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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

House Democrats Voting to NOT Read the Bills

Despite polls saying that over 80% of voters would like Congress to post legislation for review prior to votes, Senate Democrats earlier this week voted to do the exact opposite.

In fact, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee (the Committee currently most responsible for shaping health care reform legislation) voted to continue advancing legislation to the Senate floor that is neither in its final form (as in even they haven’t read the bill) nor been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (no one knows what it will really cost).

You see, at least according to Democrats on the Finance Committee, ordinary Americans would think the legislation too complex and showing it to them ahead of time would only confuse us all.

As such, Finance Democrats claim “tradition” to keep the text of this massive policy overhaul away form the American public for as long as possible.

The Heritage Foundation has an informative post on the whole situation and the vote here. This is their conclusion:
Right now, the media that is covering every twist and turn of the committee’s “mark up” has ignored this quaint Senate tradition and what it means. Weren’t we taught after all, in our high school civics classes that lawmakers work on laws, not vague concepts? And where is all the analysis of the implications of this tradition on the calls for transparency? And what of the growing demands from citizens that lawmakers read the bill before voting for it? What if there is no bill to read?

The Journal Takes a Fresh Swipe at the Stimulus

In a paper being prepared for the National Bureau of Economic Research, two Harvard affiliated scholars, one a professor the other a recent grad, tested the theory that stimulus spending boosts economic growth "exponentially." In other words, for every dollar of government spending (or in this case increased debt) do we actually reap a dollar or more of benefit?

As can be expected, the WSJ adaptation isn't an excessively easy read however, the eventual conclusion punches a few more holes in the rescue scenario being pushed by the Obama Administration:
The bottom line is this: The available empirical evidence does not support the idea that spending multipliers typically exceed one, and thus spending stimulus programs will likely raise GDP by less than the increase in government spending. Defense-spending multipliers exceeding one likely apply only at very high unemployment rates, and nondefense multipliers are probably smaller. However, there is empirical support for the proposition that tax rate reductions will increase real GDP.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cash for Clunkers: Part Duex

Cash for Clunkers is back, though this time the wildly successful program will be focused on household appliances. From today's Eagle Tribune:

Now that you've traded in your 1989 junker, it's time to trade in the old refrigerator for a new, energy-efficient model.

The Department of Energy has made about $7 million available for New Hampshire and Massachusetts residents to purchase new, energy-efficient appliances in a program that will operate similar to the Cash for Clunkers program for automobiles.

Almost $300 million will be available nationwide, with $1.2 million allocated for New Hampshire and $6 million for Massachusetts.

But states are still working out the details of the program, which will operate differently in each state. Final applications aren't due to the federal energy department until Oct. 15.

Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said after the application is filed, the federal government still has to approve each state's plan.
Unsurprisingly, retailers aren't sold on this new government gimmick:
Rick Dube, president of Dick's TV and Appliance in Methuen, said he just hopes this program operates smoother than the first Cash for Clunkers.

"I hope they do better with appliances than the cars," Dube said. Until he hears what appliances will be covered under the program, Dube said, he's not making any guesses as to how it will affect his business.

Jamie Paquet, a sales consultant with Baron's Major Brands Appliances, with stores in Plaistow and Salem, said their store is also waiting for more information from the state before they get excited.

"It's a very cloudy picture," Paquet said.

Even with a lot of unanswered questions, Paquet said he's not convinced this program will be as beneficial to the customer.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Unemployed Seeking Fewer Jobs

Despite claims by the main stream media and the stimulus czar himself, VP Joe Biden, that the economy is getting better, signs continue to point to a sustained downturn not at all allevaited by the stimulus package.

The New York Times reports today:
Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed. ...

During the last recession, in 2001, the number of jobless people reached little more than double the number of full-time job openings, according to the Labor Department data. By the beginning of this year, job seekers outnumbered jobs four-to-one, with the ratio growing ever more lopsided in recent months.
As you can see from this NYT chart, the gap has only grown since early 2009 when the stimulus was enacted.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stimulus "Success" Impresses Biden, Rest of America? Not so much.

Vice-President Biden recently told a collection of the nation's governors that in his "wildest dreams" he never though the stimulus would work as well as it has.

