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Politicians Scurrying To and Fro

By Kevin Osborne · December 23rd, 2009 · Porkopolis
President Obama and his supremely obnoxious chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, should be more honest. The $871 billion health care reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate Dec. 21 after eight long and tedious months of debate is, by all indications, almost the exact bill that both men had in mind when they began this process.

Forget all the angry Town Hall meetings and the dickering over whether to include a public option in the bill. In the end, much of that seems like a staged piece of theater to keep the public distracted while Washington insiders — and their lobbyist benefactors — did the real work behind closed doors.

When a few scattered reports surfaced this summer that Obama and his advisers had secretly cut a deal with the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), many loyal Democrats refused to believe it. That might help explain why it wasn’t widely reported.

The final version of the Senate’s bill, however, looks remarkably similar to the alleged deal.

Obama and the bill’s supporters tout provisions that would require insurance companies to provide coverage to people regardless of preexisting conditions, the expansion of coverage to 30 million uninsured citizens and provide subsidies to help some poor people afford coverage. But the bill actually is a windfall for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

It mandates coverage for many people who currently lack it and imposes penalties if they don’t get a policy, includes no public option, prevents the expansion of Medicare, blocks the government from using its leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada and — most importantly — it allows insurance firms to charge up to 300 percent more to some customers.

As Howard Dean told Salon.com, “If you have to pay $20,000 a year for insurance, what good does it do if you have guaranteed issue?”

Also, the bill would create a 12-year exclusivity period for many drugs, meaning no generic versions could be created during that time. That’s much longer than most drugs’ current exclusivity period, further boosting profits for Big PhRMA.

Only some form of government-run competition will pressure the private sector to reduce costs and lead to significant savings. Without it, the bill lacks any teeth.

The truth is that Obama wants some bill — any bill — passed so he can claim a major victory and doesn’t seem impotent.

The prez also promised early on that all committee negotiations involving the bill would be televised on C-SPAN, but they weren’t.

Although Obama constantly pontificates that he’s a proponent of transparency in government, the record shows otherwise.

One thing’s for sure: So far, this isn’t the president most of us signed up for.

Obama should remember that if it wasn’t for his vocal, active progressive base he would probably only be a cabinet member in Hillary Clinton’s administration right now.

*****

Oh, the (unnecessary) drama!

Cincinnati City Council finally passed a 2010 budget late on the night of Dec. 21, the darkest day of the year. Maybe members hoped residents wouldn’t be able to see their latest antics.

Council voted 5-4 to approve the budget, along the typical lines. Democrats Laketa Cole, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Cecil Thomas, along with Republican swing vote Charlie Winburn, supported the plan; opposed were Independent Jeff Berding, Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel and Charterite Chris Bortz.

The four-member minority blasted the original plan that called for laying off more than 200 employees, including 112 police officers and 47 firefighters, as well as a follow-up that asked them to take some unpaid days off instead.

The Democrats opposed suggestions to close some swimming pools and recreations centers or make deep cuts to social service programs. Winburn, who always enjoys being the dealmaker, said he opposed plans that included any of those options. He proposed cutting recycling and overtime pay as well as reducing fuel and utility usage.

As a result, council agreed to a plan with a one-time solution to cover a $51 million deficit. The budget includes $23 million in one-time cuts, using $8.2 million from a capital reserve fund and delaying a $2.5 million payment due to a city union.

The budget means council will be faced with the same funding dilemma in another year.

*****

Say whatever you will about Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (we certainly have over the years), but his nomination Dec. 21 of Brad Wenstrup to sit on the city’s Board of Health was a class move.

Wenstrup, a Republican, was Mallory’s opponent in last fall’s mayoral election. A podiatrist and Iraq War veteran, Wenstrup is a good fit for the board, but we suspect most mayors who were on the brunt of his attacks during a campaign might not be so magnanimous.

Wenstrup hasn’t yet said whether he will accept the nomination, but it’s good to know that politicians can let bygones be bygones for the good of the public.

*****

We like State Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Walnut Hills). We really do.

He’s erudite, principled and a true gentleman — traits that are lacking in many politicians these days. Still, Yates needs to pick his fights better.

Yates recently told The Enquirer that he would support a cigarette tax sought by Hamilton County Commissioners Todd Portune and Greg Hartmann. The pair wants state lawmakers to approve the tax and help the county close a shortfall in its stadium account, which is estimated to have a $13.8 million deficit next year.

No doubt Yates wants to help his buddy Portune, as both served together on Cincinnati City Council for years. Problem is, so far Yates is the only lawmaker from the region’s legislative delegation who supports the measure. Several others, some with much more clout in the statehouse, oppose it. They include State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Green Township), Sen. Shannon Jones (R-Springboro), Sen. Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale), Rep. Lou Blessing (R-Colerain Township), Rep. Ron Maag (R-Lebanon) and Rep. Peter Stautberg (R-Anderson Township).

It’s expected that a 34-cent per pack tax would raise about $15 million annually. Here’s the fatal flaw in the plan, though: Rather than pay the higher cost, local smokers are likely to either a) go across the river into Kentucky, where cigs are much cheaper or b) simply stop smoking altogether. Why implement the tax if it won’t fulfill its purpose?

Seitz noted that state government is facing a budget crisis and state revenues go down when local taxes increase. Ohio depends on state cigarette tax revenues for the third-largest source of cash for its general fund.

“There is no way on God’s green earth that I would ever support such poor public policy as to grant localized authority for higher cigarette taxes,” Seitz wrote the commissioners.

Yates should spend his time on battles he has a chance of winning, instead of enabling old friends in their delusions.


PORKOPOLIS TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or pork@citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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