- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

Asking for trouble

Morton Kondracke’s suggestion that Republicans could erase a 20-point Democratic lead in polls on health care by advocating compulsory health insurance (“Mandatory health insurance?” Commentary, Thursday) is curious.

Curious because the last Republican effort that abandoned limited-government principles — the new Medicare drug entitlement — has proved a political failure. As Mr. Kondracke notes, Republicans trail Democrats on the issue among voters. Meanwhile, supporters of limited government are furious.

Curious also because Mr. Kondracke recommends a worse apostasy. Once it is verboten not to purchase health insurance, the meaning of “health insurance” must be defined by law. Every interest group imaginable will descend upon Congress to ensure that coverage of the services it provides or the illnesses its members suffer is included. As the cost of coverage rises (and consumer choice and self-restraint vanish), increasing numbers of Americans will require subsidies until budgetary pressures force government to ration medical care.

Never mind a piddling $535 billion entitlement. Compulsory health insurance would bring the entire health care system under the thumb of the federal government. Sen. John Kerry’s health plan would socialize large parts of America’s health care system, yet even he finds compulsory health insurance too extreme to touch.

If Democrats are polling better on health care, it may be because voters prefer politicians who actually believe in what they’re doing. Republicans could reclaim that mantle with limited-government proposals — such as enhancing health savings accounts — that undo the rising costs and increasing bureaucratization of medical care that so many government interventions have wrought.

MICHAEL F. CANNON

Director of health policy studies

Cato Institute

Washington

The war against terror, not Muslims

Georgie Anne Geyer (“Forsaking U.S. traditions,” Commentary, Tuesday) stretches Richard Perle and David Frum’s reference to the threat to Western civilization from a “radical strain within Islam” to refer to all Muslims. She then says: “These two men utterly hate the Islamic world and want the United States involved there in wars without end.”

It surely is not hating Islam to be gravely concerned about the terror threat from a small but incendiary group of Islamic extremists. The characterization of their goals as victory over Western nations, culture and religion (and, I might add, the state of Israel) is certainly accurate, as they themselves have often said. Any movement toward a peaceful resolution, in Iraq or elsewhere, is met with even greater terror by these extremists.

I wonder how Miss Geyer would characterize the goals of the Islamic terrorists whose actions seem more like terror for terror’s sake every day. It seems as if the seductive lure of terrorism leads to its becoming an end in itself. Yet there is a great difference between the radical Islamic terrorists and the vast majority of Muslims, who want to know a better world with peace and justice. It also seems to me that the whole Islamic world is beginning to wake up to this distinction as well. America should support this vast majority of Muslims who would welcome our help in creating a better life.

DONALD E. MOORE

Charlottesville, Virginia[[$PARAGRAPH_OFF$]

Don’t halt progress in telecom

We are writing to take issue with your March 8 editorial “Stalling telecom deregulation.” Your editors maintain that the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is better for the telecommunication industry’s recovery. We disagree.

When we worked together to pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we believed our intent to be crystal clear. Consumers would benefit from a dramatic increase in competition fueled by the ability of new entrants to connect easily and inexpensively with the monopoly networks. Before passage of the act, the regional Bell operating companies benefited from nearly a century of government-granted monopoly. We knew no monopolist would willingly open its market and that regulation was needed to create a transition from monopoly to a competitive marketplace. Eight years later, competition has advanced to the point where many consumers across the country can choose another local telephone provider.

Before the ink was dry on the 1996 act, the seven Baby Bells challenged the constitutionality of the law they had helped write. Next, they abandoned plans to compete out of market and merged into four local phone companies that still control 85 percent of customer access lines. Finally, they proceeded to flout the requirements of competitive access, racking up more than $2 billion in fines in the past eight years.

Telecom competition produced meaningful benefits. More than 19 million households receive competitive telephone service, and even more have received the benefits of competition through lower prices and new technologies. We have learned that not only are consumers saving billions as companies compete for local and long-distance phone service, but competition stimulates investment in telecom infrastructure and creates badly needed growth and jobs in the industry.

With one ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals has pulled the plug on competition and halted eight years of progress.

Without access to Bell facilities, competition will disappear from many markets. The telecom act seeks to open markets and preserve competition, but the court’s ruling will bring the exact opposite. As drafters of the act, we understand more than most that the court’s decision directly conflicts with the actions and intent of the bipartisan congressional majority that passed the act.

The act called on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules to ensure that the Bells opened their markets to competition, and state regulators were tasked with arbitrating agreements between the incumbents and the competitors and weighing in on whether local markets were open to competition. Understanding that state regulators are on the front line of this issue, the FCC looked to the states as it determined whether a Bell company should be allowed to enter the long-distance market. Congress explicitly preserved large areas of state authority, including the ability of states to establish additional network access obligations. The FCC’s decision to continue to delegate responsibility to the states is entirely consistent with the structure and operation of the 1996 act.

By vacating the FCC’s decision to “subdelegate” its authority to state commissions, the court turned its back on the act and hampered the FCC’s ability to draw upon the expertise of the state commissions.

The FCC is faced with an impossible task — conducting a granular review of state markets within a 60-day period. The FCC gave state regulators nine months to conduct such a review, and many industry insiders were concerned whether the task could be completed within that time period. If this decision is allowed to stand and the FCC tries to mandate a “one-size-fits-all” network policy, it will stop the telecom and Internet recovery in its tracks. Within a few short months, tens of millions of Americans could face higher prices and fewer choices as competitive alternatives are eliminated because of the meddling of an activist court.

The court’s decision will take our country back to the age of the telecom monopoly. The Bell companies already have been authorized to enter the long-distance market, and now they will be able to strengthen their hold on local customers. Given the new technologies available today, this monopoly power will be extended even further.

We can’t let this court’s decision eliminate the progress we have seen under the telecom act. The FCC must take this fight to the Supreme Court.

SEN. ERNEST F. HOLLINGS

Ranking member

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

REP. THOMAS J. BLILEY

Senior advisor for government relations,

Collier Shannon Scott, a firm retained by MCI

Washington

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