Printed letters, October 11, 2013

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Today’s letter from Dianne Cox (“House has responsibility to control purse strings”) affords another timely opportunity to reexamine the profound illogic and persistent “denialism” which permeates the “thinking” and resultant fact-free opinions of local would-be “conservatives”.

As the Sentinel’s front-page graph clearly demonstrates, after Reagan-Bush’s “VooDoo Economics” had tripled the national debt and George Bush had squandered the Clinton surplus in the process of doubling the national debt again, Democrats – including then-Senator Obama – were entirely justified to object.

However, while Democrats symbolically voted against the debt ceiling increase in 2006, they did not attempt to “shut down the government” or cause an international financial crisis – in contrast to the “crazy, right-wing extremists” elected in 2010 and 2012.

Yes, the purportedly “fiscally conservative” House does indeed have “responsibility to control purse strings” – and the House is controlled by Republicans who are “controlled” by “crazy, right-wing extremists” (not President Obama).

However, just as Republicans since 1980 have cynically and disingenuously claimed to be “fiscal conservatives” (belied by the graphic depiction of their profligacy), the new crew of “Tea Partiers” is by no means fiscally responsible.

The true extent of their craziness is illustrated by the facts that:  repealing “ObamaCare” would increase future deficits, the “shutdown” is costing the economy (not to mention affected individuals) unrecoverable billions, the mere threat of default has already driven up interest rates the Treasury must pay on new borrowing, and hastily drafted legislation to retroactively pay furloughed federal employees for not working (rather than for doing their various critical jobs) would pay them twice for not working (since their bill did not account for the fact that those employees are already entitled to unemployment benefits).

Fortunately, as the Sentinel editorialized today (“Congress inches toward budget, debt solution”), most Americans (unlike Cox) now know who is genuinely irresponsible.

Fact: My sophomore comes home from high school the other day and asks:Why would I want to be successful?  Why would I not want to live on the public dole like so many others? 
This, after he watches me bang my head against the wall trying to figure how to continue our health care coverage without jeopardizing the household budget.  Fact: There is no way for me to do this.  It will take a hit as our premiums soar by more than 40% to maintain existing coverage.  Fact: We are a healthy family of 4. Fact: We will have to continue paying higher premiums with higher deductibles and less coverage.  Fact: That is fewer dollars available for saving and spending on local, state, federal economy. Fact: We are not alone.  How many more people will have less dollars to save or spend because of this?  I am no economic genius but I don’t see how any of this brings down medical costs.  All I see it doing is line the pockets of the health insurance industry.  Fact: My husband busts his ass trying to keep his business running so much so that we rarely see him.  He has sacrificed so much.  Fact: His company creates jobs. Fact: My son (from the beginning of this comment) is a straight A, hard-working kid with his own lawn-mowing business.
So, Mr. Hugenberg and Mr. MacDonald: What do I tell my kid about why he shouldn’t be on the public dole?  It sure sounds appealing to me.

Deanne Adamson poignantly raises pertinent questions facing many struggling parents and aspiring, responsible, but discouraged high school students in today’s troubled times. 

Without questioning the validity of her listed facts, the reality of her family’s financial situation, and/or her political leanings, I offer the following thoughts.

First, in a free enterprise economy like ours, the difference between “being successful” and “living on the public dole” is supposed to be motivation enough to ambitiously pursue the former.  Consequently, at least in theory (and in contrast to the British system before Margaret Thatcher), we have no “public dole” sufficient for long-term personal sustenance.  Rather, elements of our “social safety net” (like unemployment benefits and Food Stamps) are intended to be temporary, transitional protection against the vagaries of “the business cycle”.  Thus, historically, Republicans and Democrats have differed over the duration, sizing of, and eligibility criteria for such benefits – not about their efficacy.
Today, the closest we have to a “public dole” are Social Security Disability Payments – a program that has reportedly become riddled with fraud, because of widespread distress.

Second, because of the near-Depression of 2008, millions of Americans lost their jobs—and the economic recovery has not been sufficient to restore them.  Unfortunately, too many Americans similarly-situated to the Adamsons voted for political candidates who shouted “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” – but then obstructed every effort to actually create them.
Rather, those same demagogues still obstruct President Obama’s continuing efforts to revitalize our economy – preferring to impose austere economic policies that are still destroying jobs rather than stimulating demand for products and services – such as many “job creating” small businesses like the Adamsons’ offer.

Third, the Affordable Care Act was intended to help families and small businesses like the Adamsons’ better afford reliable health insurance coverage.  If it is failing to do that for them, it needs to be improved and enhanced—not repealed, replaced, or delayed.  It remains unclear, however, whether Deanne has actually shopped on Connect for Health Colorado for more affordable coverage, and whether her existing policy actually provides the level of coverage now standard under “ObamaCare” (no annual or lifetime limits, no denial of coverage or policy cancellation based on pre-existing conditions, etc), and/or whether her family or her husband’s business would be eligible for available subsidies.  More detailed information on what the Affordable Care Act is – or is not doing – for them would certainly be useful in better understanding their situation.

Fourth, you don’t need to be an “economic genius” to know that increasing demand for health care services will drive up their cost.  However, increasing demand for health insurance coverage on competitive “insurance exchanges” induces insurers to pressure providers to squeeze excessive overcharges out of their billing systems – so insurers can charge lower premiums.  This is the “market driven” approach advocated by Republicans, implemented in Massachusetts under Governor Romney, and then embraced by President Obama – when many “liberals” were demanding a “single payer” or “Medicare for all” approach.  Only after President Obama sought to enact the Republicans’ own idea was it then dishonestly stigmatized and vilified as “ObamaCare”.  Blame Sarah Palin. 

Finally, since Deanne’s son is still only a sophomore, he has 2+ more years to learn the critical thinking skills needed to answer his own questions – and for our dysfunctional political system to offer him a more vibrant economy and motivating array of options.

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