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There have been, and still are, ways to avoid the government shutdown

September 28, 2013 2 comments

two_way_crossesAs I write this post the House of Representatives is discussing what to do with the continuing resolution that was sent back to them from the Senate. As expected the Obamacare defunding language passed by the House was removed by Senator Reid. This would normally be the point where the two houses (and potentially the President) would come together and negotiate a compromise. That is not going to happen; our current President has said he will not negotiate. It is his prerogative to take this stance, and if Democrats don’t lose seats in 2014 due to Presidents lack of consideration for the others side I will be surprised.

There have been ways to avoid this whole shutdown. One of the best ways would have been for Senator Reid to allow a vote the two Obamacare mandate delays passed by the House. Specifically, allowing a vote on the individual mandate delay (HR 2668) would have allowed the average American person the same relief employers received when Obama illegally delayed the employer mandate for one year. Of course the employer delay could have been codified into law by allowing a vote on the employer mandate delay (HR 2667) passed by the House. Simply passing these two delays would have given more time to fix the many problems already discovered with Obamacare. Senator Reid and President Obama have said neither bill will be allowed.

Another option would be to follow the law and not exempt Congress and their staff from portions of Obamacare. Reid and Obama keep saying they are not exempting Congress. Yet if you actually look at the law it is quite clear that Congress and their staff must be on the health exchanges WITHOUT any employer subsidies (that would make it a qualified health plan, and cannot be done until 2017). Neither side of the debate want this to happen. However it is quite telling that Democrats have fought this option so hard. As a group the Democrats have been touting how great and cheap the healthcare insurance will be. Why are they so afraid to show they believe what is being said?

There are many other possible options. I feel either passing the delays or preventing a Congressional Obamacare exemption is the best of the available options. It would be hard for the Senate to vote against either option. It would also cost Obama what political power he has left if he chooses to veto either option. There is no way the Senate Democrats can say either option is repealing, replacing, or defunding Obamacare. I have heard some political ‘pundits’ say the House may simply vote on the bill sent back to them from Reid. I don’t think that will happen, if it does pass I believe Cruz and Lee will be pushed by American conservatives into performing a true filibuster (and make his 21 hour speech look like a small event).

PS. In unrelated Obamacare news: the government backed Healthy Young America Video contest ended this week. Reason and Remy have created the following video for the contest (I think its great, but doubt it will win).

Categories: Obamacare Tags: ,

Congress and healthcare exchange exemptions

September 26, 2013 3 comments

ryanlerch_thinkingboy_outlineWhether Congress is trying to exempt itself from Obamacare has become a huge topic again. This has been a hot topic and polarized both sides of the aisle. I’ve seen both sides give inaccurate or misleading information on the topic. Here is my current understanding of the topic based upon reading the actual law. For referee here is a PDF of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, PPACA, Obamacare).

One of the many amendments added to ACA was one provided by Sen Grassley of Iowa to force Congress and their staff on to Obamacare. I don’t think the amendment was ever expected (or wanted) to be passed. It was a political move Grassley had taken to force the Democrats into voting against an amendment that would show they were too good to enroll themselves on the healthcare exchanges. This political move by Grassley become one of many fights for the passing of Obamacare. The amendment did eventually pass, however it was stripped down from its original version. The original version would have included all federal employees. The final passed version was added to section 1312 of ACA as section D. Here is the text of 1312(d)(3)(D):

(D) MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN THE EXCHANGE.—
(i) REQUIREMENT.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are—
(I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or
(II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).
(ii) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
(I) MEMBER OF CONGRESS.—The term ‘‘Member of Congress’’ means any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
(II) CONGRESSIONAL STAFF.—The term ‘‘congressional staff’’ means all full-time and parttime employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC.

Secion 1312(d)(3)(D) requires all members of Congress and their staff to be enrolled on the healthcare exchanges. This is not exactly the part of the law being contested by Democrats. What is being contested is whether Congress and their staff should get employer contributions for the insurance on the healthcare exchanges. To determine this more research must be done.

