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Health care reform will save lives and money

I usually stick to local and state issues, but, what the hell, let's wade into health care reform. Everyone else is.

A perfect piece of legislation, it isn't. Then again, that could be said about most of the bills passed in Washington. And Albany. And City Hall, for that matter.

That said, the big picture I take away from its passage of the health care reform bill is that it will save money and lives.

A study by the Harvard Medical School concluded last year that 45,000 Americans die annually because of a lack of health insurance, and thus, extending coverage to 32 million Americans is going save tens of thousands of lives every year.

Gee, that strikes me as pro-life.

Meanwhile, the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the reform bill over the next decade would cut the federal deficit by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade.

You can argue whether the savings could or should have been greater, but $138 billion is not chump change.

There are a ton of details one can argue, but for me, the view from 10,000 feet isn't bad. Certainly better than the status quo, and let's face it, that's what we were looking at. The Republicans, when they in charge, never made a serious stab at health care reform. They were too busy starting wars, wire tapping and water boarding people, and turning Bill Clinton's surplus into a cavernous deficit.

There was room for honest disagreement over what health care reform should have entailed, but let's face it, the Republicans were never serious about an honest debate. It's been all about obstruction.

That's why I get a chuckle when I read Monday that John McCain - the flip-flopping fossil who gave us Sarah Palin -- said passage of health care reform means no cooperation from the GOP for at least the rest of this year.  

To quote the song lyric -- you can't lose what you never had.

Tell us about it, Muddy.

I see one clear benefit from health care reform. Obama and the Democrats have stopped pussy footing around. Or are at least wisening up.

Already, there's talk about pressing ahead with reform of the regulations governing the nation's financial system. That reform enjoys widespread public support and which will likely result in the GOP digging in and siding the the bankers and Wall Street investment houses. That won't go over well with the public, which is why the Republicans would like to keep talking about health care reform.

They'll keep yelling about socialism and other such nonsense. I'm reading a biography of Franklin Roosevelt and it's striking how the rhetoric emanating from the right hasn't changed much over the years. Back then, social security equated socialism. Now, it's health care reform. Race baiting continues unabated. Etc.

Budweiser It's funny how the right was OK with expanding government power when Dubya was president and it involved torture, wire taps and snooping to see what books people were borrowing from the library.

But provide health insurance to Americans - hold on there, you've gone too far.

Honey, find me my concealed weapon, and fetch me a Budwieser while you're at it.

I don't expect it will quiet down any time soon. The Republicans have seen their rule-or-ruin strategy of the past year fail, adding insult to the injury of not only having a Democrat occupying the White House, but a black Democrat. Their defeat over the weekend makes them that much more desperate.


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What to make of Massa's hissy fit

Is it just me, or is Congressman Eric J.J. Massa starting to come off as a bit of a nut job?

He'd have us believe that the ethics charge filed against him is some sort of conspiracy related to a Democratic push to pass health care reform.

Massa Gee, I don't think anyone would have expected him to get his shorts tied up in such a knot that he'd go off and resign. I mean, the filing of an ethics charge is just another day at the office for a Congressman like Charles Rangel.

Me thinks there is more than what meets the eye.

Either that, or Massa is unstable or paranoid. Agreeing to go on the Glenn Beck show suggests both.

But the guy does give good quotes. Consider this from The New York Times:

Mr. Massa singled out Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, for criticism, calling him the “son of the devil’s spawn” and “an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote.”

Mr. Massa, a freshman member of Congress, said he had had a turbulent relationship with Mr. Emanuel since his early days in Congress. He said they had an argument in the House gym over Mr. Massa’s refusal to support President Obama's budget.

“I am sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel,” Mr. Massa said, adding that Mr. Emanuel poked “his finger in my chest, yelling at me at me because I wasn’t going to vote for the president’s budget.”

“You know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?” he continued.

As Karlya Thomas once said, "too much information."


