Massa Press Conference

Today's Massa press conference covered the State of the Union, the primaries, earmarks, S-CHIP and defense spending. Massa began by saying that the real story of the primaries is the increase in voter turnout by Independent and Democratic voters.  He characterized the Republican vote as "suppressed", and looks forward to seeing energized voters on Super Tuesday.

Turning to the State of the Union, Massa noted that one of major commitments by the President was to veto any legislation that does not cut taxpayer-funded earmarks in half.  Massa pointed out the difference between that position, which was echoed by Randy Kuhl in a press release on Monday, with the announcement the next day of a grant for the town of Erwin, as well as Kuhl's historic position on earmarks: "In the last Congressional campaign, Congressman Kuhl's primary reason and justification for re-election was his ability to bring home earmarks."

Massa said that the "irresponsible borrowing and spending by the government has driven this country to the brink of an economic disaster we face today."  Referring to past examples of political courage, such as JFK's, Massa noted that "to be part of the problem and then say it should be eradicated [...] is not political courage."  Massa's position is that every Congressional district should have a fair share of federal money brought back, but it should be done through the budget process.

I asked Massa whether he had any concerns about the stimulus package, and lack of pay-as-you-go financing. 

Borrowing $150 billion from the Chinese to buy $150 billion of Chinese-manufactured goods stimulates the Chinese economy.  In addition to getting cash to the economy, we need to engage in a FDR-style infrastructure building package nationwide.  We need to tie stimulus to living wage jobs that produce something for the public good.
Massa said that pay-go financing for the stimulus package should come from "tax subsidies for the ultra wealthy."  Massa noted that the middle class has seen taxes go up, so he prefers to call the Bush tax cuts "tax subsidies".  "I don't know anyone who hasn't seen their taxes go up."

On S-CHIP, Massa defended his desire to debate Kuhl: 

There's nothing wrong with a public official debating this key issue.  It is not a trick or a ploy, I'm not trying to be cute.  He's going to be here on recess doing the business of the district, and there are thousands of children in the district -- why won't he debate this issue?
Referring to Kuhl's suggestion that Massa read the bill, Massa said he's read it many times.

I asked Massa another question about the military budget.  Since our defense spending is more than the rest of the world combined, I wonder where he thought it should be cut, and, specifically, if we should reduce our commitments in wealthy countries like South Korea and Germany.

It is true that we are spending more on our military than every other country combined.  We are not spending it smartly.  We have committed $2.5 trillion to the occupation in Iraq and received no increase in our national security and no increase in our economic security. 
Massa agreed that garrisons in South Korea and Germany need to be scaled down or eliminated.  He also pointed to overseas bases, such as those in Japan, Kuwait and the United Kingdom, saying "this network of overseas bases needs to be evaluated."  Massa added that there was some more important information about the military:

This administration has consumed our military.  President Clinton turned over 30 fully-operational and deployable Army brigades.  [...]  Today we have in that category, zero.  Not a single deployable Army brigade exists outside of Iraq.  Those in Iraq do not meet pre-Iraq standards.
Massa pointed to the recent grounding of half of the F-15s in service, and to the fact that the Navy is a fraction of the size it was when the Bush Administration came to office as other indicators of problems with the military.  "Across the board, our military is being mishandled and misused.  We need people in Congress and in the White House who understand that."

I was the only person on the call who asked questions -- I think there was at least one other who was not identified.


OK - I want the straight story on this S-Chip. I have been too busy to research this myself, but will the program's expansion really start to cover children whose parents should have the resources to purchase health insurance or not? Is this unnecessary spending or helping the needy? No spin please. As Jack Webb used to say on Dragnet - "just the facts".

The short answer is that states set the S-CHIP eligibility limit.

New York wants to make it 400% of the poverty line. That's somewhere near $80,000.

Here's the NY Eligibility Matrix:

Note that those above poverty line pay a token premium, up to $27/month/family. I assume higher incomes would pay more if the 400% goes into effect.

So you are telling me that this is a much more complicated question than either Randy or Eric will admit.

