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Tom Coburn’s Cuts: Military’s Tricare Prime Health Care Program Targeted

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as “extremely low-cost health care for life” for themselves, their wives and dependents under the Tricare Prime system.

For military retirees eligible for Medicare, he also wants to raise the co-payments that they are charged to be in Tricare for life, the second payer for health care after Medicare. In addition, he wants to increase low fees that Tricare beneficiaries pay for pharmaceuticals purchased at their local drugstores.

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees for single retirees from $230 a year to $260 a year and fees for retiree families from $460 a year to $520 a year. Coburn wants the fees to be much higher and more in line with private-sector health plans.

Part of his concern is fairness, first for uninjured veterans who, for example, served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan but “leave the military without serving 20 years [and] are not entitled to any of these health-care benefits.” They represent some 70 percent of those serving, according to Pentagon officials.

Another comparison he makes is to other federal government workers whose plans are not as cheap. A medical doctor, Coburn told reporters last Monday: “Nobody in the country, as a single person working 20 years for the government, should be able to get health care for $250 a year. Nobody was ever promised that, and nobody should be able to do that.”

Instead, he wants to increase the enrollment fee for single retirees to “approximately $2,000 per year and $3,500 for a family.” At the same time he would limit out-of-pocket expenses at $7,500 for those retirees with families. He thinks these changes could save $11.5 billion a year.

His Tricare for life would require retirees to pay up to $550 for half the initial cost not covered by Medicare and then up to $3,025, after which all costs would be paid by Tricare. This change could save $4.3 billion a year.

Coburn wants to reduce the $8 billion annual government share of the cost of drugs that Tricare beneficiaries purchase from their local private retail pharmacies rather than buying them at lower cost by mail order or at military base facilities. Where the price is now $3 for a 30-day supply of a generic drug and $9 for a brand-name from private pharmacies, Coburn would raise that to$15 for generic and $25 for brand names and save some $2.6 billion a year.

Coburn told reporters he has no doubt about the reaction to his Tricare ideas.

“There’s no question,” he said, “. . . retired military, they won’t like what I’ve done. But the fact is is nobody’s going to like what we’ve done, because everybody gets a pinch — everybody. ”

Beyond health care, Coburn has several other proposals that will rattle the Pentagon. He wants to eliminate most of the $1.3 billion-a-year subsidy that supports the Defense Commissary system of 252 grocery stores on military bases worldwide. Prices at commissaries are much lower than at civilian supermarkets; they are listed at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. That money goes to offset costs of new commissaries or to repair and maintain old ones. It does not pay for salaries and benefits of the roughly 18,000 people who work at the commissaries.

Coburn supports a Congressional Budget Office proposal that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy over five years and see a gradual raise in prices so commissaries could become self-sufficient. The increase in cost, according to the CBO, would amount to $400 per service family per year and save the government about $900 million annually.

He also wants to close down the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which for more than 20 years has added around $200 million a year primarily for breast, lung and prostate cancer projects that have to be managed primarily by contractors. Coburn’s option is to “transfer funding for cancer research that affects the general population back to [the National Institutes of Health] and reduce the administrative costs of administering this research for savings.”

By: Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, July 24, 2011

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care Costs, Lawmakers, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quorum Calls: Giving ‘Do Nothing Congress’ New Meaning

Behold, the world’s greatest deliberative body.

At 9:36 a.m. on Thursday, a clerk with a practiced monotone read aloud the name of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). The chamber was nearly deserted. The senator wasn’t there. Not that she was really looking for him.

Instead, the clerk was beginning one of the Capitol’s most arcane rituals: the slow-motion roll calls that the Senate uses to bide time.

These procedures, called “quorum calls,” usually serve no other purpose than to fill up empty minutes on the Senate floor. They are so boring, so quiet that C-SPAN adds in classical music: otherwise, viewers might think their TV was broken.

This year — even as Washington lurches closer to a debt crisis — the Senate has spent a historic amount of time performing this time-killing ritual. Quorum calls have taken up about a third of its time since January, according to C-SPAN statistics: more than 17 eight-hour days’ worth of dead air.

When it comes to legislative action, 2009 and 2010 were an unusually busy period, with the Senate taking up some of the most consequential legislation in the generation. Maybe, the thinking goes, such an intense period of policymaking activity will inevitably be followed by a more relaxed schedule.

