“If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal", then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal.”
John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage

Poverty in America

Robert Reich Explains the Economy

Tea Party Pubic Service Announcement

October 25, 2009

The Tyranny of the Minority

Hiding Behind the Filibuster Threat

Why is it that the Democrats have a solid majority in both houses of Congress, but are still unable to move their agenda along? The framers of the constitution established our democracy as majority rule, and most congressional votes require a simple majority, or fifty-one votes in the senate, well within the 60-seat majority currently held by the Democrats. But yet we are told that important bills such as health care reform are being held up and watered down because the Democrats have been unable to draft a bill that can garner a full sixty votes to head off a possible filibuster. And that is the key here, “a possible filibuster.” In today’s senate, just the threat of a “possible” filibuster is enough to make the Democrats run for cover and abandon their legislative priorities.

Do the math, how does a sixty to forty seat majority in the Senate not add up to a mandate by the American people to carry out an agenda of heath care reform, tax reform and other issues that are important to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. I find it odd that even with a legislative mandate the Democrats are unable to move forward on so many important issues.

Nine years ago then candidate George W. Bush failed to win a majority of the voters, but was awarded a majority of electoral votes by the Republican dominated Supreme Court. This did not daunt the newly appointed President. Riding into Washington with his Texas cowboy boots he acted as if his questionable election was indeed a mandate from the American people. He proceeded to ride roughshod over a cowering and some might say cowardly Democratic minority in Congress. His agenda included tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, an unjust war in Iraq and gutting the Constitution among other priorities. All with the quiet acquiescence of the Democratic minority. So, as a minority in Congress the Democrats are unable to stop regressive legislation, and as a majority they are unable to pass progressive legislation. All under the cover of the supposed threat of a filibuster. Right now Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, is allowing a small number of conservative Democrats to hijack effective health care reform by submitting to their threat of joining the Republicans by not blocking a filibuster, and then protecting these same Democrats by maintaining their anonymity.

If our image of a senate filibuster is Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith goes to Washington, where a single senator speaks for days until exhaustion takes over to stop legislation, or the performances of racist Southern Senators filibustering civil rights legislation, that image needs to be updated. The filibuster first came into use on the mid-1800’s when a senator or group of senators would maintain the floor of the senate, speaking for as long as they could, or until the bill that they opposed was withdrawn. It wasn’t until 1917 that the Senate adopted the cloture rule allowing for a two-thirds majority of those voting to end a filibuster. From 1949 to 1975, the number required to end a filibuster waivered back and forth between two-thirds of those voting and two-thirds of the senate. Regardless of the vote need for cloture, the filibuster proved an effective tool to block progressive legislation. One example was the record setting filibuster of Strom Thurmond in his failed attempt to block civil rights legislation. He lasted for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Then in 1964, southern Democrats attempted to block the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 by filibustering for 75 hours.

Courageous Senate Majority leaders have broken filibusters in the past utilizing procedural issues. Strom Thurmond’ filibuster was rendered futile by then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who held all senate business from reaching the floor until the filibuster exhausted itself, paving the way for the civil rights bill to go to the floor for a vote and eventual passage. Too bad Harry Reid does not have that level of courage. If Mr. Reid, (Democrat from Nevada) was majority leader during the civil rights era, we would still have segregation and Jim Crow laws throughout the south.

In the modern day filibuster, all one has to do is threaten to take this action and the ruling Democrats run for cover. When Strom Thurmond or southern Democrats took to the floor of the senate to filibuster civil rights legislation we knew who the enemy was. They were forced to come forward and stand in front of the senate for all to see. Today however, Mr. Reid, and indeed the Democratic caucus in the senate are allowing a small minority of senators to hide behind anonymity and block effective health care reform by the mere threat of a filibuster. We need to ask ourselves if this is truly a democracy when the will of the electorate can be thwarted by a anonymous minority?