Here is section 1304(b)(1) which defines “large employer”.

(b) EMPLOYERS.—In this title:
(1) LARGE EMPLOYER.—The term ‘‘large employer’’ means, in connection with a group health plan with respect to a calendar year and a plan year, an employer who employed an average of at least 101 employees on business days during the preceding calendar year and who employs at least 1 employee on the first day of the plan year.

By this definition the US Congress definitely counts as a “large employer”. As a large employer Congress would utilize the Large and Small Group Markets portion of the exchange. This is per section 1304(a)(3):

(3) LARGE AND SMALL GROUP MARKETS.—The terms ‘‘large group market’’ and ‘‘small group market’’ mean the health insurance market under which individuals obtain health insurance coverage (directly or through any arrangement) on behalf of themselves (and their dependents) through a group health plan maintained by a large employer (as defined in subsection (b)(1)) or by a small employer (as defined in subsection (b)(2)), respectively.

Section 1312 (f)(2) states when large employers may begin utilizing the exchanges.

(2) QUALIFIED EMPLOYER.—In this title:
(A) IN GENERAL.—The term ‘‘qualified employer’’ means a small employer that elects to make all full-time employees of such employer eligible for 1 or more qualified health plans offered in the small group market through an Exchange that offers qualified health plans.
(B) EXTENSION TO LARGE GROUPS.—
(i) IN GENERAL.—Beginning in 2017, each State may allow issuers of health insurance coverage in the large group market in the State to offer qualified health plans in such market through an Exchange. Nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed as requiring the issuer to offer such plans through an Exchange.
(ii) LARGE EMPLOYERS ELIGIBLE.—If a State under clause (i) allows issuers to offer qualified health plans in the large group market through an Exchange, the term ‘‘qualified employer’’ shall include a large employer that elects to make all full-time employees of such employer eligible for 1 or more qualified health plans offered in the large group market through the Exchange.

It is not until 2017 that large employers will be allowed to offer qualified health plans into the exchanges. That is where the current debate resides  and how we have this paradox:

  1. ACA says Congress and their staff shall use the exchanges for their health plan once the exchanges are open.
  2. Because Congress has 100 or more employees ACA defines Congress as a “Large Employers”
  3. ACA says large employers must utilize the “Large Group Market” if they wish to utilize the exchanges.
  4. ACA states the Large Group Market will not be available until 2017.

Step 1 of this list states Congress and their staff have to use the exchanges when they open; yet Step 4 says they cannot use the exchanges because large employers are not eligible until 2017. So, when members of Congress or Obama are trying to “exempt Congress from Obamacare” they are actually trying to fix this paradox. Currently no matter what Congress does they are technically breaking the law.

The easiest fix is offered by the Republicans. Since employers cannot use the exchange as a qualified health plan until 2017, it would then mean the government cannot provide an employer contribution for them to be on the exchange. Therefore, the Republican side says, no fix is needed other than to stop subsidizing employees health plans. Republicans in the House and Senate have said Democrats should be OK with this fix. Since the health plans on the exchanges will be “cheap” it should be no problem for Congress to take this route. Of course they know this route will not be cheap, but it does make a valuable political statement when Democrats oppose this route.

Democrats have focused upon other potential fixes. One possible fix would be to provide an exemption to Congress that would allow them to subsidize their health insurance now (instead of waiting until 2017). By exempting them from the 2017 provision Congress and their staff could utilize the exchanges now with their employer contribution remaining intact. This is not the only method being mentioned to exempt Congress, but it is the most logical. (I have not yet looked at the method used by Obama to exempt Congress, that will be another post).

Personally I think the Republican option should be used. I do feel bad for Congressional staff that will be negatively impacted by their sudden large increase in health insurance. However it is the only path to let Democrats in DC feel the same pain caused by Obamacare that millions of Americans will also feel. So, if the Democrat “fix” is used then Congress technically IS trying to exempt itself from a part of Obamacare.

