Making Sense of the Gun Control Debate

February 15, 2013

Twenty-seven words.

13 don’t count.

“A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state…”

Those opening words of the Second Amendment are completely ignored by the NRA and largely ignored by the Supreme Court.

14 words, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” count and those 14 words kill tens of thousands of people every year.

From 1776 to 1783 the Continental Army, a ragtag citizens’ army of 17,000, fought our Revolutionary War. The army was rounded up by the Paul Reveres who rode through towns marshalling the forces. Citizens arose from their beds, grabbed their guns – because the army didn’t own any – and went to war. When the war ended in 1783, the Continental Congress did not want a permanent army like the British had, so it was disbanded. Soldiers went home with their guns.

Eight years later, when the Second Amendment was passed, an army of private citizens on call was the only military. Hence, the first 13 words. Some argue that those 13 words were intended to allow citizens to rise up and declare war against a “bad” government.

Poppycock! The idea of citizens rising up against the U.S. government is laughable. A member of the Tea Party recently asked me, “Don’t you believe that the Holocaust would have been avoided if the Jews had been allowed to have guns?” Jews with guns could no more have held back the Nazi army than could the citizens of a city hold back the U.S. Army.

No government gives the governed the right to overthrow it violently. In fact, the United States Constitution specifically dis- allows that possibility. Section 3 of Article III of the Constitution says that ”levying War” against the government is Treason, and Section 4 of Article IV says that the federal government shall protect the states “against domestic Violence.”

Instead, the founders gave us the First Amendment and the ballot box so that citizens could criticize and overthrow the government peacefully. What purpose is a Constitution that gives citizens the right to wage war against – that is, to destroy – the government they create?

Conservatives theorist and judges argue that courts should apply the original intent of the Constitution and that the Constitution does not change with the times. At the time of the Revolution, muskets could only shoot one bullet at a time. While one soldier shot a musket, a second soldier loaded another gun with another bullet. Not until ten years after the Second Amendment was passed, did Eli Whitney – of cotton gin fame – invent the concept of standardized parts which allowed thousands of guns to be manufactured from similar interchangeable parts. His only cus- tomer was the federal government.

Ironically, when guns are involved, conservatives become liberals and embrace the “times change” attitudes. True conservatives would not be debating clips that hold thirty bullets or automatic weapons that can fire hundreds of rounds a minute. They would be debating one-shot muskets.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the deceased philosophic US Senator, quipped that because the Constitution failed to mention bullets, Congress should simply outlaw bullets. After all, he said, bullets, not guns, kill people.

Whatever gun laws emerge from Congress in the next few months will pale in comparison to the next Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. The NRA and its ilk point to DC v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision, believing it prohibited all gun control. Heller merely held that DC’s ban on handguns was too restrictive, but the Supreme Court left open many questions, including acceptable “limits” on gun laws and “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

The gun debate is about patience. Over the next eight years, four Supreme Court justices over age 74 – two liberal and two conservative – will likely retire and be replaced. The winner of the 2016 presidential election will likely re-shape the Supreme Court – and gun rights – for decades to come.

Until then, the first 13 words of the Second Amendment will be ignored. Pray for the quarter million people in the U.S. who between now and then will die from bullets.

Civil Rights Era Called for Everyday Heroes to Show Courage Against Discrimination

January 30, 2013

Some heroes are famous. Others are just quietly courageous.

The most courageous people I ever met, and admittedly never knew very well, were the handful of 14-year-old African- American students who in 1963, when we were freshmen, chose to come to my white high school rather to their black high school. They chose to be strangers in a strange new place rather than be stars in a familiar place.

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education decid- ed that “separate education facilities were inher- ently unequal.”My typical small southern town ignored the Supreme Court. In 1970, the courts required southern schools to integrate, but, in the 1963 south, it was a choice that took real courage.

Four of my black classmates came to mind during the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration.

Clarence passed away three weeks ago. He was a gentle giant who always recognized me with a smile, reminded me who he was, and told me to not worry about forgetting his name.

Margaret came to our 25th reunion picnic – but not the dinner – and askedus white kids to sign her yearbook. Now twenty years later, that episode embarrasses me still. No other black classmate ever came to our white reunions.

