Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weighing in on Obama's SOTU

Time to weigh in on the state of the union!

First, I thought the seating arrangement was interesting and welcome. Republicans and Democrats sat among each other. I think it was a nice symbol of national unity after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. It also hints at a possibly less partisan future when politicians toe the party line less and think for themselves. Instead of standing up and clapping (or sitting) in unison with members of their party, politicians were looking at members of the party and considering their reactions. Let’s hope the political process reflects this in the future.

Now let’s look at the substance of the speech. I thought Obama did an effective job taking a more “centrist” tack and sounding responsible. He proposed a five year spending freeze on discretionary spending. He made a nod towards lowering the business tax rate, and talked about reorganizing and consolidating government agencies, all things that Republicans and Democrats can support.

The biggest story of course will be what happens over the next few months as contentious debates over raising the debt ceiling or repealing healthcare are held. For now, Obama looks to be in a decent position.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A New Way Forward on Healthcare

Republicans will try to repeal healthcare this year although they will not succeed with President Obama still in the White House. But perhaps some beneficial changes will be considered to the original healthcare plan.

What I would suggest is allowing people to take catastrophic plans, something I proposed on this blog in 2009 during the height of the healthcare debate. Catastrophic plans typically pay for big medical expenses such as open heart surgery while leaving patients to pay for routine care such as check-ups and medication out of pocket. As one might expect, such plans are much cheaper than comprehensive plans. In 2009, the average single person could expect to pay $4,824 for a year’s worth of insurance. By contrast, a 33 year old in good health could get a decent catastrophic plan for just $1560 with a deductible of only $1000.

To be sure, there are some who cannot afford routine medical care. To help them, government could give everyone a health savings account and contribute say $1,000 to it every year.

This amount of money would allow patients to get check-ups, tooth cleanings, basic screenings etc. Patients would be allowed to keep any unused money in their accounts and use it for future medical care. This would be particularly beneficial for young people, who usually only require check-ups and medication for the occasional cold or flu. By the time they are older and need to pay for more expensive screenings, or basic surgeries they would have a decent amount of money saved up.

Of course, this leaves problems of its own. Most young people would likely choose the catastrophic plan leaving traditional insurance companies or government with high risk, elderly patients. But since government would save so much money on the young and middle aged, it could easily accommodate the elderly and sickly in a program like Medicare. In 2005, Medicaid spent about $5671 per recipient. The cost has surely risen a bit with inflation. Imagine government saving over $3,000 per patient. Surely, extending catastrophic plans and health savings accounts to the uninsured would be much cheaper than the current plan to expand Medicaid. It is easy to imagine using some of the money to give the elderly extra to help afford higher premiums.

Moreover, this proposal could end up generating substantial economic growth as companies employing a lot of young or middle aged people (most companies) had much lower healthcare costs and more money they could use to hire workers or research new products. This in turn would leave more people with the means to afford their own care and generate more tax revenue to help cover healthcare costs for government.

No healthcare proposal is perfect. But this would be something everyone should be able to support. Democrats who want everyone to have access to healthcare could do it. Republicans who want to rein in the costs would be able to do that. Both sides could take credit for a pro-business initiative that helps create jobs. Let’s hope lawmakers consider this change to Obamacare instead of engaging in a long, divisive battle over repeal.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Tea Party and Recent Shootings in Arizona

At the moment, Congresswoman Giffords remains in critical condition although doctors are optimistic about her prognosis. Meanwhile, there are other victims including a district court judge that have not received as much coverage.

At the same time, there has been a debate about whether the attack reflects on the tea party or heated rhetoric in general. I think the case for such an interpretation of the event is fairly thin. We have learned that the shooter has a hodgepodge of views, and that a former classmate thought he was left wing. The strongest interpretation to me seems that he was simply crazy and deranged.

I therefore think it’s a mistake to pin any blame for the shooting on the tea party. If the shooter himself did not hold views in line with the tea party, how can tea party rhetoric have caused the shooting? Moreover, as many conservative commentators have pointed out, there have been no shortage of violent metaphors used by liberals and Democrats.

