Category Archives: National

News Flash: Budget cuts will hurt

A New York Times story from today about Republicans disagreeing with each other (something they didn’t do until they were the majority in the House) also includes tidbits that point out that budget cuts will be painful for someone. Surprised? I didn’t think so. At least we all know that in our heads. See if any of these proposals touch you anywhere else.

One Republican idea is for a program that helps local cities hire more cops. Bremerton has used that program and in doing so committed to fund the positions past the three-year grant period. We’re trying to figure out if this would mean the federal government would be making that commitment moot by taking back the commitment to the second and third years.

Republicans would also make cuts to the EPA, legal aid, energy efficiency programs and would kill AmeriCorps and any federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Obama’s proposal would cut in half money spent to help low-income Americans pay energy costs.

Do any of these ideas hurt you personally? Had the tax increases Democrats wanted (restoration of all the previous tax rates just for the top 2 percent wage earners in the country.) made it through in December, would that have hurt you? What would hurt you and America more?

Federal spending will not go down

The State of the Union speech to be delivered this (Tuesday) evening by President Obama is likely to call for a couple of things aimed at the budget.

First, he’ll join Republicans in calling for an end to earmarks.

Second, he’ll call for a five-year spending freeze on non-security discretionary spending.

On the second point, “The problem there is you’re talking about 13 percent of the federal budget,” said George Behan, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.

Dicks’ position of leadership even though he is again in the minority party is spelled out pretty well in a (Tacoma) News Tribune story by McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Rob Hotakainen.

The story also references the call for no earmarks and the problems locally (think Port Orchard) that presents.

“I (Dicks) may have done it,” he said in an interview in his office on Capitol Hill last week. “I’ve been here 34 years. I may have done the best I can.”

Behan said Dicks takes issue with the president’s apparent willingness to leave defense out of the spending cut picture. Dicks gave a speech on the House floor Tuesday (The video appears below.) referencing $78 billion in defense cuts recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Behan said that in times like these, Dicks believes cuts need to be made everywhere. “He’s as strong as anybody on defense but he doesn’t believe you should exempt the Pentagon,” Behan said.

Incidentally, Dicks still doesn’t have a copy of the president’s speech, late by Washington standards. An excerpt of the Republican response to the speech has been posted on Facebook.

Non-discretionary spending is far and away the big chunk of the federal budget, items in defense, Medicare and Social Security. An overall freeze of spending would cap all spending at whatever it is this year, but the federal government would have a tough time doing that, because spending on defense, Medicare and Social Security go up every year just by maintaining the same level of service. That’s why a freeze is essentially a cut. Cutting non-discretionary spending is harder to do, Behan said.

Also part of the president’s speech tonight is . U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, spoke to that this morning on the floor of the House.

“As we’re coming out of this very deep recession, many of us believe that one of the brightest spots on our economic horizon is our ability to develop hundreds of thousands of new jobs in this country, so that America can fulfill its detiny of leading the world in clean energy development.”

The entire speech follows, as does the one from Dicks.

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Census Says: One More Washington District

Washington is getting a 10th congressional district, which will likely be placed somewhere in Western Washington. We’re planning on having a story on the issue posted online later today and running tomorrow in print. We have also written about this before, suggesting that while the state might gain a member of Congress, Kitsap County could feasibly lose one of its two.

In the meantime, you can read the press release that follows from the Secretary of State’s office.
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Examining McKenna’s Motives

Two local writers dive into the motives of state Attorney General Rob McKenna in suing the federal government over the health care bill just passed. I think they both do a pretty good job, with the caveat that each is assuming there is something beyond a legitimate belief that the health care reform just passed is unconstitutional. If McKenna believes the reform law is unconstitutional, you could rightly ask what choice he had but to challenge it.

The writers, though, are probably right in making that assumption. We can never assume that meeting constitutional muster is the only issue at play in constitutional issues. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes said:

“We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is . . . “

He was also quoted by fellow justice William O. Douglas as saying 90 percent of the decisions made at the Supreme Court are based on emotions, that justices find ways in the document to back up their beliefs.

McKenna, though, seems at first blush to be the one AG in this fight with the most to lose by sticking his neck out. He’s a Republican who hasn’t been demonized by the left and is seen as a legitimate contender for the governor’s office. And yet the state is more left than right, and I think it’s not a bad bet to assume that most Washingtonians favor health care reform generally.

