Fact Checking Health Care Reform

While there are certainly legitimate reasons to object to the current health care proposals, Republicans have chosen to attack by misrepresenting what is being proposed as opposed to engaging in honest debate. Rather than having an honest debate of ideas we have an endless series of distortions from the right with supporters of health care reform attempting to set the record straight. A couple of web sites have been established to fact check the claims from the right. Organizing for America has established  Setting the Record Straight. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has set up Health Care Fact Check.

Of course the battle to get out the truth continues to be waged here in the blogs and sometimes in the media. Steven Pearlstein addressed many of the falsehoods spread by the right in a column in The Washington Post:

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress — I’ve made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.

Under any plan likely to emerge from Congress, the vast majority of Americans who are not old or poor will continue to buy health insurance from private companies, continue to get their health care from doctors in private practice and continue to be treated at privately owned hospitals.

The centerpiece of all the plans is a new health insurance exchange set up by the government where individuals, small businesses and eventually larger businesses will be able to purchase insurance from private insurers at lower rates than are now generally available under rules that require insurers to offer coverage to anyone regardless of health condition. Low-income workers buying insurance through the exchange — along with their employers — would be eligible for government subsidies. While the government will take a more active role in regulating the insurance market and increase its spending for health care, that hardly amounts to the kind of government-run system that critics conjure up when they trot out that oh-so-clever line about the Department of Motor Vehicles being in charge of your colonoscopy.

There is still a vigorous debate as to whether one of the insurance options offered through those exchanges would be a government-run insurance company of some sort. There are now less-than-even odds that such a public option will survive in the Senate, while even House leaders have agreed that the public plan won’t be able to piggy-back on Medicare. So the probability that a public-run insurance plan is about to drive every private insurer out of business — the Republican nightmare scenario — is approximately zero.

By now, you’ve probably also heard that health reform will cost taxpayers at least a trillion dollars. Another lie.

First of all, that’s not a trillion every year, as most people assume — it’s a trillion over 10 years, which is the silly way that people in Washington talk about federal budgets. On an annual basis, that translates to about $140 billion, when things are up and running.

Even that, however, grossly overstates the net cost to the government of providing universal coverage. Other parts of the reform plan would result in offsetting savings for Medicare: reductions in unnecessary subsidies to private insurers, in annual increases in payments rates for doctors and in payments to hospitals for providing free care to the uninsured. The net increase in government spending for health care would likely be about $100 billion a year, a one-time increase equal to less than 1 percent of a national income that grows at an average rate of 2.5 percent every year.

The Republican lies about the economics of health reform are also heavily laced with hypocrisy.

While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers — the only two ways I can think of to credibly bring health spending under control.

When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn’t, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly.

This is only an overview of the evidence against all the outrageous lies coming from the right. A full refutation of all their lies would take far more space than would be allowed for a single column. I have addressed many of these topics in health care posts on this blog.

I do have one objection to an otherwise excellent column. Pearlstein calls the Republicans responsible for these distortions “political terrorists.” They are dishonest and their actions are harmful to both civil discourse and to the country but there remains a considerable difference between this form of action and terrorism, with the use of such labels sounding too much like the name calling which has become commonplace from the right wing. Even with some of the unsavory acts used to disrupt town halls discussing health care reform, this is hardly comparable to the type of violence utilized by true terrorists.

Jenny Sanford Moving Out

I’ve previously expressed respect for how Jenny Sanford has handled the scandal surrounding her husband’s “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” She has now announced that she is moving out. The State reports:

First Lady Jenny Sanford announced Friday she is moving with her four sons to Charleston and will no longer live in the Governor’s Mansion.

Gov. Mark Sanford later issued a statement saying he stood by the decision and that it was best for the family’s reconciliation process and for the boys in the coming school year.

The Sanfords have been trying to work on their marriage since Gov. Sanford admitted a yearlong extramarital affair in June with an Argentine woman.

Jenny Sanford had this to say in her statement:

“I am so thankful for the overwhelming support and prayers we have received from people all across South Carolina. I am literally in awe of how blessed we are to have such love and support from family and friends, old and new.”