Unsure what Biden offered as evidence for this resounding success, but in typical fashion he talked enough to avoid having to answer many questions regarding the subject. "The session lasted 45 minutes," reports the Wall Street Journal, "but there was time for only four questions from governors."

Despite Biden's review, the American people remain unconvinced. In a recent CBS poll, less than 40% of respondents believe the $800 pork package has impacted the economy in any meaningful way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stimulus Bloats the Federal Government

USA Today is reporting:
The $787 billion economic recovery package also is stimulating growth in the federal government as agencies hire thousands of workers and spend millions of dollars to oversee and implement the package, according to government records and spokesmen.

Fourteen of the top federal agencies responsible for spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act say they've hired about 3,000 workers with stimulus money. That's helped fuel the continued growth of the federal government, which increased by more than 25,000 employees, or 1.3%, since December 2008, according to the latest quarterly report. During that time, the ranks of the nation's unemployed increased by nearly 4 million, Labor Department statistics show.

Overall, there are about 2 million federal workers, the data show.

Thirteen agencies that report stimulus-related administrative expenses separately on their weekly spending reports say they've spent $186.8 million so far on salaries and other overhead. Those agencies have reported spending $46.1 billion in stimulus funds overall.
This helps to explain another stimulus problem that has begun manifesting itself, the bureaucracy responsible for transparency is crushing any hope of it, according to Reuters:
U.S. President Barack Obama's pledge to flood Americans with information about economic stimulus spending could misfire, the independent Congressional auditor said on Wednesday.

The volume of information required for a report due next month may be creating problems with the quality of data, the Government Accountability Office said in a special report.

"This unprecedented level of detailed information to be reported by a large number of recipients into a new centralized reporting system raises possible risk for the quality and reliability of these data," said the report. …

Other problems identified by the GAO include states, which provide a large portion of the data, not being reimbursed by the federal government at a rate that covers the costs of collecting and reporting it.

"These additional costs can exacerbate states' existing fiscal stress," said the report.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stimlus Fails Nation's Young Workers

Over the last few months the Associated Press has published a number of stories critical of various aspects of President Obama's stimulus package. Today, they address the lack of teen jobs created by the bill, despite Administration claims:
More than $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money was supposed to help teenagers find jobs this summer, but the effort barely made a dent in one of the bleakest job markets young workers have faced in more than 60 years.

Despite the program's admirable goals, experts and government watchdogs say it yielded few new opportunities for teens seeking work, as more and more adults are vying for the same low-wage positions at hamburger stands and community pools. ...

Now, as congressional investigators scrutinize the program for potential waste, experts are wondering why it couldn't prevent youth unemployment rates from soaring to 18.5 percent in July, the highest rate measured among 16- to 24-year-olds in that month since just after World War II.

"The summer program was basically half-disaster," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. "It was too little, too late and too poorly constructed to have any lasting effect on our youngest workers."
Expanding on those unemployment figures, the New York Times reported at the beginning of the month:
This August, the teenage unemployment rate — that is, the percentage of teenagers who wanted a job who could not find one — was 25.5 percent, its highest level since the government began keeping track of such statistics in 1948. Likewise, the percentage of teenagers over all who were working was at its lowest level in recorded history.

“There are an amazing number of kids out there looking for work,” said Andrew M. Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern University. “And given that unemployment is a lagging indicator, and young people’s unemployment even lags behind the rest of unemployment, we’re going to see a lot of kids of out work for a long, long, long, long time.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Continued Budget Concerns in Concord

The Portsmouth Herald reports:
Over the first two months of the fiscal year, the state reported revenue for the General and Education Funds at $187.5 million, which was $17.6 million below the revenue plan passed by lawmakers in June and $5.5 million below 2009 collections for the same period. The rooms and meals tax, which was raised by lawmakers, came in $3.7 million below estimates. The state's two business taxes came in $2 million below estimates while tobacco taxes also came in $2 million below estimates.
House Speaker Terri Norelli assured readers, however, "July and August normally don't provide us solid indicators. I think we will have a better idea of how things are going in this highly volatile economic environment with the September numbers."

Of course, just a few weeks ago in response to poor July revenues, Norelli told us not to worry as August would be better. If not? The she would be "concerned" she said.

