House Democrats Get Serious on Healthcare

I have been as critical of Democrats in the process of pounding out reform for our failed healthcare system in the last few months as anyone. In the “House of Lords” that has become the U.S. Senate the discussion is so very frustrating that one forgets that many good Democrats in the House deserve much credit. They have moved the discussion towards where it needs to be.

However, in the House on two tough calls that will be tough votes, House Democrats are forging ahead with serious and realistic goals in actually achieving universal coverage. They are showing guts in calling for sacrifice:

WASHINGTON – An income tax surcharge on highly paid Americans emerged as the leading option Wednesday night as House Democrats sought ways to pay for health care legislation that President Barack Obama favors, several officials said.

As discussed in the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, the surtax would apply to individuals with adjusted gross income of more than $200,000 and couples over $250,000, they added.…

While tax increases are always understandably risky, President Obama did campaign on raising taxes for those making over $200,000 and won an overwhelming victory. While the part of me that is moderate does say that any tax increase on anyone should be reasonable and fair I understand that anyone who pays it will think it is unfair. All I can say if when I make it there I will gladly pay the tax.

Another idea campaigned upon and floated around is also seeing the light of day:

In addition, key lawmakers are expected to call for a tax or fee equal to a percentage of a worker’s salary on employers who do not offer health benefits.

This idea is particularly appealing. In the last

few decades a whole lot of “employers” have been shipping our middle-class jobs overseas to exploit oppressed and virtual slave labor. They have transformed our job market to “service-type” to pay Americans peanuts while doing away with middle-class jobs and wages and warring on the unions in this country.

The result is not only are a huge number of Americans working jobs with no benefits including health insurance, but their wages are so low that they cannot go out on their own and afford coverage for themselves and their families. Businesses simply cannot be left out of any reform. While not all businesses and businessmen and women are corrupt, as a whole they have been one of the major contributors to the crisis. They simply cannot have it both ways again for reform to work.

Rep. Shelly Berkley spoke but cautioned that no decisions are final:

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a member of the panel, said the proposed surtax on high-income taxpayers appealed to her and others as a way to avoid a “nickel-and-dime” approach involving numerous smaller tax increases. She added that other earlier options had fallen away, including an increase in the payroll tax.…

The fate of any reform though unfortunately has to pass through the “House of Lords” in the United States Senate:

Across the Capitol, it seemed clear the drive to enact health care legislation was entering a new phase in the Senate, where attention has largely been focused for months on efforts by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to forge a bipartisan agreement within the Finance Committee he chairs.

On Tuesday, the Senate Democratic leadership made it clear it viewed a proposed tax on certain health care benefits as unacceptable, at the same time it relayed word that it favors allowing the government to sell insurance to consumers.

Both those positions appeared to undercut much of the work Baucus has been doing. He has said for weeks that any legislation would call for a tax on certain health care benefits, and Republicans are strongly opposed to the idea of government intervention in the private insurance industry.

Baucus told reporters during the day he was “very sensitive to the various concerns that senators have” on taxing benefits, yet added that “by far a better approach is a bipartisan approach.”

First, I have a real problem with this “bi-partisanship” that reaches out and pulls back a bloody nub. Nobody worried a singe bit about “bi-partisanship” when they were ramming these policies that destoyed our economy and got us bogged down in Iraq, and destroyed our standing in the world. How can we now be “bi-partisan” in repairing the damage?? The Republicans are never going to go along with any real reform without it being shoved down their throats. Its our turn.

It is time for our Senate to realize that they are way behind the American people. In case they have not noticed a lot of them have been shed from that body in the last few years. Maybe the safer approach is to catch up with the urgency millions of Americans feel in the problems that have beset our country- problems the folks we would reach out to created.

I guess all of us and the rest of the 70%+ of the American people that want change in the healthcare system need to stay focused on demanding real change. If we cannot get it we need to mobilize as a force in ousting those who would not give it to us in primaries or general elections with the resources available to us, the American people. Our money, effort and vote.

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Keystone Progress: Turn Over the Slush Fund Excess

Mike Morrill of Keystone Progress responded to news of the State House’s $200 million excess funds in its slush fund with this press release:

Pennsylvania’s 4 legislative caucuses have a slush fund of over $200 million, a new audit revealed this week. Two hundred million dollars! This fund is often used by legislative leaders to reward their friends and to punish enemies.