Herman was asuperstar student and athlete who excelled at football, basketball, and track. Today, he’s a doctor in New York City. During my freshman year, Key Club selected new mem- bers.It was an honor. Herman was not selected. The following year, our longest meeting was debating whether to offer him membership. We didn’t. Race was never mentioned. Race was the only issue.

My memory is vivid because as a Jew in the South, I knew how quiet – and deafening – discrimination could be. My parents and I discussed whether I should quit Key Club. I didn’t. It was easy, as it has throughout my life, to quietly hide behind my white skin and blond hair. Herman couldn’t do that.

Linda graduated number one in our class with a 4.0 average, the highest grade point average then possible. She never received the recognition that others with lower grades (like me) got. She was also – and may sue me for publishing this – drop-dead gorgeous.

Linda is a lawyer in Connecticut, now a nationally known “mover and shaker” in the non- profit world. After being a bank attorney and serving as a commissioner of the Connecticut utility regulatory agency, she became president of one of the nation’s largest non-profit foundations managing $750 million dollars, more than a thousand funds, and thousands of grants.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “I Have a Dream,” just days before school started. Did these young heroesdecide to break the race barrier because of that speech? How do they remember those years? It can’t be good.

“Connect . . . connect . . . connect,” Dr. Zinerva White slowly repeated at my city’s MLK breakfast until the 500 of us absorbed his message and reached out to hold hands with the person next to us.

I called Herman and Linda, 50 years late, to “connect.”

In 1963, my little town had its own heroic Martin Luther Kings.

Read Globally, Tax Locally

December 14, 2012

Imagine my surprise.

I was sitting in the lobby of an elegant hotel in Florence, Italy enjoying a glass of wine, listening to a pianist who could make his grand piano sound like an entire orchestra, and reading the International Herald Tribune.

On the front page was an attractive woman, a chiropractor, wearing a forlorn expression. She lives in McLean, Virginia, the Washington, DC suburb where Ted and Bobby Kennedy lived and where finding a condo or house for less than $1 million (or $2 million) is challenging.

She and her husband were worried that taxes on their taxable income above $250,000 might increase by 3.6%. They were wondering whether to close their practice temporarily and take a vacation to avoid higher tax rates that might take place next year.

I thought, “Huh?” until I saw the next paragraph quoting a friend of mine – let’s call him Edward. Edward owns a successful company that his father started 60 years ago. His parents and he have contributed deeply to the fabric of Salisbury, Md. Edward is a really smart guy with a great education. He worked with one of the nation’s largest financial institutions before returning to the family business. He has testified before Congress, served on national boards, and written articles in Washington newspapers about the hazards of regulations and taxes.

Edward said that he wanted to hire four new employees but that he was only going to hire three because his tax bill will increase $100,000 if the Bush tax cut expires.

Come on, Edward. You know better than that. First, an employer hires a new employee only if that employee produces more than he costs. If a new employee’s salary is $50,000, an employer will only hire her she produce at least $50,001 in benefits.

Second, taxes are admittedly complicated. I was a college professor for almost 40 years. Student often thought that “saving taxes”’ was the answer to any question about corporate strategy.

I’d ask, “Do you have $1.”


“Give it to me.” The student would hand me $1. I’d give him 35 cents, put the $1 in my pocket, and say, “Thanks.” Then I’d ask the class, “Anyone else want to trade $1 for 35 cents?” No one would. No one trades $1 for 35 cents. Students always asked for their $1 back. “No,” I’d say. “That’s the best $1 you’ve spent on your education.”

Edward must be earning over $3 million per year. Here’s the math: how much income multiplied by 3.6% equals $100,000? The answer: over $2.75 million. Since Edward’s taxes won’t increase on his first $250,000, his net income (after expenses) must be over $3 million.

Edward is undoubtedly a terrific businessman. He probably doesn’t want the world to know that he’s making over $3 million per year. But if his taxes are really going up $100,000, he is.

Come on, Edward. Hire that fourth employee. If he’s good, he’ll make you more money than you pay him. And if you’re netting $3 million, you can afford it.

Near-Death Experience Exposes Healthcare Abroad

A heavy dizziness like a black cloud engulfed me in a matter of seconds.

“Dad, are you ready?”


“Mom, he’s dead. Wait, he opened his eyes. He’s breathing again.”