Maybe "assured" wasn't the right word.

Meanwhile, talks have broken down with the state's union leadership as Governor Lynch attempts to squeeze out $25 million in mandated cuts needed to balance the budget. The eventual contract will cover over 10,000 state workers and must be finalized by October 12.

On top of that, as the Herald reminds us, there is still the pending matter of the $110 million JUA lawsuit. The JUA of course won the first few rounds of the fight and the matter awaits action by the State Supreme Court (most expect the court will concur with the JUA and subsequently carve a huge hole in the state budget).
"Doing nothing, which appears to be the case right now, is a very dangerous and irresponsible decision," said Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon of Milford. "With revenues down 15 percent from their rosy estimates and an adverse ruling from the Supreme Court, a lack of a Plan B could only mean hasty decisions will be made. Hasty decisions are what put us in this mess; more hasty decisions will only further burden our citizens."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Stimulus Spending Details

Today's Concord Monitor offers some details on the distribution and use of almost $21 million in federal stimulus funds.

The funding will impact a litany of state and private entities throughout the Granite State, though the focus of much of the Monitor's piece was on Concord specific awards. Here are some of the details:
  • "The [Concord] police department received $207,000 to hire a new officer for three years - the city had to agree to pay for the position for one year after that[.]"

  • "[T]he department was awarded more than $180,000 ... about $125,000 of which has been used to retain two officers, ... the rest to buy two police cruisers later this year."

  • "[T]he Belknap-Merrimack Community Action Program has [received] ... more than $3.6 million for weatherization projects."

  • "The [Concord school] district will get nearly $1.3 million more this year in money for disadvantaged students."

  • "[T]he state's community colleges have been awarded money mostly for financial aid. ... NHTI in Concord will get more than $825,000 in awards related to federal Pell grants [and] $17,000 toward a federal work-study program."
What do you think? Good uses of taxpayer cash or simply redistribution minus the federal government's cut?

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Vote on Gregg's Stimulus Signs Legislation

Back in June, we discussed Senator Gregg's "Axe the Stimulus Plaques" legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds to purchase the stimulus project signs we have all become familiar with over the last few months.

Late Wednesday Senator Gregg got a vote on his legislation, in the form of an amendment to a larger spending bill. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, the amendment failed as Senate Democrats rallied around the President in support of this egregious waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Union Leader slams the Democrats, while thanking both Sens. Gregg and Shaheen, in an op-ed today:
Adding the cost of those signs for the more than 20,000 stimulus projects nationwide, "we are talking about a cost of somewhere between $6 million and $15 million being spent on signs," Gregg told the Senate. "That is an inexcusable waste of money. That money could be used for something valuable, for example, rather than a sign."

He got only five Democrats (including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen) to vote for his amendment. It failed, 52-45.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., accused Gregg of being "anti-jobs." Actually, he is pro-taxpayer. "The practical effect of this is," he said, "the signs should say 'Wasting taxpayers' dollars; project funded by the future generations of Americans.'"

How political are these signs? This summer, Derry attempted to save money by not buying a sign for a stimulus-funded upgrade to the Meadowbrook water system, The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass., reported. The town was told that if it didn't put up a sign, it wouldn't get the money. It put up the sign.

These signs are nothing more than taxpayer-financed propaganda for the Democratic Party. Kudos to Sens. Gregg and Shaheen for voting against funding them. And shame on the 52 senators -- including independent Joe Lieberman -- who voted to squander public money on them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

WSJ Shows Government Handouts Don't Stimulate

Both the Bush and Obama Administrations attempted to "jump start" the economy by distributing stimulus payments in hopes that recipients would use the government handouts to go out and shop.

It turns out, however, that these policies do not encourage new spending and instead simply dive up government debt:
Consider first the part of the package that consists of government transfers and rebates. These include one-time payments of $250 to eligible individuals receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans benefits or railroad retirement benefits--and temporary reductions in income-tax withholding for a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and $800 for families with incomes below certain thresholds. These payments, which began in March of this year, were intended to increase consumption that would help jump-start the economy. Now that a good fraction of these actions have taken place, we can assess their impact.

