Writings and observations

During President Barack Obama’s state of the union speech last night, he spoke (near its beginning) about health care, and included some references to changes that might cut costs. There was this significant line, for example: “We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital; they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.”

This, and a couple of other bits, were actually a specific reference – though Obama didn’t explicitly say so – to Oregon, whose Governor John Kitzhaber was sitting in the first lady’s guest area. Oregon’s health care experiment, centered on the use of regional community care organizations, probably is the most advanced such effort in the country, aimed at reducing costs while keeping medical care as good or better.

It isn’t a something-for-nothing, free lunch proposition; rather, it’s better organization of resources.

It got some good national promotion in a recent article in the Washington Post, which probably deserves some additional reading by policy makers around the country.

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carlson CHRIS


In his wonderfully entertaining memoir, Joe Miller tells an incredible story about Bethine Church, the widow of Idaho’s four-term Democratic U.S. Senator Frank Church.

Miller was for 40 years a top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but early in his career he was paid a then princely sum of $25,000 a year by the United Steelworkers of America to organize and run campaigns for the U.S. Senate. In his first outing, 1956, one of his winning “horses” was a young, political neophyte, Boise attorney Frank Church.

What Miller did not know but came to know, was the Senate and Idaho were getting two for the price of one. Had Miller known that he might not have crossed Bethine the first time he met her.

In his book Miller tells about flying to Boise shortly after Church had won a narrow victory in the August 6th primary over former U.S. Senator Glen Taylor, the singing cowboy. He recounts meeting in U.S. District Judge Chase Clark’s home. Judge Clark was Bethine’s father, Frank’s father-in-law, a former governor of Idaho and as Miller puts it “a shrewd old hand in Idaho politics.”

Also present was the Democratic national committeeman, Harry Wall, a movie theater owner from Lewiston; the state party chairman, George Greenfield; attorney Carl Burke, Church’s boyhood chum who managed all of the campaigns; and, Bethine.

Miller admits he was not happy to have the candidate’s wife sitting in the strategy session. His fear was self-fulfilling. In presenting the media strategy Miller emphasized the then somewhat unusual marketing of a candidate through large billboards across the state. Miller recalls Bethine firmly saying, “Democrats do not use billboards in Idaho,” adding “they are absolutely out.”

Miller shot back he had not come from Seattle at his expense to take part in amateur night. The battle lines were drawn and it was about to get nasty, but Judge Clark salvaged the evening by suggesting to Bethine that her mother needed her help in the kitchen. Glaring at Miller, Bethine obeyed her father’s suggestion and departed.

As Miller put it, “the billboards stayed in the budget, and Bethine stayed in the kitchen.” Not for long, my friend. Not for long.

Hailing from the most prominent Democratic family in Idaho, Bethine had politics in her blood. It was part of her DNA. Many a Democrat across the state could recall meetings, J-J banquets or fund-raisers where Bethine would lead Senator Church into the room, greeting everyone by their first name.

“Frank, you remember John Collins from Malad,” she would say, and the Senator would greet John like a long-lost brother. “Well of course I do. John, how are you?” Odds were he did not recall, but John never knew the difference. Anyone who was around the two knew who the best campaigner was, and the better politician.

Thus, she ably filled the role of chief counselor to Church, and doubled his reach as she developed a network of friends, colleagues, and other politically active women across Idaho and in Washington, D.C. It is virtually impossible to think of one without thinking of the other. They were and are absolutely inseparable.

Newly married to the future senator after he came back from World War II service in China (where he won a Bronze Star), she refused to let him succumb to a deadly cancer, literally willing him to live. Having received a new lease on life gave both of them a marvelous perspective on what really matters in this world.

Nineteen years after the senator’s death in 1984 she published a memoir of their years together entitled A Lifelong Affair: My Passion for People and Politics. No truer words have been written.

On February 17th she turns 90 and will deservedly bask in the love and joy of her many friends, all grateful for the time and talents Idaho’s third senator devoted to the people of this great state. Happy birthday, Bethine.

Chris Carlson is a writer at Medimont, Idaho.

