Reed Calls Bush SCHIP Veto Threat Spiteful

Jack Reed spoke on the floor of the Senate yesterday, calling for the President to support health insurance for children in the US. Behind him in the picture are John Kerry (D-MA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

Floor Statement by U.S. Senator Jack Reed

September 26, 2007

MR. REED: Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, I rise to speak in strong support for the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

It is an issue that is fast upon us. The House of Representatives passed this legislation last evening. We will, I hope, do the same and send it to the president.

This is an issue that is not just an economic issue, it is also a moral imperative.

If we cannot assure children in this country have the access to good health care, then we cannot assure that we keep faith with the basic notion of this country — opportunity for all.

Health care and education together is the engine that moves this country forward — it gives children the chance to use their talents, develop their talents, then go on to contribute to this great country.

It also makes tremendously sound economic sense.

As we invest in children’s health care we hopefully will ensure throughout their life they have healthy lifestyles and the advantage of a good start so their efforts can be directed toward contributing to their community, contributing to this economy.

We understand the cost of health care is skyrocketing. For many families, they have to make the choice to forego it, to leave their children vulnerable, without access to good primary care, without access to specialized care when they need it.

We also understand that these children, when they get sick, they ultimately find their way to the emergency room, and we end up paying much more.

Because a child that can be seen on a regular basis, that can have access to preventative care, arriving at the emergency room with a serious condition requires a great deal more resources than seeing a child before that condition becomes serious, becomes an emergency.

So, we should be, I think, smart as well as morally responsive to the issue before us. That directs me to my strong support of the legislation.

The final bill that will come before us will invest $35 billion in our nation’s children and their future.

It preserves coverage for 6.6 million children. But it will also reduce the number of uninsured children by 4 million.

In fact, the final bill improves upon the senate bill I supported weeks ago. It provides quality dental coverage to all children enrolled. That is critical.

I can recall listening to a foster mother with six different foster children. What was her big complaint? Couldn’t get a dentist. Not enough. They would not see her because she did not have dental coverage. Her complaint to me was, really, just a repetition of what her child said to her in so many words which is “what do I do, how do I take care of a toothache or go to school when I cannot concentrate because of the pain?”

For most of us, that is a simple call to the dentist and a trip to the dentist and immediate relief. And for their children also. But for many that is not the case.

I think it’s going to be an important step forward.

I am particularly proud because the architect of this program ten careers ago was Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island who pushed for the adoption of the children’s health care program and it is a legacy to him. A vibrant legacy which we in Rhode Island cherish and hope we can extend through this legislation.

The final bill that will result, we hope, in passage and signature by the president, will give Rhode Island an increase of federal funding. From $18 million to $93 million. It will prevent future shortfalls.

Just last November on the floor of the Senate before we went out I was insistent we could not leave until we provided help to states that already ran out of their SCHIP funding. We did that. But those stop-gap measures at the 11th hour don’t provide for the kind of planning and predictability that is essential to keep the costs down and keep the program going.

I do think, again, that this is a bill that is worth all of our efforts and all of our support.

If we can afford to spend $12 billion a month in Iraq, we must be able to afford to spend a fraction of that to give children health care in this country.

I just left the Appropriations Committee hearing. Secretary Gates urges $50 billion more funding for Iraq. That is quite a bit more than we’re asking over five years to the children’s health care program – and that is just for several months in Iraq.

The American people, I believe, will demand we pass this legislation.

If we can find the resources overseas, we have got to be able to find the resources here for this compelling issue.

The other aspect of this, is this legislation is fully paid for.

Unlike the spending in Iraq which is a deficit spending which we are, literally, sending forward to the next generation of Americans to deal with, this is fully paid for by an increase in the cigarette tax. Sound fiscal policy as well as sound public policy.

Now, we have heard a lot from the president, particularly about why he is proposing to veto this legislation.

Frankly, I find it hard to discover any logic at all. And it’s full of misrepresentations. The bill does not cover children up to 400% of poverty. In fact, about 80% of the newly insured children are from families below 200% of poverty, the new children to be enrolled. This bill is well targeted and provides incentives to ensure the lowest income children are insured first and it doesn’t federalize health care or socialize it.

In fact, in Rhode Island the health care program is run by private health insurance companies. And that is a very effective and efficient approach this health care.

