Tracking “fiscal responsibility” in Congress

When the Democrats took control of the 110th Congress, bringing an end to the Republican’s majority, they promised to manage the nation’s budgetary affairs in a “fiscally responsible” way. The Tea Party protests of this past summer signaled a significant level of skepticism over Congress’s fealty to this pledge. But can this political notion that the Congress's budgetary work product has not changed a great deal under the new management be quantified? NTU Foundation’s unique BillTally project provides some clues about Congress’s and individual Members’ budgetary activity. BillTally tracks the net cost or savings of nearly all legislation introduced in Congress that affects federal spending by at least $1 million (regular appropriation bills are excluded). The estimates are then matched up with the bills sponsored by each Member of Congress to determine the cost of their legislative wish lists.

During the 110th Congress, cost estimates were determined for 1,634 House bills and 1,126 Senate bills, a 19 percent increase over the number of scored bills in the 109th Congress. The overwhelming majority of these were focused on ways to increase spending: For every House bill that cut spending in the 110th Congress, there were nearly 23 bills to increase spending. In the Senate, the 36 cut bills were outnumbered by increase bills at a ratio of 30:1. The 110th Congress marked the first time this ratio has not declined from the previous Congress since the 107th. In comparison to the 104th, the last time there was a major power shift in Congress, the ratio of spending hikes to cuts was roughly 2 to 1.


Bi-partisan bill aims to end Hepatitis epidemic in America (Rep. Mike Honda)

Yesterday I introduced the bi-partisan Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act of 2009, in order to address a silent, deadly, national Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C epidemic impacting America.

This bi-partisan legislation was drafted in strong partnership with Reps. Charles Dent (R-PA), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), William Cassidy (R-LA), David Wu (D-OR) and Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) along with Reps. Todd Platts (D-PA), Delegate Donna M. Christensen (D-VI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Judy Chu (D-CA), and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).  

Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) are highly contagious blood borne viruses, more infectious than HIV, that cause liver disease, liver cancer, and premature death.

Although a vaccine exists to prevent HBV infection and chronic HBV is treatable when detected early and properly managed, it cannot be cured.


Bureaucrats have no place in making decisions on breast cancer care (Rep. John Shadegg)

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  It is a time for women across America to highlight the importance of prevention and to celebrate the millions of breast cancer survivors across our nation. This year, it is also a time to recognize the looming danger of government-run health care and what it could mean for America’s women.  If Democrats in Congress pass a bill that allows Washington to take over health care, future generations of American women may be at risk.

The United States is the world leader in cancer survival.  Our health care system embraces innovation and allows patients to seek the doctors, tests, and treatments that are right for them.  As a result, the overall cancer survival rate for women in America is the highest in the world.


The Big Question: Could abortion be a deal-breaker on healthcare reform?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

Could abortion be a deal-breaker on healthcare reform?

John McManus, executive director of The John Birch Society, said:

If abortion isn't a "deal-breaker" regarding the Obama/Reid/Pelosi healthcare program, it certainly should be.  The philosophical base of our nation is contained in the Declaration of Independence where the purpose of breaking away from Mother England stated that "Men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" among which was prominently included the right to "life."  No abortion proponent wants to discuss the medically and scientifcally established fact that life begins at conception. The current plan to takeover of the medical industry will have abortion given federal aid and encouragemnet.  Nothing could be more un-Ameruican - if anyone still cares about what this nation roots included.      

Michael J. Wilson, executive director of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), said:

It could be – but it won’t. First of all, health care reform is going to happen. The only question is how robust, and how much better than the current system. And while activists like me want a system that is as robust as possible with as much improvement as we can get, we know that this is not the place to resolve the issue of choice. That issue should remain between the woman, her doctor, and her faith. Pro-choice or not, the reality is that what is legally permissible will not be changed by this health care reform proposal.

The issues that threaten the opponents of choice are things that are happening everyday all around us, but they are not inside this bill; the education of women, the assertiveness of young women to control their own bodies and their own lives, and the increasing willingness of men to acknowledge that reality. When you add the increasing modernization and access of birth control, it’s clear that what threatens the anti-choice movement is not this health care bill, but the slow, inexorable ticking of the clock of progress.

Suzanne T. Poppema, M.D., board chairwoman for the Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said:

Abortion shouldn’t be a deal-breaker on health care reform. As physicians, we know that women will always need abortion, and we believe it should be treated like any other medical service--not singled out for special attention. If the goal of health reform is to keep all Americans healthy, we should not restrict medical procedures some women will inevitably need. In the committee hearings this summer, some anti-choice legislators tried to do just that, preventing any insurance plan from covering abortion. Thankfully, these measures were defeated, and a compromise emerged that would maintain the status quo on abortion. None of the bills Congress is considering would fund abortions with taxpayer money, or expand access to abortion beyond the coverage women currently have. The majority of Americans support this compromise, just as a majority of Americans believe women should have access to safe, legal abortion.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said:

It's an issue that divides people. But I think there's a lot of pro-life members who will vote with us on the bill because they feel we've done what's appropriate to ensure American people that we are using their taxpayer dollars well.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said:

Abortion and immigration are issues that are seen as potentially very decisive.