Categories: Obamacare Tags:

Common Core concerns conference in Sioux Falls on October 5

September 26, 2013 1 comment

On Saturday, October 5, SD Citizens for Liberty will be hosting a conference on Common Core. This conference will focus upon the many concerns brought up by Common Core standards being implemented in South Dakota. Dr. Sandra Stotsky will be a featured speaker for the event. As a member of the Common Core Validation Committee Dr Stotsky did not sign off on the English standards because they were “hollow”.

The  event details are shown on the flier shown below. Even though the event is free, attendees must get a ticket in advance. Lunch tickets are also available for $15. Go to this website to order tickets (free), order lunch Tickets ($15 each), or to make a donation to help fund this event.

SFCommonCore100513

Common Core Flier

This last Monday night I attended the Common Core meeting in Lake Norden and I will say it was quite enlightening. I would urge anyone that wants to learn about some of the concerns with Common Core attend this event. If you are unable to addend  the meeting it would be worth visiting the South Dakotans Against Common Core website.

Categories: Education Tags:

Cruz knows how to do a long speech

September 25, 2013 3 comments
Senator Cruz talking Obamacare on Senate floor

Senator Cruz talking Obamacare on Senate floor

Senator Cruz is just over 12 hours into his speech and still going (it is 3am for me as I write this). At first I believed this was a bad approach. I was wrong. Cruz is giving a very long and brilliant speech. The speech may in fact do some good.

It is important to look at what Cruz is hoping to achieve from this speech. At its core this speech began because Senator Reid said he will not allow a vote on the continuing resolution sent from the House as-is. Instead Reid will only allow one amendment (which happens to remove the defund Obamacare language) and then allow a vote. Any other amendments will not be allowed by Reid. Reid will not even consider an amendment from Senator Vitter that would prevent Congress from exempting themselves and their staff from Obamacare costs like other Americans. Cruz (with a lot of help from Sen Lee) has provided a couple of paths that can move the Senate forward on passing the continuing resolution. Senator Reid however is mimicking President Obama by taking a “I will not negotiate” approach. Cruz also mentioned there may be other answers, however the Democrat leadership in the Senate will not open dialogue for debate.

At the same time Cruz has made it hard for Republicans to go along with Reid and make their symbolic votes. I believe this move from Cruz should give him enough support to prevent cloture of debate on the continuing resolution later this week. Reid will try to make this look like Cruz and gang are ‘obstructionists’. However it is Reid that is denying debate on the continuing resolution or any amendments to be added by Republicans. A vote to end cloture under Reids terms is a vote to pass the continuing resolution with the Obamacare defunding language removed. Cruz has brought a great deal of attention to this, making it politically dangerous for Senate Republicans to make any symbolic-only votes.

I will be interested to see how this plays out during the week. If Reid refuses to make any efforts of a compromise there may be a real filibuster at the end of this week. Hopefully at that time the Senate floor will have more than 3 Senators in attendance.

Categories: Obamacare Tags:

Senator Ted Cruz talking Obamacare on the floor until he can no longer stand

September 24, 2013 Comments off
Senator Cruz talking Obamacare on Senate floor

Senator Cruz talking Obamacare on Senate floor

At 2:41 ET Senator Ted Cruz stood on the Senate floor in opposition to Obamacare. He is continuing to talk as I write this post. He said he will continue to speak until he can no longer stand.

Technically this is not a filibuster. Instead it is just a really, really, really long speech. Effectively though it is the same as a good old talk until you drop filibuster. Unfortunately it won’t stop anything. This according to The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to advance H.J.Res. 59 with an amendment to remove the House language that defunds ObamaCare.

A vote to end debate on the motion to proceed is expected Wednesday, and Cruz’s actions cannot stop that from happening.

