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The State of the Union Address - January 27, 2010


I had the opportunity to watch the entire 1hr 9min’s of President Obama State of the Union Address and again, just as in his address to a joint session of congress back in early September, there was very little new from a policy standpoint. So, again, we will have to look at his speech in purely political terms.

The thing I found most striking in his normally flat delivery was an underlying whining tone that quickly turned venomous. First, and not surprisingly, he launched his usual salvo at the prior administration with his trademark, “I inherited this “ crap. This has been his mantra since day one and has not served him well since his “hope” and “change” never included any concrete plans, facts or policy that would help realize the grandiosely vague promises he has made. His vow to pass Healthcare reform, Cap and Trade coupled with promises of transparency in all Senate and Congressional negotiations via C-SPAN and the web were again, only said for political expediency. The mere idea of LA Senator Mary Landrieu extorting $300 million in funding for her state in exchange for her vote on the healthcare legislation is repugnant enough, but to actually have witnessed the proceedings on C-SPAN would certainly have made my head explode. In civil court that is considered bribery.


Then, his speech writers had him launch a scathing rebuke of the Republican Senators for not voting for things like cap and trade and healthcare. He said that simply voting no was not an example of leadership. Seeing how both of those issues not only would represent a fundamental change in the way our country has operated since the time of our founders but, cause an economic catastrophe that would eventually collapse our economy and bring about an end to this blood stained, representative republic. His looming promise made during the campaign with regard to how under his cap and trade plan…”energy rates would necessarily skyrocket”  was enough to make any thinking person recoil in shock. Listen for yourself here:  http://www.eyeblast.tv/public/checker.aspx?v=e46U2Gnzpr   Obama’s healthcare ambitions would see a takeover of nearly 7% of our economy, handing it over to these economic and political novices, hell bent on pursuing a wildly unpopular policy pushed by Pelosi and Reid.


Yet, his attack had only just begun. Next in his sights…the other side of the isle. He chided his fellow democrats for their lack of solidarity in getting his agenda voted through, considering their 60 vote majority and despite zero support from the GOP. He accused them of “heading for the hills”, insisting again that was not leadership either.


Finally, his vitriol turned to a presidentially unprecedented direct admonishment of the SCOTUS. He characterized the recent high court ruling retarding campaign finance laws in Citizens United v. FEC, as having "reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections." This statement was not only wholly untrue but, it further illustrates Obama’s colossal lack of understanding of US law, policy and a fundamental misunderstanding, or worse yet, a deliberate perversion of the US Constitution. The policy to ban corporations from using their corporate wealth to influence federal elections, whether by making contributions or expenditures, dates back to 1907. I watched Justice Alito, who was present at the address, shake his head and mouth "Not true" in response to the President's statement about spending by foreign corporations. He was absolutely right. Nothing in the SCOTUS ruling changes that. Yet again, even more oily language from the master of vagueness, our POTUS. Still, for me to be able to take any of the President’s comments at face value, as Hillary Clinton once said so eloquently, that would “require the willing suspension of disbelief”. I am no longer worried about an Obama second term…this one may be the death of me and our country as we know it.


