Thursday, August 13, 2009

Representative Richard Hastings Speaks to TriCity Chamber of Commerce

[Editor's comments are in brackets]

He opened with a comment about the Snake River dams. Many in Idaho want the lower Snake River dams removed. Hastings will say no every time he can. There is a NOAA plan that has been brokered amongst almost all the interested parties: the tribes, hydropower producers, and hatcheries. It is called the 2008 biological opinion. Yet a few environmental groups oppose and have taken it to court and it looks to stay there for a while. Meanwhile salmon stocks continue to decline. The judge has doubts about the plan since it was produced under the Bush administration. [This is reasonable given how generally disconnected from reality this administration tended to be.] Before he proceeds he wants the Obama administration to weigh in. Hastings thinks that since the plan was produced under the Bush administration, it should be good enough and is afraid that Obama may take things in a completely different direction. [Like a good Republican his starting point is absolute distrust of Obama and then forward from there. So naturally he would like the case to just go ahead without hearing from Obama.]

The first national issue he brought up was the size of the federal deficit. [This is the current biggest thing on the right-wing talking points.] He proposes a formula in which there is a limit on the federal budget based upon a percentage of the GDP. He disagrees with basic Keynesian economics and believes that government spending should be limited more when the economy contracts. [This is disingenuous because he has supported irresponsible tax cuts when the economy was booming. He wasn't concerned about deficits then.]

The next is cap-and-trade as an energy policy. The fact that it is a method of taxation is what really bothers him. [Now what about those irresponsible deficits?] In the Northwest the major carbon emitter is the transportation system so the weight of cap-and -trade taxes would fall on inefficient fuel burners. [I presume that since most of his base tend to drive gas-guzzling SUV's this would seem like a burden on his constituency.] Then he drifts from cap-and-trade to energy policy. His favorite energy issue is to increase domestic drilling in ANWR, the outer continental shelf, and in the inter-mountain West. Bush moved to open up the OCS for drilling and Obama has put the brakes on that and on more intermountain exploration. [There seems to be no concern on his part about the actual goal of cap-and-trade, CO2 reduction.] He also sees this as another issue on which to bang his taxation drum. Doesn't think it is good for a recovering economy.

And finally to the last issue he addressed in his remarks, healthcare.
Hastings acknowledges that the bills remain works-in-progress but his position is simple. He is unequivocally opposed to this round of healthcare reform. He sees it as a direct path to a government-run healthcare system. The current system is good and only needs a few tweaks. Americans are living longer now than we ever expected. As a principle he thinks that there should be a strong relationship between doctor and patient without any third party between them. [He seems oblivious to how private insurance interferes with that relationship.] He says that if government gets too much involved in healthcare it will eventually evolve into the hated single-payer system. Hastings' rationale for opposing the public insurance option is that he doesn't think that the government has the experience necessary to be an insurance company. [Despite the federal employee insurance plan, the VA, and Medicare.] He is not comfortable with the uncertainty of the final cost figure. [Uncertainty about the cost of war didn't bother him a bit.] Hastings thinks that the size of the deficit should preclude a major effort like healthcare reform. [I guess he would rather pay later since healthcare costs are going to continue to go up with the status quo.] Half of the money needed for healthcare reform will come from increasing taxes on the richest 1% of the country. He interprets that to mean that businesses will be taxed more. It goes without saying that defenders of business find it synonmous with defending job production. The other half of the funding needed is to come from the reduction of waste and fraud. He doesn't like to see dollars wasted. [Except for the occasional completely unnecessary war.]

Hasting then launched into a discussion of the Medicare reimbursement rate formula. The current formula over-reimburses for urban areas. Since urban areas have more representation in the House this formula is unlikely to change. The proposed public healthcare option will use the same rates as Medicare. But the current Medicare rates lead doctors to limit the number of Medicare patients they have. With the public option even more providers will take a Medicare-like hit.

Hastings next point is a scenario in which those who opt for private insurance are forced to keep that insurance for 5 years. [This is a dark-side interpretation of the agreement with the insurance companies that prevents them from gaming their customers (dropping the risky ones for example). It also provides some stability for the insurance companies as things evolve to their final form.] Hastings is of the opinion that private insurance companies do a good job of delivering healthcare. Since it looks like a great number of people like the idea of a single payer system he assumes that it is quite likely that people will gravitate toward the public option. Instead he thinks it better for people to have many choices. He supports tax breaks to help people pay premiums. [Individuals may have choices but those are limited by what they can afford. The less money the fewer the choices. With the current system its businesses that get the choice since employees must take the insurance their employer provides. The tax break point assumes that people have money coming in to pay those premiums.] Hastings also wants doctors to be protected from frivolous lawsuits.

Hastings is not interested is reasonable debate on healthcare issues. Instead he sees the disruptions made by the hyper-vocal minority as the sort of debate that is useful.

Basically he feels no urgency to address healthcare issues and would like to defer it as long as possible. He makes noises about bipartisanship but the only bipartisan offer he has is to do nothing. He thinks the voice of the hyper-vocal misinformed minority is the true voice of the people. [He is happy to pay lip service to the will of the people as long as the people are properly subservient to the corporate power structure.]

Now some questions.
Q: What will be the impact on the elderly from the proposed healthcare reform?
A: Medicare is a reasonable system and people like it. But 90% have supplemental insurance to pay what Medicare doesn't. A bad thing in the proposed plan is the euthanasia program. [Hastings is a Deather.]

Q: Has the focus on the deficit been lost?
A: It looks like the focus is elsewhere. [Like avoiding a catastrophic depression.] He speaks of the current deficit as if it was Obama's idea since it took a big jump on his watch. The Bush deficits were not bad because they weren't as big as what has happened lately. [There is a question of sanity here. There is selective deficit outrage and no appreciation of the deregulation and lax SEC that were major contributing factors to the economic meltdown.]

Q: The majority of Americans want universal insurance and access. Do you support that?
A: People have universal access to insurance now [as long as they can pay for it and are able to shop for it. He ignores the people insurance companies exclude.] People have universal access to medical care if they go to emergency rooms. [Ignores the waste of ER resources and the potential for preventative care. Also ignores the fact that ER bill for such services and can force people into bankruptcy.]

Q: When are we really going to get out of Iraq?
A: We need to be successful against these radical Islamist terrorists. [Who were not in Iraq until we destroyed it.] The Middle East is safer with Saddam gone. [It's safer with Bush gone, too.] We really need to be successful in Afghanistan as well. It is in our interest to destroy the Taliban and rebuild the country. Short answer: who knows? [Hastings has the typical hyper fear about terrorists.]

Q: What if we go to a single-payer system and it doesn't work?
A: Hopes it doesn't come to that. Having choices is more important than actually getting healthcare for everyone. The worst case is that we get a system like Canada's. There would necessarily be some rationing of medical care.

At the end it was announced that Hastings had received the 2008 Spirit of Enterprise award from the US Chamber of Commerce for his support of issues friendly to business.

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