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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prescription Drug Abuse In Utah

A recent study by the Utah Department of Health highlights certain factors associated with prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug overdose deaths have been a plague in Utah for several years and there are many signs that the trend will continue.

In an Op-Ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, I offer three suggestions for addressing the issue on a state-wide level.

Link to Op-Ed:
http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_14764987

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is the Tea Party A Threat to the Republican Party?

With each successive year, Democrats and Republicans seem to grow in their distaste for each other. This year is no different, as the two major parties have come to blows over issues such as health care and economic recovery. At a time when crises are more than plentiful, does the emergence of the Tea Party as a third-party represent a threat to the Republican Party?

The Tea Party is an anti-tax protest movement that was spawned during the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka, the "stimulus package"). The name references the Boston Tea Party of 1773 where residents of Boston unloaded British shipments of tea into the harbor as a way of protesting taxes. The Tea Party movement represents the far right of conservative thinking and emphasizes fiscal conservatism.

Third parties such as the Tea Party can represent a danger to either of the two major parties. This danger is most often referred to as the "spoiler effect." In essence, a third party candidate draws votes away from a major party candidate but is unable to secure enough votes to be elected. The result is that the third-party candidate "spoils" the election for the major party from which votes are siphoned.

As an example, consider that 100 votes are cast in an election. Suppose that only two candidates are running and the results as follows:
    REPUBLICAN: 65
    DEMOCRAT: 45

In this scenario, the Republican candidate would win the election. However, observe what would happen if a strong third party candidate were to enter the race:
    DEMOCRAT: 45
    REPUBLICAN: 40
    THIRD-PARTY: 25

In this instance, the third-party manages to obtain only 25 votes and is unable to secure a place in office. However, note that all 25 votes were taken from the Republican who would have originally won the race. As a result of the third-party candidate, the Democrat would now win the election.

In a similar manner, the Tea Party threatens to take away votes from Republicans because its foundational principles are conservative. For example, some believe that a 2008 Senatorial election in Oregon was won by a Democrat because the Tea Party exerted its influence and drew votes away from the Republican candidate.

This situation is likely to repeat itself in the next national elections. Historically, elections swing in the opposite direction of the party to which the President belongs in the first election after his inauguration. For example, after President Johnson was elected, the Republicans gained 47 seats in the House of Representatives two years later. After President Clinton was elected the first time, the House of Representatives gained 54 Republican seats in the next election.

History suggests that Republicans can make significant gains in the November 2010 elections. National dissatisfaction with health care legislation and economic issues have Republicans primed to recapture many seats in the next election. However, as the influence of the Tea Party expands, the dangers to the Republican party grow as well. As Orrin Hatch, a Republican Senator from Utah observes, "If we fractionalize the Republican Party, we are going to see more liberals elected." In other words, what is a tremendous opportunity for Republicans may end up as an astonishing defeat due to the impact of the Tea Party.

The addition of the Tea Party to the political landscape of 2010 represents a potential threat to the Republican Party.

Which leads to another question: is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is the Health Care Bill Bipartisan?

On Sunday, March 21, 2010, the House of Representatives passed a bill which aims to revolutionize health care in America. As with any legislation, much could be said about both the pros and cons of this bill. But what of claims that the legislation has been passed with bipartisan support?

What is bipartisanship? Webster's defines bipartisanship as being "marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties." In this case, Democrats and Republicans. A bipartisan bill would therefore entail a reasonable amount of cooperation, agreement, and compromise between Democrats and Republicans.


Thus far, the bill has had a contentious history. Since the original Social Security Act of 1935, many presidents have tried to incorporate universal health care but without success. Most recently, President Clinton failed to see a bill through to completion. President Obama appears to have succeeded in this regard.

In 2008, then Senator Obama supported universal health care. Once elected, the president turned his focus to health care. Even though his approval ratings took a sharp downward turn, he pressed forward. Proposals for a bill began in March of 2009, followed by hearings in May of 2009. By the end of 2009, both the House and Senate had passed versions of the bill but could not agree amongst themselves.

Finally, on March 21, 2010, the House passed an amended form of the Senate bill. From start to finish, contention was an ever-present figure in the process.

Nancy Pelosi, current Speaker of the House, claims that the current bill has been passed with bipartisan support. She maintains that "a bill can be bipartisan without bipartisan votes" and believes that because Republicans participated in making adjustments to the final version of the bill, it is therefore a bipartisan effort. Senator John McCain disagrees, stating, "I have been part of bipartisan negotiations for many years... this was not bipartisan." The claims and arguments go back and forth.

How do the voting statistics of the current bill compare with past bills of historic consequence?


    
SOCIAL SECURITY ACT OF 1935
Democrats: 344 / 388 (89%)
Republicans: 97 / 127 (76%)

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964
Democrats: 198 / 315 (63%)
Republicans: 165 / 205 (80%)

MEDICARE / MEDICAID, SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENTS OF 1965
Democrats: 294 / 361 (81%)
Republicans: 83 / 172 (48%)

HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION AFFORDABILITY RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2010
(Pending vote in the Senate)
Democrats: 219/253 (87%)
Republicans: 0 / 212 (0%)
   
Zero votes. Zero Republicans voted for the current bill, joined with 34 other Democrats who were heavily pressured to vote otherwise.

If the bill passes in the Senate and is subsequently signed into law, the status of health care in the United States will be significantly altered. Arguments can be made that this would be for the better, just as arguments can be made that it would be for the worse. Each side has many legitimate points.

But can a bill of such consequence really be touted as bipartisan without the support of a single Republican?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

President, Interrupted

The debate over health care reform is nothing if not controversial. And where there is controversy, contention often looms nearby. A recent showdown between Fox News and President Obama illustrates just how divisive this issue has become.

At the heart of the debate is whether the government should play a role in the administration of health care. For the most part, the divide is straight down party lines: Democrats say yes, Republicans say no. The issue has become a main focus of the Obama administration even as war looms overseas and the economy struggles to stay afloat.

President Obama's use of the media has been unprecedented. Whether calling a press conference or appearing on multiple news programs in a single day, it is rarely unclear where the President stands on certain issues. A recent appearance on Fox News has introduced a new chapter in American journalism.

The current White House has never been fond of Fox News - a conservative media organization. However, the stakes involved in the current health care debate forced their hand. On March 17, 2010, President Obama tried to make an appeal to conservatives across the country. But he didn't get very far.

The interview was conducted by Fox News anchor, Bret Baier. He was frustrated that his time allotted for the interview had been cut from 25 minutes... to 20 minutes... to 15 minutes. And so he interrupted the President in the middle of his responses, time... after time... after time.

An exasperated Obama repeatedly made comments such as:

"Bret, you've got to let me finish my answers."

"I'm trying to answer your question and you keep on interrupting."

"Bret, let me finish."

But Baier was not swayed, and continued his challenges of the President's incomplete answers.

Baier claimed that he was just trying to "get the most for our buck." The incident certainly garnered a lot of attention, as major news agencies across the country piled in their criticisms. And deservedly so.

Whether Republican or Democrat, the office of the President of the United States is one that should be held in high esteem. The health care debate is a naturally controversial one. Much is at stake. Situations like these usually bring out the worst in all sides.

Civility in our public discourse has been declining for years. The media has played a substantial role in the regression, as controversy is almost always a guaranteed ratings-getter. But sometimes it is better to sacrifice ratings for integrity and civility.

Journalism is discredited to a certain extent when it exercises such uncivil behavior towards the highest office in the United States. The health care debate is no doubt a controversial issue, but the tensions involved can be eased to a large extent through the use of civil dialogue and responsible journalism.