A stretcher. An ambulance. The siren. Rolling through a hospital strapped to a bed. A sign that said “Triage” passed above.
Two IV tubes, one in each arm. Connected to machines measuring my heart rate, the oxygen in my blood, respiration, blood pressure (74/36). How low can that go?

An electrocardiogram. Blood being taken from both arms.

A brain scan. A chest X-ray. An abdominal X-ray.

Six hours later, another electrocardiogram. More blood tests.

Two doctors examined me. A half dozen nurses.

Talking to my daughter, Sasha, in Italian.

My daughter, Sasha, is studying art history in Florence, Italy. I visited her and rented an apartment about a half mile from her apartment. (Incidentally, is the most incredible website if you want to consider an apartment instead of a hotel.)

We had walked six to eight hours a day all over Northern Italy and Paris for two weeks. My legs were sore. Our plan for my last day was to walk the hills around Fiesole, a famously scenic area overlooking the magnificence of this two thousand year old city.
With a sip of orange juice, I took an Aleve to ward off the soreness that was sure to follow. My head started itching. Then my body started itching. I glanced in the mirror. My face was flush red. My hair looked white. Sasha called at that precise moment. “Dad, are you ready?”


I knew I was dying and was out before I hit the floor. She heard my phone drop, ran down three flights of stairs, called an ambulance, found a policeman, and ran the half-mile to my apartment. She was in a panic but didn’t panic. Proficient in Italian after ten weeks, she convinced the police to break the door down.

A medic gave me a shot and I awoke out of anaphylactic shock. Had Sasha called two minutes earlier or one minute later, instead of packing to come home that night, I would have been the baggage.

My doctors in the U.S. are terrific, but my experience in Emergency Rooms has never been good. I’ve waited in pain or nervously four to eight hours to see a nurse or a doctor . . . or to do paperwork. In Italy, the attention was immediate.

The U.S. healthcare system is the only private-insured, employer-based in the world. We seem intent on keeping this system though less than half of U.S. citizens are now covered by employer insurance. In fact, an increasing number of employers are dropping or reducing or shifting the cost of healthcare to their employees.

What nation would create a system that costs almost twice as much as every other nation on earth and expect employers to pay for it – and wonder why its companies face competitive disadvantages in world markets? And results in shorter lifespans? Only the U.S. With average wages in the U.S. being $42,000, few employers can afford to pay $6,000 per employee, or $15,000 for an employee’s family health cost.

Luck smiled on me twice. First, my daughter was alert and decisive. Second, my medical care was incredible.

When we left the hospital ten hours later, the same woman who directed patients entering the hospital prepared my bill. She was embarrassed by how much it was – $525. Frankly, I’d rather pay cash in Italy than deal with insurance in the U.S.

Twelve hours later, I boarded a plane to come home. When I landed in the U.S., I suddenly started to cry. Sasha had saved my life and was now 6,000 miles away. I needed to be near her and couldn’t stop crying.

That was six days ago. Each time I’ve woken since, I’m surprised. Wow. I’m alive.

Fiscal Cliff: How Did It Come To This?

Suppose you owed $15,000 and earned $15,000. (Multiply those figures by a billion, and that’s almost what the US economy looks like.) In two weeks, your loan payments are going to increase, and your salary is going down.
That’s a personal fiscal cliff – less income, more expenses.

In federal government budget speak, the fiscal cliff is about taxes going up and spending going down at the same time. Unless something is done to stop it, this will happen in the U.S. on New Year’s Day.

How did this happen?

Twelve years ago, the U.S. economy was generating surpluses – more revenue than spending – for “as far as the eye could see.” In 2001, President George W. Bush pushed a tax cut through Congress that was set to expire in ten years. Why expire? Because a ten year tax cut “costs” less than a permanent tax cut. The ten-year cost was $4 trillion. A permanent tax cut would have cost a lot more. It was the largest tax cut ever. Government revenues decreased. Not until 2006 did income tax revenues catch up to what they were in 2000.

Then, the world changed. The country entered two wars that have cost $1.5 trillion. Congress also expanded Medicare to pay for medications for seniors, another $1 trillion.

The Great Recession that began in 2008 was costly. The Bush bank bailouts cost $800 billion, the Obama stimulus mostly to state and local governments facing massive tax decreases cost another $800 billion, and recession driven unemployment and other safety net costs increased $500. Revenues also declined. Tax receipts declined more than $1 trillion compared to 2007. In fact, in 2012 tax revenues were still lower than they were in 2007.