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Taxpayer money not well spent

Today's topic is state politics. Let's drive in:

Members of the state Senate and Assembly spent a lot of time schelping back and forth between their districts and Albany last year to accomplish, well, not much, unless you count the Senate coup and largely ignoring the state's fiscal crisis as productive work.

Stachowski The Albany Times Union has calculated the cost to taxpayers at $3 million for transportation expenses and per diems.

The tab for eight lawmakers topped $30,000 apiece and three of them hail from Western New York, including:

  • Sen. William Stachowski of Buffalo, $39,077, pictured at right entering a fund-raiser last summer that was picketed by members of the public.
  • Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak of Cheektowaga, $35,587.
  • Sen. Dale Volker of Depew, $30,108. Volker, whose time in the Senate dates to the days when Julius Ceasar held sway, isn't shy about spending our money. I did a story a while back that showed he spent close to $1 million to staff and otherwise operate his office the last year the "cost conscious" Republicans controlled the chamber.

A quick show of hands - how many of you feel you got your money's worth?


The Times Union also surveyed legislators asking them to disclose their household income. Two-thirds failed to cooperate.

Here's the list of senators who think it is none of our business. They include Volker, Mike Razenhofer, Antione Thompson and Catherine Young.

Here's the none-of-your-business list from the Assembly. Included are Francine DelMonte, Sam Hoyt, Crystal Peoples and Mark Schroeder.

The good news for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand is that the latest Marist poll shows her with a big lead over Harold Ford - 44 to 27 percent. So, maybe she wins the Democratic primary.

The bad news -- the poll shows George Pataki beats her head-to-head in November by 10 points.

Yes, it is early, too early to read too much into the polls. But the numbers indicate the Gillibrand will have her hands full if Pataki decides to run.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer -- deemed all but unbeatable, according to the conventional wisdom -- has an approval rating that has dipped below 50 percent for the first time in nine years.

Schumer is a power in the Senate and a major player in Democratic Party circles, to say nothing of being a master in generating lots of positive coverage from a rather compliant press corps around the state. So I find his numbers surprising. Kind of.

Then again, he's long been a good friend to Wall Street and some folks see him as a shameless self-promoter. Perhaps the poll is an early sign that his shelf-life is starting to expire.


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A rogue's gallery of politicians

Odds & ends for a chilly Tuesday (how soon until pitchers and catchers report?) ...

I read where the tab for Chris Collins and Tim Howard's insistence that they don't have to correct the documented mistreatment of prisoners at the county jail and holding center has hit $140,000 in outside attorney fees - and the matter hasn't even come to trial yet. At $450 an hour, things are going to get worse before they get better. Do you think his handling of the situation is one of the things Collins mentions when he is out on the stump campaigning for governor?

Mayor Byron Brown went to Albany Monday to complain about Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget, which, among other things, would trim state aid to cities by up to 5 percent. The mayor told a panel of state Senators and Assembly members that, far from a cut, Albany should increase aid to Buffalo. Hmmmm. The state is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, while the city has enough money in the bank that Brown wants to share the wealth by cutting property taxes. So, in effect, the gut with a fat wallet wants a raise from the guy holding a tin cup. Unbelievable. The city has been on the dole so long that it now suffers from a distorted sense of entitlement.

Senate wannabe Harold Ford made the rounds in Buffalo on Sunday -- if you can call a handful of wham-bam appearances making the rounds. You've probably read The News' account of the visit. Here's what the New York Times reported. And here's what Times columnist Paul Krugman has to say about Ford - it's not flattering.

Should girlfriend-beating Hiram Monserrate get the hook from the state Senate? Yeah. Does the party that promoted his coup partner Pedro Espada deserve the grief that comes with keeping him around? Oh yeah.

On the day Barack Obama took office I wrote that while I was hoping for the best, I was prepared to be disappointed. Well, folks, I'm disappointed. But also mindful that whatever grade I might give Obama for his first year it office, it is way better than the "Z-minus" his predecessor earned for eight years running.