The filibuster does not exist in the House because in 1842 the House adopted strict rules limiting debate. Prior to that, filibusters were allowed in the House also. Could there be a better time for a democratic majority to restore democracy to the senate floor and adopt rules that would limit debate in that branch of Congress also? After 167 years, perhaps it is time for the Senate to catch up to their colleagues in the House and advance the cause of democracy.

October 16, 2009

Medicare for All: Yes We Can by Holly Sklar

Published on Saturday, September 26, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

More Americans die of lack of health insurance than terrorism, homicide, drunk driving and HIV combined.

Grandma could be dead from lack of health insurance before she turns 65 and gets Medicare - 80 percent of first-time grandparents are in their 40s and 50s.

America is the only country that rations the right to health care to those 65 and older.

Lack of health insurance kills 45,000 American adults a year, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. One out of three Americans under age 65 had no private or public health insurance for some or all of 2007-2008.

You can't go the emergency room for the screening that will catch cancer or heart disease early, or ongoing treatment to manage chronic kidney disease or asthma. And even emergency care is different for the insured and uninsured. Studies show uninsured car crash victims receive less care in the hospital, for example.

Even with health insurance, many Americans are a medical crisis away from bankruptcy. Research shows 62 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were medical, a share up 50 percent since 2001. Most of the medically bankrupt had health insurance - the kind insuring profits, not health care.

Health insurance executives don't worry about going bankrupt from getting sick. Forbes reports that CIGNA's CEO made $121 million in the last five years and Humana's CEO made $57 million.

We're harmed by health industry and political leaders following the Hypocritic Oath: Promise a lot, and deliver as little as possible.

Wendell Potter, CIGNA's chief of corporate communications until quitting in 2008, testified to Congress, "The status quo for most Americans is that health insurance bureaucrats stand between them and their doctors right now, and maximizing profit is the mandate." He said, "Every time you hear about the shortcomings of what they call 'government-run' health care, remember this: what we have now ... and what the insurers are determined to keep in place, is Wall Street-run health care."

Premiums for employer-sponsored family health insurance jumped 131 percent between 1999 and 2009 - from $5,791 to $13,375 - hurting businesses, employees and families.

Contrary to myth, the United States does not have the world's best health care. We're No. 1 in health care spending, but No. 50 in life expectancy, just before Albania, according to the CIA World Factbook. In Japan, people live four years longer than Americans. Canadians live three years longer. Forty-three countries have better infant mortality rates.

One or two health insurance companies dominate most metropolitan areas in the United States.

Health industry lobbyists and campaign contributors have gotten between you and your congressperson so they can keep getting between you and your doctor. There are 3,098 health sector lobbyists swarming Capitol Hill - nearly six for every member of Congress.

As Business Week put it in August, "Health insurers are winning." They "have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable."

President Obama should listen to his doctor. Dr. David Scheiner was Obama's doctor for 22 years in Chicago. On the July 30 anniversary of Medicare, Scheiner said, "I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care ... Insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care."

Scheiner belongs to Physicians for a National Health Program, which, like a majority of Americans, favors Medicare for All - 58 percent favored "Having a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all" in the July 2009 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, for example.

Tell President Obama and Congress, Yes we can have Medicare for All. Rep. Anthony Weiner's amendment would substitute the text of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (HR 676), which has 86 co-sponsors, for House legislation HR 3200. Like the even worse Baucus bill in the Senate, HR 3200 would feed for-profit insurers more customers without providing the universal health care Medicare could provide at much lower cost.

It's time to stop peddling health reform snake oil.

Medicare for All won't kill Grandma, but it may save her children and grandchildren.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service

© 2009 Holly Sklar

Holly Sklar is co-author of "Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us" and "A Just Minimum Wage: Good for Workers, Business and Our Future." She can be reached at hsklar@aol.com.

"Bi-Partisan" Health Reform?