... [A]s the chart also shows, there was no noticeable impact on personal consumption expenditures. Because the boost to income is temporary, at best only a very small fraction was consumed.

This is exactly what one would expect from "permanent income" or "life-cycle" theories of consumption, which argue that temporary changes in income have little effect on consumption. These theories were developed by Milton Friedman and Franco Modigliani 50 years ago, and have been empirically tested many times. They are much more accurate than simple Keynesian theories of consumption, so the lack of an impact should not be surprising.

Indeed, one need not have looked any further than the Bush administration's Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 to find plenty of evidence that temporary payments of this kind would not jump-start consumption. That package made one-time payments and rebates to people in the spring of 2008, but, as the chart shows, failed to stimulate consumption as had been hoped. Some argued that other factors such as high oil and gasoline prices caused consumption to fall during this period and that consumption would have been even lower without the stimulus, but no significant impact of these rebates is found even after controlling for oil prices.
As a whole, the authors offer this assessment of President Obama's stimulus package:
[T]he data available so far tell us that the government transfers and rebates have not stimulated consumption at all, and that the resilience of the private sector following the fall 2008 panic--not the fiscal stimulus program--deserves the lion's share of the credit for the impressive growth improvement from the first to the second quarter. As the economic recovery takes hold, it is important to continue assessing the role played by the stimulus package and other factors. These assessments can be a valuable guide to future policy makers in designing effective policy responses to economic downturns.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Assumptions of Job Counting

As we have discussed many times, the projected, estimated, or presumed job numbers put out by the White House in association with the stimulus are nothing more than politically motivated best guesses designed to provide support to a policy that is rapidly loosing public confidence.

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs a story supporting that claim (in a much more educated fashion):
As the $787 billion federal stimulus package was being deliberated by Congress in February, the White House estimated that the act would increase employment by 3.5 million jobs, including 24,000 combined in New Hampshire and Wyoming.

So far, though, those states say the stimulus has added fewer than 1,000 jobs.

Less than a month from now, when every state receiving stimulus funds will be required to make such a report, the numbers will fall far short of White House projections -- whether it's the original 3.5 million job projection or the latest estimate, issued by the White House last week, that one million jobs have been created thus far by the stimulus act.

The enormous spread between the states and the White House reflects how difficult it is to measure job creation and attribute it to a specific cause. The result, a hodge-podge of numbers, could accelerate criticism that the stimulus isn't doing enough to reduce unemployment.

"The problem with measuring things like this is enormous," says Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College, who has worked on estimated economic impact from smaller initiatives such as new stadiums. He likens it to finding "a needle in an economic haystack" but says there are other forces at work on the estimates. "Some of these numbers are, let's face it, politically affected."

The most visible figures available to evaluate the job market are unemployment rates, which don't speak well for the stimulus package. The national rate of joblessness last month was 9.7%, up from 8.5% in March, the month after the stimulus act was passed.

A week after that number was released, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers reported that the stimulus had increased employment to a level by "slightly more than 1 million jobs higher than it otherwise would have been."

That awkward wording says a lot: It reflects the tough job facing any economist who tries to estimate job creation. In every method used, economists are forced to imagine an alternate reality -- one built on assumptions that are easily challenged. For example, to compare present unemployment rates to past rates may be straightforward but it fails to account for other economic forces that were going to affect unemployment with or without the stimulus.

The White House method assumes that things were getting worse and that the stimulus is the sole factor responsible for stopping the bleeding. So economists imagined an alternative reality whereby the present would have been much worse -- to the tune of one million more lost jobs.

Next month the states will release their own numbers, as mandated by the act. And they'll use much more conservative methodology that doesn't invoke a parallel universe.

That method is the Office of Management and Budget guidelines to count jobs. To account for the cumulative bump in employment, the OMB calls for states to calculate hours of work funded by the stimulus act. Then states must take that number and divide it by 40, for a normal work week, and by the number of weeks since the act was passed. So jobs just added last week count much less than those added in the first month after the act was passed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

NH Unemployment Climbs Slowly HIgher

Reports the Nashua Telegraph:
The state’s unemployment rate climbed a tenth of a percentage point from July to August, and is 3 percentage points higher than this time last year, according to data released Monday by the state Employment Security office.

