Why Is Rubio in the Gang of 8?

Contrary to popular opinion, both in the national press and in the Republican Party, the conservative movement is split on the amnesty issue.  Just cast your mind all the way back to…last year.  During the Republican Primary battles, all of the conservative candidates were in favor of some version of amnesty.  The single hold out?  Mitt Romney, the “moderate.”

English: Former Speaker of the Florida House a...

English: Former Speaker of the Florida House at CPAC in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it’s a confusing battle space that has anti tax activist Grover Norquist on the same side as liberal Senator Chuck Schumer, and moderate, establishment Republican columnist David Frum on the anti amnesty side while traditional conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer is pro amnesty.  On the talk radio side the views are more what you would expect, Rush Limbaugh  and Mark Levin are reliably anti-amnesty, however Sean Hannity switched sides after the election and now supports amnesty (although he is still cagey about it).  Otherwise, things are more what you would expect from a conservative split on immigration.  The neo-cons are pro amnesty (think William Kristol) and the paleo-cons are anti (think Pat Buchanan).

So where does that leave Tea Party darling Marco Rubio?  Square in the middle.

Rubio is a real conservative.  I’ve listened to enough politicians talk to know when they are the real deal and when they are just using the conservative movement to advance their own careers  *cough* Newt Gingrich* cough.

Rubio has long been a supporter of some variation of the Dream Act, which are a series of proposals to legalize illegal aliens brought over as children.  Given that as children they didn’t really have a choice about crossing the border illegally; it’s fairly easy to make the moral case to anti-amnesty conservatives for creating some mechanism for them to stay, after border security.  But it was a shock when he joined in with a group of liberal Senators and pro-amnesty Republicans, the Gang of 8, to craft a comprehensive immigration bill.

First, it was a shock that after the disaster of Obamacare, any Republican Senator would try to make common cause on a bill that intends to be “comprehensive.”  For conservatives, comprehensive is code word for cramming as much crap as possible into a massive bill and hope no one notices what’s in it.  The purpose of comprehensive bills is to slide revolting items through the process that would never pass on their own.  Of course, in the case of the immigration bill, the sole purpose is to get amnesty through.  Everything else in the bill is a sweetener to buy votes for amnesty, even though there are plenty of real, needed issues that need to be worked on.  Instead, nothing is more important than amnesty.  Steve Jobs found this out while trying to convince President Obama to loosen up on the H1-B Visa program.  From the Wall Street Journal:

According to Mr. Isaacson, Jobs “stressed the need for more trained engineers and suggested that any foreign students who earned an engineering degree in the U.S. should be given a visa to stay in the country.” The president reportedly replied that this would have to await broader immigration reform, which he said he was unable to accomplish.

“Jobs found this an annoying example of how politics can lead to paralysis,” Mr. Isaacson writes. “The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done,” Jobs said. “It infuriates me.”

A simple bill to allow graduates of US schools to get a Visa would enjoy large bipartisan support and would pass easily.   So therefore we can’t allow it until we make sure we drag 11 million other people along with them!

So now Rubio is stuck riding this tiger all the way to completion.  Meanwhile, his reputation will be marred by every little crazy line item that is stuck in the bill, such as the one creating a biometric data base of all US adults.  So why would he join in with the Gang of 8?  How could this benefit him?

Just a couple of ideas and I don’t know if any of them are close to the mark:

+             He knows it won’t pass and just wants to build up some “moderate cred” for 2016.

+             He’s inexperienced and doesn’t realize  that Schumer and his gang are taking him for a ride.

+             He’s extremely experienced (a former Speaker of the House in the Florida legislature) and he’s playing the Gang of 8 by trying to “cooperate” up to the point that he can exploit the weaknesses of the bill and then blame the Senate Democrats and the Obama administration for sabotaging the bill with poison pills to keep the bill from passing and keep it as a political issue.

I’m sure there are probably many more possible reasons, but I don’t see any way for this to end well for Rubio’s political future other than at some point he disowns the bill.  If he doesn’t and ends up voting for whatever monstrosity slithers out of the Senate, than Rubio’s reputation will be damaged.  To conservatives, he will be a traitor, and to liberals he’ll be a gullible fool.

Which pill will he choose?  The red or the blue one?

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The Left Makes Up Their Own Romney Tax Plan

At one of the web forums I visit, some liberals had caught notice of this bit of news:

(CBS News) President Obama is seizing on a study out Wednesday to support his argument that Mitt Romney is focused on boosting the rich at the expense of the middle class.

