Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
During the Civil War when the union’s preservation and slavery’s abolition were in doubt, President Lincoln roused the nation with his dream “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” In rekindling our Founders’ vision, Lincoln helped assure that America would become the freest and most prosperous nation on earth, a status successive US presidents have dutifully maintained, or they were cast aside by voters.
As Americans Think Again about President Obama, consider that no president has won re-election amid such economic stagnation, declining incomes, high gas prices and business pessimism. Living astonishingly beyond our means and more indebted than any other nation in world history, Americans face a reduced standard of living, diminished opportunities for our children, and a weakened capacity to secure our national interests in a menacing world.
After trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, the 39-month old economic recovery has one-seventh the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery in which double-digit inflation and interest rates were also slain. With 261,000 fewer jobs today than January 2009 (despite population growth of 9 million), exploding poverty, government dependency, and income inequality imperil Lincoln’s dream.
During the economic turmoil of 2008, Obama sounded Lincoln-esque, promising to “provide good jobs to the jobless…secure our nation and restore our image as the last best hope on Earth.” But unlike Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton who understood the benefits of economic growth policies – more and better jobs, larger paychecks, growing tax revenues without tax rate increases, and deficit and debt mitigation -- Obama doubled down on government-centric and budget-busting policies.
Having inherited a government moving in the wrong direction on bailouts, spending, deficits and debt accumulation, Obama floored the gas. Though critical of Bush’s $4 trillion in accumulated debt and vowing to halve the annual deficit by now, Obama has run four successive trillion-dollar deficits – each nearly triple Bush’s average -- while increasing debt nearly $6 trillion to a sum ($16.1 trillion) that exceeds the US economy. Historically, America’s economy has grown faster than its debt -- until Obama, under whom debt is growing $2.50 for every dollar of GDP growth.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, manditory expenditures for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are exploding, consuming more annually than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and TARP bailouts. Rather than address the looming entitlement crisis, Obama’s budget projects massive deficits and $20 trillion in debt by the end of his second term. So fiscally irresponsible, not one member of Congress -- not even a single Democrat -- has voted to approve either of Obama’s last two annual budgets.
Meanwhile, with Democrats in complete control of Congress through January 2011, Obama’s signature legislative “reforms” – Obamacare and Dodd-Frank – ignored Republican solutions, and imposed thousands of complex regulations and new taxes on the private economy, nearly paralyzing job creation and economic growth.
Though sold as “Wall Street reform”, Dodd-Frank makes bailouts more likely by designating selected banks “too-big-to-fail” and failing to reform the financial crisis’ real culprits -- housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With smaller banks competitively disadvantaged, lending is down, consumer prices are up, and expensive consultants, like the former chiefs-of-staff to both Dodd and Frank, are in demand.
Neither is Obamacare meeting its promises. Insurance premiums are up $2,500 and according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Obamacare will cost nearly twice its original estimate, leave 30 million Americans uninsured, and cause 20 million people to lose their employer-provided health insurance. Additionally, it imposes 20 new taxes on families and small businesses and incentivizes employers to hire part-time instead of full-time workers.
Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs, America is now the most energy-endowed nation in the world. Allowing the responsible development of our resources would generate millions of jobs while turbo-charging the economy and revitalizing distressed communities. Yet despite promising an “all-of-the-above” energy policy while investing $90 billion in uncompetitive green energy companies, Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline and reduced drilling permits on public lands by 36 percent, compared to increases of 116 and 58 percent under Bush and Clinton, respectively.
Meanwhile, GDP growth slumped to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, but Obama proposes to increase tax rates on “millionaires and billionaires” (individuals and small businesses making over $250,000) to promote fairness, after opposing them in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate. But how can it be fair to implement a policy that the CBO considers economically injurious and would yield only enough revenue to fund 8.5 days of government spending? Given Obama’s track record, how could another four years of the same policies result in enough economic growth to overcome our economic challenges?
