMENT TO RECRUIT NEW MEMBERS: Extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) have made a resurgance since 2000 by stirring anti-immigration sentiment, according to a new report released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). In the 1990s, membership in these extremist groups generally waned, but recently, “Klan groups have witnessed a surprising and troubling resurgence by exploiting fears of an immigration explosion, and the debate over immigration has, in turn, helped to fuel an increase in Klan activity,” said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL civil rights director. Between 2000 and 2005, membership ballooned 33 percent and Klan chapters increased by 63 percent, according to Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok’s group counts over 800 hate groups and approximately 150 Klan chapters across the country. Tactics traditionally used against blacks are now being perpetrated against immigrant families. “Many Latinos are feeling the effects firsthand. Last September, a Kentucky family originally from El Salvador found a wooden cross burning on their front lawn just weeks after they moved in.” ADL identified 19 states as being notable for active for growing Klan chapters, many located in non-traditional KKK terrain such as the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and the West Coast.
On grand jury audiotapes played at his trial yesterday, Scooter Libby claimed he learned about Valerie Plame’s CIA identity from Vice President Cheney, “forgot it, then learned it again” from Tim Russert “a month later.”
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified yesterday that a senior federal prosecutor in Arkansas was removed for political reasons to make room for a former aide to Karl Rove. McNulty claimed that at least six other U.S. attorneys were fired for “performance-related” issues, including Carol Lam, who oversaw the prosecution of former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA).
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has introduced legislation to raise the “veil of secrecy” on the work of military contractors. The bill requires several departments to report the number of contractors and subcontractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a description of their work, and the total costs of contracts there.
Lawmakers are unhappy about the 110th Congress’s five-day work week. A “visibly annoyed” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said, “I just told [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] I won’t be back by 4:30” for the vote Monday, “even though I’m catching a 1:55 flight.” Both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have said they will keep the full work week, despite the complaints.
“Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) says he’s optimistic about achieving his longstanding legislative priority this year — requiring electronic voting machines to have paper backups so election results can be verified.” Hold reintroduced his paper trail bill on Monday, and it is “widely expected to become law.”
Tourism in Crawford, TX — President Bush’s hometown — is lagging. Some residents say the hard times reflect “the president’s sinking popularity over the war in Iraq and a daunting influx of anti-war protesters.”
“The biggest sexual discrimination case in U.S. history advanced against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Tuesday when a top court ruled that more than a million women could join a suit charging bias in pay and promotions.”
“After 10 years and $1.7 billion, this is what the Marines Corps got for its investment in a new amphibious vehicle: A craft that breaks down about an average of once every 4 1/2 hours, leaks and sometimes veers off course,” the Washington Post reports, “And for that, the contractor, General Dynamics of Falls Church, received $80 million in bonuses.”
“The growing number of immigrant entrepreneurs in major U.S. cities is giving a huge lift to urban economies and even outpacing self-employed native-born Americans,” according to a new report..
And finally: “Why did Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) miss 19 House votes over four days in mid-January? Where was he?” As it turned out, Burton took a week off from work to play golf at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, CA. In 2000, Burton “scheduled a panel field hearing in nearby Los Angeles the same week as the Bob Hope event,” purportedly to “study whether Soviet agents had ever hidden secret stashes of weapons in the United States in case World War III broke out.” “It’s my understanding that there are many potential targets for Russian sabotage in California,” Burton said at the time.