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IDAHO INSURANCE EXCHANGE BREAKTHROUGH? It has the feel of a fig leaf, but it could generate the Idaho House votes that the health insurance exchange proposal backed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter wouldn’t get and might need. It is a “trailer bill” (meant to be an addendum) to the exchange bill working its way through the Senate, backed by a coalition of Republican freshman led by Representative Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. It seems to include some additional oversight, including legislative participation on the panel governing the exchange. It doesn’t sound as it it will change much, but it may provide enough rationale to draw more votes on the closely-split issue. (This also has the potential to turn Malek into a pivotal figure in the House.)

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS The Washington House Judiciary Committee is considering – and preparing to act on – a bunch of gun-related measures, including background check and safety measures, and some aimed at juveniles. One coming up today: “House Bill 1096 aims to punish juveniles for carrying guns before they have the chance to use them in a serious crime, said Democratic Rep. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw, who is sponsoring the bill. Right now, juveniles can carry guns and receive no jail time the first four times they are caught …”

Read more here: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/politics/#storylink=cpy

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First Take

trahant MARK


Let’s jump right to the big questions: Did President Barack Obama’s State of the Union do anything to resolve the deep differences in philosophy and policy on Capitol Hill? Was there any common ground? Did he lay the groundwork to find enough votes to stop the sequester, or better, to find a real budget solution?

I don’t think so. What’s more: I don’t think there is agreement on the nature of the problem, let alone any of the solutions.

As far as speeches go, it was a good one. The president pitched his case for where the country should go in terms of both philosophy and policy. My favorite line was this one: “A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

This line should be inspirational: “A growing economy … must be the North Star that guides our efforts.” Yet it represents the deep divisions in U.S. politics because a growing economy cannot occur in an era of austerity.

A great example of this divide surfaced when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave the Republican response. “Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012,” Rubio said. “But if we can get the economy to grow at just 4 percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion dollars over the next decade.”

But if you dig into the numbers, there is no evidence for that kind of statement. Economists for the Bipartisan Policy Center say the sequester will cost over a million jobs in 2013 and 2104. The total economy will likely drop from north of 4 percent GDP — the number Rubio used — to under 2 percent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says it will be worse. He says a sequester will send the country into a new recession.

But even the nature of the sequester is a dividing line. The president put it this way: “In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, and energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.”

But for Rubio and many of his Republican colleagues the sequester is only about one thing, the military, calling them the “president’s devastating cuts to our military.”

So where does Indian Country fit into this narrative?

In Congress there is much talk of “pain” ahead. We are three weeks away from the sequester and about a month away from the expiration of the budget, last year’s Continuing Resolution. Indian Country will be the first to feel that pain with lost jobs or insufficient health care dollars.

Last weekend on ABC’s This Week, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said that he thought the sequester was inevitable. The best hope was that it would then be resolved three weeks later when Congress will have to cobble some sort of budget together (or the government will shut down). Another Oklahoma Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn, said Wednesday morning that the pain of sequester will change minds.

And to make it more complicated there are no longer two parties in this dance. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul gave the Tea Party response. He said the sequester doesn’t go far enough. “Not only should the sequester stand; many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America’s credit rating.”

That is the Republican strategy at this point: Go ahead and begin the sequester. Then when all hell breaks loose, negotiate.

Democrats are pushing two plans. Democrats in the House are pressing ahead with a plan of targeted budget cuts, equal to the sequester. But that plan is unlikely to even get a vote. A similar Senate effort will be released the last week of February. If that bill can get through the Senate, then, perhaps, it can be used as a template for a deal with the House. But getting a bill through the Senate will not be easy. There’s a reason there has not been a budget resolution from that body; the votes were not there.

The president said: “Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity.”

This is the key challenge. The country has to grow, it cannot just pretend that austerity is a solution. That means investing in programs that matter: Head start, schools, higher education, job training, programs that will deliver jobs in the future. The country must also deliver on the promises already made whether it’s the health care promised in treaties or Medicare for seniors.

A growing economy must be the North Star that guides these efforts. The country cannot afford to shrink.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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