Mindful of these challenges and eager to diffuse the debt bomb while preserving entitlement programs for future generations, Governor Romney proposes to expand the private economy with spending, regulatory, tax and entitlement reforms reminiscent of those enacted by Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton – modern America’s most successful economic stewards. Romney proposes to cut tax rates by 20 percent for all Americans while maintaining the same share of taxes paid by the wealthy. But unlike Bush, he’ll pay for them by eliminating expensive loopholes only accessible to wealthy individuals and companies like GE.
Divided as we were during the Civil War, Americans long to be unified by a leader, like Lincoln, committed to expanding liberty and increasing individual opportunity -- the source of human flourishing and America’s promise.
Think Again – only by restoring these cultural bulwarks can we pass our children a strong America, and remain the last best hope of earth.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Comedian Steve Martin once quipped, “I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.” Sadly, combatants in the “War on Women” seem to agree with Martin, except they want others to pay for their sex – at least the contraception.
Last week, Georgetown law student and contraception activist Sandra Fluke led the battle cry at a presidential campaign rally in Denver. She argued that without the controversial government mandate requiring employers to provide free contraceptive services, women would lose control over their healthcare choices. In post-rally interviews videotaped by Caleb Bonham of RevealingPolitics.com, Fluke’s warriors insisted government stay out of their bedrooms. When asked why government should pay for what goes on in their bedrooms, the flummoxed women had to Think Again.
On the warpath to secure women’s healthcare rights, Fluke should recall what most women already know. Contraceptive services are as cheap ($9 per month at Target) and ubiquitous as routine oil changes are for cars. Nevertheless, Medicaid and most insurance companies already cover contraception, and for the uninsured, Planned Parenthood and the government spend $700 million annually.
If women-warriors are battling to control their own healthcare decisions, why aren’t they concerned that unelected and unaccountable governmental bureaucrats – not their doctors – are empowered by the Affordable Care Act to determine which health services are (or aren’t) medically necessary, cost-effective and insurable? The Affordable Care Act gives the Health and Human Services Secretary (currently Katherine Sebilius) sole discretion to determine standards for both government and private health insurance coverage.
As a women’s health advocate, Fluke likes Sebilius’ acceptance of the government’s US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation to provide free contraceptive services. But why isn’t she rallying to block acceptance of changes the task force made recently to mammogram guidelines -- from annually after 40 (as endorsed by the American Cancer Society) to biennially after 50? Will Fluke’s compassion compel her to protest task force guidelines that no longer recommend PSA prostate cancer screening for healthy men?
Being insured doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality and timely care, as the New York Times reported recently. The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates a 90,000-doctor shortage this decade, a crisis exacerbated by the Affordable Care Act. Where is Fluke’s outrage at the two-tier system expected to emerge as doctors increasingly allocate their limited time away from the insured whose plans pay less?
Thomas Jefferson warned, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” As a woman of conscience and opponent of government interference in her bedroom, it’s vexing that Fluke would tolerate the Affordable Care Act’s imposition of government between Americans and their faith, in violation of constitutionally protected religious liberties. After a German Judge banned circumcision in newborn Jewish and Muslim boys in June, what’s to prevent an American ban, if not the First Amendment?
Faith-based social service agencies have been a bedrock of American civil society since our founding, serving the vulnerable as they serve God. Requiring them to pay for contraceptive, sterilization and abortion-inducing services unjustly forces them to choose between moral beliefs and government dictates, while undermining their good works. As religious institutions prepare to drop insurance coverage for employees and students to avert the dilemma posed by the Affordable Care Act mandate, does Fluke care?
Americans care, favoring the Affordable Care Acts’s repeal by an average of 56 to 38 percent in 100 consecutive Rasmussen Reports polls conducted since its March 2010 passage. Because only three percent of Americans dislike their current insurance plans, we fear being among the 20 million the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be dumped by employers into government plans, contrary to pledges that we could keep our plans and doctors if you like them. Additionally, 81 percent of voters expect the Affordable Care Act will cost more than projected (consistent with Budget Office’s recent $1.2 trillion cost over-run estimate), with majorities anticipating increasing insurance premiums and federal deficits.