Even if the vote cannot be stopped it is important for Cruz to continue his ‘speech’. It brings attention to the many problems with Obamacare. The Senate simply cannot say “I didn’t see this coming” during the 2014 election in response to Obamacare problems.

Yesterday I noted Congress should focus on a true debt-reducing budget instead of playing games with Continuing Resolutions and sequesters. I still believe that. However, I support Senator Cruz in his extremely long speech about Obamacare and the continuing resolution because of the attention it draws to the issue.

Anyone wanting to watch Senator Cruz can do so on CSPAN2. I will also be live-tweeting the speech via my twitter account @sodakliberty

Categories: Obamacare Tags:

Some notes from the Common Core meeting in Lake Norden

September 24, 2013 9 comments
Crowd at Lake Norden Common Core event

Crowd at Lake Norden Common Core event

Last night the group South Dakotans Against Common Core held an event in Lake Norden (home of the SD Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame). The event went about an hour past its scheduled hour and a half. It was great to see the Lake Norden Community Center full of concerned citizens. As I write this post I can’t help but feel common core would never have been adapted in South Dakota if such events happened before the implementation.

Kim St. John  hosted this event for SD Against Common Core. Like many she had only heard of Common Core earlier this year. Most of crowd I spoke with last night had only heard of common core within the last year.

About an hour of the event was presented by Mary Scheel-Buysee representing SD Against Common Core. She had a lot of very good information, which is also available on the South Dakotans Against Common Core website. Mary presented way too much information for one little blog post. I will highlight just a just two of the points brought up by Mary that I hope to do future research and posts upon:

  • Implementation of Common Core is technically not Federal. However, in true DC fashion, the Department of Education (DOE) is not afraid of dangling federal dollars (taxpayer dollars) in front of states to implement Common Core. This is a pretty standard method of the DOE to nationalize education without ‘force’. (Another example is the DOE requiring schools to teach the Constitution on Constitution Day).
  • Common Core has never been tested and there is no evidence it works. As a Project Manager I cringe at such a large undertaking being done without small-scale pilot testing in a couple of school districts. Common Core may be a good idea. However I’ve seen many good ideas fail because those implementing the ideas forgot to take actual reality into account. This angle in particular I hope to do more research upon and do a true write-up.

There is much more about common core I find troubling. There will be another event coming up in Sioux Falls for those concerned about common core (not sure of the details at this time).

After Mary spoke there were four panelists in attendance to provide their views on Common Core as state legislators. Over at Dakota War College there is post from Pat Powers that includes video of the panelists statements. Here are a some key points I would like to expand upon from each panelist:

  • Representative Jim Bolin (R-16). Rep Bolin has been trying hard to slow down or stop Common Core for the last three legislative sessions. I agree with Rep Bolin that Common Core is an attack upon local control and puts a huge financial burden upon local school districts. Most noteworthy is his use of the term ‘leviathan’. That just seems to be the most appropriate term I’ve heard for Common Core.
  • Representative Jim Stalzer (R-11). Rep Stalzer mirrored the number one concern I’ve heard from anti-CommonCore people: it feels like the whole system was created and implemented behind closed doors. Considering how large of a change Common Core is bringing about in education, it is surprising how little is known in the general public about the standards.
  • Representative Brock Greenfield (R-2). Rep Greenfield compared Common Core to outcome based education. I tend to agree with Brock on the subject. I plan to do more research on this topic as well. I’ve seen outcome based education place additional burdens upon learning institutions with little or no return for the extra investments required. I believe such systems focus more on getting all students to the same destination; as opposed to getting each student to maximize their knowledge and experience.
  • Representative Burt Tulson (R-2). Rep Tulson was interesting as a panelist because he neither an opponent or proponent of Common Core. Rep Tulson did receive some negative comments for not being against Common Core. This upcoming legislative session I expect lobby groups from both sides of the debate will hound legislators like Rep Tulson to their side. If the anti-CommonCore side continues to attack him that may end up hurting the cause (I say this having made my own mistakes in attacking people, there are consequences).

