Jul 27 2009

Define Objections, Offer Alternatives

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, National Politics, Policy

Sean’s already touched on this but in light of both the op-ed in the Tennessean where Jim Cooper announced his “reluctant no” to HR 3200 (summary), and the appearance on Face the Nation Sunday morning I have to say something. Cooper’s segment starts 9 min into the video below.


Watch CBS Videos Online

Cooper offered two key points in the interview above. The first was the tax benefit to the super rich for “Cadillac” policies (12:00). He’s right about this being a handout on the backs of the working poor and middle class. That needs to be corrected. Also, he pointed out that there is currently $700b in waste EVERY YEAR. That alone would pay for healthcare for everyone.

Looking at these two things, one has to wonder why he would come out against HR 3200? The bill seeks to do these things, and if it doesn’t to his or the Blue Dog’s satisfaction, there’s time to debate and amend on the House floor. Why is Cooper, who Bob Schieffer called “a Real Expert” on healthcare just giving up? That’s what it sounds like he’s doing!

I ask you, Congressman Cooper, what specific areas does the bill “Fail”? Is it that it may not be budget neutral? If you remember, the Iraq war was billed by Paul Wolfowitz as “budget neutral” yet the Congress, as well as your Blue Dogs haven’t sought to apply PAYGO to the DoD. If healthcare requires some initial investment that may not pay off for 15 years, isn’t that a better investment than a war that will likely NEVER provide any ROI?

Why do you damn your own party with statements like ”The president is put in a terrible spot by his own Congress.” Aren’t you a member of that same Congress and a member of the majority? Aren’t you hurting the President’s agenda by coming out against something before markup is even completed? What’s the rationale at work here Congressman?

Is this really about healthcare or more of a slap at the current House leadership? It’s well known that you and Speaker Pelosi have a contentious relationship, particularly after his statement concerning the stimulus vote back in February. Maybe Cooper wanted a spot on Energy Commerce after whipping for Henry Waxman back in November. Maybe he REALLY DOES have objections, but not listing those objections out in his damning of HR 3200 does NO ONE ANY GOOD.

If you are truly committed to healthcare reform, as you have repeatedly said, then why not just define YOUR objections and offer alternatives? Why not lead instead of lending your voice to the echo chamber of nay-sayers on the Republican side of the aisle?

I just don’t get it Congressman Cooper. I don’t understand what you have to gain by coming out against something and claiming it doesn’t have the votes to pass before it’s even gone through a key committee, especially after a deal was reached late Friday between Waxman and Ross. It’s weird, on the very same day you came out against HR 3200, a fellow Blue Dog Gabrielle Giffords (AZ) came out in support of it. Maybe you don’t have all the votes you thought you did.

I know I’ve been critical of you over the years. Late last year I made a commitment to focus on the idiocy brought forth by Republicans rather than criticizing members of my own party so much. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining that commitment, but damn you’re making it hard for me. So without being overly critical, without being as brusque or as rude as I could be, give us some REAL details about your objections to HR 3200, because so far all you’ve done is said it isn’t good enough, which isn’t a good enough reason for me to believe you.

Jul 25 2009

One Billion Dollars

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, National Politics, Policy

As H.R. 3200 plods it’s way through Congress, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has emerged as a stumbling block.

The opposition, led by Democratic Representative Mike Ross (AR-04), centers around Medicare payments to rural communities and the assurance that the measure will be deficit neutral. Ross is a member of the Blue Dogs, who as a group have come out against the “public option”, a program that would help individuals and businesses afford healthcare, and provide competition for companies that are currently the single most responsible parties in the massive increase in the cost of healthcare. I wrote briefly about this several weeks ago.

One of the tools that has emerged in the course of the debate is a district by district analysis of the impact the legislation would have to their constituents. Unfortunately, the link for TN-03 is dead, so a complete analysis on this legislation’s impact in Tennessee cannot be done at this time, but just with the numbers from the other 8 districts the results are pretty startling.