On Tuesday October 13th the Senate Finance committee reported out a “bi-partisan” health care bill. Bi-partisan generally means that a bill has garnered the support of two opposing political parties. The Democrats were so thirsty to claim the mantle of bi-partisanship that they relentlessly courted one Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe from Maine to win her support. However, in order to win just this one Republican vote the President was willing to abandon his campaign pledge of a pubic option, even in the face of strong public support for a government run option. Outing Senator Snowe’s tentative support President Obama stated the we have reached a “critical milestone” and that “we are now closer than ever before to passing health reform.”

Why the fear of a government option. Well according to the critics of such a plan, the government is not capable of running anything, and f there was a government option it would be unfair competition for private insurers. This spurious argument does not make sense. Firstly, if the government is not capable of running anything, then he private insurers would have nothing to fear form a poorly run public plan. On the other hand, if the government can run a health insurance program more effectively and efficiently, then the private insurers would have competition that would draw customers away. Is it really the role of government to insure the profits of private corporations? Perhaps since the massive and ill-conceived bailout of financiers who are now reaping huge bonuses for their failures, this is now an accepted government role.

So the real question is could the government run a national health care program and do it more effectively and more efficiently than private insurers, and if this can be done shouldn't this be something that all of our elected officials should support? We have vast experience with government-run health care programs. Medicare serves millions of older Americans and the Veterans Health System serves military veterans. Recent studies have shown that the users both of these systems are overwhelmingly satisfied with the service that they receive. Medicare received a 68% approval rating form its users, while private insurers only received a 48% approval rating. In a 2008 survey of the Veterans health programs, 79% of participants gave the VA a rating of excellent or very good. So, in actuality it would seem that the government is a better provider than private insurers. The real question then is why did President Obama take the public option off the table even before the debate really began, is the appearance of b-partisanship more important that ensuring that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care?

Let’s take a look at a quick overview of the Senate bill that the President has declared a “critical milestone.”

The major changes that this bill will bring to fruition include:

1. Requiring all US citizens and legal residents to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. Excluded form this mandate are American Indians, those for whom this would impose a financial hardship and individuals with a religious objection

2. Creation of State-based Health Insurance Exchanges: These would function as buying-cooperatives where small businesses and people without employer-sponsored health insurance can purchase policies of their own. The hope is that by creating these exchanges, individuals and small businesses who could not purchase affordable insurance would now have increased buying power through these exchanges. Small businesses could qualify for tax credits for providing coverage through these health exchanges, and individuals earning between 100-400% of the federal poverty level could qualify for federal subsidies to purchase insurance through these exchanges. Similar exchanges have been tried and failed in several states including Texas, California, Florida and North Carolina. These proposed sate-exchanges may just be another case of “everything old is new again.” This plan also proposes instituting penalties for employers with more than fifty employees for each of their employees who receives a tax credit for participating in the health insurance exchange.

3. Expanding Medicaid to serve people earning up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Individuals earning between 100% and 133% of the poverty level can choose to be covered through a health insurance exchange instead of Medicaid and receive a federal subsidy.

4. New regulations for insurers will prohibit denials for pre-existing conditions or to deny coverage to participants for treatments or illness. In addition new revenues will be raised through an excise tax on insurers whose premiums exceed certain limits, and an increase in taxes on pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical device manufacturers and health insurers.

5. Undocumented immigrants will be barred from participating in health exchanges even if they could purchase the insurance without government subsidy.

6. Limits abortion coverage by requiring that plans providing this coverage must segregate public subsidy funds from private premium funds, and abortion coverage cannot be required as part of a minimum benefit package.

A complete side by side comparison of the various bills curently in the House and Senate can be found at http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/healthreform_tri_full.pdf

October 10, 2009

Bombing The Moon

This past Saturday morning, millions of people awoke early to catch a glimpse of NASA’s latest pubic relations event, the bombing of he moon. Now you may ask, “what did the moon ever do to us to deserve to be bombed?” It is not about what the moon may or may not have done to us, but it is more about the public events that NASA must continue to stage to justify it’s more than $17 billion annual budget.

Sadly for those millions who set their alarms to see the spectacular plume predicted to be created when a multi-million dollar spacecraft crashed into the moon’s surface, the show never materialized as predicted.