The revelation of this slush fund comes as Pennsylvania Government is facing a deficit of up to $2 billion for this fiscal year. Discussions of how to solve the shortfall have included cutting funding for healthcare for the poor and elderly, including nursing home residents, cutting aid to local school districts and cutting funding for local infrastructure needs.

Before making these drastic cuts that will hurt working families, we believe that the Legislature should turn over its slush fund to the general fund to help balance the state budget. Some legislators agree, including Rep. Josh Shapiro (D, Montgomery) who said, “”Now, more than ever, we need to invest this money into the needs of Pennsylvanians.”

Keystone Progress is calling on the leaders of the 4 caucuses to turn over the surplus immediately. If you agree that this money belongs to the people, sign our petition by clicking here.

Legislative Slush Fund Sitting On $200 Million

While the Governor is freezing hiring, cutting every budget by 4% and desperately looking for ways to close a multi billion dollar cash shortfall created by the Bush Depression the State House is sitting on $200 million extra in its slush fund.  The legislative slush fund is a secret account which is used to pay for all legislative functions (and, it turns out a lot of illegal ones) used to operate the State House.  In the past this included running and managing political campaigns.

For some strange reason without those expenses they actually spent more this year.  No one audits these funds for the taxpayers and no one knows how the funds are spent hence making it a slush fund.  Why should residents have to do without state services while the House is sitting on such a large surplus?

State House Dems Refusing COLA Raises

Scores of Pennsylvania House Democrats have refused their annual raises from the cost of living increases (COLA) they voted themselves years ago.  In order to spare themselves further embarrassment from giving themselves raises the legislature voted for automatic raises every year.  This was a backdoor way to avoid another bloodbath from the wrath of the voters.

In the current economy with Pennsylvanians losing jobs and dealing with stagnant earnings and state budget cuts totaling another $128 million accepting a pay increase would have had another outrage from the public.  When state employees are being furloughed, hiring frozen and every department cutting back accepting an automatic pay increase is rubbing salt in the wound this year.

If the House and Senate are really serious about this though they need to repeal the COLA law and have the courage to vote each year.  If they are doing a good job, enacting needed and important legislation (rare) then voters won’t mind an open and transparent process where input is allowed from the public.  Passing 34% pay raises at 2 am with no public review is NOT the method to use.

Election Results Certify Three Democratic Winners

Rick Taylor has won re-election by 419 votes and Tom Houghton and Paul Drucker won the seats in Chester County vacated by retiring Republicans Carol Rubely and Art Hershey.  The final tally gives Democrats a 104-99 majority in the State House.  Assumptions would be that the new Speaker will be a Democrat but we thought that two years ago also so hold onto your hats until a formal vote takes place after New Years.

House GOP Misused Legislative Database For Campaigns

The BonusGate grand jury is hearing testimony that the Republican House Caucus used a database for political purposes.  Leaks continue to envelop this grand jury as information continues leaking about its activities.  Someone needs to tell Tom Corbett he won the election and doesn’t need to continue this questionable activity.

John Perzel signed a contract when Speaker to develop the database at taxpayer expense and then used it to data mine for campaigns.  That is illegal.  Republicans used BonusGate to indict numerous Democrats running for re-election even though they weren’t involved in wrongdoing while ignoring the fact their own Speaker did use taxpayer paid resources for partisan political campaigns.  They still lost seats this fall however.

DeWeese Won’t Run For Speakership

Former Speaker Bill DeWeese won’t run for the office again in January.  Two years ago a split among Democrats led to a Republican, Dennis O’Brien, being elected Speaker in spite of a one vote Democratic majority in the Pennsylvania State House.  DeWeese has become a lightening rod as a result of his heavy handed leadership and then the BonusGate scandal where taxpayers paid staffers to run political campaigns from DeWeese’s office.

Todd Eachus is in line to become Speaker.  He was unopposed for re-election and is the point person for the Governor’s failed health care proposals.  In that role he scheduled major press conferences to conflict and deter press from covering the single payer events held in the Capitol.  He personally has done everything in his power to derail real health care reform in Harrisburg.

Keith McCall is running for Majority Leader against  Kathy Manderino, David Levdansky, Joesph Markosek and Frank Dermody.  Manderino and Dermody are my picks.  They are progressives who have impressive records in Harrisburg.  DeWeese is running for Whip the number three position.  Also contesting that race are Peter Daley and Bill Keller.

Votes will be held Tuesday in closed door meetings.