In 2010, because of the fragile economic recovery, the Bush tax cuts were extended for along with a new payroll tax cut. Price tag for two years: $1 trillion.

The total: $6.5 trillion. A lot of money to be repaid when income tax revenues are only $1.1 trillion per year.

In 2011, Congress imposed a “sequester” automatically cutting $1.2 trillion in spending over the next ten years beginning Jan. 1, 2013. Congress thought it would replace that with a better plan within a year, but it couldn’t.

When New Years 2013 arrives, the Bush tax cuts expire taxes and the sequester spending cuts kick in. $500 billion more revenue. $100 billion less spending. That’s the cliff.

That was the plan, but, now, no one wants it.

Economists say that raising taxes and reducing spending – the ways to resolve the deficit and the debt – that much in one year may cause a recession because 70% of the economy is consumer spending, and people will have less to spend.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the deficit must be reduced by $4 trillion over the next ten years. They don’t agree how to do that. Since doing some now and more later hurts less, that’s what will happen. Taxes will increase a little on the rich and spending cuts will be reduced.

Like pulling off a band-aid slowly, this is going to be painful for a long time.

Tax Time

October 19, 2012

It’s crunch time.

The last week to file those tax returns on extensions. President Obama filed his return on time in April. Mitt Romney got extensions and filed later. I waited to see their returns before filing mine. Obama’s return is about 25 pages, similar to mine. We use almost the same tax forms, though he earns and donates substantially more than I do. Both of us have salary and investment earnings. I have some stock investments while all his investments are in US Treasuries. We both write. He earned $400,000 from his books. I learned, well, less. Both Obama and I made bad investments years ago that still reported on our tax returns. The Obamas donate $1,000 to $5,000 to a few dozen charities. Mine tend to be a digit shorter. The Obamas gave their kids $24,000 each. I paid tuition.

The Romney returns are in a different class. First, they had four returns, including three trusts, which totaled approximately 1 thousand pages long. Romney had no salary. He must be unemployed like he told an audience in Iowa last spring. Romney had $15,000 in medical expenses. To him, that’s less than a rounding error. To me, that’s my annual insurance cost. He made $260,000 in director fees. Is he still serving on corporate boards?

Approximately 75% of the Romney returns – hundreds of pages – are dozens of Form 8621 to report PFIC investments. That’s a Passive Foreign Investment Company. The Romneys had investments in the Cayman Islands, Amsterdam, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg. It’s easier to learn to speak Dutch, Italian, and French than to read their tax returns. Romney’s foreign investments appear to conflict with his political positions. He invested in German and Danish pharmaceutical companies doing stem cell research, Chinese state-owned oil companies, an Israeli company manufacturing a “morning after pill,” Swiss, French, Italian and Japanese banks and manufacturers doing business with Iran, and a Chinese education company sued for US copyright infringement. Romney has been running for president for six years. Why didn’t he sell those investments years ago?

Last spring, when questioned about paying a lower tax rate that a secretary, Romney said that a person who paid more tax than legally required should not be president. This year, to get his tax rate up to 14%, he purposely didn’t deduct about $2 million of contributions and voluntarily paid an extra $500,000. If he loses, he has three years to amend his returns and get that money back.

One-third of his tax bill was the “alternative minimum tax” which he’s pledged to eliminate. That will save him $675,000. He also paid over $100,000 tax to foreign countries, which reduced his U.S. tax bill. Since most of his income flowed through trusts, what I really wanted to know was how much of his $20 million went to his kids, but those forms weren’t included. Romney surely paid more to have their returns
prepared that I earned.

Well, back to my return. Where’s that receipt I was looking for? That would save me $27.

I’m Confused

October 2, 2012

The old man was sitting at the kitchen table, holding a hanky over his weeping eyes.

“What’s the matter, Pa?”

“I’m confused.”

In the movie Moonstruck, family and neighbors were pouring into the kitchen. The mother had just demanded her husband terminate his affair, and he meekly agreed. One brother had just proposed to his reluctant brother’s long-suffering fiancé. And now the grandfather was crying.
Mitt Romney has a similar effect. I’m confused.

