Something The President Could Learn From The Pope

obamahaloWell, there are quite a few somethings, really. There’s no doubt that there are many who see Obama as a savior-like figure who will deliver him or her from whatever perceived injustice “victimizes” him or her. However misplaced that perception may be (that’s the subject for another blog), there is a lesson the president could learn from the Vicar of Christ regarding humility, and frugality.

Recently, it has been reported that Pope Francis has made a decision to stay at the Saint Martha (Vatican workers’) residence, rather than at the papal apartment in the Apostolic Residence. Initially, the Pope was staying at Saint Martha’s due to renovations to the Residence, in addition to the fact that the Cardinal Electors were staying there during the conclave.

popeHowever, now that the renovations have been complete, and the Cardinals have moved out, the Pope has decided to stay at Casa Santa Marta for the forseeable future. Not that this is any shock. While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope declined to stay at the Archbishops residence, and instead kept a small apartment and cooked for himself. He even relied on public transportation rather than having a limo and driver. While at the workers’ residence, the pope has already invited street sweepers, gardeners, and the Vatican staff to join him in his daily Mass.

This picture presents a vast contrast with President Obama over the last few months, and especially since the Fiscal Cliff, and sequestration were going to end the world. In that time, the Obamas have taken three vacations (four if you count the fact that one was “separate vacations” with Michelle and the girls skiing while Barack flew to Florida for some golf with Tiger Woods). Now of course, the president needs to take some time off, I’m not denying that; the presidency is probably the most stressful job in the world (just look at the before and after photos of the presidents), but these aren’t the George W. Bush/Ronald Reagan types of vacations where the president flies back home and clears some brush of his ranch. No, these are the full luxury, exotic and expensive type of vacations that cost the taxpayers lots of money.

As a run-down, the Obamas began the year in Hawaii for nine days and five rounds of golf; then over Washington’s Birthday, Michelle and the girls flew to Aspen for a ski trip, while the Duffer-in-Chief flew to Miami for more golf (and President Barack Obama greets professional gol...pointers) from Tiger Woods. Now, we hear that the Obama girls are in the Bahamas for a spring break vacation. I’m not going to speculate on the actual cost of these three vacations, but it’s not cheap to fire up Air Force One to jaunt over to Hawaii or even Florida. Then there is the cost of accommodations (say, didn’t VP Biden just spent $585,000 for one night in Paris?) and security. To put things in perspective, it cost $80,000 alone for police and Secret Service protection just for Obama’s golf weekend. One might have thought that Obama might have realized that the $80,000 expenditure alone would look bad in light of the decision to stop White House tours for a savings of $74,000 a week from the same Secret Service budget; but hey, as long as he gets to take those savings to exploit all the perks and trapping of his office, right?

Again, contrast this behavior with that of the Pope, who has eschewn all of the perks and trappings of his “office” to remain closer to “the people” in order to help spread the ministry of Christ. Perhaps if Obama had thought it necessary to get “closer to the people”, instead of flying down to Miami for some golf, he could have invited Tiger Woods up to D.C. for a weekend stay at the White House (not like Woods can’t afford it), and a few rounds of golf at one of the many nearby courses, perhaps even the “same golf course Obama and Republican Speaker John Boehner played on in 2011.” Nah, who am I kidding? It’s much more fun to go jet-setting across the country on the taxpayers’ dime all the while complaining about budget cuts that he passes along to the citizens anyway (such as no Easter Egg Roll- wait can I say Easter?–  in addition to no tours). It must be good to be the king…

Left And Right Extremists Fail To See Paul Ryan’s Win-Win Entitlement Reform

Excerpted from Forbes.com

The New York Times told its readers on March 12 that Paul Ryan’s proposed 2014 budget involves “eliminating Medicare’s guarantee to retirees” and “dispensing with Medicaid and food stamps….”  But Joe Farah, CEO of WND News, told his readers on March 15 that Ryan’s budget “fails to address unsustainable ‘entitlement’ programs.”  They cannot both be right.  But they can both be grievously wrong.

We hear a lot of talk about how Ryan’s proposed traditional budget is so “extreme.”  But it is these two comments that represent the extremes on the issue.  This kind of disconnected from reality rhetoric from both sides is what makes our democracy dysfunctional, unable to seriously discuss major issues.

A Better Medicaid for the Poor

Ryan’s proposals for Medicaid and food stamps would simply extend the proven, enormously successful, 1996 welfare reforms of the old AFDC program to those two programs.  The 1996 AFDC reforms returned the share of federal spending on AFDC to each state in the form of a “block grant” to be used in a new welfare program redesigned by the state based on mandatory work for the able bodied.  Like Medicaid, federal funding for AFDC previously was based on a matching formula, with the federal government giving more to each state the more it spent on the program, effectively paying the states to spend more.  The key to the 1996 reforms was that the block grants to each state were finite, not matching, so the federal funding did not vary with the amount the state spent.  If a state’s new program cost more, the state had to pay the extra costs itself.  If the program cost less, the state could keep the savings.  The reformed program was renamed Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

The reform was shockingly successful, exceeding even the predictions of its most ardent supporters.  The old AFDC rolls were reduced by two-thirds nationwide, even more in states that pushed work most aggressively, as those formerly on the program went to work, or married someone who worked.

As a result, in real dollars total federal and state spending on TANF by 2006 was down 31% from AFDC spending in 1995, and down by more than half of what it would have been under prior trends.  At the same time, because of the resulting increased work by former welfare dependents, the incomes of the families formerly on the program rose by 25%, and poverty among those families plummeted.

Medicaid currently pays doctors and hospitals only 60% or less of costs for their health services to the poor.  Consequently, the poor on Medicaid face grave difficulties in finding doctors and hospitals that would serve them, and in obtaining timely and essential health care.  They suffer worse health outcomes as a result, including premature death.  Scott Gottlieb of the New York University School of Medicine writes in a March 10, 2011 commentary in the Wall Street Journal (“Medicaid Is Worse Than No Coverage at All”),  “In some states, they’ve cut reimbursements to providers so low that beneficiaries can’t find doctors willing to accept Medicaid.”

What the states could do under Ryan’s proposed reforms is shown by the example of Rhode Island, which received a broad waiver from federal Medicaid requirements in return for a fixed cap on federal financing for 5 years.  The state turned to managed care, competitive bidding by health care providers, and comprehensive case management by private insurers for those on Medicaid.  It shifted more long term care out of nursing homes to home and community-based care.

The Lewin Group, a top health care consulting firm, studied the reforms and concluded that they were “highly effective in controlling Medicaid costs” while improving “access to more appropriate services.”  Indeed, the state’s costs were reduced by nearly 30% in the first 18 months alone.  Yet the poor enjoyed assigned health providers to ensure they received essential care.

Alternatively, states could serve the poor by using the program to provide premium assistance that would help the poor to pay for the private health insurance of their choice in the marketplace.  Such premium support would free the poor from the Medicaid ghetto, enabling them to obtain the same health care as the middle class, because they would be able to buy the same health insurance in the market.  Such market health insurance has to pay the doctors and hospitals sufficiently to enable those with that insurance to obtain timely, effective health care, or their insurance would have no customers.

This would be an enormous gain for the poor.  Yet, CBO scores extending these same reforms to Medicaid as saving $750 billion over 10 years.  That is why it involves win win entitlement reform.

The poor would similarly gain from extending these same reforms to food stamps, just as they gained from the reforms of AFDC, with similar savings for taxpayers.  This cannot remotely be characterized as “dispensing with Medicaid and food stamps,” as the esteemed New York Times tells us.  The Times these days reads like a college Marxist student newspaper.

Continue Reading…