Archive for January, 2012

State GOP lawyering up to fight Shaffer’s pass-the-budget-or-get-spanked bill?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

On KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado yesterday, Sen. Kent Lambert ratcheted up the GOP opposition to Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer’s bill mandating that legislators take a pay and benefit cut if they require a special session to pass a budget bill.

Lambert’s attacks, apparently reflecting conversations he’s had with lawyers about Shaffer’s bill, go beyond what he was telling the AP yesterday.

Here’s what he said on the radio.

“There might be some legal problems with doing this in that this may get crosswise with the Colorado Constitution in a couple ways. Article V of the Colorado Constitution establishes what the Legislature has to do. And it provides some rules. One thing is, you can’t bind your caucus into a position like this until a vote is taken. And another one is, you can’t unduly influence legislators to vote in a certain way before the vote is taken. So this is a nonstarter. You have to mark it up as sort of a humorous distraction from the business at hand.”

I thought Republicans love moms and dads who makes sure the kids know they’ll get spanked if they get out of line. The Republicans like to say that the Dems are the ones who accept excuses for not passing a budget and serve hot chocolate to the bad children anyway.

The GOP opposition to Shaffer’s pass-the-budget-or-get-a-pay-cut bill seems to reverse the GOP’s own talking point, and therefore should fall into the radar screen of the news media.

Romney joins Bachmann and Coffman in pointing to China as winning practitioner of capitalism

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

If three is a trend in politics, then we’ve got a trend going of GOP politicos pointing to communist China as the modern success story of capitalism that America should emulate.

First came Rep. Mike Coffman who wrote in May that China has “enjoyed sustained economic growth based on the free market principles that we have long abandoned in favor of the redistributionist policies of a welfare state.”

Then in November, Michele Bachmann said, essentially, that China is growing like crazy because it lacks America’s Great Society programs, which she’d dump.

And now yesterday, according to a tweet by AFP reporter Olivier Knox, Mitt Romney held up China as a place where people are getting rich on the free enterprise and capitalism, while, by implication, Americans are watching on the sidelines getting poor.

OKnox Olivier Knox

Romney says China is getting rich on “free enterprise and capitalism — not exactly how we practice it.” Hmm. “Not exactly”? #fitn

One wonders if China guided Romney’s  thinking when he was at Bain Capital.

In any case, in the old days, three examples of something made it newsworthy. Today, due to the depleted press corps, it takes nine examples to make news. But in this case, given the stakes involved, let’s go back to the rule of three.

The emerging GOP view of China as the (at least partial) model capitalist state is news.  Reporters should find out what exactly the aforementioned GOP leaders like about Chinese “capitalism” and what they don’t. And how do they propose make American capitalism look more like what they have in China.

Annoying introduction to Tea Party radio show makes you expect to hear factual lapses and imprecise language

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

If you’re in charge of a Tea Party radio show, and the Republican establishment likes to say you don’t understand the way the world works, then you want to go heavy on the fact checking to make sure you’re actual factual, especially in the introduction to your show, which you play over and over and over.

And, of course, you want to be extra actual factual so you don’t annoy the progressive media critics who listen to your show and hear your introduction over and over and over.

Colorado’s flagship Tea Party radio show, KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado (5 – 7 p.m. weekdays, 560 AM), has an intro that includes a quote from failed NV Senate candidate Rep. Sharron Angle, saying:

“We have a fearful society right now. What they’re afraid of is that what we are going to be passing down to our children is not liberty and freedom, but debt and deficits.”

(Listen to the entire intro here. I don’t think you want to miss the voice of failed-canditate-past Ken Buck, who’s also featured in the Grassroots intro. What Buck says is mostly correct, but do you really want a loser’s voice in your intro?)

Angle sounds sincere and all, but she’s ill-informed, because, by definition, you don’t pass government “deficits” down to your children.

You pass a debt down. The deficit resets every year. It’s a measure of current red ink in the budget cycle. True, it could be wiped out, as the good guys on Grassroots Radio Colorado like to say all the time, in any single year. But it’s our problem, not our children’s.

The debt, on the other hand, is our children’s problem, or at least it might be a problem.

This may sound like a quibble, but, like I said, a Tea Party radio show should lead off with its best thinking, and this isn’t it. Not to mention the fact that Angle and Buck aren’t the best poster children for the Tea Party brilliance.

Plus, the serious questions of “debt” and “deficit” frequently get muddled in Tea Party circles. The two words are sometimes used incorrectly with respect to the federal government, and you’ll hear, for example, that the Colorado state budget is in the red. Of course, it isn’t.

A while back, I wrote Grassroots Radio hosts Ken Clark and Jason Worley and asked if they’d dump Angle’s statement about passing deficits down to our children from their intro because it casts an air of misinformation across their show, but I never I heard back.