Let’s do assume again, as most of us have, that McKenna wants to be Washington’s governor. David Brewster at offers this possibility:

Judging by the over-the-top reaction by local Democrats — talking about defunding his suit, slicing away A-G authority, even a recall — maybe McKenna was engaging in some “performance art.” That form of political craftiness consists of doing something so that your opponents fall right into the trap of extreme behavior, making you look sensible.

Then Peter Callaghan at the (Tacoma) News Tribune reminds us that to win in a November 2012 governor election, he’d first have to make it to that election, qualifying as one of the top-two vote getters in the primary. A move like this at least sets him apart from other Republicans. And if he hadn’t done it:

Had McKenna not joined the litigation he would have been savaged by Republicans and become a target of conservative talk radio. In the short term, it doesn’t hurt him much to instead be savaged by Democrats. They take their own risks by using budget maneuvers to block Mc-Kenna’s participation in the suit.

And then of course, Callaghan reveals the ultimate truth in all of this:

Anyone who claims to know how it will play in 2012 is making it up.

Health Care History Footnote

If you have a library card it gives you access to the New York Times archives. In doing some research for a personal project, I found a story from Oct. 14, 1931 that included this paragraph:

Dr. William H. Walsh, hospital consultant from Chicago, said that it has become the practice to overcharge the pay patients in order to meet the cost of the charity cases. “Nevertheless,” he said, “neither the average individual nor the average family can afford to pay the prices now charged for adequate medical and hospital care, and on the other hand, neither the average physician nor the average nurse appears to earn an income from his or her professional services above that earned by others in related professions requiring the same scholastic prepration.” He recommended that patients should pay only the fair cost and that the funds to carry the cost of part-time and charity patients should be made up from endowments or by the local government.

Health Care War Continues in Washington

On Tuesday the president signed the health care reform bill, which to some is a BFD, and I’m not talking about fire departments. Locals were talking about it. Also on Tuesday some state attorneys general, including ours, joined in a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of some of the bill’s provisions.

In response the Legislature might write into the budget a provision limiting the AG’s ability to offer such a lawsuit.

It all made for interesting radio on KIRO Tuesday. State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Gov. Chris Gregoire and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, were all on the Dave Ross show. McKenna made a repeat appearance on the Dori Monson show.

If you’ve got a few minutes, and if you’re here you clearly do, listen to the conversations. They’re available after the jump.

McKenna is clearly in the position that elements of the bill are unconstitutional, and he goes to some length to argue why. Gregoire and Inslee both say his interpretation is wrong, but spend more time talking about what impact it would have if McKenna’s case is ultimately upheld in the courts. If you’re a fan of the bill, that should worry you.

The U.S. Justice Department plans to defend the bill, so it isn’t as if no one thinks the bill passes muster. The problem comes, though, because the attorneys general could win. McKenna argues that they’re only going after particular elements of the bill, but Inslee and others argue that the elements they’re going after are pins that hold the whole thing up. Kill the mandate and you’ve essentially killed the bill.

The next question, then, is do Republicans really want to win this fight? If they do, will it give Democrats the opening to put forward something closer to a single-payer system? Dave Ross argues that if you turn this whole thing into a tax, rather than a forced entry into the market, you probably don’t get the same constitutional debate. At least those kind of cases have been argued and settled in the past.

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A War Within Washington on Health Care Reform

The argument between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna is something we probably could have predicted in January.

McKenna was in Kitsap County and stopped by our offices. We asked him about health care reform and he very pointedly brought up the very issue that on Monday became part of the national conversation. He’s joining other states in suing the federal government, arguing that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to mandate that someone buy something.

Since his announcement the governor, a former attorney general, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidleer and U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, have all come out critical of McKenna’s decision.

The was among the first to argue that this fight will prevent McKenna from being governor in 2012, saying he was difficult to criticize up to this point.

“Democrats will now try to tar him with the same brush they’ve used to dispatch every GOP gubernatorial candidate for the past 25 years. And it looks like McKenna has just given them at least some of the paint they’ll need.”

The official statements follow the jump. There will probably be many more.
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Newsweek Credits Inslee Deal for Saving Health Care Reform Bill

Much of the narrative surrounding the health care bill was that a group of pro-life House members were key in saving the legislation. Newsweek writer Jonathan Alter reported that what U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and his group dealing with reimbursement rates was “more pivotal to the outcome of the health care bill in the House than Bart Stupak and other anti-abortion Democrats.”

From Alter’s piece:

” So it was no surprise that agreement by President Obama to re-state the obvious in an executive order (that the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortion was still in effect) would be enough to secure Stupak’s vote.

But if the little known regional disputes hadn’t been resolved there would have been no bill.”