The purpose of this intentional lunar crash was to create a several miles high plume of lunar material that a second spacecraft would fly through sending data on the content of the material set aloft by the first crash, before self-immolating itself into the same crash site. What was the intended purpose of this spectacular and costly experiment? To determine if there is water on the moon in the form of ice below the surface. If there is water, then it would make it more feasible to colonize the moon.

This experiment and failed lunar show cost the American taxpayers approximately $604 million. I don’t recall any public debate about whether or not we could afford this amount of money during such fiscally constrained times. Nor do I recall debate about whether or not this money could have been better spent to address current needs rather than some future goal of colonizing the moon.

But while this NASA project was being implemented the public debate over whether we can afford universal health care raged on as did similar debates about the cost of extending unemployment benefits, adequately funding public education or the government’s legitimate role in funding much needed social and human services.

While we found more than $600 million to spend on determining whether or not there is water on the moon, approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean, safe drinking water right here on earth. It is estimated that due to this lack of access to clean, safe water, 4,500 children die each day of preventable water-borne illnesses. Imagine how far $604 million could go to save just a few of those lives. According to Kofi Anan former United Nations Secretary General “we shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have won the battle for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.”

But perhaps you may say, well we have many social and health problems right here in the US affecting our people and that we should target limited dollars to these needs. Well it certainly is true that we have no shortage of issues right here at home that need to be addressed.

Let’s start with public education for example. We know that a good education is the best ticket out of poverty, we also know that fully 17% of all children under the age of 18 live in poverty (the highest child poverty rate in the developed world), yet as a result of this current fiscal crisis every state and local education budget has been cut, laying off teachers and vital support staff. If we just skipped this costly lunar experiment, the $604 million could have been used to hire 10,000 public school teachers. Imagine what impact that could have on local schools that are buckling under cutbacks that have reduced their teacher rolls.

But education is not the only factor keeping people in poverty, the cost of housing is another. Today in the US, we have learned to live with homelessness that effects more than 1 million people. While we like to cast homeless people as drunks, dope addicts and mentally ill, the fact is the single most prevalent cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. That same $604 million could have been used to produce approximately 4,500 units of affordable housing. Just a small drop in the bucket and one that would not significantly reduce the number of homeless people, but imagine the impact on those 4,500 families. I am sure it would be considerably more long lasting, and more life changing, than waking up early to witness a lunar bombing.

What about health care? The debate raging in Congress is about cost and whether or not a government-run program is desirable or would be better than our current system of private insurers. Since single-payer was taken off the table at the very beginning of the current debate, we seem to have forgotten about the 47 million Americans without health coverage. One statistic that has not found its way into the public debate are the 18,000 people who die each year in the US from preventable illnesses because they do not have access to health care. If we skipped just this one NASA moon adventure, the $604 million cost could have been used to provide one year of health coverage for about 183,000 people.

I could go on with more examples of how this money might have been spent in alternative ways that provide a direct benefit to millions of people, but I think you get the point. Instead of creating a media frenzy about the wonderful pictures that will be returned of the lunar blast, we should be engage in a discussion of national priorities. When resources are limited, how do we focus them to do the most good for the largest number of people? Unless we begin to address this basic question, we will continue to fail all basic measures of a good society, which for the US now include the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, the lowest literacy rate of all western industrialized countries, along with the highest murder rate, highest child poverty rate and the highest school drop out rate among other factors.

But we can be proud as a nation that we were the first to bomb the moon, even though we are the last in so many other measures that really count

We're Back

After a hiatus of almost one year, the Social Welfare Spot is back online.
We will continue to post information that is current and relevant to human needs in the United States.
For those of you who followed the blog, I want to apologize for its prolonged absence, but we are back now and hope to continue to serve as a resource for people interested in social welfare policy. This will include commentary on current issues and dissemination of of the writings and research of others to help spread important and relevant information.
I hope that past readers will once again find this site useful.
Thank you for your patience