Why are reporters still not asking if 2010 personhood supporters, like Coffman and Gardner, will back it again?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Now that Colorado’s review board for ballot initiatives has approved the wording of the proposed personhood amendment, and the race is on to find enough signatures to put it on the November ballot, you wonder if more reporters will get around to asking the measure’s former supporters, like Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Cory Gardner, and Rep. Doug Lamborn, whether they will go for it again in 2012.

Given what happened to failed Colo Senate Candidate Ken Buck, who un-endorsed the personhood amendment shortly after he won the GOP Senate primary in 2010 and was attacked nonstop on abortion issues during his campaign, you’d think it would be a no brainer for reporters to address the serious politics of this issue, pick up the phone, and call those guys listed up there (Coffman, Gardner, and Lamborn).

But it looks as if only the Colorado Statesman has tried to reach them so far, and it did so back in November.

Coffman was out of town when the Statesman tried to reach him, Gardner did not return the Statesman’s call, and Lamborn said he’s a “supporter of personhood.”

A spokesman for Coffman told me Thursday that he’d check to find out what his boss’ current position on personhood is.

The Colorado Right to Life blog states that Coffman, during the 2010 election cycle, was “on record supporting Personhood and is on record as Pro-Life with no exceptions.”

I asked Colorado Right to Life Vice President Leslie Hanks how her organization knew that Coffman supported personhood two years ago.

“Our blog reports on our candidate survey results,” she emailed me. “Congressman Coffman answered all our questions correctly to reflect he is a no exceptions pro life elected official who supports the personhood of the baby in the womb.”

I asked what “no exceptions” means in the context of the survey, and she said, among other things, that abortion would not be allowed in the case of rape and incest.

“Babies are persons, not ‘exceptions,'” she emailed me. “No innocent baby should be punished for the crime of his or her father. If mom’s life is in danger, the doctor has two patients & he should make every effort to save both. BTW, five of the Republican prez candidates have signed the PH pledge, so Mike is in good company.”

I called Denver talk-show host anti-abortion activist Bob Enyart to find out if he’d spoken to Coffman about personhood.

“I’m not going to comment for him,” Enyart told me, adding that he had a conversation with Coffman at a convention, and it was “not a significant conversation.” He did not specify if they discussed personhood, but if you know Enyart, you have to think they did.

Gardner, whose office didn’t return my call, has been described by a leading personhood activist as a “main supporter,” and the Colorado Right to Life blog showers praise on him for being “100 percent pro-life.”

Colorado Right To Life describes Lamborn’s position this way: “Incumbent Republican Doug Lamborn has always been solid on life issues, and has co-sponsored Personhood legislation at the national level.”

Personhood USA Legal Analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones told me he has no reason to believe his initiative will receive less support this time around than in 2010.

“I think a majority them [major CO GOP candidates] supported us last time,” he said. “And most of them were elected. I think the highest profile ones, like Ken Buck, who did waver, were the ones that suffered because they still got punished by the Democrats, and they didn’t have the benefit of the support of the base.”

Garcia Jones told me he welcomes an expected lawsuit from Planned Parenthood, trying to disqualify the ballot measure, because it motivates his base of supporters. “The only real concern for us was the fatigue of the base, and we rely on the base to get signatures,” he said. “So a lawsuit actually helps us. We’re not upset at being sued.”

State Sen. Scott Renfroe, who’s sponsored personhood legislation at the Capitol during his political career, said he supports the efforts to pass the personhood amendment in 2012.

“It’s never wrong to support life,” he told me. “Science is showing more and more that life is present at the earliest stages. And we have to give it a chance to prosper in this country.”

Renfroe said he thinks a ballot initiative is the “proper place” to bring the issue up, as the state legislature should focus on “jobs and the economy.”

Asked whether he thought past personhood supporters, like Coffman and Gardner, would support the measure in 2012, Renfroe said, “I don’t know. You’d have to ask them.”

Reporters should ask what gives? Coffman for balanced budget amendment but supports deficit spending to stimulate the economy?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Rep. Mike Coffman is in The Denver Post today telling us again that he led the charge for the Balanced Budget Amendment, which would have, in Coffman’s words, held “Congress’ feet to the fire with a Constitutional amendment requiring that they, like every family and nearly every state in the country, balance their budget.”

Coffman’s proposal specifies an exception. Deficits would be allowed during war or serious military conflict. (Families don’t get such an exception, in case you’re wondering whether your warring family can spend willy nilly.)

But Coffman himself has advocated for another crisis situation during which, he’s said, deficit spending by the feds should be allowed.

On KHOW radio, back in April, 2009, Coffman said he “would certainly support deficit spending,” if it were “truly stimulative” during the dark years of the great recession, 2009 and 2010.