New Hampshire’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.9 percent, up from 6.8 percent in July and 3.9 percent from August 2008.

That means 686,550 Granite Staters are employed, a decrease of 3,600 from July and a decrease of 23,710 people from a year ago. A little more than 51,000 state residents are unemployed, an increase of 1,040 from July and 22,590 more than August 2008, according to the Employment Security office.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Despite Promises, Stimulus Spending Slows

In early June, amid criticism that the stimulus bill was not working to stem the tide of job losses, President Obama promised to, "speed federal money into hundreds of public works projects this summer, vowing that 600,000 jobs will be created or saved."

However, according to a USA Today report, that has not been the case. In fact, stimulus spending has slowed by about 25% since June:
In the 101 days after Obama signed the stimulus package in mid-February, the government allocated an average of more than $1.3 billion a day to new grants and projects. Since then, that pace has fallen to an average of about $1 billion a day, a drop of about 25%, according to federal agencies' financial reports, current through Sept. 4.
The Administration continues to defend the spending that has occurred, however. In fact, they argue that despite spending less they have saved or created more jobs than then President promised in June:
The Obama administration said last week that if tax cuts are included, the amount of stimulus aid reaching the economy increased slightly during the summer. And Obama's Council of Economic Advisers estimated that the stimulus had saved or created more than 1 million jobs, significantly more than the target Obama set in June.

White House spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn said examining only spending cannot measure whether the White House met the president's target. Doing so, she said, is "selective accounting" that "fails to measure the actual progress" of the stimulus. The administration, she said, has "met and exceeded every goal set to speed up the Recovery Act."
Of course, there is still no way to prove those job numbers, particularly in light of this now famous graph:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NH Papers React to the President's Health Care Speech

Two area newspapers ran Sunday editorials this morning claiming that the President’s health care address to Congress has not yet sealed the deal with regards to his reform plans.

The Nashua Telegraph said the speech was productive, but far from a game changer:
Most of the post-speech polling reveals what you would expect. The majority of Democrats were positive; Republican perceptions were relatively unchanged; independents remain divided. …

Prospects for passage of a bill by October or November are now slightly improved or at least not damaged. The president did no harm to his cause and appears to have provided some much-needed momentum.

His opponents did their cause no good, and may have in fact created a backlash with their European-style catcalls, including the now infamous “You lie” from a South Carolina representative who seemed to confuse a joint session of Congress with a town-hall meeting.

While the speech wasn't a game-changer, it was a timely and necessary call to action on a historical imperative – that we reform health care in the United States now or forfeit the opportunity for another generation.
The Eagle Tribune was a bit more critical:
President Obama said "the time for bickering is over." But if we cannot have political disagreement about a change of this magnitude, what is there left to discuss?

The president too easily glosses over some of the real concerns Americans have about elements of reform. …

But the president neglected to tell Americans that the plans before Congress include a mix of rules, regulations and incentives that surely will result in some employers dropping their health insurance coverage, leaving employees at the mercy of whatever government insurance option is available. …

Americans have learned, through bitter experience, that government cannot be relied upon to realize those savings. Government is a haven for waste, fraud and inefficiency.

President Obama cannot simply will health care reform into being. He has to convince the American people his plan is right for the country.

So far, he hasn't done it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

US Less Competitive Because of Big Government Policies

In a report released today by the World Economic Forum, the U.S. has lost its position as the most competitive nation on the globe as a result of the big government policies instituted over the last two years:
The US government's sweeping intervention in the private sector has taken its toll on the country's competitiveness, according to an annual survey by the World Economic Forum.

The country lost its number one spot to Switzerland in the WEF report on global competitiveness, partly because of "particular concerns on the part of the business community about the government's ability to maintain arm's-length relationships with the private sector and in the perception that the government spends its resources wastefully".

Barack Obama, US president, has continued and deepened the government's involvement in private industry that was started by his predecessor, George W. Bush, as a response to the financial crisis, with bail-outs of the automotive and banking sectors. The WEF stresses that the US remains a considerable competitive force at number two in the rankings with excellent universities and a flexible labour market.