We received a press release from Inslee’s office after 3 p.m. Saturday about the deal, which was finalized about 12 hours earlier. The next morning we received updates that the House had the votes. Inslee’s press release suggests that the agreement was a key one, but it doesn’t suggest, as Alter does, that it was “the” key one.

Inslee’s release follows the jump.
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Do Lawyers Who Act Constitutionally Hate America?

There is what I consider a fascinating argument going on within the pages of the Washington Post and beyond over nine Justice Department attorneys and who they represented before they were asked to do their current jobs.

To lay some context for my fascination with the subject, know that a certain person I know quite well was once a police officer and has an embedded hatred for defense attorneys. He really isn’t rational about it at all, but given what he’s seen it’s understandable why he might be bitter.

This also falls the week after it was pointed out in a “Meet the Press” segment that the arguments about reconciliation on health care reform are the same ones we’ve heard before, though the arguers have switched places. The conversation about these attorneys is fascinating on its own, but in that greater context it is even more interesting to me. Of course, one of the arguers in this case asks the question, “Where was the moral outrage . . . ?”

The WaPo argument didn’t start with where I’m sending you, but it’s a good place to begin for the uninitiated.

Marc A. Thiessen asked the following question in his column, published Monday:

“Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.”

He asks that question because nine Justice Department lawyers once represented people accused of terrorism. Two were known, but Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t name the other seven until Fox News told everyone.

Thiessen thinks Americans still have the right to know how these attorneys are working within Justice. He writes:

“Americans have a right to this information. One lawyer in the National Security Division of Holder’s Justice Department, Jennifer Daskal, has written that any terrorist not charged with a crime ‘should be released from Guantanamo’s system of indefinite detention’ even though ‘at least some of these men may … join the battlefield to fight U.S. soldiers and our allies another day.’ Should a lawyer who advocates setting terrorists free, knowing they may go on to kill Americans, have any role in setting U.S. detention policy? My hunch is that most Americans would say no.”

What most Americans would say, however, might be unconstitutional. Eugene Robinson takes serious issue with the organization Keep America Safe, which ran the ad that appears at the bottom of this post asking to know the identity of the “Al Queda Seven.” Robinson wrote:

“A group that Liz Cheney co-chairs, called Keep America Safe, has spent the past two weeks scurrilously attacking the Justice Department officials because they ‘represented or advocated for terrorist detainees’ before joining the administration. In other words, they did what lawyers are supposed to do in this country: ensure that even the most unpopular defendants have adequate legal representation and that the government obeys the law. “

Robinson quotes conservative attorneys, including Kenneth Starr, who think what Liz Cheney and the group are doing is “maligning the patriotism” of attorneys who have taken positions on points that get arguments from both sides. Robinson argues that’s the whole idea:

“But maligning is apparently the whole point of the exercise. The smear campaign by Cheney, et al., has nothing to do with keeping America safe. It can only be an attempt to inflict political damage on the Obama administration by portraying the Justice Department as somehow ‘soft’ on terrorism. Even by Washington’s low standards, this is unbelievably dishonest and dishonorable.”

Robinson hosted an online discussion of the issue Tuesday and the rhetoric on both sides was just as, if not more, fiery:

San Francisco, California: Would you feel the same way if the Bush Justice Department hired lawyers who helped defend members of the KKK? If not, you’re a hypocrite. No need to respond, I know the answer because I occasionally read your columns, plus I’ve seen your act on MSNBC. Yes, I am one of the six people who has actually watches MSNBC from time to time.

Eugene Robinson: Keep watching. No, it wouldn’t bother me if Justice hired a lawyer who represented KKK members. They deserve legal counsel too.

Someone later pointed out to “San Francisco” that it was the ACLU that defended the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. “Yeah, that’s right. Did your head just explode?”

Sleeping Through the Health Care Reform Debate

Chris Henry’s story about the search for shuteye actually opens a door to talk about health care reform.

Late last year I finally decided to have the test done for sleep apnea. I’ve pretty much been sleepy since 1976, when I started high school. I attributed it then to, of all things, not getting enough sleep. Go figure. I was attending early morning seminary (Religion classes for LDS high schoolers) before school every day, but was going to bed at normal times.

Where it really became pronounced was after I quit working night crew (Midnight-8 a.m.). I went on a Mormon church mission to Chile (Concepcion, as it turns out. I’ve got dear friends I’m really worried about.) and never did seem to adjust to a regular sleep schedule. At least that’s what I thought, that those months on the night crew messed up my body’s sleep schedule. All through college and beyond I’ve battled pretty much daily with the urge to fall asleep at my desk, or at city council meetings, or in class, at church. Oddly, I’m fine when I drive, assuming I get a few hours sleep the night before.