State House

With 201 seats up for grabs tonight I’m going to discuss the ones which caught my attention this fall.  I know many of these Representatives and/or candidates personally and some of the losses are felt personally.  Good people…

Bill DeWeese survives to remain in Harrisburg pending a possible indictment.  Brad Kirsch who stood up for real integrity lost his battle in Bucks County.  Chris King there is also in a battle.  Steve Santasiero though appears to have a new seat in Harrisburg.  Diane Allison, another candidate for whom I gained enormous respect, lost her race against Margurite “The Dog Napper” Quinn.

Jesse White who writes a highly entertaining and good blog, has won re-election.  Now I can look forward to many more good blog posts about what goes on in the House.  Keep up the good work Jesse.

John Woodward lost narrowly to incumbent Sam “The Crazy Fundie” Rohrer.  Perhaos if he’d had time to knock on doors this popular cafe owner would have a new profession.  Mr. Rohrer is now vulnerable for the first time in his political life.  Dave Kessler won re-election in the 130th (my District) along with Tim Seip.  I have yet to see final results from the 187th (Ritter/Day).

Tim Briggs has succeeded Sen. Leach and it appears Rick Taylor will squeak through.  Frank Custer is trailing Kate Harper awaiting final tallies.  Right now with 97% in it is Harper 18,572-Custer 14,471.  It’s hard to believe these people have re-elected someone who puts them second.  Sometimes people get what they deserve.

My dear friend Barbara McIlvaine Smith is, again, in a very close race in West Chester.

Sam Rohrer Wants to Tax New Home Construction

The Home Builders Association must have a lot of egg on their faces.  The interest group which operates to promote the construction industry spends heavily for candidates who support their developers and Sam Rohrer is one of their favorite pols.

But Sam Rohrer’s radical tax plan would tax all the labor which goes into new home construction.  From the House Journal for January 28, 2008:

Mr. ROHRER. Mr. Speaker, a person who buys or builds a home today, builds a home, if it is new, pay a sales tax right now on all the material. All right? So they are already paying sales tax on that portion. Under this, they would pay sales tax on the labor part as well.

Mr. CUTLER. For the new home?

Mr. ROHRER. For a new home. For an existing home, it would not.

Mr. CUTLER. So in that case, both new homes and preconstructed homes would be taxed both on their materials as well as the value added by the service provided by the contractors. Is that correct?

Mr. ROHRER. They are already paying 6 percent on all of the materials.

Mr. CUTLER. Right. But we would now include the services that are associated with that?

Mr. ROHRER. Services would be included as well.

Not only would Rep. Rohrer now tax almost every conceivable service such as when your plumber does work, your lawn gets cut, your accountant does your taxes or a lawyer represents you, he would also tax all the labor which goes into building a new home or business.

I wonder if the Home Builders Association of Berks County understood this when they honored Rohrer by having him serve as the installation officer for their group?  He also installed their Board of Directors.  Do they actually comprehend how his taxing of all their work will undermine their businesses?

How stupid are these people?

Rep. Harper Lies to Voters About Missed Vote

Rep. Kate Harper, who missed an important vote on the new Open Records law so she could double dip that day on taxpayer’s dimes, is now claiming she made the vote.  Does the law of physics not apply to Kate Harper?  The minutes for the Lower Moreland Township Supervisors meeting that evening clearly show her in attendance.  Now she’s claiming she was in Harrisburg casting a vote for the Open Records Law too?

I wonder if Rep. Harper has been eating too many of the “reform du jour” specials at the Capitol cafeteria!  I strongly suspect her derision of reform in Harrisburg would have resulted in a “No” vote on Open Records in any case.  Rep. Harper is NOT known for supporting open government.

Harper made the claim yesterday in response to questions from The Times Herald news rag.  Frank Custer, running to represent the voters in the 61st Legislative District full time, said this:

“The Open Records Act was a milestone in efforts to reform Harrisburg, and it will have far-reaching effects.  However, the much farther reach is Ms. Harper’s contention that she passed the bill.  While her colleagues were hard at work in an evening session, Ms. Harper was long-gone from Harrisburg and earning over a hundred dollars an hour as a municipal attorney.

She had no problem staying around until after midnight voting for her pay raise, but when she had a chance to vote for a significant reform bill she was missing in action.”

Kate Harper is a bold faced liar who thinks you’re stupid enough to think she was in two places at the same time.  Rep. Harper is not exempt from the laws of physics even if she’s eating too many “reform du jour” lunches.  This is one which may cause her to choke on her words.