Monday, August 31, 2009

a budget neutral economic stimulus for Oregon

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of days now since the State of Oregon Economist Tom Potiowsky issued his report on the state of the Oregon economy on Thursday indicating that recovery may be particularly slow in Oregon.  Collins, Snowe, Specter, and Nelson put States in a real bind by negotiating a lot of the aid to States out of the stimulus bill back in February.  This put States in the position of having to cut spending or increase taxes in order to balance their books, creating what Krugman termed, "the problem of the 50 Herbert Hoovers."  The road to full recovery is likely to be slow to begin with, and if Oregon lags behind the rest of the nation, it could be an awfully tough road back.  It seems that while a second stimulus would be very useful from the federal level, a State-level stimulus package in Oregon would be particularly useful, but there's no way it can happen given Oregon's budgetary situation.  That's why I was taken with an idea I originally bumped into in the the Washington Monthly about a month ago of taxing College Endowments as an economic stimulus (I for the life of me can't seem to find this post).  The point being that because College Endowments have become a status symbol, they're holding on to them instead of spending them.  Last time I checked the endowment was supposed to be sort of a "rainy day fund," and if now is not a rainy day I don't know what is.  In defense of Universities, there has been a sizable dropoff in the size of endowments recently due to the fact that donors are tightening their belts.  A policy that could force Universities to spend their endowments rather than holding on to them would be very beneficial to those communities.  As a result, college endowments being currently tax free nonprofits, I propose setting a temporary tax on college endowments in the State of Oregon to force them to put some of that money into the economy, there are a number of beneficial uses that this money could be put towards.

Students-Have been hit with an enormous tuition increase this year, if Universities dedicated some of their endowment to not increasing tuition then students would both not be forced to drop out due to affordability, which is a long term positive and increases the likelihood that Universities will be able to rebuild their endowments in the future, as well as allowing those students who do stay in college to engage in more discretionary spending locally, this helps local businesses.

Infrastructure-Invest in new buildings and/or more maintenance on campus, this allows plumbers, carpenters, drywallers... to stay in business, keeping unemployment down and leading to more local spending.

General Operations-Kill all spending freezes and layoffs, keeps people employed and allows departments to operate as they did two years ago, once again (are we noticing a theme here?) this means more spending in the local economy by not forcing academic departments to do things like not using any more paper, and keeping people employed.

The circumstances surrounding the money reserved in college endowments is a tricky issue, and some of that money can't be spent.  Without a thorough study of the status of endowments in Oregon I can't speculate on how much they can actually start spending in the near future, but any policy that forces them to spend more seems to me like it would be a good idea.  The following are the total amount of the endowments for Oregon Colleges and Universities, so we can imagine what 1/2 or 1/4 of that put into the local economy would do for Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, or Salem.  And the best part is, its not only budget neutral, but budget enhancing, as the State gets a chunk of whatever doesn't get spent.

University of Oregon-$498 million
Oregon State University-$476 million
Willamette University-$283 million
Lewis and Clark College-$231 million
University of Portland-$95 million
Linfield College-$71 million
Portland State University-$47 million
Southern Oregon University-$20 million
Western Oregon University-$10 million
Eastern Oregon University-$3 million
*list not based on who has the biggest endowments, but who I thought about

That's a lot of money out there that could be boosting the economy and is instead sitting in a bank account somewhere, there are very good ways it could be spent to help students, faculty, and the university itself.  Any policy that gets them to spend a chunk of that is a net good, tax them for this year (and this year only) and see what they decide to use rather than give back to the State, and what they do give back to the State helps prevent cuts to education, infrastructure, or the Oregon Health Plan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Robert Reich's incrementalist parable

Robert Reich has a good piece on the need to fight the desire to be incrementalists on health care reform.  This is great parable that I thought was worth repeating in as many places as possible.

Years ago, as the story goes, Britain's Parliament faced a difficult choice. On the European continent drivers use the right lanes, while the English remained on the left. But tunnels and fast ferries were bringing cars and drivers back and forth ever more frequently. Liberals in Parliament thought it time to change lanes. Conservatives resisted; after all, Brits had been driving on the left since William the Conquerer's charriot. Parliament's compromise was to move from the left to right lanes -- but incrementally, on a voluntary basis. Truckers first.
My attitude has long been that in terms of health care policy, incrementalism is public policy's version of Zeno's Paradox.  If we forever resist universal coverage in favor of measures to insure part of the uninsured population, we never reach the point at which everyone has access to quality health insurance.  In environmental policy by contrast there's no particular desired end point, so we can always hope to achieve better environmental outcomes, and can pursue those by increments, a small positive step here, a small positive step there and we always make progress.  In health care on the other hand all progress towards universal coverage that falls short leaves some other group still lacking in coverage, and as we cover progressively more people in reforms, those left out become ever more vulnerable to moralistic claims about the lazy poor that the United States is so prone to.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

RIP Senator Kennedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy died today after his long battle with brain cancer. It is a sad day for all Americans as Senator Kennedy was a great figure in the United States Senate. While he was initially dismissed as a pick of nepotism he proved to be one of the most influential figures in the history of the United States Senate. He was a true liberal lion and cared for the poor and working class in this country very deeply. He was responsible for leading the fight against Judge Robert Bork for Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and was responsible for much landmark legislation. This included:
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
National Cancer Act of 1971
Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974
COBRA Act of 1985
Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Ryan White AIDS Care Act of 1991
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
Mental Health Parity Act of 1996
State Children’s Health Insurance Program of 1997
No Child Left Behind of 2002
Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009
Senator Kennedy served his country well and will be greatly missed.