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said:

I didn't vote for it. I would be seriously concerned if any bill passed the government that didn't protect the life of the unborn.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action, said:

With the Leadership trying to please so many Democratic factions of the debate (government run health care proponents vs. Government run opponents, tax everyone vs. tax the rich, etc. etc.) that abortion could easily be the component that could be the final straw on the Obama/Pelosi/Reid back.

Now that both Chambers have released their bills one things is clear - they both include federal funding of abortion. Such a move would turn American taxpayers into the permanent funding stream of the abortion industry and guarantee that abortions will increase. The ball is now in the hands of Rep. Bart Stupak and his colleagues to stand up against Nancy Pelosi and for the unborn.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said:

Yes, abortion can be a dealbreaker. Page 110 of the new bill explicitly authorizes the public plan to pay for all elective abortions. As CRS as confirmed, all funds spent by the public plan, a federal agency program, will be federal funds. So this will be direct federal funding of elective abortion, pure and simple. It is a hoax to claim that a federal agency can pay for elective abortions while using "private" funds -- an impossibility. That is why the Bart Stupak Amendment is needed.


Tearing down the barriers to competition (Rep. Diana DeGette)

Congress is on the brink of passing legislation that will truly reform the health insurance market. Reform will improve competition and rein in rising costs, while providing millions of uninsured Americans with access to high quality health care. Competition is the crux of the debate - the lack of competition in the market has hurt consumers, and has contributed to rapidly escalating health care costs. Every year, health care premiums consume a larger portion of Americans household budgets. By tearing down the barriers to competition, for example, by repealing an antitrust exemption and creating a strong public insurance option, Congress can achieve the goals of lower costs and improved health care outcomes.

As premiums continue to skyrocket, we must ensure that health insurers are not engaging in anticompetitive behavior and unfairly driving up health care costs. Since 1945, the health insurance industry has enjoyed an exemption from federal antitrust law. This exemption prevents the application of federal antitrust laws to the business of insurance, provided that the activity is regulated by state law and is not designed to boycott, coerce, or intimidate. Despite the fact that the health insurance industry is highly concentrated, the federal government is handcuffed in its ability to identify or respond to any potential violations. The American Medical Association estimates that 94 percent of the top insurance markets are anticompetitive. In Pueblo, Colorado, for instance, one insurance company controls over 75 percent of the market. Yet the Department of Justice currently does not have the authority to investigate the industry to determine if anticompetitive violations are occurring.


What Catholics want in healthcare reform: Should we cover some people, some parts of people, or all parts of everybody?

The United States is embroiled in a debate over healthcare. Ideological divides over morality and money are front and center, and threatening to derail any real progress on what has become a major crisis.

There is a curious divide in the national conversation we are having about what exactly healthcare is or what it should be. More often than not, it’s about who or what should be left out of the final plan. Some say that it should only be about providing care to some people; others say it should be only about covering some parts of people. Proponents of these positions claim the moral high ground while seeking to leave out undocumented residents or restrict access to reproductive healthcare. What they are really doing is projecting their own vision of what is moral onto those who will be most affected by this distortion: the taxpayers who will fund and use whatever system emerges.

Coming on the heels of the economic crisis, it is no wonder that many focus on the questions, “what can we afford?” or more precisely, “what are we willing to pay for?” They are not unreasonable questions. But the answers that some people, who claim to speak for American Catholics, provide are not reflective of what Catholics in the United States believe. We know, because rather than simply relying on those who seem to have the best public relations, we asked nearly a thousand American Catholics what they believe about healthcare and healthcare insurance. If you’ve relied on the newspapers, bloggers and television news, the answers might surprise you.


Intel needed on breast cancer’s threat to armed forces (Rep. Leonard Boswell)

This week, I introduced H.R. 3926, the Armed Forces Breast Cancer Research Act, to address anecdotal evidence that our men and women in uniform are being diagnosed with breast cancer at an alarming rate. This legislation would require the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Veterans Affairs to collaboratively study the breast cancer incidence rate in servicemembers and veterans.

I first became aware that a growing number of men and women in our armed forces were being diagnosed with breast cancer when my Legislative Director came to me following her five-year Iraq post-deployment reunion in Iowa. Of the 70 women deployed with her battalion, at least six women between 25-35 years old had returned from their deployment with breast cancer and about another half dozen women had new lumps in their breasts that needed additional testing.


