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Following Congressman Murtha

Tuesday, February 9, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

There is a good piece on the congressman in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and the communities he represented will certainly miss the federal dollars he brought them.

Congressman Murtha’s controversial legacy will be extended to include what will be a hugely symbolic special election to fill his seat in Pennsylvania’s 12th, a heavily gerrymandered-for-Murtha district that nevertheless was carried by McCain in ’08. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza speculates the election will be held May 18, and all eyes will be on it as another referendum on Obamacare and on the president’s the Pelosi-led House’s huge lurch to the left.

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“Health Summit Starting Point: Ban Three Bad Ideas”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The regular Monday morning column from Clark Judge has become a Tuesday column because of the snows in D.C.:

Health Summit Starting Point: Ban Three Bad Ideas
By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group ( <> )

How bad have the last few weeks been for Mr. Obama’s White House?

You can keep the score in headlines and magazine covers.

Covers? My favorite is The New Yorker’s, with the President in three cartoon panels walking across the water. In the fourth he’s falling in.

Headlines? Take this one from Monday’s Washington Post, “A year later, where did the hopes for Obama go?” Or as the Financial Times put it, for a story that in good British fashion blamed the courtiers (in this case, four senior advisors) and not the king, “As Barack Obama struggles to put his presidency on track, concerns are growing….”

No kidding.

As part of his self-revival tour, Mr. Obama has called a health care summit to, he said, “to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and help move it forward.”[# More #]

Here is a better idea. How about going through all the worst ideas first, and make sure we don’t move backwards?

Here are three bad ideas that should be removed from the table right away.

Bad idea #1: Federal mandates, as in employers are mandated to buy health insurance for all employees or else, or all of us are mandated to buy insurance for ourselves or else.

Outside of the obvious areas of criminal behavior, “or else” has no place in the vocabulary of the government of a free people. A major source of opposition to all of the plans that the president and his allies have tabled has been their compulsory character.

This is a matter of personal freedom. If I don’t want health insurance, nobody should be telling me to buy it. It is also a matter of a more subtle form of government control.

Consider this: if the government mandates the purchase of health insurance, it must also decide what features satisfy the mandate. In other words, mandates are the public option without the money. The government will decide what you are to do and through mandates how much you are to pay.

Then, too, experimentation that is the hallmark of a successful marketplace will be cut off, as every new idea must pass through an administrative approval process. Short cycle times (try, discard, try again, keep cooking until done) are an essential feature of a creative marketplace. Federal mandates will effectively kill that feature in the insurance marketplace, as state mandates in many places already have.

Bad idea #2: Using state mandates as a barrier to creation of a national insurance market.

In global trading negotiations, the kinds of state mandates we have in health care are known as “non-tariff trade barriers”. For example, the European Union and the Japanese in particular have been famous over the years for creating regulations that effectively ban products of other countries from being sold within their borders. They had nothing on American states.

It is not that states should not be free to set standards. But if a company is licensed to do business in one state, it may do business in all states. The same rule should apply to insurance policies.

The president often portrays this way of doing business as a way of allowing insurers to get away with bad practices. Actually, it is a way of making each state hear the will of its people, not of its special interests. If California-compliant plans are more popular in Massachusetts than are Massachusetts-compliant plans, won’t that tell something to Massachusetts regulators and legislators? Establishing national competition among insurance companies is only half the reason for creating this kind of national market. The other half is establishing competition among the states.

Bad idea #3: Breaking the link between paying for health services and receiving health services.

This link is already broken, of course. And that breaking is a major – perhaps THE major – reason for health care inflation (including inflation in health insurance prices) in the United States.

If health reform does nothing else, it should repair the link, putting each of us in control of the coverage and services we receive and giving us the responsibility and reward of buying prudently. This is the point of health savings accounts, of providing individuals with the same tax benefits that companies receive when buying health insurance, of freeing us each to own our health plans rather than attaching the plans to our jobs.

Most unions have an institutional aversion to the concept. Collective control in any form enhances the power of their leaders. But union leaders form another special interest to which true reformers will need to stand up.

With those bad ideas off the table (I am assuming that a bad idea called the public option is already gone), constructive discussion of health reform can begin. If the administration refuses, one thing will be all but certain: the president will be headed for a second year in office as problematic as his first.

Allen West and Alex Berenson

Monday, February 8, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Colonel Allen West is running for Congress in Florida’s 22nd and will be my guest today.

As will be Alex Berenson, whose new thriller The Midnight House, hit stores and this week.

The Midnight House

And I’ll be playing the tape from my time on Reliable Sources yesterday as well as discussing Internet Business Reporting (


Memo To Leaders Boehner and McConnell

Monday, February 8, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The president has called for a bipartisan health care summit. I suppose I am too suspicious, but I suspect this is part of the great pivot –from blaming George W. Bush for all of the Obama Administration failures of 2009 to blaming you for all of the Obama Administration failures of 2010. After all, David Plouffe didn’t come back in to manage Congressional relations.

President Obama could be serious. He has, after all, allocated an entire half day to the effort.

But against the possibility that he is not and that he intends this as a trampoline from which he can execute a great jump and a perfect dismount, pointing at you the entire way and leaving an adoring media to mutter about the “party of no,” I suggest you respond quickly, substantively, and in writing:

Mr. President:

We accept your invitation. In the spirit of bipartisanship we also suggest that the agenda consist of six items, of 30 minutes each, with half of the items and presentation chosen by us, and half by you, the Speaker and The Majority Leader.