The primary reason for which Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, is it runs contrary to deeply held American values. Preferring free-market solutions and competition, Rasmussen writes, “Americans want to be empowered as health care consumers …not rely on mandates and trusting the government.” Three-quarters of Americans want the right to choose between expensive insurance plans with greater coverage or low deductibles, and low-cost plans with less coverage or higher deductibles. “If the plan they select costs less than the company plan,” he continues, “most believe the worker should get to keep the change.”
As Fluke and her army storm a hill with no enemy, their friendly fire risks harming the cause they purport to serve, and the national interest. Think Again Sandra Fluke. Real women’s liberation and healthcare security depend on free-market choices and competition -- not on getting others to pay for your birth control.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Tamara Shayne Kagel made waves recently when she wrote a column in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles titled “I Don’t Want to Date a Republican.” Clarifying her fears, she pondered with horror: “What if I have Republican babies?” Now smitten, she’s had to Think Again.
Having crossed the partisan Rubicon from insularity to open-mindedness, Kagel says she now respects and admires her boyfriend who, she acknowledges, “values helping the poor as much as I do -- just in a different way.”
To arrive at this tolerant Zen state, Kagel recalibrated her moral compass, the antidote social psychologist Jonathan Haidt advocates in “The Righteous Mind -- Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Haidt cautions, “Beware of anyone who insists there is one true morality for all people, times, and places.” Comedian Steven Colbert didn’t buy Haidt’s thesis insisting “not just that I’m right; almost more importantly is that you are wrong.“
Last week, as if aping Colbert, many media, academic and political elites insisted opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were villainous and treacherous, including Supreme Court justices who might rule the law unconstitutional. Hardball’s Chris Matthews compared Chief Justice Roberts to the judge who upheld the Fugitive Slave Act, but after Roberts became the swing vote, he seemed to morph from Darth Vader into Luke Skywalker.
Disturbed by this Star Wars mentality, polls show public confidence in media and government at record lows. This week’s Rasmussen survey of Supreme Court perceptions confirmed the widening gap between the political class and mainstream voters -- the Court’s favorability doubled from 27 to 55 percent among the political class but dropped from 34 to 22 percent among mainstream voters.
Every American wants our health care system to be more efficient, affordable and accessible. As world-class consumers, we expect cost containment, improved quality and more choices -- we get that in our cell phones, why not our healthcare? We’ve watched Apple compete by continuously innovating, creating new markets and must-have products at prices unimaginable a decade ago. Meanwhile, market entrants like Android offer choices to consumers for whom a phone (never mind an iPhone) was previously unaffordable.
Not surprisingly, Americans rejected government-centric solutions that interposed Washington bureaucrats between doctors and patients and did little to address the healthcare cost explosion. Nevertheless, à la Colbert, lawmakers insisted they were right and opponents weren’t merely wrong, but evil. Despite public outrage, Congress passed the ACA on a party-line vote aided by political payoffs, accounting gimmicks, deceptive language, and parliamentary trickeries never before used for such far-reaching legislation.
As unsettling is the perception that last week’s Supreme Court ruling -- which rewrote the ACA in order to find it constitutional and used reasoning that politically-diverse legal experts regard as flimsy -- was made to protect the Court’s legitimacy in the eyes of those who define illegitimacy as anything with which they disagree. If political calculations factored into Court deliberations, doesn’t that undermine judicial integrity?
Most importantly, two years into the 2,409 page law and 4,103 pages of associated regulations, we know it’s “dreadful public policy,” as non-partisan Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: Its “attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of people.”
Moreover, its promises are false: health insurance premiums have risen $2,200, not declined by $2,500; official cost estimates nearly doubled with further increases expected, thus increasing the deficit; and millions of Americans will lose their insurance and doctors as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating healthcare expenses.
Now consider the moral travesties. Not only does the law perpetuate the largest transfer of wealth from the young to the older in world history, it promises a quantity and quality of care it can’t deliver while stifling the medical innovation on which the world depends for continuously improving health outcomes.
The story of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old Medicaid beneficiary, is instructive. Unable to secure appropriate and timely treatment, he died of an infection that started with an abscessed tooth -- not because he was uninsured, but because he was government-insured.
