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A (Short) List of Courageous Democrats

September 24th, 2009 . by economistmom

Today the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to prevent Medicare premiums from rising.  A Congress Daily story explains:

House Democrats pushed through the bill to ensure that the roughly 27 percent of enrollees in Medicare Part B, which covers physician services, will see monthly premiums hold steady at $96.40 instead of rising to as much as $120.

The situation arises because, by law, Part B premiums must account for 25 percent of the program’s cost. Seventy-three percent of seniors are “held harmless” under current law so their benefit checks are not cut if their premiums rise more than their Social Security benefits. The other 27 percent then have to shoulder the entire burden of the program’s cost. That group includes 4.2 million seniors, including those with higher incomes of more than $85,000 for individuals and $170,000 for couples, as well as new enrollees. Another 7.3 million are lower-income beneficiaries whose premiums are funded by Medicaid. Their premium increases would otherwise be funded by the states without the congressional fix.

Yet although this was a Democratic-sponsored bill, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not vote for it.  The Congress Daily story explains (emphasis added):

A longtime deficit hawk, Hoyer said the country would never get a grip on rising entitlement costs if Congress passes a bill like this. He also said the measure was overly generous to upper-income seniors.

“I felt it my responsibility to come to this floor as someone who speaks about entitlements, as someone who believes we’ve got to exercise fiscal discipline, as someone who believes we ought to take care of the less well off in our country, which is taken care of by the present law,” Hoyer said on the floor. “We have to buck up our courage and our judgment and say, if we take care of everybody, we won’t be able to take care of those who need us most. That’s my concern.”

In fact, four other House Democrats voted “No” on the bill–Brian Baird (WA), Melissa Bean (IL), Baron Hill (IN), and Adam Smith (WA).  I think these Democrats can be considered the least deserving of the “cowardly Democrats” label–at least regarding this particular decision on this particular issue.  Similarly, I think the 13 Republicans who voted “No”–including the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan (WI)–are probably the Republicans least deserving of the “hypocrites” label.

7 Responses to “A (Short) List of Courageous Democrats”

  1. comment number 1 by: Brooks

    When I read that Hoyer quote earlier today, my thoughts were (1) well, it may be a low bar, but man is it nice to see someone in Congress actually acknowledging that resources are finite, that fiscal policy involves trade-offs, and that we can’t give everything to everybody, and (2) as I’ve thought previously, it would be nice (which is to say, probably good for the nation) if Hoyer replaced the Queen of Partisanship as Speaker.

    Out of curiosity, over the past few months what has been Hoyer’s position on reducing/capping/eliminating tax deductibility of employer-provided health insurance as a source of funding for expansion of coverage? Is he in the pocket of the unions like the other Democrats, or has he shown “courage” on that important matter? I’m not asking rhetorically; I really don’t know what his position has been.

  2. comment number 2 by: Jason Seligman

    Two quips with the last—
    -1- Why would unions necessarily be in favor of:
    “reducing/capping/eliminating tax deductibility of employer-provided health insurance as a source of funding for expansion of coverage?” When their members are vulnerable to the tax hike?
    see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/21/health/policy/21insure.html?_r=2&pagewanted=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
    (as cited by: http://fin522hcr.wordpress.com/ a blog my friend Marie Eve Lachance has for her finance students at San Diego State University.)

    -2- Why would democrats who like other politicians must win a majority of the vote be “in the pocket of unions” who comprise the lowest fraction of the workforce in modern history.

    The unions’ thing seems a bit overplayed here to me. I respectfully submit that I don’t think it is that important a matter.

  3. comment number 3 by: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    Hoyer: ““We have to buck up our courage and our judgment and say, if we take care of everybody, we won’t be able to take care of those who need us most. That’s my concern.”

    He is very courageous. He and all his fellow Congress persons have the most generous health care plan in the nation, all taken care of by the government.