Under the bill in it’s current state 100,000+ businesses in Tennessee, large and small would be eligible for a tax credit for providing their employees with healthcare. Healthcare would be less expensive, allowing for either better coverage, or additional employees.

68,000+ seniors in Tennessee would avoid the donut hole in Medicare, eliminating the choice between medicine and food.

678,000+ individuals in Tennessee would gain access to affordable healthcare, increasing productivity and quality of life.

Here’s the kicker, nearly $1,000,000,000 a year in uncompensated care, that’s services that are rendered, but not paid for, would be covered throughout the state.

ONE BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR

How many new clinics will that open? How many doctors and nurses will that employ? How much additional access will that create?

ONE BILLION DOLLARS IN ANNUAL LOSSES WIPED OFF THE BOOKS.

By any measure, that’s a lot of money. Think about all the construction workers, and electricians, and plumber that will get put to work building the infrastructure to support these new doctors and nurses. Think about the additional access in rural communities, where the nearest clinic can be up to 30 minutes away. Think about it!

What about all the income that money will generate? Those doctors and nurses will be making and spending money in the state. If half of that money is spent in Tennessee every year by new doctors and nurses buying regular goods and services, that’s another $46,000,000 in sales tax collections alone.

You can’t tell me that this isn’t a financial positive. You just can’t.

What about employers and individuals? By implementing this bill the annual cost of healthcare will drop. By how much is still not known, but the single largest driver of healthcare inflation is not lawsuits, but the insurance industry’s need to create ever-increasing profit margins and the current state of the uncompensated care that this bill would cover.

For all you folks out there in rural Tennessee, take a look at this analysis of what HR 3200 will do for healthcare in rural America. Think of how this will benefit your community. Think of how it levels the playing field between rural America and the urban centers that so many are forced to travel to for healthcare delivery.

Folks, this needs to happen. Call your Representative and Senators today and ask them to support HR 3200.

Tennessee Representatives

Representative Phil Roe (R – 01) – Ph. 202-225-6356 Fax. 202-225-5714email

Representative John J. Duncan, Jr. (R – 02) – Ph. 202-225-5435 Fax. 202-225-6440 email

Representative Zach Wamp (R – 03) – Ph. 202-225-3271 Fax. 202-225-3494email

Representative Lincoln Davis (D – 04) – Ph. 202-225-6831 Fax. 202-226-5172 email

Representative Jim Cooper (D – 05) – Ph. 202-225-4311 Fax. 202-226-1035 email

Representative Bart Gordon (D – 06) – Ph. 202-225-4231 Fax. 202-225-6887email

Representative Marsha Blackburn (R – 07) – Ph. 202-225-2811 Fax. 202-225-3004 email

Representative John Tanner (D – 08) – Ph. 202-225-4714 Fax. 202-225-1765 email

Representative Steve Cohen (D – 09) – Ph. 202-225-3265 Fax. 202-225-5663 email

Tennessee Senators

Senator Lamar Alexander (R- TN) – Ph. 202-224-4944 Fax. 202-228-3398 email

Senator Bob Corker (R- TN) – Ph. 202-224-3344 Fax. 202-228-0566 email

Jul 24 2009

Process and Precedent – Completing the Term(oil)

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

All the talk and media coverage surrounding what the Mayor will or won’t do, and why he’s doing it is designed to sell papers more than inform. This thing has turned into something that more resembles a TMZ report than anything else, which is unfortunate because there is a real substantive story here, if only the media would allow it to emerge.

Since we first learned of the Mayor’s retirement/resignation I’ve written about 4 posts. Almost all of these have dealt with process, or procedural flaws in one argument or another.

Surely the members in the majority understand that their decision to declare the office of Mayor vacant as of July 30th based on a verbal commitment made to the media is a shaky legal proposition at best. Surely the members in the majority knew that as soon as the minutes were approved the Mayor would make a move to challenge their authority, and more importantly, their shaky legal position. It was evident that this would happen from the beginning, and regardless of whether members in the majority of the Council “believe” the Mayor will retire/resign or not, they have been told, over and over again by legal council that they “can” do this, but that the consequences are unknown.