The ACA’s proponents won’t mention these fiscal, economic and moral challenges. Like used car salesmen, they tout loss leaders (universal coverage and 26-year olds on parents’ plans) and free extras (contraception) – all attainable with cheaper and less disruptive policies like tax credits and high-risk pools. How do we separate the facts from the sales pitch, and if the deal is so good, why do the well-connected get waivers?
With so much at stake, lawmakers must recalibrate their moral compasses. Having done so, Kagel personifies Haidt’s message that love and mutual respect engender the willingness to see those with opposing views generously, improving everyone’s outcomes.
If elected leaders won’t love and respect us, we must Think Again in November.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last month, the day before National Donut Day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to tackle obesity by banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces. Eager for the newly nicknamed “Soda Jerk” to Think Again, comedian Jon Stewart joked that Bloomberg’s proposal “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”
The website “Renegade Chicks” reflected citywide disapproval in asking, “aren’t there bigger issues at hand (like)…. say the declining economy and rising unemployment rates? If this soda ban is passed, what’s next?” Apparently, milk drinks and popcorn, which goes to show there’s nothing so bad that politicians can’t make worse. At least New Yorkers can move to a different city.
Not so for Americans wishing to escape the interventionist sweep of the Affordable Care Act whose constitutionality we’ll soon know. Perhaps more important than whether the law stands, is whether the Supreme Court decision will enable the steady mission and power creep of the federal government beyond the boundaries set by our constitutional framers.
Those who advocate such creep believe in a “living Constitution” that allows government to concentrate power in order to meet societal challenges, a noble goal. The ends justify the means for such advocates like UC-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky who asserts, “Congress can force economic transactions” and “in theory…. use its commerce power to require people to buy cars. Power can be used in silly ways and the Constitution isn’t our protector against undesirable government actions.”
One needn’t be a constitutional scholar to know unlimited and unchecked federal government power was the evil our Founders wanted to prevent. They designed the government to limit federal authority to enumerated purposes, leaving remaining powers to sovereign states and individuals. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained, “The Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”
Embedded in our founding documents is a uniquely American and revolutionary set of governing principles designed to protect our natural rights and liberties, not create man-made ones. This philosophy created the freest and most prosperous society on earth by proclaiming that every human being is born free, equal, and independent with inalienable rights that are permanent parts of our nature. Because we’re equal, no one – not a king, a neighbor or a mayor -- can be the ruler of any other human being, and each of us is equal in our natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
Since a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed it must be, as Thomas Jefferson said, a “wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
Nevertheless, the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate trade, has been used to justify dramatic federal government expansion. Congress wants to stretch this power further to include the regulation of individual choices never before considered commercial or interstate -- like deciding not to purchase health insurance. If Congress can mandate Americans to purchase health insurance simply because we’re alive, what Constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?
The debates surrounding this question, and other constitutional issues like executive privileges and orders, are instructive. Not only have Americans learned more about the Constitution, we’ve discovered that many lawmakers neither understand nor respect the document they’re sworn to uphold. Even worse, we have leaders intent on fundamentally transforming the relationship between the citizen and government in a manner the Constitution doesn’t allow.
By allowing these politicians to create and impose solutions better left to sovereign states and individuals, we permit their government-driven agenda to trump our liberties and their Leviathan government to limit our choices and make our decisions. This is not the fulfillment of our Founder’s dream – it’s their nightmare.
Americans must ask: Do we want a government whose role is limited by the sovereign people to certain designated purposes, or an amorphous and unlimited one that can do to us whatever it wants? How long before the federal government deems a 32-ounce soda oversized or worse, a $320,000 salary excessive?
On July 4th, Americans celebrate the liberty and natural rights for which our Founders fought. They gave us a brilliant political system which, to paraphrase William Gladstone, was the most perfect ever devised in the history of mankind. Now, it’s up to us to reclaim it.
Think Again – your liberty depends on it.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Prior to its maiden voyage 100 years ago this week, the Titanic’s captain proclaimed, “I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.” Yet hubris, misaligned priorities and bad planning conspired to sink the Titanic.