I spend almost $7,000 per year on health dental and vision, plus I dump another $2,600 in a flex-care plan. I could spend much less money if I paid for only my wife and myself, and put my two remaining dependents on S-Chip.

Depending on the premiums they charge, and how they determine "income" I would almost feel like I would be stealing money from the state.

If I were a selfish person, I would enjoy that almost as much as the tax rebate I will be receiving. But I don't really need either to get by, even though it would be nice to have the money.

So the question remains, is the expansion being done to help kids or buy votes?

I can't answer that question "factually" or "objectively". I think the S-CHIP expansion was envisioned as a way to allow states to reach the goal of having every child covered by some form of insurance. So, yes, it was to "help kids", though voters who have their children insured with the program are more likely to be grateful, obviously.

But let me add another fact to the mix: There aren't that many states with the goal of 100% insured children at 250% of poverty (the current limit). New York is one of the few (I know Minnesota and Wisconsin are others. Forget about the South and the West). As I understand it, most of the money will go to states that don't fund their S-CHIP programs to the current level. So the whole issue about insuring "rich people" is limited to one state, New York.

The reason for that is simple. If your goal is to get all children insured -- which is a goal articulated by both Pataki and Spitzer's -- you've got to raise the eligibility requirements, because there are going to be cases of parents who can't (or won't) afford insurance for their children. These parents are going to fall into a number of categories. Greedy assholes is probably one category. Clueless morons is another. But there are probably some who, for example, have a high income but a lot of debt, who also have uninsured children. The bottom line is that, if your goal is to insure all children, you're going to benefit some rotten apple parents, at 100%, 250% or 400% of poverty line.

The argument against insuring all children is that it gives parents a dis-incentive to buy their own insurance. The argument for it is that we shouldn't be penalizing kids having stupid, lazy or selfish parents. I think there are points on both sides, but in general I'm for insuring all children, because they can't choose their parents.

All "welfare" policy that involves children walks a tightrope. On one side of the tightrope is our duty to children, who are innocent. The other side is our need to have parents live up to their responsibilities. Depending on your party affiliation and ideology, you're going to draw the line at a different place. Maybe S-CHIP draws the line a little more generously than you might think is right, but I do think that "help kids" is the real intent of the bill.

SCHIP brings federal money back to the states to cover the kids you both are describing. Kids having reliable access to healthcare is cheaper than relaying on "crisis" care. So it seems this program would qualify as an economic stimulus, while saving money overall.

I agree. Insuring kids has a huge potential social (and financial) payback because healthy kids attend more school and therefore have a better chance at becoming a contributing member of society.

What can be done to force parents above a certain income level to purchase insurance for their kids?

If you drive a car, you must have insurance. If you have a mortgage you must have insurance. If you are in certain professions you must have insurance. Why can't we force the issue, especially with the "greedy assholes" and "clueless morons"? Let's set an income level and make people supply insurance for their kids. The rest can be covered by programs like S-Chip.

Yes, but that income level would be well over 400% of the poverty line.

I think Obama is right that most people who are uninsured want insurance and can't afford it. There are few who can afford it and don't get it, and they're probably greedy and/or clueless. But they're few and far between, because the social penalty for not being insured is huge: bankruptcy from emergency medical bills.

I am very interested in how this turns out - If the expanded S-Chip passes I will check my options and let you know how much of my insurance costs the state will pick up. I doubt I would take advantage, but am still interested in how much it could save me.

I agree that the purpose of S-CHIP is to help children, and I also agree with Bush that any expansion of it to higher income levels moves us closer to a single-payer universal health insurance system -- you know, like the commies have. I believe that the Democrats intend that as well. And I applaud them for it.

Having always had employer-provided private health insurance, I've never thought about it's cost, except during contract negotiations when it was always an issue. The point is, I and a lot of people, get their insurance at work and don't have to take after-tax dollars to buy it. Paying $10,00-12,000 for health insurance seems to me to be a significant burden, even for a family of four earning $80,000. At a minimum, a family should be able to deduct all that they pay for health insurance from their state and federal income taxes.

I agree 100%. It's a simple middle-class tax benefit that encourages a social good.