We can talk about a lot of supposed “reasons” the Mayor is doing what he’s doing. Lord knows I’ve played armchair psychologist for this thing for several weeks. But I don’t really think that’s necessary. You can call the Mayor’s methods what you want, I’ll go with unconventional, but in the face of a new “process” for Mayoral succession that was voted in last November, there is no legal “precedent” to fill the holes in the Charter, or support the position of the City Council. Herenton, as Mayor of the city, is duty bound to make sure executive authority is not usurped by the City Council. The Mayor has to make sure what’s happening now doesn’t become a legal precedent that will haunt future Mayors.

For those of you non-lawyerly types out there (and some of you who are lawyers but didn’t see this coming)

Precedent: noun |ˈpresid(ə)nt| – a previous case or legal decision that may be or ( binding precedent) must be followed in subsequent similar cases :

The “precedent” that the Mayor must fight is that a vacancy can be declared by the Council without the benefit of a formal and valid resignation/retirement letter.

I would suggest that the opposing parties (the Mayor and the majority of the Council) are at an impasse. The Mayor has publicly announced his intention to retire, but has not formally informed the Council (he rescinded all resignation/retirement letters before they were approved making them null and void), nor has that formal announcement been approved by the Council (because they were rescinded). What the Council approved is the legal equivalent of hearsay.

Perhaps the Mayor has communicated individually to Council members his intention to retire on date certain X, but until that communication is made directly, in writing to the body, and not rescinded before the body can act, the council is building a case on a shakier foundation than the Pyramid.

So, by voting to declare the office vacant, with little guidance from the charter on what constitutes vacancy, or the process for declaring such a vacancy, the Council has started down the path of creating a legal precedent that, if unchallenged, could weaken the office of Mayor for decades.

We can argue whether a weaker Mayor is a good thing or not, that’s not the point. The charter establishes the office of Mayor, just like it does the City Council, assigning duties and responsibilities to both. Because Mayoral resignations/retirements happen so infrequently, and any past precedent in the wake of the Charter Amendments are tenuous at best, the entire process is untested and past precedents are questionable. Further, there is NO precedent ANYWHERE that I’m aware of, that allows the City Council to vacate the Mayor’s office without notice or benefit of a document expressing executive intent to vacate (the only exception here would be death). If the City Council’s majority position stands, the office of Mayor could be vacated based on what amounts to rumor and innuendo.

Folks, this isn’t the Italian Parliament! We don’t just dissolve the government at the drop of a hat because we’re bored. There has to be just cause backed up by documentation. At this point I would submit that the Council has neither.

In case it’s not clear, I find myself siding with the minority of the Council on this question, though not for the reasons that many in the minority have arrived at their position. Like LWC I believe that the Collins resolution, which would have held the approval of the minutes on the Strickland resolution to declare a vacancy until 5pm on July 30th, would have, at least, given the Mayor the opportunity to leave office in a manner consistent with his position and prerogative.

Once the Mayor was officially off City payroll, as Atty. Wade said at the last City Council meeting, there would be no question as to whether he was still Mayor or not, the Council could act in a way that wouldn’t potentially establish any precedent that might be harmful in the long-term, or be up to a legal challenge in the future. Further, had the Collins resolution passed, the approval of the minutes on July 30th, despite the likely absence of Councilman Hedgepeth (who said he could not attend) may have been unanimous, uniting the Council and perhaps healing some fissures that have arisen through this process. Apparently, the majority wasn’t willing to take that chance.