What I have noticed in the last few years, is not that private health insurance has expanded dramatically in this country and this legislation would constrain that, quite the opposite.

Private health insurance, the number of insured Americans have increased. They are losing private insurance. It is too expensive. So the idea this somehow is going to throttle the attempts of the private insurance industry to ensure these children is, on its face, I think preposterous.

These children will not be insured because their parents can not afford to pay the coverage and because private companies work on a profit and do not extend coverage if they don’t feel like it. This expands coverage and protects children and the way to invest in our future.

This is the way to do it in a fiscally responsible manner by offsetting the cost, by increasing the cigarette tax. It makes sense on every ground.

So, the president’s suggestion that he is vetoing it has to be something other than common sense. In fact, it strikes me as slightly spiteful.

This is something on a bipartisan basis we have done for 10 years. Something on a bipartisan basis that we will continue to do. And to be frustrated by a presidential veto I think would add insult to the injury of not having children insured in this country.

So, I call on the president to reconsider this veto threat.

I call on the president to join us to insure the children of America, provide them health insurance, provide them a foundation for their education, provide them the foundation to proceed forward as good citizens, good workers in this economy, contributing members.

Health care for children makes sense for the basic prosperity of our nation.

Where Were You?

Where were you on Saturday when Army Specialist Joshua Reeves, a 26-year-old from Watkinsville, Georgia, was killed after “a bomb detonated as [his] Humvee drove down a Baghdad street”? Where were you when his wife Leslie, who had given birth to their son just the day before, “learned she was a widow” while “still in the hospital”? Where were you when his parents, James and Jean Reeves, were informed that “they had lost the oldest of their five children,” a son who “was such a good-hearted person”? Where were you?

Where were you on Monday when Army Corporal Anthony Bento, a 23-year-old from San Diego, California “was killed in a small-arms attack by insurgents” in Beiji, Iraq? Where were you when his wife Colleen, perhaps holding their 13-month-old son in her arms, was informed that her husband—who “was due home in 26 days after 13 months of time in Iraq”—had perished? Where were you when his parents, Anthony and Penny Bento, were told that their only son, a young man with a “fun-loving personality and an untamed spirit that not even the Army or war could break,” had died? Where were you?

Where were you on Tuesday when Army Staff Sergeant Zachary Tomczak, a 24-year-old from Huron, South Dakota, “died of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small-arms fire” in a suburb of Baghdad? Where were you when his wife Beth was informed that her husband, who “was on his fourth tour in Iraq,” had been fatally wounded? Where were you when his mother and father and friends heard the news that this “very, very nice young man” who “had a real love for life” breathed no more? Where were you?

Where were you when any of the more than 3,800 (and counting) American soldiers were killed in Iraq? Where were you when President Bush and a complicit Congress initially ordered men like Joshua Reeves, Anthony Bento, and Zachary Tomczak into harm’s way? Where were you when this war continued to be fought despite the many lies exposed about it and the swelling of public opposition to it? Where were you?

A Decision Against “Extra-Constitutional Authority”

Kudos to U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for issuing a ruling yesterday that repudiates the unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration. Occasionally, justice and common sense prevail.

From the Washington Post:

Patriot Act Provisions Voided

A federal judge in Oregon ruled yesterday that two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional, marking the second time in as many weeks that the anti-terrorism law has come under attack in the courts.

In a case brought by a Portland man who was wrongly detained as a terrorism suspect in 2004, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Patriot Act violates the Constitution because it “permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success,” Aiken wrote in a strongly worded 44-page opinion. “A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised.”

The ruling in Oregon follows a separate finding on Sept. 6 by a federal judge in New York, who struck down provisions allowing the FBI to obtain e-mail and telephone data from private companies without a court-issued warrant. The decision also comes amid renewed congressional debate over the government’s broad powers to conduct searches and surveillance in counterterrorism cases. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said last night that the administration “will consider all our options” in responding to yesterday’s ruling. [full text]

Anyone care to wager whether the Bush administration will give due consideration to the option of respecting the rule of law and preserving fundamental civil liberties?

Buddhists in the Spirit of Gandhi and Dr. King

Imagine it’s 1918 and you’re sitting in London having your morning tea. You pick up the newspaper. That Gandhi fellow again, stirring up the natives. He won’t last long, they’ll toss him in jail and that will shut him up. Or something. Something always happens to people like that.