I have a one-word response for those ready to toss Obama overboard for a return of the Republicans: Dubya.

If you've already forgotten the nightmare, take this stroll down memory lane.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.


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Who needs Jay or Conan with Sarah? And other observations

Random thoughts on another cold and dreary day in the City of No Illusions:

It's time the Common Council selected a successor to replace Brian Davis. It's going on two months since Davis resigned his Ellicott District seat, the Council has interviewed all the candidates, and Democratic committeemen have finally made their recommendation. Please, put us out of our misery.

I can't help but notice the number of subsidy deals being approved by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency that have little to do with industry or creating a significant number of good-paying jobs.

The deal cut between Erie County Executive Chris Collins and Legislature Chairman Barbara Miller-Williams to provide $300,000 in funding to the Colored Musicians Club, while eliminating funds earmarked for other projects, looks even more dubious with the news that Miller-Williams' husband is vice president of the club's board of directors.

I realize that some of Gov. David Paterson's rhetoric aimed at the State Legislature amounts to self-serving hot air and that some of the more ambitious proposals he has floated may be more for show than anything. But it's still good to hear someone at his level of public office tell it like it is.

With Sarah Palin slated to appear regularly on Fox News, do we really need Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien for televised laughs anymore?

It's been a long time since I saw as contrived a controversy as the one involving comments Sen. Harry Reid made about Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.


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A pittance for public transit

Donn Esmonde provided insight in his column yesterday on a proposal the NFTA is considering to raise transit fares.

I'm here to provide a little outrage on the bigger picture.

Global warming is staring us in the face. Gas is $4 a gallon, or there abouts. Transit ridership is up and more people are riding buses and subways than they have for the past 50 years.

Bus and subway operators across the nation are struggling to keep up. High fuel prices hit them, too. Equipment is aging. There's more riders than seats on some popular routes.

Where is Uncle Sam in all this? You know, the guy supposedly trying to kick his addiction to foreign oil?

Well, he's partying like its 1986. That's the year Metro Rail opened and global warming was a vague concept.

Fact is, the federal government has beat a steady retreat from funding mass transit since at least Ronald Reagan's time. The feds used to help public transit systems pay for both operations and capital improvements. That ended in 1991. Now public operators get something akin to a block grant, to spend as they see fit.

Ralph_krandem The outcome is a rob Peter to pay Paul scenario.

Or, in this case, Ralph Kramden.

The federal government this budget year has earmarked $4.6 billion in formula aid to assist systems in urban and high-grow states starting to choke on their congestion.

Federal spending in 1986, adjusted for inflation, comes to $5.4 billion.

In other words: ridership up, global warming up, federal aid down.

To put it in perspective, the federal government's spending on mass transit in cities and high growth areas equals the bill for 13 days of fighting in Iraq.

How does this play out in Buffalo-Niagara?

The NFTA will get about $11 million in federal aid this year. The state kicks in about $47 million, although that's about $1.3 million less than it was counting on, thanks to the budget crunch in Albany. Local revenues, mostly a piece of the county sales tax and mortgage recording tax, comes to about $37 million. Passenger fares come to about $28 million.

In other words, fares cover about a quarter of the overhead. Which means more ridership means more deficits. It's like a loss leader, but the NFTA has no way of making it up, at least so long as aid isn't tied to ridership, which it isn't.

NFTA Executive Director Larry Meckler doesn't have a beef with the state, which, in recent years, has increased aid faster than the rate of inflation. So have the feds, for that matter, but its a pittance compared to what it used to be and bolstered by earmarks wrangled by our Congressional delegation.

"It's getting tougher and tougher to get dollars," Meckler said. "We shouldn't have to beg for money for mass transportation.

"If you can get people on buses and trains, I think it solves a lot of problems."