Laboratories Of Democracy

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Election 2008, Health Care, The Economy at 2:46 pm by wcnews

In his column today David Sirota tells us what we need to hear. More often, there’s more action in the minor leagues, or in this discussion the state legislatures, Digging In the Right Place. While everyone is focused on the major league contest of the presidential race, change will come from state legislatures first. The health care reform we need will start at the state level and bubble up from there to the national level. He’s basically saying we may be putting too much effort into changing our health care system at the national level, at least at this time.

There’s a memorable moment in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones sees a rival’s archaeological excavation and realizes the buried treasure is somewhere else. “They’re digging in the wrong place!” he exclaims.

The line could explain why our national elections leave us feeling empty. By expecting so much so fast from Washington D.C., we are digging for “change” in the wrong place.

Think about it: The White House can only be won by raising truckloads of cash from moneyed interests looking to preserve the status quo. Likewise, the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rules allow 41 lawmakers, representing just 11 percent of the population, to stop anything. These are institutions designed to prevent change, not embrace it.

Thankfully, the same cannot be said for the so-called “laboratories of democracy” — state legislatures. Amid pundits’ breathless analyses of Hillary Clinton’s tear ducts, these arenas quietly opened throughout America this month. And from beneath the rubble of celebrity-obsessed campaign journalism and the ruins of national political gridlock, change is being exhumed in two bellwether states.

In a move making health care lobbyists quiver, Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser (D), chairwoman of her legislature’s powerful health committee, this week introduced the nation’s most far-reaching universal health care proposal. Her legislation is the American West’s version of a parallel Wisconsin initiative, and the replication suggests this model may begin building the universal health care system our country wants.

The plan is simple: Employers and employees pay a modest payroll tax in exchange for full medical benefits, with no premiums. Patients never lose coverage and pick the doctors they prefer. And for the spendthrifts, here’s the best part: According to an analysis of the Wisconsin proposal by the nonpartisan Lewin Group, the plan would save middle-class families an annual average of $750 on their existing health care bills. In all, the state would save almost $14 billion over the next decade.

Seem too good to be true? That’s because you’re used to being bilked by an insurance industry that drives up premiums, drives down benefits and gives executives like former UnitedHealth CEO William McGuire $1.6 billion worth of stock options in one year.
Eliminating that greed is precisely how the Washington state and Wisconsin proposals simultaneously save money and cover everyone.

That’s why it’s very important to get the Texas House back in Democratic control. Then Texas can start reforming health care.

There’s also an interesting article in the NYTimes detailing the differences and similarities between the Bush I recession and the Bush II recession, A Revival of 1992’s Glum Mood.

The most important difference between 1992 and today — if not the most obvious one — is the source of that anxiety. Then, as Mr. Clinton noted at Wharton, Japan and Germany seemed to be leaving the United States behind. Companies weren’t investing enough in new equipment, and productivity — the amount an average worker turns out in an hour — had been growing slowly since the 1970s. None of that would necessarily end when the recession did, he said.

But as the budget deficit fell and stocks soared, business investment and productivity both picked up. Middle-class incomes surged for the first time in decades. Polls showed Americans in the late 1990s to be more optimistic than at any time since the mid-’60s.

In some ways, the good times have continued under the current President Bush. For the last six years, the economy has been growing at a pretty healthy clip. The problem now isn’t the level of growth but how little of it is filtering down to the middle class.

In today’s economy, middle-class incomes have almost no margin for error. Unless there is a true boom, incomes don’t grow much. And the economy has slowed enough this decade to tip the balance and to leave people worrying that worse is yet to come.

“In ’92, there was a greater fear of staying in one place,” said Gene Sperling, an economic adviser to Mr. Clinton then and to Hillary Clinton now. “In 2008, there is a greater fear of falling.”

The solution will probably need to involve some combination of education, health care and tax changes. Keep in mind that middle-class families have received not only modest raises in recent years; they have also received smaller reductions in their overall federal tax rates than high-income families have. That’s a tough combination.

Why is it that a Bush Presidency has to end with a recession?