Address to Joint session of Congress 09/09/2009


From a policy standpoint, there was nothing new in President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress. It can only be assessed, therefore, in political terms. I read the transcript after watching it, but the speech struck me as reasonably effective. I assume the delivery was standard Obama--smooth, generally flat, occasionally a bit whiny.
One striking aspect of the speech was that Obama kept talking about the "plan"--but there is no plan; not in writing, anyway. Not unless Obama meant Nancy Pelosi's House bill, but he didn't seem to, since he made a point of saying that details remain to be filled in, referred to work still going on in committee, and said that "his plan" is open to alternatives to the public option. This vagueness gives him a sort of deniability: what he was describing was more his concept of the qualities health care legislation should have, rather than a specific bill. Whether that was politically smart remains to be seen. So far, vagueness hasn't seemed to be the President's friend on this issue.
Here are some excerpts from the speech that I thought were noteworthy:
Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics.
Then, a few minutes later:
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result.
By far the biggest scaremonger on this issue has been Obama himself.
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.
I'm not sure whether Obama and his handlers understand how this sort of talk grates on those of us who are not liberal Democrats (a large majority of the country). Debating public policy issues is not "bickering." Disagreeing with a proposal to radically change one of the largest sectors of our economy is not a "game." This kind of gratuitous insult--something we never heard from President Bush, for example--is one of the reasons why many consider Obama to be mean-spirited.
I assume most people noticed how, in his speech, Obama's assurance that we will not lose our present insurance coverage has been scaled back. This was after thousands of critics pointed out that under the Democrats' proposals, many people (more than 100 million according to some estimates) will in fact lose the insurance coverage they now have:
If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
That's true, of course. No one ever said it did. What the Democrats' plan does do, however, is give employers the opportunity and, depending on pricing, the incentive to terminate their employees' plans and dump them into the public system. And whether private insurance companies can compete with the public "option" depends on whether Obama keeps his pledge that the public program won't be subsidized.
Insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies - because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse.
How does that work? Better coverage for more people at less cost. Does anyone actually believe that is possible? I don't think so.
Obama described his plan for an insurance exchange where those who are not part of a larger plan will be able to buy coverage. He then added:
This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right.
But wait! Aren't people dying? The Democrats tried to ram their bill through Congress before the August recess, with essentially no debate and with virtually no one having read it. Their theory was that we are facing such a dire emergency that there is not a moment to lose. If, in fact, we have four years to spare, could we maybe stop trying to cram the bill down Americans' throats?
Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those - particularly the young and healthy - who still want to take the risk and go without coverage.
That's true, of course. There are millions of people, mostly young and single, who choose not to buy health insurance or take a job where compensation comes largely in the form of benefits (same thing) because they have made a rational decision that for them, health insurance isn't worth the money. As Americans, they should have that right. The problem is that, in the unlikely event they do get sick, they know they will be treated anyway.
That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance - just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.
Traditionally, it was liability insurance that drivers were required to carry, not to protect themselves, but to protect others from their possible negligence. It is only because of no-fault laws that most states now require drivers to carry insurance that includes first-party coverage. There are some similarities, but many differences, between automobile and health insurance.
Unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek - especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions - just can't be achieved.
This is a key point that many will overlook. One of the central purposes of nearly all health care "reform" proposals is to force young people into the system to help pay older peoples' bills. Why is it that you can't force insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions--i.e., "insure" against something that has already happened, a logical impossibility--unless you force young people to "do their part"? Insurance companies, and, eventually, the government as single payer, need young people to pay premiums that far exceed any actual risk to subsidize the known losses that will come from being forced to "insure" people whose medical conditions are not risks but certainties.
Consider the analogy to life insurance: could a dying, 90-year-old person expect an insurance company to issue him a million dollar life insurance policy? Maybe, but it would cost close to a million dollars. Why can life insurance companies sell policies at rates that people consider reasonable? Only because they are insuring against premature death, and the insured has been paying premiums for many years, during most of which time there was little risk of his dying. The same principle applies, pretty closely, to health insurance.
Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
No, it isn't. The Democrats' bill doesn't call the agencies it sets up "death panels," it says they will decide on "best practices." But any socialized medicine scheme saves money by rationing care. Who gets shorted, the politically powerful? No, of course not; the elderly and those who are otherwise helpless. In the United Kingdom, the death panel goes by the Orwellian acronym "NICE."
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
This is an outright lie, as Congressman Joe Wilson couldn't resist blurting out during Obama's speech. The Democrats defeated Republican-sponsored amendments that would have attempted, at least, to prevent illegals from being treated under the House version of Obama's plan. I think everyone expects that if Obamacare becomes law, illegals will receive benefits on an equal basis with citizens. Or, possibly, by the time his plan becomes law those "illegal aliens" will have been put on the fast track to citizenship and WILL be legal by then and therefore covered!
And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up - under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.
More oily language from the master of the half-truth. Under Obama's plan, it won't be necessary for federal dollars to fund abortions, at least not until socialized medicine actually arrives. Insurance dollars will fund abortions. The House bill sets up a nameless, unaccountable committee that will decide what coverages must be included in any approved private insurance policy. Those required coverages, you can be 100 percent certain, will include the costs of abortions. But Obama will take no responsibility; those are just "best practices."
This seems to me to be the most critical moment in Obama's speech:
My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down.
In fact, Obama and Congressional Democrats have zero interest in increasing choice and competition. If they did, there is an easy solution. There are over 1,000 health insurance companies in the United States; why do you think it is that in Alabama, one company has 90 percent of the business? It is because there are major legal obstacles to insurance companies operating across state lines. State legislatures, and lots of the companies, like it this way. Competition is hard. But if Obama really wanted to expand "choice and competition" in health care, all he would have to do is go along with the Republican proposal to allow health insurance companies to sell on a national basis. Like, say, computer companies, beer companies, automobile companies, law firms, and pretty much everyone else. The Democrats' refusal to allow existing health insurance companies to compete against each other nationwide, more than anything else, puts the lie to their nonsense about "choice and competition."
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business.
Really? We've all seen the YouTube video where Obama says that under his plan, private health insurance will be driven into extinction over a period of ten to twenty years. Has he changed his mind? When? Why? Does President Obama fail to understand the ubiquity of YouTube? Does he not understand that many millions of Americans consider him a liar when he says things like this?
President Obama talked about the "public option" and assured listeners that it would not be subsidized by the government:
I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers.
Is it crude to point out that profits are not overhead? It might be if this were just a slip of the tongue on the stump. But this was a speech that was carefully crafted by Obama and his top advisers. They really do not know the first thing about business or economics. So why should we put them in charge of our economy?
I want to speak directly to America's seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.
Actually, the administration has said that around half the cost of the plan, $500 billion, would be paid for by cuts in Medicare. So it isn't exactly "demagoguery and distortion" to suggest that there might be cuts in Medicare.
Not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.
I should hope not, since there isn't any Medicare trust fund, just like there isn't any Social Security trust fund.
The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud...Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.
But wait! If we can identify hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid and we know how to eliminate it, why haven't we done so already? Why don't we do so--right now!--regardless of the administration's highly controversial health care bill?
There is no possible answer to these questions. The Obama plan--whatever it is, once reduced to writing--depends for most of its financing on the bare assertion that we are currently wasting hundreds of billions of dollars, and that we will stop wasting that money only if taxpayers knuckle under to Obamacare.
This was not, to put it kindly, a speech that was directed at thinking people.