But the institution has gone from frantically busy to catatonic. One is tempted to hold a mirror to the Senate’s nose, just to make sure it’s still breathing.

David Fahrenthold’s explanation of quorum calls is helpful, albeit mildly soul-crushing.

A clerk reads out senators’ names slowly, sometimes waiting 10 minutes or more between them. But it’s usually a sham. The senators aren’t coming. Nobody expects them to. The ritual is a reaction to what the chamber has become: a very fancy place that senators, often, are too busy to visit.

This is what happened: Decades ago, senators didn’t have offices. They spent their days at their desks on the Senate floor. So clerks really needed to call the roll to see if a majority was ready for business.

Now, senators spend much of their time in committee rooms, offices and elsewhere. If no big vote is on the horizon, often nothing at all is happening on the Senate floor.

But Senate rules don’t allow for nothing to happen. That would require a formal adjournment, which would mean lots of time-consuming parliamentary rigmarole. Instead, the last senator to speak asks clerks to fill the time by calling the roll.

We’re not, by the way, talking about pro-forma sessions, intended to prevent presidential recess appointments. This is just the norm of the Senate most of the time, even during the course of its usual schedule.

Of course, senators could be doing something, at least in theory. The Democratic majority doesn’t bring bills to the floor, because they know Republicans will filibuster them (and even if they passed, the GOP-led House would never consider them). Dems could bring nominees to the floor, but Republicans won’t allow that, either. Dems could work on a budget, but they not only know the House won’t cooperate, but also know even trying would become fodder for attack ads.

“Why are we here?” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked. “The Senate is not operating the way it was designed, because politicians don’t want to be on record.”

Well, that’s partially true, but the Senate is also not operating the way it was designed because guys like Coburn filibuster everything that moves.

Regardless, let’s go ahead and retire “the world’s greatest deliberative body” description. No one appreciates the humor.

 

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, June 10, 2011

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, GOP, Government, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taxpayer Protection Pledge And The Grover Norquist Ethanol Trap

Tom Coburn has sprung a plan to force the Senate to vote on the ethanol subsidy:

Sen. Tom Coburn has pulled the trigger and is forcing a long-sought vote on an amendment repealing billions in annual tax incentives for ethanol.

The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on Coburn’s motion limiting debate on his amendment that would do away with the 45 cent blender tax credit for ethanol — worth about $6 billion this year — and the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol.

Wait, don’t go to sleep, there’s something going on here. The press coverage doesn’t say so, but this is actually not about ethanol. It’s about Republican anti-tax dogma.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but for those readers who haven’t committed my blog to memory — shame on you! —  I’ll refresh. Nearly all Republicans have signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is enforced by Grover Norquist. The pledge forbids the signer from approving any increase in tax revenue under any circumstances whatsoever.

Coburn and a handful of Republicans are trying to get around this pledge. Their tactic is to negotiate revenue increases that take the form of closing loopholes and exemptions rather than raising rates. This would clearly violate the Pledge. But Coburn is trying to expose the silliness of the Pledge. He’s holding a vote on eliminating the ethanol subsidy. Now, conservatives oppose the ethanol subsidy. But since the subsidy is a tax credit, then eliminating it is a tax increase, and forbidden by the Pledge.

So Coburn’s goal here is to drive a wedge between conservative doctrine and Norquist’s anti-tax dogma. If Norquist opposes a vote against ethanol, he reveals how absurd his pledge actually is. If he supports it, then he proves that it shouldn’t be taken literally. Either way, it creates a talking point that Republicans could use to support revenue increases. And since the GOP’s theological opposition to revenue increases has been driving budget policy for more than two decades, this is a pretty important development.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Energy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conservative Newspeak?: Grover Norquist Compares GOPers Who Support Lifesaving Health Care Programs To Cancer cells

In the annals of Orwellian Newspeak, Grover Norquist, president of the libertarian group Americans for Tax Reform, may have established a new precedent for what kind of logic-defying propaganda is accepted in our political discourse — and for what journalists will uncritically reprint sans context or question.

In Monday’s Washington Post story on how deep the anti-tax fervor runs inside the Republican Party, Norquist is quoted criticizing three Republicans, including Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), for considering anything other than cutting government programs like Medicare and Medicaid as a solution to the national debt. As the Post reports it (emphasis mine):

The work of reducing the national debt must be done entirely by shrinking government, he said. Any compromise that includes taxes would hinder that goal and taint the Republican brand.