We suggest that these presentations be staggered, one from one party followed by one from the other party, and have no objection to going first or second.

Our three points will be:

1. There can be no comprehensive health care cost control and thus no real health care reform without tort reform. In addition to a national cap on pain and suffering damages similar to California’s, we will offer some other keys to controlling the cost of defensive medicine in this country. We urge you to ask your colleagues to refrain from immediately rushing to the defense of the plaintiffs’ bar. The only way to stop the rising cost of medicine is to stop the need for doctors to practice with a lawyer on both shoulders.

2. There is an enormous need for an interstate market in health care policies. We should move immediately to eliminate this artificial and extremely expensive obstacle to the lowering of the cost of health insurance.

3. There can be no long term confidence in our health care system without confidence in a growing, vibrant and robust economy, one freed from crippling entitlement debt and massive borrowing. Therefore we will use our last presentation to acquaint you and your colleagues with the details of Congressman Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap,” which we believe could be enacted in parallel with comprehensive health care reform thus setting our domestic policy house in order.

We look forward to the meeting Mr. President, and urge a similar one be scheduled on national security matters so we could persuade you to abandon the the decision to try KSM in civilian court in America and to offer Miranda rights to terrorists past and future.


John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

UPDATE: John Boehner and Eric Cantor release their own letter. Not as good as mine, I think, because it is too long and doesn’t mention tort reform –sigh– but a good step nonetheless:

February 8, 2010

The Honorable Rahm Emanuel
Chief of Staff
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Emanuel:

We welcome President Obama’s announcement of forthcoming bipartisan health care talks. In fact, you may remember that last May, Republicans asked President Obama to hold bipartisan discussions on health care in an attempt to find common ground, but he declined and instead chose to work with only Democrats.

Since then, the President has given dozens of speeches on health care reform, operating under the premise that the more the American people learn about his plan, the more they will come to like it. Just the opposite has occurred: a majority of Americans oppose the House and Senate health care bills and want them scrapped so we can start over with a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs for families and small businesses. Just as important, scrapping the House and Senate health care bills would help end the uncertainty they are creating for workers and businesses and thus strengthen our shared commitment to focusing on creating jobs.

Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward on health care in a bipartisan way, does that mean he will agree to start over so that we can develop a bill that is truly worthy of the support and confidence of the American people? Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today that the President is “absolutely not” resetting the legislative process for health care. If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate. [# More #]

Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward in a bipartisan way, does that mean he has taken off the table the idea of relying solely on Democratic votes and jamming through health care reform by way of reconciliation? As the President has noted recently, Democrats continue to hold large majorities in the House and Senate, which means they can attempt to pass a health care bill at any time through the reconciliation process. Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people.

If the President intends to present any kind of legislative proposal at this discussion, will he make it available to members of Congress and the American people at least 72 hours beforehand? Our ability to move forward in a bipartisan way through this discussion rests on openness and transparency.

Will the President include in this discussion congressional Democrats who have opposed the House and Senate health care bills? This bipartisan discussion should reflect the bipartisan opposition to both the House bill and the kickbacks and sweetheart deals in the Senate bill.

Will the President be inviting officials and lawmakers from the states to participate in this discussion? As you may know, legislation has been introduced in at least 36 state legislatures, similar to the proposal just passed by the Democratic-controlled Virginia State Senate, providing that no individual may be compelled to purchase health insurance. Additionally, governors of both parties have raised concerns about the additional costs that will be passed along to states under both the House and Senate bills.

The President has also mentioned his commitment to have “experts” participate in health care discussions. Will the Feb. 25 discussion involve such “experts?” Will those experts include the actuaries at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who have determined that the both the House and Senate health care bill raise costs – just the opposite of their intended effect – and jeopardize seniors’ access to high-quality care by imposing massive Medicare cuts? Will those experts include the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which has stated that the GOP alternative would reduce premiums by up to 10 percent? Also, will Republicans be permitted to invite health care experts to participate?

Finally, as you know, this is the first televised White House health care meeting involving the President since last March. Many health care meetings of the closed-door variety have been held at the White House since then, including one last month where a sweetheart deal was worked out with union leaders. Will the special interest groups that the Obama Administration has cut deals with be included in this televised discussion?

Of course, Americans have been dismayed by the fact that the President has broken his own pledge to hold televised health care talks. We can only hope this televised discussion is the beginning, not the end, of attempting to correct that mistake. Will the President require that any and all future health care discussions, including those held on Capitol Hill, meet this common-sense standard of openness and transparency?

Your answers to these critical questions will help determine whether this will be a truly open, bipartisan discussion or merely an intramural exercise before Democrats attempt to jam through a job-killing health care bill that the American people can’t afford and don’t support. ‘Bipartisanship’ is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support. Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means.

These questions are also designed to try and make sense of the widening gap between the President’s rhetoric on bipartisanship and the reality. We cannot help but notice that each of the President’s recent bipartisan overtures has been coupled with harsh, misleading partisan attacks.

For instance, the President decries Republican ‘obstruction’ when it was Republicans who first proposed bipartisan health care talks last May. The President says Republicans are ‘sitting on the sidelines’ just days after holding up our health care alternative and reading from it word for word. The President has every right to use his bully pulpit as he sees fit, but this is the kind of credibility gap that has the American people so fed up with business as usual in Washington.

We look forward to receiving your answers and continuing to discuss ways we can move forward in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges facing the American people.


House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH)
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA)

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