I can’t figure out where I fit into his view of America. Am I in the 99%, the 50%, the 47% or 100%?
Being in the 1% in the top 1% of income and wealth would be nice, but I’m not.
Even being in the top 13% and paying tax at Mr. Romney’s income tax rate would help. My rate is much higher because I work for a living and don’t have overseas investments.

Mr. Romney recently criticized 47%-ers for being 0%-ers and paying no federal income tax. He says they won’t vote for him anyway. Since I pay income tax, he must be counting on my vote.
On the other hand, some say he has been 0%-er on some of his tax returns. If he is a 0%-er, can he vote for himself in good conscience? It takes real political courage to call half the country a bunch of moochers who feel “entitled” when you belong to that club. If he were a 35%-er, paying the top tax rate, surely he’d proudly tell us, but we’ll never know because his lips are sealed.

Learning that I’m not a 50%-er was a surprise. I thought I was doing pretty well. I got a good education, have graduate degrees, repaid my student loans, live pretty comfortably, don’t live paycheck to paycheck, own my home, and have some savings and retirement. Then, Mr. Romney said the average middle-income family earned $250,000. OK, I’m below average.

Even worse, this 50% thing makes me feel horribly guilty. Is my company a sweat shop? We don’t pay any of our employees enough to be a 50%-er, or even half of a 50%-er if someone else in their home earns enough to lift the household up to that $250,000 average. It’s a wonder all of my employees haven’t quit and taken an average job somewhere else.

If 47%-ers pay no tax and 50%-ers earn $250,000, that means only 3% earn between the point where the 0% bracket ends and $250,000. Paul Ryan is good at charts and graphs. You can bet that’s a good one.

To clear it all up, Mr. Romney now says his campaign is “about the 100% of Americans.”

Are non-Americans now 0%-ers?

I’m so confused.

Get me a hanky.

The Hunger Games of Romney-Ryan Plan

September 6, 2012

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he’s been reading “The Hunger Games” to relax. Me, too. Romney is reading the novel by Suzanne Collins. I’m reading the budget by Paul Ryan. They are remarkably similar.

Novels, of course, are fiction and don’t really happen. Budgets also distort reality and don’t really happen.

“The Hunger Games” is a novel about a country where the government has created a food shortage to keep the people in line. Each year, two dozen children are placed in an arena on a reality TV show where their objective is to fight for food, kill the others and be the lone survivor.

The Republican Romney Ryan plan – or TripleR, which sounds rather Reagan-esque, doesn’t it? – is also a reality show about whether the United States should continue to provide a social safety net for the elderly and the poor. To those affected, it is about survival.

TripleR is a quick read, at fewer than 90 pages long. It is mostly about what’s wrong with our national financial mess and is peppered with some really bold proposals that radically change the national approach to providing a safety net for those in need. Like most novels, TripleR ends in the future—30 years from now—when the budget is finally balanced, the nation is prosperous and everyone lives happily ever after. Of course, by then, most baby boomers will have met their maker, and the elderly population will be in decline.

Like Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 idea that simple is good and solutions are easy, TripleR proposes four simple steps: cut taxes, convert Social Security to a private savings plan, give seniors a voucher to buy their own health insurance and give states block grants for Medicaid to serve the poor and disabled.

TripleR avoided the rigor of being “scored” by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that estimates the economic impact of new laws and budgets. Instead, TripleR created its own assumptions and reached its own conclusions. (I could do that. After all, I am a CPA. Accountant jokes are rare, but one fits in this case. A client has a question for his accountant who answers, “Tell me what you want and I’ll make it come out.”)

So, here’s the plan. Decide whether it’s fact or fiction.

First, cut taxes to the lowest rate in 80 years. Revenues will increase because everyone will work harder and invest more, knowing they can keep more of their income.

Second, convert social security to a personal savings plan. So, suppose the average family and employer invests the same 12.4 percent now paid into Social Security, or about $6,000 per year. For today’s twenty-somethings, that would add up to $600,000 over 40 years and provide a $3,500 monthly pension. Sounds good, but what about inflation? In 40 years, that $3,500 per month will be like $750 today. Put another way, and ignoring inflation, if you save 12 percent of your income every month, say $500 for 40 years, can you then live on, say, $1,000 per month (24 percent of today’s income) for the following 20 years?