The same mismanagement and arrogance afflicts the Titanic-like healthcare law (“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”) that passed through icy Congressional waters in 2010. Given lethal icebergs en route, both Captain Smith and America’s lawmakers would undoubtedly Think Again before declaring “Full Speed Ahead”.
If polled, Titanic’s passengers would’ve preferred slower navigation (and more lifeboats) to the record-breaking speed favored by Titanic’s ownership. Americans were polled on the healthcare law and registered consistent and overwhelming disapproval. Polling like CNN’s March 2010 survey -- 19 percent believed they’d be better off with the legislation -- led pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen to write, “Most voters believe the current plan will harm the economy, cost more than projected, raise the cost of care, and lead to higher middle-class taxes.“
Nevertheless, without reading, understanding, or considering its constitutionality, lawmakers hurtled the unpopular 2,700-page bill toward passage. Though approved on a party-line vote, controversial political payoffs and parliamentary shenanigans never before deployed for legislation of such magnitude led voters to reject incumbents in the historic 2010-midterm elections.
Since the law’s passage, strong majorities of Americans support its repeal. Meanwhile, recent polls show two-thirds of Americans believe the Supreme Court should either strike the law entirely, or the individual mandate which forces every American to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. If upheld, Americans fear losing the constitutional limits our founders believed necessary to curb coercive federal government power. With the IRS to enforce, what Constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?
Politically diverse commentators agree that the government failed to substantiate the law’s constitutionality in oral arguments before the Supreme Court, though some believe the Court must defer to Congress by upholding its law. However, doesn’t our system of checks and balances mean the judiciary must declare unconstitutionality when another branch acts unconstitutionally? The Supreme Court struck down President Bush’s military tribunals, why not the healthcare law?
In his latest book, “The People’s Money,” Rasmussen argues that America is divided between the “Political Class” -- those who believe “the federal government is the source of all legitimate authority in the nation” -- and the American people who “are the true sovereign authority of the land.” Since only 17 percent of voters believe the government has their consent, Rasmussen warns: “In a nation founded on the belief that governments derive their only just authority from such consent, that’s a devastating assessment.”
It’s hard to trust the Political Class when it misleads, distorting words like “trust fund” and “budget cut” to cover-up increasing spending, deficits and debt. Upon instituting Social Security, Franklin Roosevelt promised it wouldn’t be a “pay-as-you-go” system that channeled taxes from today’s workers to pay today’s retirees. But Presidents Johnson and Nixon broke Roosevelt’s promise, and though “trust funds” are used to reduce deficits, many Americans believe their payroll taxes are segregated to pay for the retirement benefits they’ve earned.
To politicians, the term “budget cut” means spending that increases less than expected. Using this trickery, if Imelda Marcos spent $1000 on shoes last year and decided to spend only $2000 this year instead of her budgeted $3000, her shoe budget suffered a “draconian cut”, though it actually doubled! After decades of this chicanery, Rasmussen warns, “the damage has already been done… the result is a government more than $100 trillion in debt,” counting unfunded future liabilities.
Because healthcare is the largest burden on our country’s finances, public and private, the healthcare law only exacerbates the crisis, as evident in last month’s report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Cost estimates for the Orwellian-titled “Affordable Care Act” nearly doubled and insurance premiums are expected to climb at an even faster rate over the next decade than the past five years. Meanwhile, 20 million Americans could lose employer-provided coverage as companies dump workers into government health exchanges to avoid escalating healthcare expenses.
Though the law has redeeming features, there are better reforms. By shifting decision-making authority away from politicians and unelected bureaucrats to individual citizens, costs are constrained by competition and inventiveness. Why can’t Americans be granted the freedom to operate like the value-oriented consumers we are in purchasing health insurance? If we economize on our plan, we keep the change; if we want “bells and whistles”, we pay more.
The Constitutional framers believed that no one by nature is the ruler of anyone else. Therefore, the Political Class and its Leviathan state are our icebergs. As we navigate around them, Americans steer toward Abraham Lincoln’s vision: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Think Again – with this philosophy, America is unsinkable.