In February, 2009, Coffman was equally clear on KHOW radio that the recession, which was slamming the country, was “so severe” that Coffman supported more deficit spending to stimulate the economy:

Silverman: So what are you suggesting? That we not do it? That we not have the stimulus package? Because Barack Obama said last night, hey, I didn’t come up with this $800 billion figure on my own. This is what the Republicans and the Democrats are talking about. The size of the stimulus package that is necessary given the dire condition that we are in. I like to live within my means. I am not big on borrowing for anything other than to buy a house. Are you saying we shouldn’t borrow money? I am not big on borrowing for anything other than to buy a house. Are you saying we shouldn’t borrow money?

Coffman: I do think that the situation is so severe that it warrants it. And obviously, from my point of view, that the greatest stimulus to the economy is by allowing individuals, small businesses owners, and corporations to keep their money in their pockets. And let the individual spend it versus the government spend it. So they can spend it their way. [BigMedia emphasis]

Here’s what Coffman told Caplis and Silverman April 15, 2009:

Coffman: I think it’s all about today politically and not about tomorrow. And so it’s kind of whatever happens tomorrow happens tomorrow. Let’s see how much influence we can buy or how much political support we can buy today. It’s a sad process. And I certainly support deficit spending, if it’s wise, if it’s truly simulative in this year and next year. I think the problem is that there is no effort in the budget plan that I see to close the deficit. We are going to be running trillion dollar deficits, you know, in the next ten years.

Later, as Coffman amped up his campaign for the Balanced Budget Amendment, KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman should have had Coffman back on their show to find out why an exception for deficit spending, to stimulate the economy during bleak economic downturns, was not included in the Balanced Budget Amendment that Coffman helped craft. (It died in the House in November.)

Reporters are all about consistency, and so they should ask Coffman, who helped form the 70-member House Balanced Budget Amendment Caucus and then chaired it, to explain his view in favor deficit spending “if it’s truly stimulative.”

And while they’re questioning Coffman about fiscal matters, reporters might ask to hear more about his unusual proposal, which he made on KHOW in 2009, to put Marines on U.S. merchant ships that might be threatened by pirates. Coffman claims this will save money, but further questioning about the risks of such a military presence are warranted.

Coffman: We don’t have the naval resources to patrol this area, which is a little over a million square miles. And so we need a fly swatter instead of a sledgehammer. And it would be much more cost effective to put small military detachments on the US-flagged merchant ships in order to deal with the pirates. And it wouldn’t take very many. We did this during World War II. And we can do it now. So we just deal with the problem and we write rules of engagement to where any of these pirate crafts approaching US merchant vessel that demonstrate hostile intent would be taken out.

Coffman could be right about the cost savings from the deployment of Marines, as he’s a budget maven when it comes to military spending, having advocated sensible cuts in the past.

Equally bold, from a political and fiscal perspective, are Coffman’s positions, aired on talk radio, against the Bush prescription drug plan and against using federal money to construct new DPS schools, because the DPS doesn’t “need to build more schools” due to enrollment declines.

There’s clearly public-interest value in airing out views of Congresspeople representing safe seats. But the time and space for political reporting, from serious journalists, is at a premium these days. So the media spotlight naturally should shine most brightly on politicians in competitive districts, especially guys like Coffman, and his likely opponent Joe Miklosi, whose words mean more because more voters with different opinions are listening to them now as they decide who to vote for in November.

Reporters should get details on Coffman idea that Colorado should get into catastrophic health-insurance biz and deregulate insurance industry

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

You don’t have to spend much time on Google to find out Rep. Mike Coffman hates Obamacare and has voted to repeal it, though he says he likes parts of it.

But what’s Coffman’s alternative, beyond vagaries about wanting to make the health-care market more competitive?

You have to look hard, but one of his suggestions, as articulated in a 2010 radio interview, is to get the state of Colorado into the catastrophic health-insurance business.

Yes, you read that right.

Coffman believes that “Colorado could come up with a great health insurance plan that would focus on catastrophic care.” This plan, under Coffman’s proposal, would be snapped up by health-insurance buyers nationally and bring a windfall of business (and tax revenue) to our state, creating, if you will, a mini catastrophic health-care economy here.

(Coffman may be thinking of a Colorado company, not the state, but Coffman did not correct the radio host when he seemed to interpret Coffman’s statement as I did. And even if this is a private sector proposal, it raises many questions requiring explanation.)

Central to Coffman’s plan is our state’s existing tax on health-insurance premiums. Coffman envisions a windfall of tax revenue from this “premium tax” as sales of catastrophic health-care policies soar.

And if you’re wondering how this could possibly constitute an alternative to Obamacare, here’s your answer: Coffman proposes using the tax dollars collected from the premium tax to help lower the costs of health insurance for “people that have chronic health care needs that are just priced out of the market.” (Everyone else apparently should buy a catastrophic plan, with a deductible appropriate, depending on individual circumstances.)