More on the State Democrats' Tax Plans

An op-ed in today's Union Leader presses for more information on the planned economic summit that House Speaker Norelli alluded to a few days ago.

The UL looks at Rep. Susan Almy's (the summit's organizer) record of advocating for new and increased taxes across the State:
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Susan Almy is putting together a joint legislative summit to consider changes to the state's tax laws. Almy is one of the most vocal income tax supporters in state government. But she doesn't stop there. She likes lots of other taxes.

This year her committee recommended, and she advocated, an estate tax and a capital gains tax. She's spent years searching for ways to raise taxes on Granite Staters. That she's organizing the summit is worrisome. That she deliberately kept it a secret because, she acknowledges, she didn't want the income tax information to get out, is troubling.
The Leader also calls on Almy to release the details of her secret summit and open that meeting to the very interested public:
Almy needs to release all the details about this summit immediately. The people need to know who will attend, who the presenters will be and what information our lawmakers will be given. She also needs to make sure it's open to the public. It's her job to do the people's business and do it in public, not form secret meetings to push her personal agenda on us.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Wall Street Journal's Martin Feldstein takes an interesting look at the deficit and ObamaCare:

The deficits projected for the next decade and beyond are unprecedented. According to an assessment released in March by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the president's budget implies that deficits will average 5.2% of GDP over the next decade and will be 5.5% of GDP in 2019. Without the president's proposals, the budget office forecasts a 2019 deficit of only 2% of GDP.

The CBO's deficit projections are based on the optimistic assumptions that the economy will grow at a healthy 3% pace with no recessions during the next decade; that there will be no new spending programs after this year's budget; and that the rising national debt will increase the rate of interest on government bonds by less than 1%. More realistic assumptions would imply a 2019 deficit of more than 8% of GDP and a government debt of more than 100% of GDP.

Such enormous deficits would crowd out productivity-enhancing investments in new equipment and software as the government borrows funds otherwise available to private investors. The result would be slower economic growth and a lower standard of living.

In the nearer term, the projected deficits could cause interest rates on bonds and mortgages to rise sharply if bond investors fear that the government will not prevent inflation. This is a greater risk now that more than half of the U.S. government debt is held by the Chinese and other foreign investors. Such an interest rate rise could kill a recovery in 2010 or 2011 and depress growth in the years that follow.

Dropping the Obama health plan would significantly reduce fiscal deficits over the next decade and help restore public confidence in the ability of Congress to control spending. The CBO estimates that the House committee versions of the Obama health plan would add more than $1 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade. But the actual costs would be much higher.

For starters, $1 trillion of extra debt-financed spending would cause the government to pay about $300 billion of extra interest in the next decade. Moreover, the CBO's method of estimating the cost of such a program doesn't recognize the incentives it creates for households and firms to change their behavior.

Health Insurance Costs in NH

New Hampshire Public Radio points out that the Granite Staters pay the third highest insurance premiums in the United States:
The numbers are simple and stark: individual health insurance in New Hampshire costs about $5200 a year.

That’s up from about $3500 in 2003 – an increase of 47 percent, according to a new study by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund.

The numbers are drawn from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, a federal database considered the gold standard for health insurance research.

New Hampshire’s dramatic growth in individual rates is almost double the nation’s average rate increase.

And it far surpasses the growth in individual health insurance premiums in any other state.

Families, too, have it tough.

It costs more than $13,500 to cover the average New Hampshire family, the third highest premiums in the country.
The full story is an interesting read, or listen, that highlights a number of causes that have driven up costs and lead to the current, complicated health care debate.

In the meantime, Rasmussen today released new health reform opinion numbers. The underlying message: confusion.

Rep. Hodes Phones It In

As Congress returns from its month long recess and again takes up the health care debate, Congressman Paul Hodes plans to wrap up his nontraditional health care forum series through a tele-town hall meeting tonight.

Hodes has been roundly criticized over the last few weeks for avoiding face-to-face meetings with his constituents.

Tonight’s call is scheduled to start at 6:50 p.m. Those interested should dial 877-269-7289 and enter 14631# as an access code.

