Sunday, June 7, 2009

The President's Middle East Trip, Stimulus Spending Update, The Coming Health Care Battle, Abortion Revisited

Obama in the Middle East
Like many, I did not see the President's Middle East speech live, but I did watch the recording online and have read through the transcript several times to understand the key messaging. Here are my thoughts:
It is no great secret that President Obama is one of the great speech-givers of our time. Some would rate Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan up there with him, most honest observers, I suspect, would put him ahead of those two.
The President's speech was brilliant, as usual, attacking abuses of women's rights in the middle east, the specter of terrorism and expanded territorial occupations in Palestine in one fell swoop. There have been minor criticisms from the left and the right, as well as some charges that the President is naieve for seeking a new path forward, but the criticism has been relatively minor.

So, the President gets a good grade on the speech, but that isn't what really matters. The policies that follow are what matters. And so far, every President in the past 40 years at least has tried to resolve conflicts in the Middle East, and by and large, every one has failed. I'm not yet convinced that this time will be any different.

Stimulus Spending
The latest numbers:
Money Authorized: $135.4 billion (27.1%) up $9.1 billion from last week
Money Spent: $43.7 billion (8.7%) up $7.1 billion from last week

So, it was a good week, with the government exceeding the $5.3 billion per week that it will need to spend to meet 40% spend by the end of the year and authorizing more than it spent, keeping the hopper of future spending full.

There have been some murmurs over the past week or so from the left, looking for another stimulus package (this would technically be the third packages, since a small tax-incentive package was passed while President Bush was in office.) I am not in favor of another package at this point, although I leave open the possibility if conditions change. My reasons are: #1 the current bill seems to be working (see the impact on housing starts, reduced layoffs, etc. mentioned in my prior blogs) and #2 We still have 91.3% of the existing bill left to spend, what would more funding help at this point?

I realize that 9.4% unemployment (the lastest report out on Friday) is miserable and people want fixes now, but fixing these cycles take time. I continue my projection that economic growth will return in the third quarter, but unemployment will not start falling until 2010. I don't think authorizing more money would change this -- we are already spending as fast as we responsibly can.

Sen. Kennedy's Health Care Bill
The health care debate is coming in July and it looks like Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has written the bill that will be the starting point for debate. It requires employers to provide health coverage, prohibits exclusions based on pre-existing conditions, creates a government alternative to private health plans and provides both subsidies for the poor and the requirement that people carry health coverage, with exclusions for those who can't afford it.

This is a very moderate starting point. It appears a Canada-style single-payer system is completely off the table as is the concept of separating employment from insurance coverage. That's a shame as these ideas were worthy of debate.

Democrats have a tightrope to walk on this issue. While they need no Republican votes (using reconciliation means they simply need a pure majority in the Senate), Blue Dog Democrats are very wary of a massive expansion of federal involvement in health care. What will likely emerge will probably be an improvement over the current system, but will probably be a watered-down version of total reform.

And we still haven't tackled funding. As I've been saying for months, the Democrats are going to have to come clean -- you can't do universal coverage without tax increases, period. So, let's go ahead and have that debate.

An Alternative View on Abortion
As of to highlight what I already knew, posting my views on the abortion debate spawned a bevy of e-mails and the highest site readership that we'd seen over a 3-day period since immediately after the inauguration. I won't print the nasty e-mails from both sides, but in the interest of balance, a pro-life friend of mine asked for space to provide an alternative point of view. I'm always in favor of people having all the facts, so I was happy to oblige. Here are his thoughts:

"Let me start by saying that I am not a religious person. I appreciate the support of pro-lifers across the country who are religious, but my views are driven by a moral belief, not a biblical one. My belief is simple - abortion is morally wrong. Abortion involves the killing of a human life, often for no reason other than convenience. Scientific evidence has shown that human organs develop in a fetus within the first few weeks of pregnancy and a fetus develops a beating heart within the first trimester of pregnancy. There are many reasons that a woman may wish to end a pregnancy -- difficult economic circumstances, personal troubles, etc. These are all legitimate reasons not to want to be a parent, but they do not change the fact that a human life has already been created. Trying to parse what "level" of human life is present and what rights it is entitled is a cop out. We don't allow infanticide because the baby has not fully developed into an adult human, nor should we do so prior to birth. How can a baby be legal to kill one moment and a heinous crime to kill a moment later, when it is born? Ample options exist to prevent mothers from having unwanted babies -- birth control and adoption come to mind. We should focus our efforts on making these options more widely available and caring for mothers-to-be in need, not killing humans. This is not about being pro or anti women's rights, this is about protecting the rights of ALL people born and unborn."

While I don't share these views, I respect that they are born of true belief. You already know my views on this issue, but I respect the opposition enough to present the alternative. Read both and draw your own conclusions.

And if you have thoughts on this issue that you would like shared, let me know. With knowledge comes enlightenment.

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