“It is with this support, and after much careful and prayerful consideration, that I have decided to move back to our home in Charleston with our sons for the upcoming school year.”

“From there, we will work to continue the process of healing our family.”

Personally I see one good reason for Jenny Sanford to move out of the Governor’s Mansion–in this case she can’t kick her husband out of the house.

Defining Progressive and Libertarian Views

With August generally being a slow news month Arnold Kling has set up a discussion which could keep bloggers busy for the next several days. Kling asks what progressives believe and gave a few ideas. Tyler Cowen took the bait and gave a much longer list which presents views which I doubt very many actual progressives will identify with. See, for example, the responses by Matthew Yglesias, Tristero, and Ezra Klein.

Kling defined progressive beliefs around views of the market:

1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

3. Technocrats know how to improve outcomes in many areas.

4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

5. Conservatives and libertarians disagree with (1) and (2)

I might be the wrong person to respond with regards to progressive beliefs as I personally avoid that term. One problem with defining political labels is that a wide variety of people tend to fall under the handful of labels in common use. I tend to divide liberals and progressives into at least two groups (with considerable overlap and some who this division doesn’t work well) as I discussed in this post.

In general I would use progressive more for those on the left who are stronger proponents of big government projects (and market intervention) while I use liberal for those of us who concentrate on issues such as individual liberty and turn to government more as a necessity than something we inherently support.Therefore my first problem with the definitions by Kling and Cowen is with making views on intervention in the economy as the defining factors. Other areas, such as protecting civil liberties, limiting the power of government (as opposed to dwelling on size of government), and protecting separation of church and state are of greater significance to me.

Besides a stress on liberty (while allowing for some restrictions which libertarians might not support), I would also define liberalism as primarily a reality-based view of the world which encompasses a wide variety of views in contrast to the anti-scientific biases of the current conservative movement which relies upon religion as opposed to science and reason to explore the universe and solve problems. While conservatives are often blinded to reality by their fundamentalist theological views and other delusions,  many libertarians treat the free market in a similarly religious manner.

With regards to markets I view the entire issue different from how Kling attempts to divide progressive and libertarian views. Kling seems to lean more towards the Adam Smith invisible hand view of the market in opposing government intervention, thinking markets work just fine on their own. Liberals and progressives are more likely to see markets as being a human creation, not something with mystical powers of its own.

Liberals and progressives believe markets require a certain amount of regulation to work. Of course this isn’t purely a liberal belief. For example, some conservatives such as Richard Posner have realized that the current economic crisis is a result of insufficient regulation of the financial sector. While markets are the best way of handling most tasks, there are areas where markets do not work. While the most extreme libertarians would turn the police and military over to the market, most of us fear that this would lead to abuse of power and would prefer to leave these functions in the hands of government (while also monitoring the government closely for abusing their power). Health care has provided another example of where the market has failed requiring the government to step in. Markets have led to a situation where insurance companies increase profits not by providing service but by finding ways to deny claims and eliminate their most costly beneficiaries, requiring government action to reform the system.

Tyler Cowen concluded his off target attempt to describe progressives with this challenge: “It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.” This is difficult not due to a lack of understanding of libertarianism but because of the the wide variety of views which fall under that label.

Classically libertarians could be defined as opposing the initiation of force. To the most extreme/consistent libertarian this included taxation which is seen as theft. Such libertarians were divided between anarcho-capitalists who would rely on the market for everything and limited government libertarians. Many limited government libertarians continued to oppose taxation, turning to everything from user fees to lotteries to finance the very limited government functions they supported.

The problem with supporting limited government once you support some degree of taxation and restrictions on the individual (beyond restrictions on the initiation of force) is that it is possible for many to support a wide degree of government action while justifying this as libertarian. Those who use the libertarian label tend to concentrate more on economic issues as Arnold Kling and Thyler Cowen did in their posts. Many libertarians were fooled by Republican free market rhetoric, leading to the stereotype of libertarians as Republicans who have smoked marijuana. Other libertarians have seen through this rhetoric. This includes Will Wilkinson who wrote, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

