Friday, December 11, 2009

Is the public option dead? Say it ain't so...

It seems as if the US Congress has been debating healthcare reform for an eternity. Remember last summer when President Obama was hopeful that Congress would get 'er done before the August break? Ha! We'll be lucky if they finish before the Christmas break.

The latest wrangling in the Senate sounds like a good idea, but in the long run, it's probably not. The latest Congressional shell game to avoid a "robust" public option and still make it look as if they are reforming the healthcare non-system is to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55 and all younger folks who are not covered by insurance to buy into the federal system.

A little disclosure here, I am over 55 and buying into Medicare is attractive to me, but in the long term, this move benefits insurance companies more than anyone else. People use more health insurance as they age. By pushing the Baby Boomers-- who are getting older and fatter everyday-- off on the government, insurance companies are left with the "cream of the crop"-- younger, healthier Americans who are less likely to make a claim.

Shifting the cost to care for the people most likely to make a claim to the government will surely break the Medicare bank-- already scheduled to go bankrupt in 2012 (or 2017 depending upon how you crunch the numbers but in any case that's not too far away).

In a recent blog post, former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich says that this latest development will give insurance companies even more control over the current non-system, will do nothing to curb obscene profits, and will do nothing to control costs. It also guarantees that healthcare reform will be revisited in the coming years.

Again, this debate proves that we have the best Congress money can buy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Unemployed in Arizona: State suffers largest job losses

The US economy has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the past year. Businesses of all sizes have closed their doors. In Tucson, signs of the recession are everywhere; empty auto dealership lots, vacant storefronts, and going-out-of-business signs abound.

One of the most telling signs of Arizona's weak economy is reflected in the job loss statistics. According to statistics released by the Economic Policy Institute, Arizona has lost the highest proportion of jobs in the US. Other states have lost more jobs, but their losses constitute a smaller percentage of their state's total economy.

As reported in the East Valley Tribune, Arizona has lost 9.9% of its jobs or 265,000. Most of the job loss has been in construction, which is down by 45%. These figures clearly reflect Arizona's dependence upon boom and bust cycles in the housing industry.

The statistics also reflect shortsightedness on the part of Arizona's political leaders--especially in state government. Rather than invest in education, job creation, and home-grown industries-- like solar power-- during boom times, the Republican-controlled state legislature offers tax cuts to businesses. In bust times, what do they do? They cut education (making Arizona less competitive in the long term). Cut social services. Cut financial support to cities. And cut anything else they can think of in order to avoid raising revenue. The thought of increasing revenue by relinquishing previous tax cuts is not even on their radar.

Last week, a Phoenix legislator was interviewed by John C. Scott, a Tucson radio talk show host. When asked about the state's financial crisis, including the job losses. His only suggestion was to offer further tax cuts to business--particularly homebuilders and developers to incentivize them to build more homes, which will create some construction jobs-- at least temporarily. (Scott should have asked who was going to buy these houses with so many Arizonans out of work.)

The myopia in the state legislature is frightening. The Republican ideologues continue to cling to Reaganomics. The trickle down theory-- giving tax cuts to the wealthy and thus incentivizing them to invest and create jobs-- has proven to be a failed economic policy. George Bush the First was right when he called it "voodoo economics." When will the Arizona legislature wake up?