Finding Appreciation for a “Do-nothing” Congress

08/23/2012

Sometimes we need guidance. We needs changes and an action plan that helps the nation. Other times (quite often), we need obstruction. We need roadblocks and partisanship. It’s healthy. What’s dangerous is a lopsided government that passes laws unabated. That’s what happened with the Affordable Care Act. It’s a tug-of-war between two parties – two parties whose ideals I have lost faith in – even though we all know issues are more complex than always siding with the “left” or the “right.”

Affordable Care Act
Health care for all has always been popular to talk about. It’s wise and noble to take care of people, but it doesn’t make sense if you can’t pay for it, especially when your government’s debt is greater than the total amount of money that is even in circulation.

We’ve been lied to about simplicity. We always are. That’s why we need obstruction. We need our representatives to sometimes just sit down and shut up and to stay at home and not get paid $174,000+ a year. We were promised the Affordable Care Act would bring costs down for all. Since the law was passed and the Supreme Court upheld it, my health care premiums have gone up 30%. I haven’t needed the services of a doctor in years. I promise to get a checkup soon, but I’m just saying that the reason my costs have gone up isn’t because I’m visiting the doctor too much.

You know, as Americans we once had the freedom to do nothing if we chose. All this talk of rights these days…you once had to the right to be left alone. These days, so the government can “regulate interstate commerce,” you have to either pay into the public health care system or the private health care system. Either way, you have to pay. Instead of just regulating an industry, the President also found it acceptable to regulate people. That’s not freedom. Additionally, if government continues to get more into the insurance business, what ensures demand will lower costs? I have heard for years that the medical field is a great one to get into because 1) people will always need health care and 2) hospitals are already understaffed. If there is a lack of medical professionals and suddenly the entire country has medical access, it seems, Houston, that we might have a problem.

I know a lot of people who are happy about the pre-existing condition part of the ACA. That is, the insurance companies cant deny coverage to someone that has a pre-existing condition. Well then it’s not insurance anymore, right? What it turns into is paying for a service while forcing a company to subsidize the majority of the bill. According to the healthcare.gov website linked to at bottom, the ACA prevents insurance companies from charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions and from setting lifetime limits on coverage for certain benefits. Allowing health insurance companies to assess risk and charge a higher amount for continuous care encourages healthy behavior. I try to be a cautious driver, and I would be pretty upset to find out I’m paying the same amount for car insurance as someone driving a Maserati or someone who has caused numerous wrecks.

I also understand that some people are born with a handicap or illness. Now, in a demand for equality for all, for all things these days, folks with unavoidable “pre-existing conditions” are also finding themselves in the same insurance category as people who have developed diabetes from lack of exercise and poor food choices, and people who develop chronic conditions like cirrhosis from alcohol abuse. Some of them say “What I do with my body isn’t your business.” Aha, but it is! It’s every taxpayers’ business. In 2009, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited the direct health care costs of smokers as being $96 billion and, resulting, the cost of lost productivity as costing $97 billion.

To be fair and honest, from a monetary standpoint, premature deaths partially offset money that otherwise would go to social security and Medicare payments. But that’s no justification. There is also the emotional cost brought on by losing a loved one from a situation that could have been avoided. Due to new regulations, the poor stay poor and the middle class becomes poorer. Health care for all is not free. As mentioned, my health insurance premiums have recently gone up. The following is a message from my representative:


Non-binding Resolutions

Now, taking a little focus off the Affordable Care Act, Congress wastes a lot of time. Did you know our representatives frequently bring forth official declarations, congratulating sports teams for accomplishments? For example, in 2011, Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland introduced a resolution titled “Commemorating the victory of Loyola University Maryland in the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse National Championship.” As you might expect, it passed unanimously because it’s fluff. The day before that, the Senate passed a resolution called “Commending the Pacific Lutheran University Lutes Softball Team for winning the 2012 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Softball Championship.” And the day before that, another resolution passed called “Congratulating the Miami Heat for winning the National Basketball Association Championship.”

Not only do these resolutions take time, they also use up taxpayer dollars. According to South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, the total cost for printing copies of a single “simple resolution” page for our legislators comes to $1,200. DeMint also estimates that the 112th Congress may have already spent $400,000 on these non-binding, feel-good time wasters. Fortunately, there is a “Pay for Printing Act” being proposed that would require legislators to spend money from their own Members’ Representational Allowances (MRA), which currently ranges $1.3-1.6 million for the House and $2.9-4.6 million for the Senate, per member, per year.

I remember one of my college professors had a framed letter on the wall from one of our Congressional representatives. It was some of commendatory note, which I’m sure the prof was very proud of or else he wouldn’t have put it on the wall. Aside from the time spent crafting a letter, it probably took something like $1 to print and send that note. The same can be done for winning NCAA and NBA teams and, if a representative wants to make their praise public, take it to Twitter for free. My representative is on there, and yours probably is, as well.


Gold Medallions

Congress also has a bad habit of telling people they are really important by spending a lot of money on them. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in 2000 that it would cost $30,000 to produce a gold medal to give to Ronald and Nancy Reagan for their service to the country. The price tag was also the same for a medal to give to then-Pope John Paul II . It was slightly less, however, to give medals to John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, and to the family of the late cartoonist Charles Schulz ($25,000 each).  These are just a few examples. Other such medals have been proposed and awarded. Rep. Ron Paul made a good point in 2007 about the award proposed for the Dalai Lama:

I wonder if my colleagues see the irony in honoring a devout Buddhist monk with a material gift of gold. The Buddhist tradition, of course, eschews worldly possessions in favor of purity of thought and action. Buddhism urges its practitioners to alleviate the suffering of others whenever possible. I’m sure His Holiness the Dalai Lama would rather see $30,000 spent to help those less fortunate, rather than for a feel-good congressional gesture.

We cannot forget that Congress has no authority under the Constitution to spend taxpayer money on medals and awards, no matter how richly deserved. And I reiterate my offer of $100 from my own pocket to pay for this medal–if members wish to honor the Dalai Lama, all we need to do is pay for it ourselves. If all 435 of us contribute, the cost will be roughly $70 each. So while a gold medal sounds like a great idea, it becomes a bit strange when we see the actual cost involved.

You see, political gridlock is not all bad. In fact, if more opposition happened, maybe, just maybe, there would be more focus on more important matters. But until Congress stops spending time on congratulatory resolutions, swiftly pushing through hugely unpopular bills (that result in a “shellacking” during the next election cycle), and spending nearly the average taxpayers’ annual salary on a medallion, I’m going to think Congress needs to “work” less and also get paid less.

_______________________

Article sources and further reading:

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions” –
http://www.healthcare.gov/blog/2011/01/preexisting.html

U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention: “Economic Facts About U.S. Tobacco Production and Use” –
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/economics/econ_facts/index.htm#costs

Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives: “Congressional Salaries and Allowances” –
library.clerk.house.gov/reference-files/112_20120104_Salary.pdf

Congressional Budget Office: “Cost estimates search” (Congressional gold medal award costs search results) –
http://www.cbo.gov/cost-estimates/search?page=1&filters=ss_cck_field_congress%3A%22106th%20Congress%20%281999-2000%29%22%20sm_cck_field_budget_function%3A%22800%20-%20General%20Government%22%20created%3A%5B2000-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z%20TO%202001-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z%5D%20sm_facetbuilder_Paygo_Facet%3A%22Paygo_Facet%3Afacet_1%22

Congressional Record – House H6505: Ron Paul’s statement on the Dalai Lama’s proposed Congressional gold medal –
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2006-09-13/pdf/CREC-2006-09-13-pt1-PgH6505.pdf

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