Republican healthcare solutions (Rep. Michele Bachmann)

To hear the Democrats and most of the mainstream media you would think that Republicans are not bringing any alternatives to the health care debate. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Back in September during an address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama said his office would always be open to Republicans who wanted to present ideas on health care reform. I wrote the President to present my alternatives and request time with the President to discuss them. I took him at his word that the door was open for honest discussion; but I am still waiting for a reply.


Don’t let COBRA benefits run out on American families (Rep. Joe Sestak)

Though the economy is showing some signs of stabilizing, Americans are still losing their jobs -- including more than a quarter-million last month -- and the unemployment rate is still expected to climb over 10%. In many communities all across the country, unemployment is already well beyond that figure.

We now know economic recovery is going to be a long process. Nearly 15 million Americans are looking for work and 5.4 million Americans are facing unemployment of longer than 27 weeks.

Some unemployment programs included in the Economic Stimulus Bill passed in February have proven insufficient to serve the urgent needs of so many working families, and threaten to run out when so many depend on them. Extended COBRA benefits -- assistance for unemployed workers to purchase health insurance -- that were included in the Stimulus will begin to run out as early as next month.


The Big Question: What could Democrats gain or lose by tackling the healthcare bill alone?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

What do Democrats stand to gain or lose politically if they go it alone on healthcare?

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said:

Well obviously anytime you can have bipartisan support it's a very helpful thing, but I think more important than numbers from either party is whether or not the outcome will actually work; whether it will help bring the deficit down, or whether it will make healthcare more affordable to Americans. I think the nature of the vote, whether it's partisan or bipartisan, will largely be forgotten overtime. People will focus on whether the product actually made sense. The party that votes for it will get credit if it's a partisan vote, and if it doesn't make sense, then all the Republican support in the world won't protect from a produce that didn't work. I think most people are pretty practical about these things. We here and your publication tend to obsess about it, but the average American will only ask, 'Did it improve my insurance? Did it make it more affordable, and am I now able to get it?'

Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

President Obama ran as a centrist politician who would rise above petty politics and work with both parties to find solutions that work for America. Today, all the political back-and-forth that's occurred up to this point in time will be overshadowed by the outcome of the health care debate. This legislation will radically alter the way the American health care system works, affecting just about every American. Right now, many Americans are frustrated with the way that this debate has been conducted and believe that the legislation that will be passed will make things worse, not better.

The Independent Women's Forum will release findings from a poll of women this week that should serve as a wake-up call to political leaders. Political wisdom has been that women are natural supporters of more liberal policy prescriptions, and all believe government will do a better job running our health care system. But this just isn't the case.

All this means that there is great political danger in the Democrats proceeding to ram through such an ambitious bill without any buy-in from Republicans. It isn't just Republicans that they will alienate, but all of the Independents and moderates who believed in the idea that President Obama represented a new brand of politics.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said:

I'm going to do everything I can to try to make for a bipartisan bill, and I was just encouraged by Sen. Gregg's comments he made 15 or 20 minutes ago.

Tom McClusky, senior vice president of FRC Action, said:

The Democrats can claim full ownership of the mess they are trying to create. It would have been very easy for the Democratic leadership to make the legislation bipartisan - however the original bills were crafted behind closed doors with some of the most liberal Members of Congress at the beginning of this debate, and being recrafted in the same manner now. This maneuvering might have guaranteed them a bill that will satisfy their liberal base - but at the sacrifice of conservative members in their own party.

Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, said:

Should the Democrats go it alone on healthcare as their majority in the House and Senate would permit, the party would "own" healthcare, thereby putting this issue on center stage for its political future. This is a major gamble since most polls indicate growing bipartisan dissatisfaction with healthcare proposals across the country. It would quickly become the litmus test employed by dissident Republicans who will argue, with some justification, that they were not consulted, not forewarned and needlessly ignored in committee discussions.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said:

I don't know. That's for other people to speculate. I don't look at things that way.

Glenn Reynolds, from Instapundit, said:

I believe the Democratic leadership has made the calculation that it is better to have something they can call a victory, however attained, than to face a defeat. In the short term this is probably correct. The press generally treats the passage of a bill as a triumph in and of itself, and the coverage on this issue is likely to be more than usually sympathetic.

On the other hand, there's no reason to think that the program will produce any tangible benefits for voters between now and 2012, and based on recent history -- Cash For Clunkers, anyone? -- it's very likely to be a mess once implementation starts. If so, it will be a mess that the Democrats own.

John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

As the American people become increasingly more distrustful of government (a very good development!), the Democrats who are pushing hard to establish a more complete federal takeover of the health industry face large-scale repudiation in the 2010 and future elections. There is certainly a possibility of a repeat in 2010 of the 1994 victories by GOP candidates, even though that victory was deceitfully squandered by then-Speaker Gingrich and his essentially meaningless "Contract with America." The rising tide of displeasure over the many federal power grabs will affect the large body of independent, swing voters much more than Democratic and GOP bases.