Third, give seniors a voucher of $700 per month to buy their own insurance. I am 63, and if in perfect health, could buy insurance for about $700 per month after paying the first $3,500 each year. Like many my age, I’ve had some health issues. So, my insurance is already double that. My 78-year-old father-in-law had a heart attack 15 years ago and now has a pace maker which cost $30,000. Ann Romney, Mitt’s wife, has had cancer and has multiple sclerosis. What insurance company is going to sell any of us a policy for $700 per month? Buying my own insurance is also supposed to make me a better health care shopper since I won’t buy it unless I really need it. That would make me my own death panel.

Fourth, give states a “block” grant to cover Medicaid for the poor and disabled. That would save the federal government billions by shifting the entire risk of increasing health care costs and increased poverty rates to the states. Health care costs have risen three times faster than inflation for more than 20 years, and the number of poor people qualifying for Medicaid has increased dramatically. States are broke. How will they bear that burden? Maybe the poor will move to states with better benefits.

That’s TripleR. Individual responsibility, reduced retirement benefits and less health care for the elderly and poor.

Now, that really does sound like “The Hunger Games,” doesn’t it?

Getting nothing for $5 Billion

August 21, 2012

$5 Billion!

Fifty-some laws. Most were meaningless.

That’s the Congressional record for 2012.

Largely dominated by the newly energized “Tea Party,” this Congress came to Washington two years ago with great expectations and promises to change Washington.

For sure, a few enormous changes have occurred since President Obama was elected four years ago. On his way out of office, President Bush sought and received $700 billion to bail out the big banks. President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus saved the auto industry and propped up state and local governments hit by the Great Recession. Obama also pushed through his signature health care law.
All that happened four years ago, before this Congress came into office.

Since then, nothing.

The Legislative Branch Appropriation now exceeds $5 billion per year, or more than $10 billion for each two-year session of Congress.

In the last two years, gridlock has only worsened and any pretense of compromise has disappeared.
In 1948, President Truman railed against a “do nothing” Congress. That Congress passed over 900 laws, relatively normal for the times. President Truman’s real complaint was not about how much Congress did. He simply opposed the laws Congress passed. He vetoed 75 of them, and Congress overrode his veto six times.

In more recent decades, Congress has passed approximately 400 new laws per session. This Congress has passed about 135 new laws, about eighty in 2011 and fifty-some this year. That’s 15% of what President Truman’s “do-nothing” Congress accomplished.

President Obama has vetoed only two laws, both three years ago. The last time a president vetoed only two laws was in 1881 by President James Garfield who was in office for only six months before being assassinated. Why so few vetoes with a President and Congress at odds with each other? Congress can’t get anything done. Congress has passed nothing for the President to sign into law or to veto.

So, what taxpayers get for $5 billion?

18 laws naming or renaming buildings.

25 non-controversial laws that did things such as approving negotiated real estate deals with states and cities, maintenance on the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and increased prosecution of smugglers who build or finance tunnels into the US.

A handful of existing laws were extended for another year such as this year’s Social Security tax cut and rehiring temporary bankruptcy judges to handle the huge backlog of cases.

Five laws fall into the genuinely “new” or “big” category. Five? FIVE!!! Several were mostly about jobs — building highways and airports and reducing regulations on small businesses. Another prohibited Congressmen from trading on insider information.

That’s $5 billion.

That’s not to say that Congress hasn’t been busy. For the past few decades, approximately 8,000 to 9,000 new bills have been introduced during each two year term of Congress. This Congress introduced over 10,000, more than 1,000 more than ever before. In years past, Congress passed about 5% of laws introduced. This year, less than 1.5%.

Most of those 10,000 bills were mere grandstanding, intended to make a statement or enhance a voting record for re-election purposes. (I know. I worked in the Senate for three years and did just that.) For example, this Congress introduced dozens of bills to repeal Obama’s health care law and voted three dozen times, knowing that they would fail.

Even so, this Congress worked fewer hours. Most Congresses are in session about 2,500 hours every two years. This Congress was in session for 1,900 hours, and has declared that the year over, awaiting the election.

Many want Congress do less, to pass fewer laws. Some suggest a part-time Congress. Maybe that’s what we have, though we pay for the full freight.

This Congress kicked the can down the road as never before, but it also painted itself into a corner. Next year will be different by necessity and isn’t going to be pretty.