Although the Congressman’s office claims callers will be given the opportunity to ask questions, high call volume at previous tele-town halls have resulted in only a small percentage of pre-screened constituent questions being answered.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Challenging Obama

As President Obama’s approval ratings continue to trickle downward, some Democrats are broaching the subject of a primary challenge based upon the most divisive and expensive policy position of Obama’s first term: the public option.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hodes Shunning Town-Halls

Yesterday, Albert McKeon at the Telegraph took a swipe at Rep. Paul Hodes for his lack of public appearances during the August recess. Today, the paper's editorial board decided to get in on the fun:
Hodes has chosen to bypass the more traditional town-hall meetings in favor of these smaller, more selective forums. While technically open to the public, these sessions seem geared more to members, guests and residents of the chosen venues rather than an unrestricted exchange of ideas with constituents in a large auditorium or conference hall.

By contrast:

• Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank conducted his memorable session before more than 500 people at the Dartmouth Council on Aging building.

• Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has hosted several town hall-style meetings, including one before an estimated 400 people at a Jefferson City middle school.

• And California Rep. Anna Eshoo attracted more than 1,000 constituents to a town-hall meeting at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.

Now few of these sessions would be categorized under the heading of civil discourse. On the contrary, some of them were downright ugly, and we've already condemned the actions of those participants whose sole purpose was to shout down those of a different opinion or disrupt these sessions with their boorish behavior.

But that's still no reason for Hodes, already an announced candidate for U.S. Senate next year, to avoid them. Surely, we would like to believe that the one-time assistant attorney general and special prosecutor is more than capable of holding his own before his constituents – as loud and verbally abusive as some might be.

It's not as if Hodes is a stranger to the concept. He was present for President Barack Obama's health-care town hall in Portsmouth last month, and he conducted one of his own shortly after being first elected in April 2007 at Milford Town Hall.

And it's pretty unlikely he will be able to run a senatorial campaign next year without taking part in what has become a New Hampshire political tradition.

As we said at the outset, we're disappointed by the congressman's decision not to schedule a single town-hall meeting on health care – a topic that has engaged voters like few others in a generation – during the August recess.

We don't know for certain whether Hodes came to this decision on his own or he's getting bad advice from his inner circle or party leaders in Washington.

Either way, for someone who prides himself on constituent service, his no-town-hall stragegy is a real head-scratcher.

Via the GraniteGrok guys, here is the Congressman attempting to defend his "public" schedule:

Taxpayer Backlash

House Speaker Terie Norelli’s mention of an income tax in a Portsmouth Herald story yesterday has stirred up some controversy across the state.

With the “tea party movement” primed and ready, it is not surprising that the backlash to Norelli’s touching of the third rail of NH politics has been quick and coordinated:
Conservatives raised the alarm yesterday after Speaker of the House Terie Norelli was quoted in a Portsmouth paper as saying she favors an open-ended review of state revenues.

The paper said she included a state income tax as one revenue source that should be included in the study.

Several Republican groups jumped on the remark as evidence that Norelli and other Democrats are ready to pass a tax they predict will damage the fragile economy. The phrase "out of touch with New Hampshire voters" appeared in a number of press releases criticizing Norelli.
Defending her colleague in the House, Senate President Maggie Hassan told the Union Leader, "We're getting a lot of noise from the other team when we really would like constructive ideas."

Norelli made the comments referencing a planned economic summit scheduled for sometime this fall to discuss state finances. As of yet, not further details concerning the summit have emerged.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Portsmouth Republicans Looking for Shea-Porter Apology

The Portsmouth City Republicans are calling on Carol Shea-Porter to apologize for calling them “tea-baggers” on her way to a private party in Portsmouth last week.

Here is the full text of Polidura’s letter to the editor, as well as Kelly Ayotte’s version of the events:
On August 27th, the Portsmouth Republican City Committee held a social event at the Sheraton Hotel in Portsmouth, featuring Kelly Ayotte as the guest speaker.

Shortly before the event began, we had an unannounced visit by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who apparently thought she would be crashing a "Tea-Party".

Because she has kept a low profile and has been inaccessible by phone or mail, her visit created an opportunity for several attendees to query her.

We were respectful of her position, so we politely invited her into in the function room for refreshments. She declined as she was scheduled to attend another event in Portsmouth.