The study from the Tax Policy Center looks at the impact of Romney’s tax plan, which he promises will be revenue neutral. Romney has vowed to cut tax rates by 20 percent across the board, repeal the estate tax and get rid of taxes in investment income for those making up $200,000. He says the reduction these tax cuts will have on tax revenue will be offset in part by eliminating deductions and loopholes, though he has refused to say what deductions and loopholes he would eliminate.

The Tax Policy Center – a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute – found that if Romney wants his plan to be revenue neutral, it will result in “large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.”

They found that would be the case no matter how he ultimately structures the plan. In fact, the group operated on the assumption that Romney would first eliminate deductions and loopholes for the wealthiest Americans.

“Even when we assume that tax breaks – like the charitable deduction, mortgage interest deduction, and the exclusion for health insurance – are completely eliminated for higher-income households first, and only then reduced as necessary for other households to achieve overall revenue-neutrality- the net effect of the plan would be a tax cut for high-income households coupled with a tax increase for middle-income households,” it said.

I read as far as “…a joint project of the Brookings Institution…” when I realized the study being referred to here was a phony.  The Brookings Institution is of course a left-liberal think tank.  Officially, it’s “non-partisan” as is required for a 501(c)3 organization, but it is generally staffed by researchers who are left leaning and provides reports and analysis that supports Democratic Party initiatives.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do legitimate research, but it’s helpful to know which direction the bias is coming from.

So rather than just accept the CBS news article, as I was meant to, I followed the link to the actual abstract of the Tax Policy Center’s analysis here.   One of the first things I noticed is that they are not even scoring Romney’s plan.  “We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly, as certain components of his plan are not specified in sufficient detail, nor do we make assumptions regarding what those components might be.”  So rather than score Romney’s plan, they make up a plan similar to what they think the final legislation will be.  And of course, make assumptions as to its components. Now, that should have ended the matter right there, but apparently the non partisan researchers at the Tax Policy Center will be more than willing to fill in any of the blanks themselves.

Another error the author’s make, (and this one is even more egregious than making up their assumptions) is that they assume that Romney’s 20% tax cut is on top of the Bush/Obama tax cuts.  The author’s point to Mitt Romney’s website as the source of this information; however that condition is nowhere on Romney’s website.  In fact, Romney’s site emphasizes that his plan is a variation of the tax plan from the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan, lower marginal rates, with few deductions; exactly what Democrats say they want, until a plan is actually offered.

So given that the authors add two tax cuts on top of each other, it’s easy to see how they came up with a plan that they don’t regard as workable.

This was all information that I dug up in just a few minutes, however I’ve yet to hear this counter argument in the main stream media.  It’s an example of the media’s bias of course, but specifically, confirmation bias.  The press release for this report fit the media’s prejudices so there was no need to even look at the abstract.  It just sounded right.   On Morning Joe this morning they spent 10 minutes talking about the report without anyone, even alleged conservative Joe Scarborough, challenging its assumptions.

The win goes to Obama on this one, but only because the truth was successfully embargoed by the media.

Obamacare and its Successors

For those keeping score, once again, I was right and the so called experts were wrong.  The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, 5-4.  The solid liberal block only had to peel off one of the Justices who actually read the constitution.  So the bad news?  Obamacare upheld.  The good news?  I was right once again!

Based on just a brief commentary I’ve heard so far on the decision, there is actually some other good news.  The court upheld the individual mandate based on the taxing power of the constitution, not the commerce clause.  So when it came to deciding if the commerce clause meant the government could do anything, they punted.  So rather than ignoring the constitution, they merely ignored the text of the law.  That’s a far better situation than if the court had decided to not recognize any limits to the commerce clause.  This is no Kelo.  This is a political decision that was only about this particular law.  It didn’t set a legal precedent.

But this doesn’t really change the playing field, at least not yet.  Even if the Court had repealed Obamacare in its entirety, we still would have been left with the situation of having to replace it with something.  This only pushes back the date to when we can do that; until we have a Republican President.  That makes a Romney win all the more important.  Politically, this might even be beneficial to Romney.  It would fire up a base who was otherwise rather “meh” on him.

So, assuming a Romney victory, what can we replace the shambling corpse of Obamacare with?  It’s not enough to get rid of Obamacare, declare victory, and go home.  The reason Obamacare had any traction in the first place was because there was a universal recognition that our healthcare system was broken.  It cost too much and didn’t cover enough people.  Even with Obamacare out of the way, the real issues that it was advertised to address remain.