Finally there was a Q&A session. This session went on for a long time. It is worth noting that there were a few teachers in attendance that felt events such as this were attacking teachers. I don’t believe this to be true. However I think Rep Greenfield did a good job of letting everyone (including these teachers) that this was not and anti-teacher event. These teachers were allowed to speak and present alternative views. Some interesting points they had include:

  • The math portions of the presentation were just ‘snippets’ of curriculum. Judging a math question without the work and education leading up to that question can be seen as unfair. The teacher may have a point, however the ‘snippet’ shown had multiple correct answers. Schools and teachers are constantly saying parent involvement is important. However I had no idea what the correct answer to the snippet in question was. How can parents be expected to help in their child’s education if the whole system has been changed on them?
  • The new math methods are called ‘investigations’. These are being implemented on a per-district basis. Common Core as a set of standards does not require use of this method. This is almost true; however almost all of the curriculum that  will meet the Common Core standards also happen to come from the same Corporations that are pushing the new math method. Yes, there is choice, however the alternative choice may be to continue using old education materials.
  • Parents must learn along with their children. I understand this point, but disagree with it. The teacher said parents may have to relearn how math is done. I am definitely all for new and improved methods. Changing how math is being done is a huge change however. Before we change how American children learn math it may be worth determining if this change will actually provide any benefits. If there are true benefits to this change I don’t think parents such as myself will have problems learning the new system.

I would like to note that the teachers speaking for Common Core were allowed to present their case. This is in contrast the event in Sioux Falls last week where concerned citizens were not allowed to ask questions that made Common Core look bad. I have a feeling this topic will become huge in Pierre during the 2014 legislative session. Hopefully I will be able to research more before then so I can lobby legislators appropriately.

PS. I heard the term “new math” a lot last night. It brought to mind a ‘new math’ movement from the 1960’s and this classic song from Tom Lehrer (the relevance of this song seems even greater now):

PPS. One Tom Lehrer song just isn’t enough. Here is another education based song for anyone that wants to learn the chemical elements.

CBO releases data showing record debt as a percentage of GDP is approaching

September 23, 2013 3 comments

Last week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released the 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook report. The most noteworthy finding from this report is that “Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of the economy’s annual output, or gross domestic product (GDP).” Only once has the United States had debt at such high levels, and that was during World War II when all resources were being redirected to the military-industrial complex. It is also worth noting the current level is more than double the debt level of 2007. These levels simply cannot be sustained for the country to stay fiscally sound. If these projects hold it will make the previous records set during WWI look like a little ‘blip’.

Below is the chart from the CBO showing federal debt as a percentage of GDP projection for the next 25 years. Next year (FY2014) there will be a slight increase, followed by a couple of years of slight decreases. The federal debt held by public as a percentage of GDP will reach 100% by 2038. Such projections make the debt ceiling and continuing resolution debates seem pretty silly. Congress has to start working on true downsizing of government. Only trimming waste and duplicity from the Federal government are likely to reverse this trend.

CBOdebt

Image Source: CBO

Part of the reason for this growth in debt is because the Obama years are continuing the Bush administrations standard of higher spending compared to revenues. The chart below shows this trend. The good news is that spending for 2013 has dropped. However from this point on there is a slight rise in spending each future year of the CBO projection. The chart below shows about a 6% percentage of GDP spending/revenue deficit by 2038. This deficit will allow the federal debt as a percentage of GDP will reach 100% by 2038.

Image Source: CBO

Image Source: CBO

Now for the good news: This projection is based upon currently passed laws. It is not too late to change course! I would recommend reading the report summary or the whole report (PDF). It shows how healthcare and social security spending will completely overwhelm federal spending in the next 25 years. I would also recommend everyone pressure our DC legislators into passing a true debt-reducing budget. DC legislators playing their debt-ceiling and budget continuing resolution game does nothing but act as politicized procrastination. Politicians on both sides have got to start making these tough decisions before it is too late.

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