The following day, a report appeared in Foster’s Daily Democrat saying that during Mrs. Shea-Porter’s meeting with special interest groups such as Organizing for America, ACORN and the SEIU, she made the following statement: “Kelly Ayotte was there speaking to the tea-baggers.” She also said that she chose to appear at the event even though she had not been invited.

Her remarks are corroborated by the Portsmouth Herald, which chose not to print them. Both news sources indicated her use of “tea-baggers” several times during her gathering in Portsmouth.

It is regrettable that Mrs. Shea-Porter chose a sexually demeaning epithet to refer to Republicans gathered at the Sheraton, as well as those who have used Tea Parties as a vehicle to petition the government for redress of grievances, as is their right stated in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Mrs. Shea-Porter’s “tea baggers” reference is another indication of how uninformed and far removed from her constituency she is, and the condescending attitude she has toward those with a different point of view than her own.

Our social event on August 27th attracted many people who have never attended a Republican event before. Approximately 95% percent of them had not participated in any Tea Party rallies.

Whereas her comments were specifically directed at the people gathered at the Portsmouth Republican Committee event which I organized, I call upon Representative Carol Shea -Porter to apologize not only for calling our group “tea baggers”, but also for calling members of her constituency who disagree with her the same.

Mrs. Shea-Porter, you need to set the record straight and retract your remarks. They are divisive and derisive in nature, and far from the spirit of civility you want the opposition to convey to you.

Sue Polidura
Portsmouth Republican City Committee

"Not All Voices Heard"

Today’s Nashua Telegraph took a swipe at Congressman Paul Hodes’ contrived and restricted health care forums.

Contrary to New Hampshire’s town hall tradition, Hodes’, “events aren't always open to the general public, and when participation isn't restricted, the locations don't allow for large crowds.”

Although the Congressman’s spokesperson defended Hodes saying, “he's been out there in excess” the truth is the Congressman’s first set of public appearances are occurring over the labor day weekend and only after intense public pressure to talk to his constituents.
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee criticized Hodes for "contrived, restricted 'forums' that are not 'fully open to the public.'"

In a statement, committee Communications Director Ryan Williams wrote: "Paul Hodes has let down New Hampshire by refusing to hold a single face-to-face town hall meeting on health care during the Congressional recess. His failure to meet with his constituents in an open and unrestricted format shows that he is out of touch with New Hampshire traditions and values."

NH Speaker "Open" to Income Tax

After claiming New Hampshire's fiscal house "in order," NH House Speaker Terie Norelli told the Portsmouth Herald, "I'm open minded to taking a look at revenue structure in the state."

Pointing to a economic summit this fall, Norelli said state lawmakers will "'try to figure out whether the way we do things in New Hampshire is working' — and all revenue sources would be on the table."

The State legislature has already raised nearly than 40 taxes and fees across the Granite State in order to reach the current "balanced" budget, which still hinges on the court case involving the $110 million the State took from JUA malpractice fund.

Norelli was asked about state revenue reports released in August that were almost 16 percent lower than projected, in part because liquor and tobacco sales were not as robust as anticipated. The state's rooms and meals tax revenue was also off by $3.7 million, or 13 percent, despite the Legislature's move to increase that tax rate to 9 percent from 8 percent. Norelli said the figures represented "July money. And it rained all of July, so are we surprised?" When asked if she would be concerned if August revenue was also down, she said, "absolutely."
Of course, as the Union Leader reported yesterday, State revenues have come in significantly lower for August, even with an uptick in liquor and tobacco sales.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

$300,000 Spent to “Beautify” New Hampshire

Reports this weekend from Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Laconia Citizen show that over $260,000 has been given to New Hampshire beauty schools as a part of the federal stimulus.

“The Empire Beauty School in Laconia was also the recipient of $250,000 in nonreimbursable direct financial aid,” while, “the Portsmouth Beauty School received $18,600 in ‘direct financial aid.”

These figures are coupled with almost $37,000 sent to the Bedford beauty school earlier in the week, as reported by NowHampshire.com.

Bud Fitch, the State’s stimulus czar, told NowHampshire.com his, “expectation is that these are federal student loan program payments.”

According to a progress report issued by the State stimulus office, only 96 new jobs have been created with the $330-plus million that state has received so far.