So, here we are. The Council has approved the minutes of the Strickland resolution and in doing so, declared a vacancy, potentially establishing a precedent in city process that is well outside of the intent of the Charter. At this point, I want this question to go to court so it can be cleared up and settled in a rational way, rather than what’s going on right now. So far, all we’ve seen are opinions (which are like a certain body part that everyone has), I think it may be time for a decision, and that can ONLY come from a court. It’s unfortunate that a lot of money will be spent on this, but it is what it is. There’s no turning back now.

At the end of the day we have to look to the former members of the Charter Commission, two of whom are current City Council members, and ask why they removed provisions from the old Charter that defined resignation/retirement and death as a vacancy, but did not maintain these, or further define a process to follow. Hindsight is 20/20, but these individuals were tasked with foresight. In that task, they seem to have failed, and the city will suffer the consequences of that failure.

Jul 22 2009

Healthcare and The Land of the Disintegrating Talking Point

Is it just me, or are conservative TV talking heads and Blue Dogs the only people who are sticking to the talking points set up to kill Healthcare reform? It seems like it. Hell, even Republicans are having a hard time staying on point. Case in point, tin foil hatter and Minnesota Representative, Michelle Bachman

Approximately 114 million Americans are expected to leave private health insurance. Why? Their employers will drop the insurance because the taxpayer-subsidized plan will be 30 to 40 percent cheaper. This action will collapse the private health insurance market, and then the Federal Government will own the health provider game. (Source)

Cheaper, more efficient healthcare is worse? Who knew?

Michelle, the mothership sent out talking points just yesterday. That wasn’t one of them.

Still, the media is faithfully spewing RNC talking points like they’re all that’s been programmed into the pull string in their backs. Do any of these sound familiar?

* President Obama and Democrats are conducting a grand experiment with our economy, our country, and now our health care.

* President Obama’s massive spending experiments have created more debt than at any other time in our nation’s history.
* The President experimented with a $780 billion dollar budget-busting stimulus plan and unemployment is still rising. The President experimented with banks and auto companies, and now we’re on the hook for tens of billions of dollars with no exit plan.
* Now the President is proposing more debt and more risk through a trillion dollar experiment with our health care.
* Democrats are proposing a government controlled health insurance system, which will control care, treatments, medicines and even what doctors a patient may see.
* This health care experiment will have consequences for generations, but President Obama and Democrats want to ram this legislation through Congress in two months.
* President Obama’s health care experiment is too much, too fast, too soon. Our country cannot afford to fix health care through a rushed experiment.
* Americans want health care reform that addresses, not increases, cost or debt.
* Government takeover is the wrong way to go — health care decisions should remain between the doctor and the patient.

Apparently the RNC is “experimenting” with writing talking points. (/snark)

The media blitz, and the lobbying effort, which is spending like there’s no tomorrow, and cherry-picking their facts, does seem to be having some effect…on Blue Dogs.

Apparently, they’ve been getting the RNC talking points, and have come out to block the bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (Source). You’ll notice that one of the listed Blue Dogs is our very own Bart Gordon. Lincoln Davis and John Tanner probably aren’t far behind.

Republicans are using this dissention to try and push a “centrist” plan of their own. Read down in the comments and notice the FUD spouted by commenter TNvolunteer73.

Yesterday, The Hill published an article about support for a “public option”. In the article, the author sites the Rasmussen poll as more than an outlier, but an outright liar. The poll asks if people support “a government health insurance company to compete with private insurance companies.” From the article:

In fact, only one poll asking a straight favor/oppose question has recorded majority opposition — but generating that opposition required Rasmussen to misstate the facts. They asked about creating “a government health insurance company to compete with private insurance companies.” The only surprise is that just 50 percent thought a government-run health corporation was a bad idea. Of course, no legislation under consideration in the House or the Senate even contemplates creation of a “government health insurance company.” So if some day someone were to actually propose such an animal, Rasmussen can responsibly say the public is opposed — until then their poll is meaningless.

Math is hard, honesty is harder!

