As most Americans focus their thoughts on family, friends and the nearing Christmas holiday, the U.S. Senate is in the final stage of debating and passing President Obama’s healthcare reform bill. On Monday, December 21st at 1:00am in the morning, the Senate voted to close debate and prepare for a vote on the final passage of an expansive and expensive government takeover of our nation’s healthcare system. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has scheduled the final vote for tomorrow morning, Christmas Eve.

Throughout the writing and debating of this bill the normal legislative process was marred by heavy-handed, Chicago-style tactics. Senators have been bribed with legislative favors and berated into supporting a proposal that will align our nation’s healthcare system with the very worst of policies found in Western Europe and Canada. A few weeks ago Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) was given a special $300 million earmark for her state in exchange for her support of the bill. Recently, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) secured millions of dollars in permanent subsidies for his state’s share of the new Medicaid entitlement mandates contained in the legislation. The fact that such dishonorable and despicable tactics had to be used illustrates the stakes involved and the utter lack of credible policy that this bill contains.

According to a Rasmussen poll, 56% of Americans oppose the current healthcare reform proposal, and there are good reasons to oppose it. Here is a list of some key facts about the bill:

-Over 10 years the real cost of the bill is $2.5 trillion.
-Individuals will be required to pay a special tax if they choose to not go over to the government-managed system.
-Unemployed workers will find it harder to get a job because of new regulations mandating that employers provide a minimum amount of health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
-Abortions will be subsidized by taxpayers.
-Medical supplies and equipment will be taxed to help foot the cost of the bill.
-Trillions of dollars in taxpayer money could be used to bailout the new government-sponsored insurance programs if they fail.
-Millions of Americans will lose their current health insurance despite promises from
President Obama that this will not happen.

At its root, this battle over healthcare is about far more than a series of reforms to the present system. This is a battle over freedom and over whether or not the American people are willing to concede their rights and responsibilities to a government that provides everything in exchange for the control of everything. Government takeover of healthcare would be a giant leap towards fiscal ruin and the eradication core freedoms.

The soft paternalism of government offers only certain mediocrity and not the vigorous excellence that comes through freedom. Other nations have gone down this path to socialism and the abject failures of their experiments stand as a stark counterpoint to the platitudes of hope uttered by Washington insiders. The time to act is now, and the deadline for action is mid-morning of Christmas Eve. The contact information for senators may be found on the official Senate website: www.senate.gov.

This Thanksgiving week, Congressman Mike Pence delievered the weekly Republican address to the nation. Pence’s optimism for the future, candid assessment of the present, and respect for those who went before us in this great country come through in this statement, which is one of the better Republican addresses.

By: Brian Sikma

Buried deep within the verbosity of the 1,990 page healthcare reform bill meandering to passage in the Democrat controlled Congress on Capitol Hill, is a significant provision that will cost the American people billions of dollars more in bailouts.  The recipients of this bailout will be unions such as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees Internal Union.  These unions are struggling to sustain the insurance plans they have provided for retired union members.  By seeking to make the federal government the backstop for any insurance insolvency they face, the unions are refusing to acknowledge that they are the ones responsible for the situation they now find themselves in. 

Other provisions in the bill give unions standing to advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services on healthcare matters and participate in some policy-making processes.  As programs are developed and contracts awarded as part of the massive reshaping of the nation’s healthcare system, it will be very hard for non-union organizations and businesses to effectively compete and win the new contracts.  If these unions cannot responsibly manage their own insurance programs, nothing makes them qualified to assist in a nationalized health insurance effort. 

Writing in the Huston Chronicle, a Texas-based attorney and healthcare expert has effectively sounded the alarm to the wide array of dangers posed by these relatively unknown and obscure provisions.

By: Brian Sikma

Long recognized as a measure of achievement, the Nobel Prizes are usually awarded to individuals who have labored diligently in a chosen field and can point to real accomplishments resulting from their work. With the announcement that President Barack Obama is the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, it appears that earning this distinction is becoming more a matter of good intentions and not substantive actions. Examining the current record of the President with respect to diplomatic affairs gives ample evidence that his recently awarded laurels may be a crown not quite fit for his head.

The circumstances surrounding this announcement are indeed interesting. The time period in which it is possible to nominate a person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize ended on February 1st of this year. The President was sworn into office a mere twelve days earlier. In that span of time the President did not give any major foreign policy speeches outlining his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Inevitably, this creates a question mark around the thoroughness of the Nobel Committee’s deliberations because the reason they cited for giving the prize to the President was his dedication to a new era of international relations, and specifically a world without nuclear weapons.

Three previous presidents have earned the Nobel Peace Prize. In mediating a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese War, and encouraging the adoption of an amiable treaty between the formerly warring parties, President Theodore Roosevelt won the prize in 1903. Not very long after that President Woodrow Wilson became a Nobel laureate for his work in forming the League of Nations, an unsuccessful post-World War I precursor to the United Nations. President Jimmy Carter earned the prize in 2002 in recognition of his numerous attempts at settling international disagreements and brokering uneasy truces.