  1. HeavyDuty said,

    January 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    Health care issues won’t be solved by elected officials at the state or federal level till the voters realize that there are simple decisions to be made. Do you want good health care? Did you know that it can be done better, for all, cheaper than what we, as a nation, are paying now? Do you, as voters, have what it takes to hang in there long enough to fight moneyed interests with lots of profits to loose?

    There are three approaches to medical care: prevention, cure and treatment. The best for the patient is prevention; not getting sick. The second best is to be cured; quickest possible complete recovery. The third best is extended treatment of a medical problem; when prevention and cure aren’t an option.

    The problem is that the most profitable approach to medicine is treatment. If one wants the most efficient and effective medical care you must go head-to-head with industries that have developed around, and profited greatly, from treatment exclusively.

    This is not a difficult decision to make, because study after study has determined that citizens of the USA spend the most for their health care and get the least return on that investment (when compared to the health care of any of the other first world, and many developing, countries).

    The answer is single payer health care. This is not to be confused with single provider medicine, because it is no such thing. This is not an answer that needs to come from state or federal legislatures, because it needs to come from voters fighting (determined to get to the best health care for their families) against persistent, well vested interests with serious profit margins to loose.

  2. HeavyDuty said,

    January 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    If the economic situation of 2008 reminds one of the 1992 economic gloom then one might also remember the collapse of the savings and loan industry in 1986.

    It seems that an entire branch of the financial services industry had huge portfolios of investments that were collapsing and leaving them with unmanageable debt. The market had been left on its own by the Reagan administration and the result was a really huge economic disaster that was left to the taxpayers to resolve.

    Of course 1986 was an election year for all of the US House of Representatives and one third of the US Senate, so no mention was made of the impending disaster (except for one, and only one, time that Rep. Henry Gonzalez let the secret slip). The year of delay allowed what was estimated to be a $50 billion problem to fester till it was to take $500 billion to resolve.

    The Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), a temporary division of our federal government, was created to find the nonperforming (defaulted) assets, and bill them to the taxpayers. Then find the remaining assets, which were performing, and create portfolios to be given to surviving financial institutions; the Savings and Loan industry disappeared. In addition to the S&L vanishing act, local ownership of every multi-branch bank in Texas, with the sole exception of Frost Bank, was ceded to out-of-state interests (because of financial necessity) privately or by the RTC.

    Another part of the RTC’s charter was that they were NOT to investigate, or turn over to investigating agencies, any evidence of suspected criminal activity.

    Today we find ourselves in the midst of an economic crisis brought on largely by excessive numbers of nonperforming, sub-prime, home loans. It should be remembered that the S&L industry was a home loan providing, financial services industry.

    Once again the market is mired in trouble of its own making and the cry has gone out for Uncle Sam to, “save us.” The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates so that the market can borrow its way out of the credit problem, it created, as cheaply as possible. Oh, while you’re at it, reduce taxes on the very folks and corporations that were at the helm of the businesses that were over-marketing loans that they knew to be sub-prime.

    It’s time to ask the voters to stand, once again, against well vested interests that repeatedly pay for lawmakers and laws that allow them to work behind closed doors, allow the market function properly, then seek government bail-outs when the market realizes its in serious trouble; without admitting any guilt.

  3. remerson said,

    January 19, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Let us remember that the bleeding of American jobs resulted for the institution of very unbalanced deals under NAFTA and the China trade initiative; there was an immediate bump up in the economy as we realized profit from, essentially, selling off our assets, then the slow, steady decline began-and with the Bush brigade milking the cash cow for his cronies.

    Let us not forget that both those policies initiated under Bush I, but were co-opted (along with a lot of other Republican initiatives) by a Democratic President.

  4. Laboratories Of Democracy said,

    January 20, 2008 at 2:59 am

    […] Elliott Petty wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptIn a move making health care lobbyists quiver, Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser (D), chairwoman of her legislature’s powerful health committee, this week introduced the nation’s most far-reaching universal health care proposal. … […]

  5. The Texas Blue said,

    January 23, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    TPA Roundup, Week of 1/12/08

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