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Michael Zucker: Congressional misrepresentation

Tom McClintock’s appearance in South Lake Tahoe last Saturday was billed as a “Town Hall Meeting” but it could more aptly be described as a rally of conservative supporters.

California’s 4th Congressional District representative was in grand condescending form, massaging the misguided comments of his overwhelmingly adoring audience and belittling the very few who challenged him. He offered an almost continuous litany of anti-government statements and questionable suggestions that his extreme views are consistent with the Constitution.

McClintock has problems with reality. For example, he repeated the overused right-wing talking point that the new health care law is a government takeover. It’s nothing of the kind. Potentially increasing the customer base by more than 30 million, it’s actually an increased insurance company takeover. The congressman didn’t mention that the law omits a public option. It’s interesting that when he conducted a health reform survey several months ago, none of the multiple choices he offered his constituents was the public option, even though in state after state polls showed that the idea was very popular.

He didn’t talk about insurance companies bilking ordinary people, raising premiums indiscriminately to bolster already record profits, how they cancel coverage when people get sick, how they deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Instead, he expressed concern about the law negatively impacting profits of large corporations, specifically citing Caterpillar Tractor and AT&T. Ah, corporate welfare!

See the bleeding heart conservative!

To the audience’s delight, the congressman pushed another unchallenged Republican talking point: people should be allowed to purchase insurance across state lines. But he failed to mention two very important counterpoints.

First, such an unqualified proposal would permit the insurance industry, which already has tremendous political clout, to make deals with small states to write legislation favorable to the companies in exchange for tax revenue windfalls. Such deals likely would benefit healthy people and restrict coverage for the less healthy. This is succinctly explained in Ezra Klein’s excellent Washington Post column which can be found here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/02/selling_insurance_across_state.html

Second, McClintock failed to discuss the law’s provisions that expressly authorize interstate compacts. Was this because he was deliberately misinforming his constituents or because he either hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the new law?

When a questioner offered that enacting health care reform was consistent with the Constitution because its preamble ordains that the document “provide for the general welfare,” McClintock retorted that the questioner didn’t understand the framers’ intent in employing the term, and that James Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers would correct the questioner’s misunderstanding.

However, in Federalist No. 41, Madison discussed the term “general welfare” extensively in a way that today might easily be interpreted as supportive of health care reform. And in a lengthy discussion of “factions” in Federalist No. 10, he stated that the principal task of modern legislation is to regulate “various and interfering interests”. Perhaps Madison was endorsing government regulation! It’s unlikely that many in McClintock’s audience were familiar with the contents of these historic essays, so his misinterpretation of them probably went unnoticed.

Strongly condemning President Obama’s economic policies, McClintock railed against expansion of the national debt and wants the country returned to the policies of Ronald Reagan. It’s curious that he didn’t try to explain the conflict between his concern for fiscal discipline and the fact that under Reagan the national debt increased from $700 billion to $3 trillion. Additionally, it’s Bill Clinton who presided over the largest peacetime economic expansion in United States history and left office with a budget surplus of $236 billion that George Bush’s policies turned into a $455 billion deficit.

McClintock’s attempt to portray himself as prescient on economic matters falls apart when we review how his myopic warning of a year ago played out.

In this newspaper, he wrote that “one needs to look no further than the continuing decline of the stock market to see the damage that (President Obama’s) policies are doing to our economy. The stock market … is a strictly forward looking measure of what investors are betting will happen to our economy under current policy. And its precipitous decline since these policies have been unveiled should be a warning to us all.”

He wrote those words in early March 2009, almost precisely at the market’s bottom. Obama had been in office less than two months. The major averages have since risen over 60 percent! You don’t hear a peep out of him about this now. Using his logic, the huge advance since last March ought to presage a significant improvement in the economy. As a matter of fact, over the past two reported quarters the Gross Domestic Product has risen 2.2 and 5.9 percent respectively.

Why should we accept financial counsel from a man who prefers to feed his right-wing base instead of dealing with reality?

The congressman who told his audience that he was providing a history lesson didn’t tell them that he was rewriting it. He may be a darling to his base, but he ill-serves the rest of us.

Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities.


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