So yesterday, President Obama (yes, he’s the President and I call him President, not Mr. or any of the other things that people on TV call him other than President) met with some of the malcontented Blue Dogs. Whether or not this meeting will net any real movement on the issue or not is still up in the air, but $24b/year in deficits to insure nearly 100% of Americans seems cheap. Hell, it’s only 4.5% of the Defense Budget! Further, that number is BEFORE any additional cost savings, and they’re still working on that.

This morning’s USAToday notes in an interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that Dems are working to squeeze bill’s costs. Focusing on areas of agreement rather than dissention, the House Speaker believes that ”…We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we’re going to get the job done.”

So maybe all’s not as bad as it sounds. Still, that’s not a reason to let your guard down, or get comfortable. We still have to demand a real health care solution from our Representatives and Senators. To that end, HCAN released this ad last week.

Seriously, calling and emailing is the way to get in touch with these folks. Writing a letter is nice, but it can be more easily ignored than a constantly ringing phone. If you live in the 6th, and you want a public option, you best get to dialing. That’s the only thing that’s going to turn Gordon’s vote to our side.

Give Rep. Gordon a ring, here are his digits 877-264-4226.

Finally, I think every morning post needs some humor, and while I work hard at being snarky, I’m hardly a professional. So here’s Lewis Black destroying Republican talking points on Health Care.
( h/t Bruinkid)

Have a Healthy Day!

Jul 21 2009

Dissecting Mayoral Resignation

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis

Today the Memphis City Council will vote to approve the minutes of the meeting from earlier in the month. This will officially declare a vacancy in the office of Mayor, if the minutes are approved, without an official letter of resignation. This legally tenuous footing is possibly made more tenuous by the way the charter ignores “resignation” as an official act vacating the Mayor’s office.

Section 38 of the Charter defines a Mayoral vacancy.

Sec. 38. Acts vacating mayor’s office. In the event the mayor, after his election, shall become interested in any contract with the city, or accept any office or agency of the United States, or of the State of Tennessee, or of the County of Shelby, or of quasi-public corporation, his office shall be thereby vacated. (Acts 1909, ch. 298, § 18; Priv. Acts 1937, ch. 122, § 4; Priv. Acts 1939, ch. 173, § 4)

I have stated, on several occasions that I am not a lawyer. However, do you notice the glaring omission in this text? I’ll make it easy for you, the word resignation or retirement. Neither of these are listed as “acts vacating the mayor’s office”.

Death isn’t mentioned either, though I doubt anyone would argue that death doesn’t constitute a vacancy. Still it’s interesting.

What about Section 27? I mean, I know that’s what most people will point to as a refutation, and I would generally agree, however, section 27 says NOTHING about the office of Mayor. Section 27 resides in Article 5, which establishes the City Council.

Sec. 27. Vacancy in office generally. Removal of residence by a council member from the City of Memphis shall constitute a vacancy on the Council, but removal from one council district to another shall not constitute such vacancy. Upon any vacancy occurring in the Council, including a vacancy in the office of Chairman, by reason of death, resignation, removal or otherwise, the remaining members of the Council shall have the power by a majority vote to elect a person to fill such vacancy and to serve until his successor is elected and qualified. Said vacancy shall be filled as soon as possible and within a period not to exceed thirty (30) days thereafter. Such elected member shall possess the requisite qualifications for membership for that particular position on the Council, including the requirement that he or she be a resident of said district from which he or she is elected in the event of a vacancy and shall take office immediately upon election and hold said office until his or her successor is elected and qualified. A successor shall be elected to fill out the remainder of the term of the Councilman whose seat was vacated in the same manner as provided in Sec.28, except that such special municipal election shall be held on the date of the next regular August or November election. In the event a person elected as council member shall be absent from duty without proper and reasonable explanation therefor being made for a period of ninety (90) days, his or her said office shall be declared vacated and said vacancy shall be filled as herein provided. (Acts 1905, ch. 54, § 6; Ord. No. 1852, 8-16-66)

What does this mean? Maybe nothing, but to my layman’s eye this is interesting. Resignation, as a cause for vacancy, applies to the City Council but not specifically the Mayor.

