More Help For Unemployed?

Image of President Barack Obama

With the national unemployment rate now at 9.8 percent, the Obama administration is considering the extension of benefits for laid-off workers, but it probably can’t count on any GOP support.

The GOP, which has launched a massive disinformation campaign against health care reform, will most likely oppose any new Obama administration initiative no matter how it might affect the country. The bottom line is the GOP continues to demonize President Barack Obama, using fear tactics and outright lies.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls it “spite.” In a Monday column, Krugman writes:

. . . at this point, the guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties is spite pure and simple. If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.

The Obama administration may push for extending new unemployment benefits past a Dec. 31 deadline, according to the Associated Press, which also reported the White House might push for extending the COBRA health program and a tax credit program for first-time home buyers as well. The extensions are sensible and prudent, but the GOP has already come out against them.

It’s remarkable that as GOP leaders criticize Obama they never mention former President George Bush. The economy and banking system had already tanked under Bush, who also got the country bogged down in two long and expensive military occupations. The Obama team has done a good job of preventing a complete economic disaster and cleaning up the messes left by the Bush administration in its first nine months. This is the reality despite the GOP anti-Obama rhetoric

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Armadillo Lane

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Here are some excerpts from recent posts:

The Oklahoman continues its relentless opposition to health care reform with inane analogies, GOP talking points and glaring omissions.

Here’s a recent ditty from an August 28 editorial titled “Shot clock: Time running out on reform schemes”:

Another prevailing view is that health care would be cheaper if the profit motive were removed. No doubt, toilet paper might be cheaper if for-profit companies didn’t produce it. But who then would make it?

This obvious false analogy might even be funny in a sort of aw shucks country humor way—comparing health care with toilet paper manufacturing is as ludicrous and inane as it gets—but it’s really quite tragic the state’s largest newspaper will not participate in any real debate about an important issue.

The editorial was an overall snarky criticism of local Democratic Party members, who recently held a press conference to push for health care reform.

The commentary failed to provide any basic facts about the number of uninsured Oklahomans and the rising cost of health insurance and care. According to a Health and Human Services report, 19 percent of Oklahomans do not have health insurance. The same report shows that health insurance premiums have risen a staggering 77 percent since 2000. I have written about the telling facts of Oklahoma’s struggling medical systems here and here.
Toilet Paper Arguments, August 28, 2009

If the state wants to further diversify its economy, its leaders—Democratic and Republican alike—must accept and promote diversity.

Sounds obvious, right? But it bears repeating in light of declining state revenues directly related to natural gas production taxes. The state’s budget is tied heavily to its energy sector, and when gas prices fall and supplies increase, revenues can decline at a rapid rate. This is what has been happening recently, forcing budget cuts.

According to the OK Policy Blog:

The continued weakness of natural gas prices and production is the most important factor accounting for Oklahoma’s disappointing revenue collections. July collections from natural gas production to the General Revenue Fund (GRF) totaled just $22.2 million in July - a 75 percent decline from revenues for the same month a year ago, and $42.1 million less than the estimate certified in February by the State Board of Equalization. More than half of the total revenue shortfall in the GRF can be attributed directly to falling revenues from the gross production tax on gas.

The blog, which is part of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, points out that budget problems will persist without an increase in revenue from natural gas production taxes. It also wisely calls for “serious budget reform ideas” to put gas tax money in savings to be used when prices drop.
Economic Diversity, September 6, 2009.

Does anyone in Oklahoma or elsewhere really think health care and insurance costs will be contained without some type of major reform?

This is an important question that deserves debate, especially given the fact the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board has voted to raise medical co-payments for state teachers and employees.

Under the new plan, which goes into effect Jan. 1, teachers, state workers and retirees under HealthChoice will face $50 co-payments for doctors’ visits. Prescription drug co-payments will go up to $30 from $25 for less expensive drugs and from $50 to $60 for more expensive ones.

Insurance costs will also rise 7.6 percent for schools districts and state departments.

Here’s the announcement about the increases. Here’s a Tulsa World story about the issue.

How far will co-payments go up in the future within the Health Choice plan or in any given insurance plan? It’s not difficult to imagine standard $100 co-payments to see a doctor in a few years without major reform. It’s also not difficult to imagine standard $2000 or even $3000 deductibles in the future. This would essentially cut many “insured” working people out of basic medical care unless they have high incomes or use Medicare or Medicaid.
Teachers, State Workers Face Health Care Cost Increases, September 13, 2009

I have to agree with former President Jimmy Carter that racism is fueling much of the irrational hostility faced by President Barack Obama these days.

Here’s Carter on the issue:

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that share the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans."

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

This is an important issue here in Oklahoma, which is the de facto headquarters of everything anti-Obama. Not a single county in Oklahoma gave him a majority during the 2008 election, and polls show he remains deeply unpopular here. Why? What does this say about the state? What has Obama specifically done to earn the extreme wrath of Oklahomans?
Audacious Animosity, September 17, 2009

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Legendary Contributions

Image of Henry Bellmon

Former Gov. Henry Bellmon served Oklahoma with great distinction, and his death reminds us of a somewhat softer era in politics when it seemed almost natural that conservative and liberal politicians would work for bipartisan policies and programs to move the state forward.

Bellmon, a Republican who served two terms as governor and two terms as a U.S. Senator, died Tuesday at an Enid hospital. He was 88.

It makes sense that Gov. Brad Henry has called Bellmon his mentor, according to NewsOK.com. Henry has the same bipartisan political qualities that Bellmon possessed, the same independent streak. Henry rightly calls Bellmon “iconic” in Oklahoma’s history.

State media pundits and politicians have celebrated Bellmon and his career over the last two days. The late governor served as a model of political integrity. It’s difficult to overstate Bellmon’s importance to the state. He led the state through some extremely tough financial times in the 1980s, and he even served once as the director of the state’s Department of Human Services under former Gov. George Nigh, a Democrat. One could argue he was the driving force behind the GOP’s new ascendency in state politics.

When duty called, Bellmon was there. If anyone can represent so-called “Oklahoma values,” it was Bellmon, who was elected as the state’s first Republican governor in 1962. He was a man who avoided the limelight and pageantry of political power, a man with a strong work ethic, just as comfortable in casual clothes than a suit, a successful farmer as well as one of the state’s great leaders.

As a journalist, I interviewed Bellmon about his second race for governor in 1986. I found him to be a straight-forward person with no vested personal interests in the race, a man who didn’t mince words or use a lot of nuance. He wasn’t after power. He was running for governor because he felt the state needed him, and he was right, and the state’s residents were served well by his leadership.

One of Bellmon’s most important accomplishments, and one that seems so bipartisan in today’s political world, was his ability to help pass House Bill 1017 in 1990. The education bill improved school funding, reduced class sizes and increased teacher’s salaries. Bellmon pushed for the bill even as some politicians in his own party opposed him.

Bellmon’s political style was the antithesis of the constant bickering and extremism in today’s partisan politics. We need more leaders like him in Oklahoma these days.

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