Participatory Democracy

December 3, 2010

I called my congressmen today to let them know that I think they should let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, and if that means the cuts expire for everyone, so be it.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the temporary “Bush tax cuts” enacted in 2001 and 2003 are due to expire at the end of 2010.   Politicians are scampering because they know the money is needed to keep the country from sinking in a sea of red ink but if they let the cuts expire they’ll be open to charges that they raised taxes from their opponents in the next election.

I happen to believe that it’s important , both morally and practically, to pay our bills.  We need to reduce the deficit to avoid bankrupting the country and we need to combat the sense of entitlement that Americans seem to have these days and accept that we need to pay for the services that government provides.   It was horribly irresponsible of the government to enact tax cuts without enacting appropriate program cuts to compensate for the reduced income.  Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is a significant step towards getting the country back on a sound fiscal footing.

Unfortunately, I don’t run a wealthy Political Action Committee, and I don’t have millions of dollars to bribe influence support the politicians who agree with me, so the only chance I have of influencing my congressmen is to contact their offices and let them know what I think.

I live in Arlington, MA so Ed Markey is my representative, and Scott Brown and John Kerry are my senators.  The phone numbers for their Washington DC offices are readily available via Google.  I called each of them and gave my message to the staffer that answered.  Coincidentally, each office had a young (or young-sounding) woman answering the phone.

Senator Kerry’s staffer was the most professional.  She listened to my message, promised to pass it on, and asked for my zip code, presumably so they could better track the comments that come in.  I got the feeling that my call might not be a major influence, but at least it was tallied and might possibly have some minor impact.

The experience with Senator Brown’s office was laughably different.  I had to wait on hold for a couple of minutes, then when I told the staffer that I preferred to let the tax cuts expire, she told me that Senator Brown agreed with me that is important that we lower taxes.  I corrected her, but I was left with the impression that it wouldn’t matter.

My experience with Representative Markey’s office fell somewhere in between.  The staffer listened enough to understand that I was talking about taxes, but seemed much more interested in reading me a prepared sound bite from Markey than in tracking what I had to say.

I wonder if any of this made any difference?

Note: If you’re interested, you can use the calculator created by the Tax Foundation to calculate the impact to you of the various options under discussion.  Disclosure:  If the tax cuts expire only for those making over $250,000 a year, we’re not affected.  If they expire for everyone, it’ll cost us somewhere around $4000.

John Kerry’s reply on Health Care refrom

January 11, 2010

A while back, I wrote my senator (the one we have left) and representative asking them what they are doing to ensure that we end up with a useful public option for health care insurance. I haven’t heard from Ed Markey, but I have finally heard from John Kerry, or at least his office.

Here’s the reply.  I’m not encouraged:

Dear Friend:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opinions on the health care crisis in our country and on health care reform legislation. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.

Reforming our country’s health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance is a top priority. Today, the United States spends more on health care than other developed countries, yet we have a shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality. Health care spending represents nearly 17 percent of our economy, totaling over $2 trillion a year. Still, approximately 87 million people-one in three Americans-went without health insurance for some period during 2007 and 2008. This is unacceptable. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am working to enact comprehensive health care reform that improves the access and delivery of health care for millions of Americans.

According to researchers, about $700 billion is spent each year on health care that fails to improve outcomes. I believe we should eliminate this excess spending and transform how we pay for health services. Payments should be based on the quality of care delivered instead the quantity of services performed. We need to reward providers who coordinate care and improve health outcomes. New investments must be made in our health care workforce to meet the needs of a fully insured population. Through better access to providers as well as prevention and wellness programs, individuals will be able to lead healthier lifestyles, reduce the likelihood of chronic disease and reduce costs. Health reform should also include better access to home and community-based services for those needing long-term care.

The Massachusetts experience with health reform holds valuable lessons for federal reform. Our state has the lowest number of uninsured in the nation due to reform efforts that included: expanded public programs; the development of new insurance standards; subsidized insurance to those with low income, the creation of an insurance exchange for private plans; maintaining safety net hospitals and health centers; and a requirement that individuals and employers each have a responsibility to contribute to health care costs.

Too many individuals cannot afford insurance as health insurance premiums continue to rise faster than inflation and wages. We must control skyrocketing health costs that push families into bankruptcy and place our businesses at a disadvantage in the global economy. Families deserve affordable options when choosing a health plan, which is why I support a public plan option like the one included in the bill passed out of Senator Kennedy’s HELP Committee. Under that plan, all Senators and their staff would be required to use the public option as their health insurance. Every American has the right to high quality and affordable health care, regardless of age, income or health status. That is why I recently introduced the Women’s Health Insurance Fairness Act to prevent insurers from charging women higher premiums than men for health insurance policies.

As a strong supporter of improving health insurance coverage to children, I introduced Kids First, a bill that would guarantee health coverage to the currently nine million uninsured children in America. In these uncertain economic times, families should never be forced to forgo health insurance for their children. I also supported improvements to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which became law in February 2009. This new public law will strengthen and expand health coverage to an additional four million children, nearly halving the number of uninsured children over the next five years. This new law included legislation that I wrote, the Children’s Mental Health Parity Act, which will ensure that children served by this program will also have access to critical mental health services.

A modernized health system must take full advantage of electronic prescribing and health information technology. Electronic prescribing not only saves money through improved efficiency, but more importantly, it reduces medical errors and saves lives. According to the Institute of Medicine, one-third of written prescriptions require follow-up clarification, with medication mistakes causing 7,000 deaths and 1.5 million injuries per year. The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act that was enacted into law in July 2008, included provisions from my electronic prescribing legislation. This law creates incentives for physicians to implement electronic prescribing within their offices.

While I strongly believe there are many things that need to be changed within our current health care system, it is equally important to preserve the parts of our system that work. As we move to make health insurance more affordable, those who are satisfied with their current insurance should be able to keep what they have. The issue of health reform has been the center of many debates and conversations across the country. I support a transparent process that involves the public and provides open access to the facts regarding reform efforts.

As we continue to move forward with health reform I will keep your thoughts and concerns in mind. Thank you again for writing me. Please do not hesitate to contact me about this issue or any other matter of importance to you.


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