In searching the Charter, the word “resignation” appears 14 times. The only time it is mentioned in Article 6 is in Section 38.2

Sec. 38.2. Recall of Mayor Upon petition signed by a number of qualified voters equal to ten per centum of the total number of votes cast in the last municipal election for the office of Mayor and filed with the Election Commission (provided that no such petition shall be filed during the first two years of his term), the Election Commission shall call an election at the time of the next General Election after the filing of such petition at which said election the question shall be: “Shall the Mayor be Recalled?” If a number of voters equal to a majority of those voting on the question shall vote to recall the Mayor, the office shall be vacated when the Election Commission shall declare the results, and shall immediately be occupied by the person so designated to succeed the Mayor in case of his death, inability for any reason to serve, or resignation. (Ord. No. 1852, 8-16-66)

This really intrigues me, because since 38.2 falls after 38, it refers to things that should already be mentioned. Remember, 38.2 is not about resignation, but recall. The section assumes that “resignation” is a grounds for vacancy, but because it is not spelled out in Section 38, or anywhere else in the charter where it addresses the office of Mayor there could be some question as to it’s relevance.

In my experience, Charters and other documents establishing a government, organization or business define things before they refer to them. By not defining the popular understanding of the term “resignation” as a “vacancy” the city charter leaves a grey area that simply shouldn’t exist. What’s even MORE interesting is that in the old charter there was a section that further defined vacancy to include “resignation”. This section (Section 38.2) is not included in the current charter that I downloaded from the City site. Here’s the section from the OLD charter:

Sec. 38.2 Vacancy in office. In the case of the death, resignation, inability for any reason to serve, or recall of the Mayor or his removal from the City, his office shall be occupied by the Chairman of the Council for a period not exceeding twenty (20) calendar days, during which period the Council shall elect a successor to the Mayor from among qualified persons not members of the Council at the time of such elections. Such elected person shall take office as Mayor immediately on election and shall hold office until his successor is elected or qualified, which office shall thereupon be filled in the same manner as heretofore provided for vacancies on the Council. In the event the Council shall fail to act within the twenty (20) day period, the Director of Administration shall fill said office until such time as the members of the Council shall have elected a successor or until the next general or municipal election.

Now admittedly, this section falls after Section 38, which is the exact same verbiage in the old and new charters. Still, it clarifies what constitutes a “vacancy”, which the current charter does not. So the question becomes, why does the old charter deal with resignation, but not the new charter?

Because I’m not a lawyer, there may be some overriding state or federal definitions that supersede. I don’t know, but in any case, resignation is NOT a listed cause for vacancy under the current city charter as I read it. However, the definition of resignation in Section 27 may carry over to all city offices even though it is not specifically stated. Again, I’m not a lawyer, so I have to rely on a literal reading of the charter. From that literal reading, I have to ask myself if not stating something means that it isn’t recognized, even though it defies common sense.

Certainly, from a “common sense” perspective “resignation” or “retirement” vacates the office. I don’t think ANYONE would argue that. The fact that it’s not spelled out in a way that makes it plain calls into question the entire issue of Mayoral succession, something we thought we were correcting with the charter amendments that passed back in November.

This may be the “friendly lawsuit” Herenton mentioned in his letter of July 6.

I haven’t had time, or the opportunity to read Atty. Jefferson’s opinion, and don’t even know if he’s released it. Perhaps there’s something in there that I don’t know about. Also there’s the possibility that my layman’s eyes have missed something vital in the charter. It is, however, interesting that the section that would deal with vacancy doesn’t specifically talk about resignation as a cause.

Does it mean anything? Probably not. According to the charter, the Mayor’s reported business dealings with the city would have meant that he vacated the office years ago.

That didn’t happen either.

Ahh, the reasons I love process…

References: Current Charter
Old Charter
Really Confusing “3rd” charter that includes markups