There's got to be an ad in this somewhere

The conservative strategy in opposing health care reform is clearly to scare the living crap out of the elderly.  The irony in all this being that it is Republicans who are the longstanding enemies of Medicare and social security.  As recently as the past election the Republican Nominee for President advocated cuts in Medicare to slash the federal budget deficit.  So it is really strange to see the Republicans turning seniors into their base as they oppose a centrist plan to reform health care.  So why hasn't Moveon or someone run an ad based on this quote:

"The reality of it is, this single-payer program known as Medicare is a very good example of what we should not have happen with all of our health care," said Steele. "The reality of it is, how many times have we been at the trough of bankruptcy and no money for the Medicare program, where Congress is running around like chickens with their head cut off, trying to figure out how to fix a program that they've already mismanaged? So now you want to do that, Congressman, on a larger scale? You want to include all of us. You're talking about taking our senior population, and expanding it to all of the population? Government cannot run a health care system. they've already shown that. Trust the private markets to do it the right way."
or this one.

We've had Medicare since 1965, and Medicare has never done anything to make people more healthy. If there's any opportunity for more healthy activity, it's going to be, again, a private, competitive...
There's got to be a way to counter the fear mongering, seems to me that while the Republicans are pretending that the Democrats are trying to kill Medicare we should be reminding them who passed and still supports Medicare and who opposed and still hates it.  Where are the moveon ads on this?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wyden's game on the Public Option

Most accounts I've seen have Oregon Senior Senator Ron Wyden playing coy on the public option, suggesting that he might or might not support it.  I've had a difficult time figuring out what exactly Wyden's position is on the matter, but he did seem to take a small step towards, "standing in the way [of the public option]," as he said he wouldn't when he signed a letter along with major health care reform roadblocks such as Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe urging a delay in the reform effort.  That letter allowed for the push to slow to a halt leading into the August recesses, that allowed the anti-reform brigades time to organize and present their fake populist outcry against health care reform.

I'm not sure what Wyden's position is precisely here, beyond that he understandably likes his own bill.  When it was first drafted a couple of years ago Wyden's bill was an excellent roadmap for what passable health care reform might look like given the slim Democratic majority of 2006, with of all people Robert Bennett of Utah as its cosponsor.  The thing that's odd about this whole thing, however, is that Wyden won the argument before it began, his Healthy Americans Act was the first coherent presentation that I'm aware of, of the "health care exchange" model that forms the basis of the Senate HELP Committee bill, the House Education and Labor Committee bill, and the Obama outline plan.  There are only two major differences that I'm aware of:

1) to Wyden's credit, his bill seems to advance insurance portability a little bit more effectively than the health care exchanges presented in the House and;
2) Wyden's bill contains no public option

Clearly the second is the more contentious issue, oddly given that a public option advances the goal of health care portability more effectively than anything else in the insurance exchanges that are presented in the bills that have been passed out of committee.  This is very strange, given that its the first difference that Wyden's bill is more effective on, there may also be some very specific cost-containment measures in Wyden's bill that don't exist in other bills, but many of those could easily be added in by amendment.  That the public option has become the point of contention with Wyden is very strange, since a well organized public option that assumes Medicare providers will participate in the public plan, ties reimbursement rates to Medicare rates, and allows for drug price bargaining by Medicare and the Public Option would provide tremendous downward pressure on private health care costs.

Back when he introduced it, Wyden's plan was a good outline for bipartison, effective health care reform that promoted universal coverage.  Since that time however, it has become obvious that the goal of the Republican Party on many issues is to block the Democratic majority from any accomplishments, this was apparent from the stimulus debate and from Republican repositioning on the once bipartison Employee Free Choice Act, as well as to block any health care reform.  This is part of why the debate has had nothing to do with the actual proposals, with half the debate being about Canada and Britain (solutions that are not being proposed by anyone with power) and the other half being about blatant lies and distortions.  While Wyden's proposal could pick up Republican support in 2007 I seriously doubt that it could today.  Nonetheless I'm not opposed to having a vote on Wyden's plan, but his waffling on a public option is just plain bizzarre, as Jacob Hacker (linked in previous paragraph) argues compellingly, Wyden's plan too would benefit from a public option.  Its time for Wyden to stop playing whatever game he's playing here and get on board with the public option, its hard enough to pass health care reform over the objections of conservative Republicans, they don't need help from progressive Democrats.

Cwech Blug is Back!

From June 2005 up to January 2007 I tried to regularly post here, and while there were lull months when something got in my way I was able over that period on most months to post 20 or so times.  After the 2006 election I faded, with class it became difficult to keep posting consistently, and my brain was too fried to come up with interesting things to post.  Even after graduating and getting through the 2008 election cycle I couldn't bring myself to bring the Cwech Blug back online. What I realized during that time was that the Cwech Blug was an important outlet for me to continue to keep my writing sharp and to maintain an outlet for my thoughts. As the health care debate has heated up this August I finally concluded that in spite of being on the verge of starting graduate school (which will undoubtedly put more pressure on me from class than I had as an undergrad), I needed to bring this blog back.  This time I resolved to protect myself from creative lulls and class pressures by adding two good friends with good minds for politics to help me out, with three of us posting it should be a lot easier to consistently keep material coming and to avoid the pressure of having to constantly be posting something just for the sake of posting. This should keep the material here more interesting and fresh, while bringing some different perspectives to the table and allow for consistency of posts.

I hope that I can regain readers and find new ones from the last run at this blog, and keep interesting material coming.