Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Visit to Hillary Clinton's Campaign

Hi, and happy April Fools' Day.

A bit of a correction before going on.  I was thinking one thing and typing another yesterday when I wrote about Senator McCain's proposal to provide a $2500 tax credit (not a deduction).  I think my major concern still holds.  To qualify, a person has to pay the insurance premium up front and then claim it for the next tax filing.  I don't know many people who have the equivalent of $200 a month to pay out.  Most people I know have much more limited budgets.  I remember the argument that this kind of plan would result in greater competition and thus reduced insurance costs.  After all people who have to put up the money will be looking for the biggest bang for the buck.  Nice in theory. But I am not convinced.  The first question is whether you can find coverage for the $2500 allowed by the credit.  That is all you would get back back no matter how much the insurance companies charge.  If you can't then you have to shell out the $2500 plus what ever the true costs of the coverage is knowing you will only get a portion of the expense back.  Also, the plan does nothing for those who are uninsurable at any price.  Even if congress requires the companies to cover everyone regardless of pre-existing condition or family health history, the coverage may not be affordable.  I also had a thought about opening the market to nationwide companies.  Has anyone seen the confusion that comes up whenever the open enrollment periods for Medicare comes up?  It is confusing as hell beyond the regional boundaries for each of the companies and gets even more so when you have to consider which drugs each plan will cover.  What we need is better, clearer, simpler information which will allow consumers to make truly informed choices. But I doubt Senator McCain's proposal will get us that.  Instead, I think that any plan will prove Bert Gummer correct (Tremors 3): the government will take something simple and 'complicate it.' It is what government does best.

Now on to a tour of Senator Clinton's web site and her position on the issues.  I noticed one thing right off the bat and it is an interesting contrast with Senator McCain.  The issues at the top of his list focused primarily on stimulating business with tax cuts and credits.  The major offering for middle income people was the proposal to repeal the alternative minimum tax.  By contrast, Senator Clinton's top items all focus on the middle and working class.  That said, much of her plan is not specified beyond broad goals. I haven't yet decided whether that is good or bad.  After all no President does much of anything without the cooperation of the Senate and Congress.  Any candidate can promise anything but may not be able to influence the legislative branch to go along.  

Senator Clinton's health care plan relies on tax credits just like Senator McCain's does and has, therefore, the same weaknesses with regard to affordability.  She wants to mandate coverage for everyone regardless of health and family history.  However, mandating coverage doesn't necessarily mean it will be affordable.  I very much like her notion that the insurance should be portable and independent of one's job or employment status.  Tax credits to help small business provide health coverage is nice.  But, having worked for small businesses for the better part of the last decade, I don't know that the credits could be generous enough to encourage enough small businesses to extend coverage to employees.  One of my former employers never made a profit in the three years the business was open.  The other scrambled to pay wages, taxes, overhead and managed to make a comfortable living for the owner.  Paying for medical coverage would have taken it from a modestly successful operation to a losing proposition.  And remember, the tax credit is an expense paid now to be reclaimed later to the extent allowed.

Both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain rely on commercial companies whose be all and end all is profit to provide the insurance.  We have all read the horror stories of what happens when the bottom line is endangered: people who were denied benefits they had paid for under any plausible or implausible pretext and coverage drastically changed and limited with little or no notice.  We can expect more of the same under both these systems.

Senator Clinton, unlike Senator McCain, does address the credit crisis/mortgage meltdown problem.  I can't do justice to her proposals so please read them for yourself.  I can tell that they will cost a great deal of money.  But the whole situation is one I am deeply ambivalent about.  It was fraught with fraud and greed on all sides.  And I don't think there is any way to separate the sheep from the goats and make sure the virtuous are protected while punishing the guilty.  I am glad to see her proposal for dealing with the fraudulent companies offering bogus foreclosure assistance.  But the problems with the mortgage industry are long term and will take a while and some realistic regulation to sort out.  It has been twenty-five years since I made my only foray into home ownership.  I well remember the efforts our realtor made to expand my (then) husband's and my income to the maximum.  At least we did have to verify our income and the expansion consisted largely of choosing the largest recent pay stubs to submit.  But I also remember being assured that the mortgage would not be significantly larger than the amount we paid in rent at that time.  Well, technically, the mortgage wasn't.  But no one mentioned the additional amount that went into the escrow to pay taxes and insurance.  That very significantly added to our monthly payment.  As first time home buyers we had no idea what was going on.  We did not even realize the questions we should have asked.  

One the war in Iraq, Senator Clinton promises 'redeployment' from day one if she is elected.  Good start.  Better is her program for achieving a meaningful peace in the area. 
  • Non-interference. Working with the U.N. representative, the group would work to convince Iraq's neighbors to refrain from getting involved in the civil war. (Do you include us in this--or will we be free to interfere if others don't tow our line. Also the 'group' is supposed to include Iraq's neighbors.  So the group is going to convince the group to not interfere.)
  • Mediation. The group would attempt to mediate among the different sectarian groups in Iraq with the goal of attaining compromises on fundamental points of disputes. (Good. However, Bush also promised mediation and negotiation.  He never followed through.)
  • Reconstruction funding. The members of the group would hold themselves and other countries to their past pledges to provide funding to Iraq and will encourage additional contributions to meet Iraq's extensive needs. (I get the feeling that this would, in the final analysis, mean that we would foot the bill for reconstruction on top of the bill for the war itself.)

The sections in black are my thoughts.  The blue are from Senator Clinton's site.  I may seem a bit cynical but I have a great deal of difficulty believing that our national leaders can so easily get past the notion of the U.S. being the world's 'hyper-power.'  She claims that the military should target 'terrorists.' But that is how we got into this quagmire in the first place.  Terrorism allowed the Bush administration the wedge it needed to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I have to quit now but I will come back to Senator Clinton's position papers another time.

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