Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My latest appearance on Flashpoint, and some ranting and rambling

Last week, WKMG's Lauren Rowe invited me on her wonderful Sunday morning program Flashpoint, along with Dick Batchelor, to discuss some of the budgetary and other issues facing our Legislature this session.

If you missed the show, here's a link to the video:

Flashpoint | WKMG | April 10, 2011

Dick Batchelor, a former Florida State Representative, is one of my favorite local Democrats. As you'll see, we had a good laugh several times because Dick and I kept agreeing over and over. Lauren's not looking to host a drag-out screaming match, but usually when she invites a Democrat and Republican to appear, there's a little more difference of opinion between the guests.

Go ahead and call me a RINO (I've been called worse, ha), but some things are just common sense...or at least, some things should be common sense. Everyone knows that treating poor and uninsured people in the emergency room is the worst solution possible - it's  more expensive, more stressful, and less effective in actually making people healthy. Preventative care is the best solution for both uninsured patients and taxpayers footing the bill, and Dick and I naturally agreed on this point (note also that he agreed with me on what's normally viewed as a conservative position, that deregulating certain businesses is a good idea as long as safety is not impacted).

I do have to say, regarding the topic of this year's budget cuts, both in Florida and around the country, I am disappointed in the tone the debate has taken. 

I want moooooore money!
There's been too much hysteria and hostility from liberal interest groups this year. Anyone who suggests that even one penny might be cut from schools or any program that serves the poor, children, or the elderly is met with wailing and gnashing of teeth. "You can't cut that program! It's for the children!" "You denied our funding request? Why do you hate senior citizens?" Our problems with government overspending are caused in large part by treating far too many issues as sacred cows.

I've made the analogy before that far too often, supporters of a government program will do the equivalent of holding up an adorable little puppy and then arguing that the cuteness of the puppy is, in and of itself, an argument for increased funding. Go ahead and call me heartless, but especially in tough budget times, I want to hear specifics on how the money will be spent and what exactly is going to be done to help the puppy. Does the puppy actually need assistance? Is there another way to help the puppy? Or is the puppy just being used as a cute and fluffy form of budgetary blackmail?

If you cut the budget, that means this puppy will die.
Yeah, this puppy. We're whacking him first.
When the opponents of budget cuts aren't attempting to guilt-trip elected officials with cute puppies, they're engaging in increasingly angry rhetoric. I am and always will be a strong believer in the First Amendment, but a lot of the hostility has seemed beyond the scope of what the debate is actually about.

As I pointed out on Flashpoint, when my one-hit-blunder of a Congressman Alan Grayson bombastically declared during the health care debate that Republicans wanted people to "Die Quickly!" he was contributing nothing useful to the discussion. He wasn't debating the actual legislation, wasn't suggesting any amendments, he was just yelling nonsense.

This is a common problem. There's only two people in history who have been called "Hitler" more than Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker: George W. Bush and the actual evil dictator with the weird mustache. New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie has union reps openly joking about how they hope he'll have a heart attack and die. Florida's own Governor Rick Scott had to deal with people who organized on Facebook and Twitter to boo him as he threw out the first pitch at a baseball game.

Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I've had to deal with someone who immediately attacks and insults me without actually taking the time to listen to what I have to say, I can't help but feel less willing to their ideas.

These protesters are doing more harm than good for their causes. We are out of money, both at the state and federal level, and cuts have to be made somewhere. If these liberal activists truly cared about their causes, actually wanted to help the children, senior citizens, disabled people, endangered critters, etc. they claim to represent, they'd work on communicating more effective and efficient ways to help their causes.

Cuts have to be made. It's not because anyone is evil or wants to kill children or puppies. IT'S BECAUSE WE'RE OUT OF MONEY.
Dick mentioned during our discussion on Flashpoint (at about the 10-minute mark) that the current system only allows people to submit new Medicaid applications online. This obviously reduces the number of applications, but does it save the state money? I suspect that it might actually increase costs, because lack of access to preventative care leads many uninsured people to the emergency room.

We all know that relying on ER medicine sharply increases insurance premiums for everyone. If we could reduce the number of people treated in the ER, that would make insurance more affordable, so more people could purchase their own health insurance. Consider too the fact that someone who has an illness or injury so severe that they are in the ER (or who must take a sick child there), will find it harder to work. Is it possible that we might reduce the number of people on welfare if we provided better access to preventative care?

I don't know the exact answers to these questions. Dick mentioned that several recent pilot programs that sought to find savings in the Medicare/Medicaid programs were not as positive as he had hoped. And I'm certainly not advocating a government-run health care system like ObamaCare. The horror stories of long waits for basic procedures in Britain and Canada just shows that type of system brings the overcrowded ER medicine to all of us. Remember, you don't help a poor person by punishing a wealthier person, you help a poor person by helping them find a way to get wealthier too!

My point is that, while I don't want to see cuts made just for the sake of cutting, we have a serious budgetary crisis, and I want to make sure that cuts are judicious, we're seeking efficiencies, and not creating more expensive problems. Someone who is severely mentally or physically disabled isn't going to "get better," and slashing their funding puts them at risk for abuse and mistreatment, becoming homeless, etc.

On the other hand, our current unemployment system lets people collect benefits simply by submitting online once in a while their statement that they are, in fact, looking for work. There is very little monitoring to make sure that the beneficiaries are actually doing something to find a job. This should be addressed, and incentives provided to get people back to work, and actual consequences for those who commit fraud. 

I want to see some statistics and real numbers for these issues. Don't show me a cute puppy. Don't tell me we have to cut the budget. I know the puppy is cute and I know we are broke. How many parents bringing sick children to the ER never signed up for Medicaid? What if we tried to sign patients up for Medicaid when they were in the ER, would that avoid future expensive visits? Has anyone ever researched this? Why not? What would be the increased cost to hire people to monitor the unemployment system? If it reduced fraud, could it pay for itself?

I've heard Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie speak at events many times, and she's mentioned a group of auditors and compliance specialists in her office who, as she puts it, save the taxpayers money every single day they show up to work. They are trained and experienced in finding and snuffing out fraud, eliminating duplicative efforts, and finding efficiencies in the way government operates. Obviously there's a point of diminishing returns and hiring a million new auditors for the Comptroller's office won't solve all budget problems, but I'd love to hear that this approach is being used more often around our state.

Regarding the proposed judicial reforms, I've been a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society since my first semester of law school. I say with confidence that there is nothing conservative about large sections of this year's judicial reform bills. If you think there's too many liberal judges, blame Charlie Crist for appointing them, don't try to rip apart the entire judicial system. I am honestly shocked, and more than a little concerned, at the way this debate has been handled.

I've already rambled for long enough this morning, so I'll save the judicial reforms for another post later this week. Stay tuned...it's an important issue and one that deserves our attention.

We are facing some huge, scary, complicated budget problems across the country. It’s not going to be easy. But we can keep it from being harder than it needs to be by both paying attention to what we cut and allowing no sacred cows.

Or sacred puppies.

[Cross-posted at The Minority Report and Red County]

1 comment:

  1. I remember that Doug Guetzloe hated Dick Batechlor. Just couldn't stand him at all back when he had his radio show and I thought he really was the conservative hero fighting all the big name pretenders. I know Dick once ran against the great Bill McCollum for Congress which hardly means he's an ally, but I know now he's the farthest thing from a pre-Alan Grayson before the real buffoon. Maybe that's why the jailbird didn't like him.


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