The reasons I never suspected apnea were because I had lifestyle issues I could point to, I don’t remember anyone talking about it until the 1990s, and also because I didn’t start snoring until I became overweight. I had a friend who had it, but he always snored loud enough to frighten cats.

When I got married my wife said that once in a while when I sleep I will go silent, then make that noise when I remember to breathe. There’s also the issue of the legs kicking. Those are apnea signs.

Last year I had another friend who got a CPAP machine and said the difference was amazing. So I decided to finally talk to my doctor about it. She told me that people who get treated for sleep disorders and have them solved with something like CPAP find the change to be “transformative.” I liked the sound of that.

The problem was I was changing insurance coverage. To keep the same traditional plan I had it was going to represent a huge pay cut. So I opted for what President George W. Bush touted, the health care savings account.

The savings account system basically means instead of paying huge premiums I pay a much smaller one and set as much as I want (up to federal limits) aside to pay for medical costs. My insurance company pays nothing (save some discount on prescriptions, and physicals and other preventative things) until I reach $2,800 per event or $3,500 overall. After that it’s all free. The positive with the account is that if we spend nothing this year (Like that’s going to happen.) We keep it all. The potential negative, though, is we will avoid going to the doctor unless it’s pretty darned necessary.

Then again, maybe that’s not a negative. I decided to not do the sleep test, because it would have blown through my entire deductible. We kind of like the idea of having money in the bank next year, which would mean less need to set as much money aside for health care. Nothing might drive the health care cost down more than people opting to be cautious about spending money on it.

The downside is if this is really a serious issue. Instead of getting this checked out further, I’m risking lifestyle changes I should be making anyway will solve the problem. I’ve lost some weight and will continue doing so for quite a while. I’m doing better at getting to bed at an earlier hour. Still, it’s tough to not doze off during some meetings on the sixth floor of the Norm Dicks Government Center, or in the Port Blakely room at the county administration building. There are witnesses.

It was not an easy decision to wait on the sleep test. For a while I was getting pretty excited about the prospect of living life on sound sleep, or finding out that I didn’t have a problem that wasn’t self-inflicted.

The question, one that we’ll be asking for years, is what the cost to society is for having people avoid treatment, to have people at less than their optimum health? I’m confident that my work has been fine. Anything I’ve missed in this job hasn’t been because I was literally asleep. But I know vigor, which I’ve mostly attributed to the right dose of Diet Coke. How much more productive might I be, I wonder, if the right amount and kinds of sleep became a regular thing for me. I’d like to find out.

For now, I’m willing to wait.

Slow Blog Ahead

I spent the morning hanging out with Tim Sheldon in Shelton and Olympia and back to Shelton. I’ll have a story later on the man with two elected offices.

The blogging will be light this week. By “light” I probably mean “there will be none until Friday.” I’m planning to attend a council meeting Wednesday night, but besides that will be away from my desk until Friday. See you then.

In the meantime, how about those chickens?

Ed Friedrich wrote this weekend about the number of jobs locally created by the economic stimulus. Some commenters were critical of the story, because he reported that people got hired. So, if we report that the Twins beat the Mariners, does that make us Twins fans? If you believe that, then here’s more fodder for you. Earlier in the “Kitsap Reader” section above I posted a link to this column, which reports economic analysts saying the stimulus worked.

Also of note was Chris Dunagan’s piece on the potential environmental implications of Norm Dicks becoming chair of Defense appropriations. It is possible he’ll have more environmental clout for this district by giving up the chairmanship of Interior.

Raised in Bremerton, But Seeking to Dethrone McCain in Arizona

A man who grew up in Bremerton and now lives in Arizona is running as an independent against U.S. Sen. John McCain, who seeks re-election. You remember McCain, right? He’s a Mavericky Republican who ran for president as Sarah Palin’s runningmate, was a POW and has a wife and daughter who support gay marriage even though he doesn’t.

Ian Gilyeat, should he be successful, would be the third independent in the Senate. The other two, Joe Liebermann of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with the Democrats, though Lieberman has bucked the party often. Three Republicans are challenging McCain, as are three Democrats and one other independent.

Gilyeat explains his independence on his site:

“It is my purpose as the next U.S. Senator from Arizona to protect our most fundamental principles and values; independence, self-reliance and Constitutional positions. I will do this by maintaining an independent position from political parties, special interest groups and favored lobbyists. The independent position is needed in Congress (in the Senate and House of Representatives) in order to freely work every major debate from a position of principle and moral certitude without being burdened by the party line.”