Oh, and some of the new tax revenue would boost Colorado’s general fund.

Now this proposal of Coffman’s has got to catch the attention of more journalists than a measly progressive one like me.

Conservative journalists will want to know more about why Coffman wants to get the government into the health-insurance business, and why he wants to expand the state’s general fund. Business reporters will want to know how the government of Colorado will compete with the private sector. Health reporters will want to know if the chronically ill would really be able to better afford insurance, under Coffman’s proposal to help them, and whether catastrophic care will work for many people. Political reporters will want to know if Tea Party activists would turn against Coffman for advocating a government expansion into health insurance. Legislative reporters will want to know how much of the state’s budget hole could be filled and whether Colorado’s law mandating basic standards of care for catastrophic plans would be overturned in the state legislature, since part of Coffman’s proposal involves deregulating the state health insurance industry.

I mean, there’s plenty of feed here for the media beast.

But apparently no one’s dug into his idea since Feb. 22, 2010, when Coffman said it on KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman show. Here’s the transcript from which the quotes above quotes from Coffman were taken:

Coffman: What we need is market competition. The President is right when he says there is inadequate competition among private insurance companies. But we do that through government regulations. We say that you cannot purchase health insurance across state lines. It has to be somebody that is licensed in your state. I think that if we opened up the market, if we could deregulate it some, and I think the role of the insurance commissioner is to make sure that these policies are transparent and that they cover what they say they are going to cover. But if we could open up market competition. When I was state treasurer, I  looked and wondered why all the publically traded corporations were moving out of Colorado and incorporating in the state of Delaware. And it turns out that Delaware had a court system that specialized in hearing business cases. And I think they provided a better environment, even though they charged a lot more for their incorporation.

I think if Colorado could come up with a great health-insurance plan that would focus on catastrophic care and opened it up to the rest of the country, if in fact we opened up the market, and we charge a premium tax here. Part of that goes to the general fund but part of it goes to cover a high-risk insurance pool with people that have chronic healthcare needs that are just priced out of the market, and we subsidize that here in Colorado, we could bring down the cost further. If we could sell a policy that would appeal to the country that would be more cost competitive, and other states could do the same. Let’s open it up to competition. [BigMedia emphasis.]

Craig Silverman: Isn’t that part of the deal behind the public option? Make the insurance companies compete with government?

Coffman: Well, what the public option says is, we are not going to do the deregulatory parts that I mentioned that allows competition across state lines. So we are just going to leave it in place and now we’ll say that the only one that can provide competition is the government? No, we need to open up competition to the private sector to bring down prices.

Dan Caplis: Congressman Mike Coffman our guest. And doesn’t this go back to the lead question that I had for you, which is the idea of the federal government now being able to dictate rates for private insurance companies. Because behind this, can’t the intellectually honest agree, that the left for a long long time, and now they are in control of the Democratic Party, has been out to kill private insurance companies, health insurance companies, and replace them with a single-payer government-provided health insurance plan? Isn’t that their holy grail and wouldn’t this be a big stem toward that?

Coffman: Yeah, it really would. And let me tell you one other thing. There are some real constitutional questions here. The notion that the federal government can impose an individual mandate. Certainly I think states can do it constitutionally, but I don’t see where in the U.S. Constitution it gives the power to the federal government the power to do that.  I think that there are other constitutional questions about the power of the federal government to do the things we are taking about doing. And clearly we understand the Commerce Clause and what is involved in that. I think that there are aspects in this legislation that clearly goes beyond that….

Silverman: Hey Congressman, what is the argument offered for not allowing competition state-to-state?

Coffman: Well, I suspect that the argument would be this: In 1946, the Congress of the U.S. pretty much gave, if you are not a multi-state employer that falls under the exemption, then you are subject to state regulation, particularly in the small group market and the individual market. Each state has different criteria, and so I think that they are saying there would be a race to the bottom if you opened up the market? And a given state had a catastrophic policy without all the bells and whistles. First of all, I think that we insure for much too much. I mean, insurance is about the providing oh…

Caplis: Catastrophic-type coverage.

Coffman: Yeah, really for catastrophic. And so, the fact that we’ve gone beyond that where people don’t have skin in the game.

I found this interview as part of my year-end review of Coffman’s talk-radio appearances, which I’m doing to encourage media types to take another look at some of Coffman’s unexamined views now that he’s in a competitive district.

Leading Democrats and Republicans have said competitive districts make politicians more accountable. One way that plays out in the real world is that when Congressmen like Coffman throw out big ideas, like the one about getting Colorado into catastrophic health-insurance business, he’s more likely to be questioned about it. Now it’s up to the media to do their part.