- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DIVIDED CAPITAL

For a candidate who won the White House on a mantle of bringing the country’s two political parties together, Washington could not be more divided on Obama’s initial weeks in the Oval Office and the policies he has put in place, Alexander Mooney writes at www.cnn.com.

Depending on who you ask, in 30 days the new president has either rescued the nation’s economy from financial ruin or set in motion the most liberal government in a generation, and one that’s likely to prolong — perhaps even prevent — the country’s economic recovery, Mr. Mooney said.

There have also been heated debates over a string of executive orders and bill signings that have fundamentally reversed several policies of the Bush administration, including the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a firm decree against torture, the extension of children’s health insurance, and the lifting of a ban to give funds to international groups that perform abortions.

It’s the massive $787 billion stimulus bill that has drawn the most criticism and praise in the president’s first month. To be sure, while former president Clinton famously declared an end to the ‘era of big government’ 13 years ago, Obama will herald its return in his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

MUGGING

“You have the spotlight shined on you and then come along and get mugged.’ That’s how Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, describes his recent ambush by MoveOn.org after his name was floated as a possible secretary of Health and Human Services, the Wall Street Journal says in an editorial.

Mr. Bredesen would seem to be the kind of pragmatic problem-solver that President Obama claims to favor. He’s a Democrat elected twice in a red state and has been the CEO of Nashville-based HealthAmerica Corp. More important, he has seen how easily hopes for ‘universal coverage’ can be dashed against the realities of cost and perverse incentives, the newspaper said.

Mr. Bredesen came into office in 2003 when the Tenn-Care Medicaid program was bankrupting his state. Launched in 1994 on the promise that it could expand coverage and lower costs via subsidies and managed care, the program had grown to consume a third of the state budget. TennCare participants paid virtually nothing, so they had no incentive to control costs.

The governor spent two years trimming around the edges, but was stymied by lawsuits and critics unhappy with any benefit limits. In 2005, he finally struck at the core of the program by paring back eligibility. About 170,000 people were cut from TennCare rolls in the first year, and some 320,000 have faced benefit cuts over three years.

Then Mr. Bredesen tried a different idea: He offered state-subsidized insurance to low-income workers, but with incentives to control costs, including co-pays and monthly premiums. The plan includes a cap on benefits of $25,000 a year. That’s not enough to cover catastrophic medical events, but it does cover the health-care needs of most in the program. Monthly premiums are $150, with the state, employers and employees each picking up a third of the tab.

For MoveOn and the single-payer lobby, Mr. Bredesen’s approach is unacceptable because government doesn’t run everything. In a petition it has been circulating, MoveOn says that Mr. Bredesen would be a ‘bad choice’ to run HHS because he ‘gutted’ TennCare and made a ‘fortune acquiring and running HMOs.’ Never mind that TennCare was breaking the state before Mr. Bredesen arrived.

SACRED OATH

When the D.C. voting-rights bill comes up for a cloture vote in the Senate this Tuesday, senators will face one overriding question: Will they uphold their oaths to support and defend the Constitution? If they give the District of Columbia a voting representative in Congress, they will break those oaths, Hans A. von Spakovsky writes at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

Article I specifies that ‘Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States,’ and this is confirmed in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment. One of the qualifications to be a congressman is to ‘be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen,’ said Mr. von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, and now a visiting legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation.

Congress itself has recognized that the only way the District of Columbia could get representation was through a constitutional amendment — Congress passed one in [1978] (the amendment failed to gain the approval of 38 states, and thus didn’t take effect).

“It also took an amendment — the 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961 — to provide District residents the right to vote for president. If that right could have been granted through legislation, there would have been no need to get so many states to sign off …

About the only argument that the bill’s proponents can muster is that because the Constitution gives Congress the right to exercise ‘exclusive Legislation’ over the District, it has the ability to provide the District with a House seat.

That’s a losing argument. The Constitution’s provision giving Congress the power to run the affairs of the District of Columbia, the seat of the nation’s capital, doesn’t wipe out other parts of the document. Congress could not, for example, restrict the First Amendment rights of District residents.

Furthermore, the very same section of the Constitution also applies to ‘Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards’ and other federal properties. But it would be ridiculous to assert, on the basis of that text, that Congress has the power to award House seats to an army base, federal office building, or Navy pier.

FEARMONGER

Obama scoffed during the 2008 campaign at some in Washington who considered him, in Obama’s words, a ‘hope-monger.’ But this is not Obama’s problem of late, David Paul Kuhn writes at www.realclearpolitics.com.

The Democratic president is not offering Carter’s malaise. But now some wonder whether the president is helping matters by repeatedly comparing the nation’s hard times to its worst economic catastrophe, the Great Depression, Mr. Kuhn said.

The unemployment rate remains a third of what it was in the first year of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. FDR inherited a stock market that was 75 percent below its 1929 high. It took decades for the market to return to that high. Obama is right to worry about what more could happen, but he’s hardly helping the markets when he repeatedly harkens to its most horrible era.”

Moreover, it never helps a player who is in a slump to keep talking about it. So it is with the nation as well.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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