Imagine it’s 1955 in the good old USA. You’re drinking instant coffee. You turn on your TV. The colored people in Montgomery, Alabama are boycotting the city buses. Some preacher named Martin Luther King is stirring them up. You bet the Communists are behind it, but it won’t last. They’ll toss those outside agitators in jail and that will be the end of it.

Do you think you will recognize the next great wave of nonviolent change when it comes?

In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, more than 800 monks, nuns and laymen played a cat-and-mouse game with some 100 soldiers who tried to stop them marching from the Mahamuni Paya Pagoda, which they had tried to enter earlier.

“We are so afraid, the soldiers are ready to fire on civilians at any time,” a man near the pagoda said, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals.

If the military responds to new protests with force, it could further isolate Myanmar from the international community. It would almost certainly put pressure on Myanmar’s top economic and diplomatic supporter, China, which is eager to burnish its international image before next year’s Olympics in Beijing.

If monks who are leading the protests are mistreated, that could outrage the predominantly Buddhist country, where clerics are revered. But if the junta backs down, it risks appearing weak and emboldening protesters, which could escalate the tension.

There are about 500,000 monks and novices in Myanmar. When faced with a similar crisis in 1988, the government brutally suppressed a student-led democracy uprising. Soldiers shot into crowds of peaceful demonstrators, killing thousands.

Foreign governments and religious leaders have urged the junta to deal peacefully with the situation. They included the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates like Suu Kyi.

There’s an old movement saying — ‘The whole world is watching.’ Keep your eyes on this one.

The Strong Arm of the Law

Here’s one more example of the cruelly misplaced priorities of the Bush administration, as detailed by Dan Bernath in AlterNet:

The Federal War on Medical Marijuana Becomes a War on Children

Automatic weapons. Check. Helicopters. Check. Dogs. Check. Bulletproof vests. Check.

You may not buy the government’s characterization of its campaign against medical marijuana patients as a “war on drugs,” but increasingly violent, militaristic tactics in recent months offer a troubling glimpse into the federal law enforcement community’s mentality: To them, this is war.

Raids on medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California on July 17 by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, often with local law enforcement officers in tow, seemed designed to send a clear signal that the feds were deliberately escalating their war on medical marijuana patients.

The enemy, then, are people like Ronnie Naulls, a Riverside medical marijuana patient who owned two of the dispensaries raided that day.

A church-going family man who used medical marijuana to ease chronic pain from injuries sustained in a 2001 car accident, Naulls already had two successful businesses — one as an IT consultant and another as a real estate property manager — when he established the Healing Nations Collective to save fellow Corona patients the hours-long drive to Los Angeles for medicine.

By all accounts, Naulls ran his collectives with exemplary scrupulousness. He maintained strict dress codes and professional standards for all employees. He paid state taxes on the dispensaries — amounting to several hundred thousand dollars a year — even when loose tax regulations allowed other dispensary owners to slip through the cracks. Profits from the dispensaries went to local and national cancer organizations.

Nevertheless, at 5:50 a.m., July 17, Naulls’ home and businesses were invaded by DEA agents armed with shotguns, automatic rifles — even helicopters. They seized everything he owned: his businesses, his property, all of his accounts.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. County child protective services came along on the raid and took Naulls’ three daughters, aged 1 to 5, and charged him and his wife with child endangerment. They weren’t even accused of breaking any state laws.

When Naulls spoke to his children in their foster home, the oldest said, “Daddy, we’re ready to come home now. We promise to be good.”

Of course they were too young to understand that they were victims of the strong-arm tactics of drug warriors whose goal was probably to make Naulls regret helping fellow patients receive their medicine in a safe, compassionate environment. Who cares if that means ruining a family financially, imprisoning the parents and traumatizing the children? [full text]

Iowa is No Garden of Eden for Higher Education

The following story by the Associated Press (via the First Amendment Center) provides further evidence that conservatives, particularly those of the religious fundamentalist persuasion, “tend to be more rigid and closed-minded [and] less tolerant of ambiguity,” not to mention metaphorically challenged:

Iowa instructor claims he was fired for Adam and Eve comments

DES MOINES, Iowa — A college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve is a fairy tale and should not be interpreted literally.