Over the past few decades I have noted a wide range of acceptance of (generally) limited government activity by different people who call themselves libertarians. In general libertarians tend to support limited, if any, government intervention in the economy while (sometimes as a secondary position) also support civil liberties. Some who might be called libertarian stray further from a pro-liberty position. This was seen during the Ron Paul campaign as Paul, and to an even greater degree many of his supporters, backed portions of the agenda of the religious right. An even greater divergence from classical libertarian views is seen with some who call themselves libertarian while supporting the Iraq war and the associated restrictions on civil liberties in the Bush “war on terror.” The most extreme example of this are the “Libertarian Republican” views of Eric Dondero (aka Rittberg) who supports what would amount to a military dictatorship with elimination of civil liberties in order to fight the threat to liberty from “Islamo-Fascism.” (To be fair to libertarians, most libertarians I know laugh at the idea that he is a libertarian).

My real point in discussing the difficulty in defining libertarianism by noting the wide variety of views which it encompasses is to demonstrate the problems with such labels in a way which libertarians such as Cowen might acknowledge. Just as libertarianism contains a wide variety of views, the same is also true of progressivism and liberalism. To define liberal and progressive views based upon intervention in the economy misses gist of what liberals and progressives really believe in.

Chris Dodd Cleared on Ethics Complaint

Chris Dodd has been cleared of ethics violations by the Senate ethics committee but he was chastised for not doing enough to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The Hartford Courant reports:

The Senate ethics committee today dismissed a complaint against U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd after determining that he and his wife, Jackie, did not violate ethics rules when refinancing their home mortgages in 2003.

However, in a letter to Dodd, committee members chided the Democratic senator for not doing enough to avoid the appearance that he was receiving special treatment.

For more than a year, Dodd has been hobbled by allegations that he benefited from improper VIP treatment when now defunct mortgage giant Countrywide Financial gave him and his wife $781,000 in loans on homes in Washington and East Haddam. Dodd repeatedly denied that he received favorable treatment.

“I’m pleased and gratified that the Democrats and Republicans on the ethics committee have dismissed this complaint and found that the underlying accusations simply were not credible,” Dodd said in a statement. “I’ve said all along that I welcomed a close examination of my mortgages, and I’ve also said all along that Jackie and I received the same mortgages that anyone else could have received.”

The committee spent more than a year investigating the charges, outlined in a July 2008 complaint by Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington. The group cited allegations first made in Portofolio magazine.

“[T]he committee does believe that you should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a senator,” states the letter, which was signed by committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and other members.

The committee also cleared U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, saying there was also “no substantial credible evidence” that he broke Senate ethics rules.

Going Palin

Forget about Going Galt. Maybe the next fad among Republicans will be Going Palin. Florida Senator Mel Martinez has announced he will step down before the end of his term. Martinez had previously announced he did not plan to run for reelection, but his decision not to complete his term came as a surprise.

The resignation might also make things more difficult for Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who was planning to run for Martinez’s Senate seat at the conclusion of his term. Legally Crist could appoint himself to the seat but there is the risk that this might not look good. Presumably he will appoint a caretaker who wouldn’t be likely to run for the seat.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has also announced plans to step down before the end of her term in order to run for Governor of Texas.

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Advertisers Drop Glenn Beck Following “Racist” Comment on Obama

Glenn Beck has been working hard to challenge right wing talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to become the best known and most extreme representative of the far right. Personally I suspect that all of them realize that virtually everything they say is nonsense but see this act as an easy way to make money. Regardless of what they actually believe, all are in a contest to make the most outrageous comments to excite their extremist (and generally delusional) followers. Beck’s comments have now led to some advertisers to drop his show (most likely without any significant impact on Fox). TV Newser reports:

Three companies who had run ads during Glenn Beck‘s Fox News show have distanced themselves from Beck, including LexisNexis-owned Lawyers.com, Procter & Gamble and Progressive Insurance. We’re told a P&G spot inadvertently aired during a weekend Beck broadcast, but that the company never had a regular buy for the show.

The group ColorofChange.org called on their members to pressure advertisers to pull ads from Beck’s show after he called Pres. Obama a “racist” who “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.”

A Fox News spokesperson told TVNewser that the advertisers simply moved their spots from Beck to other programs on the network, “so there has been no revenue lost.”