Luckily there have been many alternatives proposed, and the pool of various reform plans is large enough to provide a good mix of alternatives to the slap dash political Frankenstein’s monster that was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The most obvious place to check with first is with the proposed healthcare plan of Mitt Romney.  Some of the major proposals of Romney’s plan include:

End tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance

Block grants to Medicaid.

Cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits

Empower individuals and small businesses to form purchasing pools

Allow consumers to purchase insurance across state lines

Unshackle HSAs by allowing funds to be used for insurance premiums

Promote alternatives to “fee for service”

Encourage “Consumer Reports”-type ratings of alternative insurance plans

Most of these ideas are common features of other alternative health care reform proposals.  It shares similar features with the National Center for Policy Analysis proposal, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the GOP, and the Options Act, a bill currently in committee in the House (as HR 4224).  All of these proposals are similar enough in their general outlines that one bill could probably be crafted out of them rather quickly.

One of the more interesting plans came not out of a think tank or campaign headquarters, but from a businessman, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods.  His plan came out of his experience of trying to provide health care benefits to his employees.  Like the other proposals, Mackey supported equalizing the tax laws so that individual and employee health insurance plans had the same tax treatment, competition across state lines, and tort reform.  He also wanted to allow a check box on tax forms to allow a contribution to a fund to provide healthcare for people not otherwise covered, and expand the use of Health Savings Accounts, which are utilized extensively in the Whole Foods health care plan provided to their employees.

Naturally liberals were apoplectic that the CEO of the place where they purchased their overpriced arugula was proposing a counter proposal to the one Dear Leader was proposing.  The publication of Mackey’s article in the Wall Street Journal lead to a short lived lefty boycott of Whole Foods, at least until liberals decided they couldn’t find a more expensive place to purchase their organic veggies.

All of these proposals are all well and good in and of themselves, and would probably do a good job at “bending the cost curve” as the President inaccurately claimed Obamacare would do.  However they don’t do as much to reduce the number of people uninsured or dealing with people with pre-existing conditions.  Those are issues as important as bending the cost curve is.  That solution was John McCain’s healthcare proposal for the 2008 election.  McCain’s plan would have provided a tax credit for low & middle income people to be applied to their health insurance premium.  A good idea, except that he applied it to both individual and employee plans, boosting the cost of his program (although well below even friendly Obamacare estimates).

Recognizing the extra cost associated with Pre-existing conditions, McCain’s advisors were considering a proposal to have risk rated the tax credit so that people with pre-existing conditions would get a higher tax credit based on the rated expense of their particular condition.  He also supported State based risk pools, similar to the ones in Obamacare.

So looking at all of these plans together, shaking them up in a big healthcare reform bag and baking at 350°, this is what I’ve come up with as key features of a good alternative to Obamacare:

1)       Equalizing the tax treatment between individuals and businesses for health insurance premiums.  This would mean giving a first dollar deduction to individuals and families on their taxes plus for low and middle income people, a tax credit that would be applied to the health insurance premium.  McCain’s plan had a $5000.00 tax credit for family insurance premiums.  That would probably need to be updated and perhaps indexed to the growth in the cost of health care insurance premiums.

2)      I like the proposal to have a formula to increase the health insurance premium tax credit based on the severity of the pre-existing condition, but some pre-existing conditions are so severe that they are not insurable at any price.  For those, I go along with the state risk pools; not as a separate insurance plan, but as a secondary payer to the member’s regular primary insurance.  By applying and being accepted into a state pool, the member will be able to purchase regular insurance at regular prices and the diagnosis’s and procedures related to the members’ severe pre-existing condition the risk pool would pay as a secondary payer, similar to the way worker’s comp and auto accident insurance are handled.

These two main points handle the bulk of our current uninsured and pre-existing conditions crisis.  Of course I concur with the bulk of the other alternative reforms as well, such as Romney’s idea to allow purchasing pools for small businesses and other organizations.  I’m not clear as to why we would prohibit organizations like churches from organizing their own insurance purchasing pools.

There are many other options to Obamacare.  Options that are cheaper, more efficient, and would actually facilitate expanding healthcare, that are not top down statist solutions that guarantee to be more expensive and reduce consumer choice and little else.

Tags:  Politics, News, Obamacare, John Mackey, Whole Foods, Mitt Romney, Healthcare Reform, health insurance tax credit, pre-existing condtion,