Expiring Bush tax cuts will force tax changes, like it or not.

The debt ceiling will be reached again and will require action, like it or not.

Automatic, but unidentified, $1.2 billion in spending cuts that Congress passed last year go into effect in January. Those changes will not happen silently or easily. And may be undone.

Next year, Congress has nowhere to hide and much to do.

Court Ruling on Obamacare Gets Personal for This Father

July 27, 2012

“Don’t worry, Dad. I’m OK,” my son slurred into my phone.

I was at lunch with a friend. It was THE call every parent fears.

“What’s wrong, Ari? Where are you?”

“I can’t talk,” he mumbled. “Here’s Mom. Your bike’s OK.”

“My bike?”

“Ari was hit by a car while riding his bike to work about two hours ago,” Fiona said. “We’re in the trauma unit at George Washington Hospital.”

“Huh?” I stammered.

“His helmet saved his life. There’s a spot on his brain. He’ll have another MRI in six hours. The doctors think it’s just a bruise and not brain damage. His upper jaw is crushed, and he lost all his front teeth. He’s got years of dental problems. But he’s alive.”

Ari was a hit and run victim on a street with a marked bike lane. He dragged himself onto grass, found his cell, called 911, and memorized the car’s tag as it drove away. A nearby taxi did the same.

A spot on his brain, a crushed jaw, four to six front teeth gone? I was numb.

I excused myself from lunch and headed to Washington.

For the next 375 miles, my mind was a jumble of thoughts. My son? What if the spot on his brain doesn’t go away? What if he’s brain damaged? Will he have headaches forever? What do you fix a crushed palate? Can he chew? How are teeth attached to a crushed palate? What else is broken? What’s he going to look like? What will he look like when it’s over? How much pain is he in? How is he going to eat? How long will he be in the hospital? Have the police been notified? Have they found the driver?

By the time I arrived, the second MRI showed no spot. No brain damage. He’s alive. All else was irrelevant. Either of those would have changed his life, and mine, irreparably worse forever.

Ari was released that night. Immediate attention by the trauma dentist was recommended. The next day, with incredible skill and an array of unimaginable technology, Dr. Singer reconstructed a temporary palate with bone tissue from a cow and six temporary teeth within two hours. It’s not as pretty as thousands of dollars of orthodontia, but it’s better than no front teeth.

The dental bill that day: $15,000. Cash. Money Ari didn’t have. (My bank floated me an immediate loan.) The estimated cost to finish his oral reconstruction: another $30,000 to $80,000.

I’ve not seen the bill for the ambulance, 14 hours in the trauma unit at George Washington University Hospital, two MRIs, several ER docs, X-rays, readings and exams by a radiologist, neurologist, orthopedist, and trauma dentist, and a gaggle of IVs, wires, and tubes.

Certainly, not cheap. Call his mom and me poor health care consumers, but it never occurred to us to enter “the market” to shop for the right—best or cheapest or most convenient or other market factor—hospital, ambulance, trauma unit, specialty doctors and so on.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court was preparing to issue its opinion on Obamacare. Ari will be 26 in a few months. Suddenly, Obamacare became very personal.

If the Court threw out Obamacare, would it be retroactive? Would Ari, who is on his mother’s health care plan, suddenly have no insurance?

Would Ari suddenly be saddled with more than a hundred thousand dollars of medical bills?
Is this now a pre-existing condition? When he turns 26 in a few months, would he be able to get health insurance? At what cost?

Will his insurance company be allowed to cancel his insurance? Will his insurance have a maximum coverage limit?

Ironically, opponents of Obamacare support those key provisions. A number of Congressmen who voted against and openly oppose Obamacare use it to cover their children between ages 21 and 26.

Obamacare was the brainchild of conservative Republicans who opposed President Clinton’s health care plan. Insurance companies bought in. Governor Romney proposed and adopted it in Massachusetts. President Obama decided that the only way to reform health care for the nation was to follow the Republican approach. Most parents embrace their children, but because Republicans oppose Obama, they now oppose the health care solution they conceived.

If the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, my son was OK. If it didn’t, he wasn’t.

Thank you, John Roberts. My son is covered. I have peace of mind.

No parent wants their child to be in my son’s situation without Obamacare. ?