Washington Could Get Another Rep in Congress

David Ammons, from the Secretary of State’s office, has the goods on the notion that Washington has grown enough that it might get a 10th member of Congress starting in 2013.

There is also information there about how Washington realigns its districts. Hint: It’s not the Legislature. Well, technically maybe it is, but in reality it isn’t, unless the Legislature votes “thumbs down,” which could be the next big scandal if it did. So it probably won’t.

Three Months Later and the Health Care Questions Continue, with Smaller Crowds

In August two separate health care town hall events (here and here) hosted by our congressmen drew about 1,100 people each.

A week ago about 35 people met in an Olympic College conference room for an announced “Health Care Forum.”

Perhaps this is evidence that the attraction for health care shout fests has diminished. Maybe it’s that it wasn’t federal electeds taking the questions. Maybe it’s both. Nonetheless, for anyone looking for basic information from people well versed on what’s going on nationally and in Washington, there was meat to chew on at all three events.

About half of the people I saw last Monday were either people easily recognized within Democratic Party circles or a few from the right whose agenda was to question the entire health care reform enterprise. In other words, at least half of the people there to get information were hoping to dish some out as well, even if it ended with a question mark. That much or more was probably true in August as well, even if the numbers were greater.

To borrow a line from Seinfeld and take it out of its context, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Even if the questions “How are you going to pay for this?” or “What in the Constitution gives you the power to do this?” or “Will there be controls on prescription drug costs?” are politically motivated, they do need to be answered.

Clearly those in charge of the Monday meeting’s agenda had their own leanings, which would have been obvious even without the blue-sheet handout titled, “The Health Care Status Quo: Why Washington Needs Health Care Reform.” We expect, or at least we should, expect our elected officials to have views on things that will lean one way or another.

State Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, (herself a registered nurse) and state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-SeaTac, were there to answer questions, and for the most part they did just that. State Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, led the conversation and on the questions that might have been politically motivated she did a good job of balancing them.

For those who had questions that didn’t seem to include political agendas, even if they might have had personal ones, there was information to be had. It might have been news that the individual mandate that could require everyone to have health insurance is there in exchange for the requirement that insurance companies do away with pre-existing conditions, or that cuts to Medicare are from the upgraded version called Medicare Advantage.

The question of who wins and who loses with health care reform was a great one, though it appeared to be difficult to answer for representatives who support reform. The winning part they have down. The losers? Even in the rosiest scenarios there are some who lose, and it’s probably worth acknowledging who they are.

The woman who earlier asked where the constitutional authority was would have, I think, preferred the kind of town hall Norm Dicks had in August. She grumbled from the back of the room for the entire event until someone close to her told her to “shut up.” She left early, exiting the room telling the legislators, “You took an oath and you broke it,” as she walked out the door.

Given the smaller, more polite crowd at last week’s event, though, her comment stood out more than it would have three months ago.

Bainbridge Company Gets Huge Federal Grant for Texas Project

A reader who goes by Oldsalt in the comments section has had a little to say about the Bainbridge Island grant for the boat, the same one McCain had something to say about. Oldsalt posted a link to a story about some place in Michigan not getting a Department of Energy carbon sequestration grant. Down the way, though, the story got interesting for Kitsap locals. From the story:

The DOE selected three other sites: Columbus, Ohio; Birmingham, Ala.; and Bainbridge Island, Wash

What the . . .? How much carbon is there to capture on Bainbridge? (Begin the jokes now.)

I did a search on the DOE Web site and found a press release from Dec. 4 announcing $3 billion in carbon capture and sequestration grants, an announcement that included this:

Summit Texas Clean Energy, LLC (Bainbridge Island, WA)
Project Title: Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP)
Summit Texas Clean Energy, LLC will integrate Siemens gasification and power generating technology with carbon capture technologies to effectively capture 90% of the carbon dioxide (2.7 million metric tons per year) at a 400 megawatt plant to be built near Midland-Odessa, TX. The captured CO2 will be treated, compressed and then transported by CO2 pipeline to oilfields in the Permian Basin of West Texas, for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. The Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) at the University of Texas will design and assure compliance with a state-of-the-art CO2 sequestration monitoring, verification and accounting program. (DOE share: $350 million; project duration: 8 years)

Eric Gjelde is listed as the registered agent for Summit Texas Clean Energy in the Washington Secretary of State’s site dealing with corporations. The company is affiliated with Summit Power Group, also of Bainbridge Island.