    Perhaps if Congress were threatened with giving up it’s gold plated plan, the brave Rep. Hoyer somehow would find the money to care for the elderly.

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
    http://rodgermmitchell.wordpress.com

  4. comment number 4 by: Brooks

    Jason,

    Regarding your first point/question, you apparently misunderstood my comment. I was saying that unions oppose reducing/capping/eliminating tax deductibility of employer-provided health insurance as a source of funding for expansion of coverage, and that the Democrats have resisted such a measure because they are in the pocket of the unions.

    Regarding your second point/question, the answer is quite simple and applies much more broadly, relating to all sorts of instances in which choosing a policy that favors some segment or special interest (or opposing a policy that they oppose) even if this choice conflicts with the best interest of the majority: (1) different sensitivity in terms of level of response to this choice (the votes and/or vote-driving activism of more members of this segment based on this choice vs. the response level from the rest of the public as a whole), and (2) fundraising impact.

    That’s Political Calculus 101, pandering to particular segments and special interests on particular issues at the expense of the majority. Unfortunately it is producing a fiscal “tragedy of the commons”.

  5. comment number 5 by: Jim Glass

    Why would democrats who like other politicians must win a majority of the vote be “in the pocket of unions” who comprise the lowest fraction of the workforce in modern history.

    In the private sector unionization is lowest in history — in the public sector it dominates.

    And here’s why the unions dominate the Democrats:

    Top political donors, 1989-2010

    Eight of the biggest 12, and 11 of the biggest 17 are unions, giving money near exclusively to Democrats.

    Of the “non-union four” in the top 12, #1, AT&T, no longer exists in this incarnation, and none of the other three have given more than 51% to Republicans.

    So union money going to Democrats totally dominates this list.

    And this doesn’t count the labor and footpower the unions provide in addition to money — which often is even more valuable.

    #2 AFSCME, 98% to Dems
    #6 Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 97% to Dems
    #7 National Education Assn, 92% to Dems
    #8 Laborers Union, 92% to Dems
    #9 Service Employees International Union, 95% to Dems
    #10 Carpenters & Joiners Union, 89% to Dems
    #11 Teamsters, 92% to Dems
    #12 Communications Workers of America, 99% to Dems
    #15 American Federation of Teachers, 98% to Dems
    #16 United Auto Workers, 98% to Dems
    #17 Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union, 98% to Dems

    The two biggest malformations of the US health care system are the tax preference for medical benefits (merged at the hip with the employer-tie to insurance) and the blocking of interstate insurance sales that have cartelized state markets, with the anti-trust exemption that protects the cartels.

    The unions have totally blocked the Democrats in Congress from even considering reforming these gross distortions — for instance, by using the Wyden-Bennett model of using the value of the tax preference to instead pay for coverage for the uninsured, while opening interstate sales to inject real competition into the insurance market (not the faux competition of the “public option” that would follow the existing cartel rules in each state, changing nothing of substance.)

  6. comment number 6 by: Brooks

    Apropos of Jim’s comment and mine, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/25/AR2009092502778.html?sub=AR

  7. comment number 7 by: Brooks

    Outsanding column at http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/print_friendly.php?ID=or_20090923_7256
    What I like most about the column is not the fact that I find Taylor’s arguments generally valid, but that he so clearly distinguishes between a correct assessment of what the trade-offs ARE vs. which trade-offs are DESIRABLE in his personal view, a distinction best encapsulated by his statement (referring to one of his points) that “These particular costs are justifiable, in my view. But they are surely costs.” It really sucks that so many people, most unfortunately so many experts on whom people depend substantially for assessing what trade-offs are associated with policy options (i.e., for analysis) skew their representation of trade-offs to support policies they prefer based on their own values/morals/priorities/ideology/partisanship, rather than offering a good-faith presentation of the alternative trade-offs associated with alternative policies and then making the case for their preferences on the basis of values/morals and priorities.