Norquist compared Coburn, the most outspoken of the Senate trio, to a “malignant” cell in the body politic. “So,” Norquist said, “we use chemo and radiation to protect all the healthy cells around it, so it doesn’t grow and metastasize.”

That’s right, Norquist is unequivocally saying that efforts to preserve health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid that often use chemo and radiation to cure cancer — these efforts are, in fact, the real malignant cancer that require chemo and radiation to kill.

Orwell long ago warned of a political system that would insist with a straight face that “war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.” But my guess is that he never envisioned one of the leaders of a major political party claiming that curing cancer is actually cancer — and my guess is that he certainly never envisioned one of the world’s leading newspapers printing that allegation without at least questioning it’s logic.

 

By: David Sirota, Contributing Writer, Salon, June 6, 2011

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Medicaid, Medicare, Neo-Cons, Politics, Press, Republicans, Taxes | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Senate Report: Sen. Tom Coburn Actively Negotiated Multi-Million Dollar Hush Money Package For Ensign’s Mistress

After a 22-month investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee released a report on the conduct of Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who resigned early this month. The report contains voluminous evidence suggesting Ensign may have violated several laws in an effort to cover up an affair with a member of his staff. The committee has referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

Contained in the 67-page report, however, is troubling evidence of the central role that current Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) played in trying to keep Ensign’s mistress and her husband quiet — evidence that contradicts Coburn’s previous public statements on the matter.

In July 2009, Coburn said he was consulting with Ensign “as a physician and as an ordained deacon” and he considered it a “privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody.” Asked about the claim from Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, that he “urged Ensign to pay the Hamptons millions of dollars,” Coburn said, “I categorically deny everything he said.”

Coburn was similarly blunt in a November 22, 2009 interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told me flatly that he did not offer to broker a million-dollar deal between his Senate colleague, John Ensign, R-Nev., and the family of Ensign’s mistress.

Doug Hampton, the husband of a staffer with whom Ensign had an affair, makes the explosive allegation in an interview with “Nightline’s” Cynthia McFadden that will air on Monday.

…When I asked Coburn on This Week if Hampton is telling the truth, he said, “There was no negotiation,” but acknowledged that he had worked to “bring two families to a closure of a very painful episode.”

Coburn eventually agreed to cooperate with the Ethics Committee; their findings on the level of his involvement are startling. According to the committees report, Coburn actively assisted in the discussions of a hush money package, negotiating a proposed package from $8 million down to $2.8 million. The ethics committee report, on pages 37 to 38, describes the negotiation between Mr. Albregts, an attorney for the husband of Ensign’s mistress, and Sen. Coburn:

Mr. Albregts tried to get a ballpark estimate from Senator Coburn as to the amount he would be comfortable with. Mr. Albregts proposed $8 million based on a document Doug Hampton prepared. According to Mr. Albregts, Senator Coburn said that the figure was absolutely ridiculous. Senator Coburn then stated that the Ensigns should buy the Hamptons home because it is so close to the Ensigns, and the Hamptons should receive an amount of money above and beyond that to start over, buy a new home, have some living money while they were looking for new employment, and possibly some seed money to send the children off to college. Senator Coburn stated that that’s what I’ve thought from day one would be fair, but said that $8 million was nowhere close to a reasonable figure. Senator Coburn told Mr. Albregts to figure out what those amounts would be, and call him back.

Mr. Albregts then spoke with Mr. Hampton, and asked him how much it would cost to get the house paid for, and how much he needed above that figure to get started somewhere new. Mr. Hampton then came back with some figures, and estimated $1.2 million for the home, and another $1.6 million to get started somewhere new. Mr. Albregts called Senator Coburn back for the final time with this revised figure on the same day in a five-minute call. Per Mr. Albregts, Senator Coburn responded by stating that okay, that’s what I had in mind and I think is fair and said he would take the figure to the Ensigns.

The Ensigns rejected the new offer. Previous reports referenced Coburn’s role as a go-between but did not reveal the extent of his inovlement in the negotations. The report notes that “Mr. Albregts testified that Senator Coburn took an active role in the negotiations between Mr. Hampton and Senator Ensign, and this role included proposing specific resolutions.” Coburn told the committee that he was “simply going to pass information” to Ensign.

One thing is certain: Tom Coburn has a lot of explaining to do.

By: Judd Legum, Think Progress, May 12, 2011

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, DOJ, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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