I wonder if it’s true as well that partisan rhetoric is at its most intense or polarized. People saying so remind me of those who claim that politics is uniquely negative and personal today. But remember the 1824 election when John Quincy Adam’s supporters insinuated that Andrew Jackson’s wife was a whore and Andrew Jackson’s supporters claimed that Adams had pimped for the Czar in Russia. Or the 1800 election when supporters of John Adams claimed that Thomas Jefferson would ban the Bible.

Politics has always been heated and prone to extreme charges. The only difference now is a 24 hour media and an internet that gives such charges more publicity. I am not ready to join the school of thought that says are politics have declined (from what heights I am not sure).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is President Obama a Christian?

The controversy over President Obama’s religious faith simply refuses to die. Look at the following:

The question: "Which, if any, of the following people do you believe are Christians?" It was thumbs up for former President George W. Bush (75 percent) and GOP lightning rod Sarah Palin (66 percent), but thumbs down for Obama (41 percent), as well as media superstars Glenn Beck (27 percent) and Oprah Winfrey (19 percent).

Among the pastors who said they were Republicans, 23 percent said Obama is a Christian, a stark contrast with the 80 percent of pastors who identified themselves as Democrats. Among "independents," 52 percent called Obama a Christian.
This raises the question of what exactly it means to be a Christian. There are some core tenets. One has to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God and that his death on the cross constituted an offer of pardon for a person’s sins, and that accepting Christ as lord and savior earns him a place in the heaven. More than issues like transubstantiation—whether communion bread turns into the body of Christ at communion—or whether women should be ordained or how certain passages of the Bible should be interpreted, a belief in Christ is the most important belief of a Christian.

So does Obama believe this? In an interview with Christianity Today, Obama said “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” With this answer, we know that Obama professes to believe in the core tenet of Christianity. The only grounds then, for not thinking that Obama is a true Christian is that Obama is somehow not being genuine when he gives answers like that. But there is no way to know. Whether Obama actually believes this is between him and God, and it seems like we should give him the same benefit of a doubt the pastors gave George W. Bush in this survey.

Of course, this is also significant politically. Many of America’s voters are Christians themselves, and it is an open question how likely they are to vote for someone who does not share their faith. To the extent belief that Obama is not a Christian remains widespread, how many votes will this lose him? It is hard to believe that it would cost him an election. After all, there were those same rumors in 2008, but Obama was able to prevail. Moreover, those Christians most likely to believe that Obama is not tend to be Republicans, who will presumably vote for the Republican nominee any way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year From the Gadson Review!

Happy New Years! It’s always exciting when there’s a new year, not least because of all of the things that will happen in politics. Below is a list of important vents that will happen.
1. Whether the debt ceiling gets raised.

Congress will take up this issue in the spring. Democrats will argue that we should raise the debt ceiling amid a recession when government is needed to step in to spur the economy. Newly elected tea partiers will argue that they have a mandate from voters to rein in government spending and stop us from living on credit. Democrats control the White House and the Senate, so Republicans will have to stop the ceiling from being raised in the House where they hold a majority. Not raising the debt ceiling could cause a shut-down where government is unable to do much of anything. It is hard to tell who this benefits; Democrats could portray Republicans as preventing Social Security checks from going out to grandma, while Republicans could portray Democrats as unable to govern. If the ceiling gets raised, look for this to be a big issue in the 2012 election.

2. Whether Sarah Palin runs

Sarah Palin running would bring even more attention to the Republican primaries. And it would focus a lot of media attention on her and her nearest challengers. Those who aren’t top tier candidates might have trouble getting the attention they need. Ultimately, I think she won’t get the nomination, but her entry in the race would nonetheless have a lot of impact.

3. Judicial decisions on Obamacare

Several state attorney-generals want to repeal Obamacare. Others want to repeal the mandate, a key piece of Obamacare. Will the case make it to the Supreme Court? What will happen when it does? If Obamacare is struck down, it is a blow to Obama. He will have seen his signature achievement undone and the prospect of more reforms will be difficult since Republicans will have more power. However, perhaps Democrats will be able to craft a reform without a mandate.

I look forward to seeing how all of these issues are resolved!