Steve Bitterman, 60, said officials at Southwestern Community College sided with a handful of students who threatened legal action over his Sept. 18 remarks in a western civilization class. He said he was fired on Sept. 20.

”I’m just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college … have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job,” Bitterman said.

”As a taxpayer, I’d like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group.”

School President Barbara Crittenden would not comment on whether Bitterman was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue.

“I can assure you that the college understands our employees’ free-speech rights,” she said. ”There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment.”

Bitterman, who taught part time at Southwestern and Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College, says he uses the Old Testament in his western civilization course and teaches it from an academic standpoint.

He said some students thought the Sept. 18 lesson belittled their religion.

”I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn’t given any more credibility than any other god,” Bitterman said. ”I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there.”

Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a fairy tale in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney.

He said the college, by firing him, ”is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the 8th century.” [full text]

Investors Profit while Seniors Suffer

Not every elder American is as fortunate as Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who remains “vigorous and sharp” at the age of 87 and is the subject of an interesting feature story in today’s New York Times Magazine. For many Americans, the golden years are tarnished by declining health and ability, to the point where they must spend the rest of their days in a nursing home. While many, if not most, of these facilities provide their residents with good care and are responsive to their needs, there are some homes that are considerably lacking in this regard. One reason for such is the increasing propensity of large private investment companies to buy up scores of nursing homes and then cut staff and costs (in defiance of established regulations) in order to turn a sizable profit. In addition, these opportunistic capitalists add insult to injury by “creating complex corporate structures that obscure who controls their nursing homes” and impede any litigation that might result from their negligence. Such brazen profiteering is reprehensible, as the following New York Times exposé by Charles Duhigg reveals:

More Profit and Less Nursing at Many Homes

Habana Health Care Center, a 150-bed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., was struggling when a group of large private investment firms purchased it and 48 other nursing homes in 2002.

The facility’s managers quickly cut costs. Within months, the number of clinical registered nurses at the home was half what it had been a year earlier, records collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate. Budgets for nursing supplies, resident activities and other services also fell, according to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The investors and operators were soon earning millions of dollars a year from their 49 homes.

Residents fared less well. Over three years, 15 at Habana died from what their families contend was negligent care in lawsuits filed in state court. Regulators repeatedly warned the home that staff levels were below mandatory minimums. When regulators visited, they found malfunctioning fire doors, unhygienic kitchens and a resident using a leg brace that was broken.

“They’ve created a hellhole,� said Vivian Hewitt, who sued Habana in 2004 when her mother died after a large bedsore became infected by feces.

Habana is one of thousands of nursing homes across the nation that large Wall Street investment companies have bought or agreed to acquire in recent years.

Those investors include prominent private equity firms like Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, better known for buying companies like Dunkin’ Donuts.

As such investors have acquired nursing homes, they have often reduced costs, increased profits and quickly resold facilities for significant gains.

But by many regulatory benchmarks, residents at those nursing homes are worse off, on average, than they were under previous owners, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data collected by government agencies from 2000 to 2006.

The Times analysis shows that, as at Habana, managers at many other nursing homes acquired by large private investors have cut expenses and staff, sometimes below minimum legal requirements.

Regulators say residents at these homes have suffered. At facilities owned by private investment firms, residents on average have fared more poorly than occupants of other homes in common problems like depression, loss of mobility and loss of ability to dress and bathe themselves, according to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The typical nursing home acquired by a large investment company before 2006 scored worse than national rates in 12 of 14 indicators that regulators use to track ailments of long-term residents. Those ailments include bedsores and easily preventable infections, as well as the need to be restrained. Before they were acquired by private investors, many of those homes scored at or above national averages in similar measurements. [full text]

Not surprisingly, these private investors remain far removed and emotionally detached from the suffering they cause. I am reminded of a classic episode of the television series M*A*S*H, which included a storyline about a pilot who was rather blithe and even cavalier about the deadly consequences of his bombing runs until he was brought face to face with some of his potential victims. It’s easy, in a way, to cause harm from a safe distance. But what’s safe (and profitable) for one group of people can be terribly devastating and costly for others. Just ask the residents of Habana Health Care Center or any like facility. Or just ask an Iraqi.