Standing in somewhat stark contrast to the vigorous and diligent efforts of these previous presidential recipients of the Peace Prize is the current recipient. Notwithstanding the fact that when he was nominated for the prize he had done precious little work, and overlooking for a moment the fact that he still has done very little to earn a prize of this magnitude, President Obama’s record on international affairs is a dismal one. Since assuming office he has taken a global tour in which he apologized for American exceptionalism and our commitment to the core values that define us, offered his hearty personal support to the thug Hugo Chavez, refused to take a hard line with Iran’s maniacal leaders, left our allies in Europe hanging with the cessation of missile defense projects, and refrained from providing any public support for those who are fighting for the rule of law in Honduras.

These are not actions that deserve a prize or tend towards the maintenance of peace. They may be founded on good intentions but that cannot make up the unintentional damage that is now resulting from them. Appeasement and apology abroad and arrogance at home are not good policies. No prize, no matter how undeserved, can rescind the fact that unless our President alters his course, our nation will continue to earn friendship with those nations that do not matter and lose the friendship of those nations that count. It would be wise for the President to bear in mind that a committee in Norway is not responsible for the final judgment of his policies. Years from now history will show us what an unmerited prize cannot: decisions that placate the progressive left do not lead to the preservation of Western Civilization.

Iranian Missile

Iranian Missile

By: Brian Sikma

The past few weeks have seen a rapid series of developments take place with respect to our nation’s foreign policy goals. In the first part of September we saw the President continue his reluctance to speak out forcefully against Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Iran has repeatedly insisted that it is enriching uranium for peaceful and civilian purposes. To believe this line, and assume that Iran is limiting its program to only meeting its energy needs, is overly optimistic at best and terribly naïve at worst.

Former Senators Dan Coats and Charles Robb, and retired General Charles Wald, recently analyzed the Iranian situation and concluded that by 2010 Iran will have enough weapons-grade uranium enriched to fuel a nuclear device. Their conclusion factored in only the enrichment plant at Natanz and was made before the revelation that there is another small enrichment facility built into a mountain at Qom. The addition of this plant could further reduce the time line that Iran is working with on this project. Since the concept of a nuclear armed Iran became a serious possibility, observers, analysts, and other experts have repeatedly updated their projections with shorter and shorter estimates for when Iran will become only the second rogue state with nuclear capabilities.

Beginning after the last day of the Bush Administration, our nation has lacked a comprehensive approach to dealing with the building storm swirling around Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the free world the nation that has continued to pose a significant moral and potential military objection to Iran’s action has been our ally in the Middle East: Israel. While Washington continues to solace itself with platitudes of peace and promises of dialogue, there is reason to believe that some in the position to shape US policy with Iran are hoping that Israel will play the bad cop role in this precipitous situation. But this is not an instance in which our country can afford to be a part-time, one-part player on the world stage.

In this near crisis we must not continue to abdicate our national position of responsibility and leave it to others to resolve this problem. Every diplomatic and military option must be on the table. Whether or not we like this obligation is irrelevant because our position in the world, the magnitude of the threat posed directly to us by Iran, and the grim consequences of inaction compel us to do something. Unfortunately, doing nothing or resorting to dialogues not backed up by a common commitment to realistic goals or a firm final policy position all form an array of poor choices we can choose from.

Related to the forward progress of Iran in acquiring nuclear weapons and perfecting and testing delivery systems is our voluntary withdrawal of key missile defense elements from Europe. In a sudden, though not unexpected move, President Obama surrendered the diplomatic achievements made by some of his predecessors in announcing that we will not deploy 10 missile interceptors to Poland and build an advanced radar and tracking station in the Czech Republic. Although they came under intense pressure from Moscow to not cooperate with the United States, these nations chose freedom over following the heavy-handed dictates of their former masters.

In making the brave choice to become part of our nation’s global missile defense system, Poland and the Czech Republic put their faith in us and in the success of our policy. The people of these countries and their leaders vividly recall what it was like to live in oppression and since they have escaped their shackles they have pursued liberty and state sovereignty with zeal. Their decision to become an integral part of our effort to neutralize the threat of WMD-tipped ICBMs was not only one of cold decision-making, but also a symbol of their willingness to put national sovereignty ahead of regional appeasement, to reinforce their separation with Russia, and assert their own security needs and their own view of what must be done to protect against 21st Century threats.

Our decision to abandon full-scale development of missile defense in Europe not only undermines the position that Poland and the Czech Republic have taken on their regional stage, it ungratefully leaves them to bear the shame of having to explain why they put their trust in a super power that is only interested in keeping the commitments it finds convenient. These nations took a risk with us and by extension we have a duty to lead them well. Abruptly folding the alliance and leaving them with nothing to show for their risk exposure discredits our credibility with the nations that matter.

Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt

Extending beyond the consequences for our European policy, eliminating missile defense initiatives in Europe dramatically hurts our capacity effectively respond to the Iranian threat before a catastrophic event materializes. By presenting a bolder diplomatic front – something the present administration has not done – and backing such forceful words with meaningful action both inside the region and within the ranges of Iran’s missile capabilities, we can achieve a far more meaningful result than we are on track to get right now. The old adage to speak softly and carry a big stick still rings true today, and replacing it with unfounded hope and unwise change carries a heavy penalty.

By: State Rep. Wes Culver

The American health care system is ailing and policymakers at the national level are experimenting with various prescriptions trying to determine which one will cure the patient.  If we are not careful though, in our search for a cure we may end up failing to fix what is wrong with the system and harming what is already right with it.  I believe that our health care system can be fixed by giving it a strong dose of patient oriented reform that puts individuals and their doctors at the center of the system and forces third-parties to take a back seat role.  Overreaching federal regulation, heavily regulated insurance companies, and overzealous trial lawyers should not be in the driver’s seat of this vehicle.

For years we have looked on the health care sector as something different and unique from other consumer products or services.  While it certainly possesses dimensions that other sectors do not have, it is not too unique to be exempted from the innovative mindset that has generated advanced technology and better products at a reduced cost in other areas of our economy.  If we can make high quality electronic devices widely available at an affordable price, I think it is time for us to look at harnessing the principles that made that happen and put them to good use lowering the cost of health care and increasing our accessibility to that care.

The problem we must grapple with today in improving our health care system is not one of quality, but of affordability and accessibility.  Today, 85% of Americans are satisfied with the quality of care they receive from doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.  Yet even as the majority of our population approves of the job that our medical professionals and institutions are doing, no one is satisfied with the rising cost of that care.  From 2000 to 2008 the annual cost of employer provided health insurance rose from $6,438 per family to $12,680 per family.   Our nation annually spends $2.4 trillion on health care.

According to the President and Democrat members of Congress, the best way to control rising health care costs and increase accessibility to health insurance is to create a “public option” insurance plan that puts the federal government in charge of your medical care.  Observing the incompetency of Medicaid and the trillions of dollars in unfunded obligations in Medicare, expanding the federal government’s role in the health care sector is a bad idea.  Furthermore, our neighbor to the north, Canada, has been on a sort of public option health care program for decades and they recently concluded that the system has failed and now they are moving away from the direction the President wants to take us.

If the solution offered by Washington, D.C. is wrong, what can we do to fix our health care system?  I am proposing that Indiana do three things at the State level to lower costs, improve accessibility, and advance the quality of care that Hoosiers receive.  First, we should eliminate the mandate that our state places on insurance companies that their health insurance plans contain certain policy elements.  This mandate discourages insurance companies from competing in Indiana and limits Hoosiers to choosing from plans that might not be the best ones for them.  Second, we should allow Hoosiers to buy insurance from companies not located in Indiana and not currently competing in the Indiana insurance market.  By breaking down this barrier that surrounds our state, we can foster a more dynamic and competitive environment that gives Hoosiers access to more affordable health insurance.  Third, we can institute a system that calls for price transparency in all medical procedures.  Just as you expect to know what a particular item or service will cost you in another sector, you deserve to know what a particular health care procedure or service will cost you.

By moving forward at the state level with reforms that do not involve costly, inefficient and wasteful government programs that dictate how much health care you can access, we can make Indiana a leader in the area of affordable health care.  It’s time for us to once again become an innovator and build a better future for ourselves and those who will use the system after us.

State Rep. Wes Culver represents the 49th District in the Indiana House of Representatives.  Any questions or comments about health care can be directed to him by e-mailing healthcare@electwesculver.com.

By: Wes Culver (R-Goshen, Ind.)

Unless they work in education or state government, not many people know or understand the complicated formula that determines how much funding each school corporation receives each year.

Each school corporation receives a specific dollar amount per student. So, two schools with the same number of students will receive a different dollar amount because the amount per student is different.

The amount per student can be immense. The lowest amount received by a school corporation in 2008 was $5,414 per student in Northwest Allen School Corp. The school corporation with the highest rate per-student was Gary School Corp., receiving $9,010 per student.

Several community members have voiced their concern with this variation. Why, they ask, does the state give more money per student to some schools and less to others?

Generally, tuition support for schools is tied to the numbers of students — “average daily membership” in bureaucratic terms — in each school district. As such, districts with declining enrollments face decreasing amounts of tuition support.

However, districts are still provided partial funding for students who have left the district, which is known as “ghosting.” Ghosting may occur when a student was enrolled at the start of the school year and then left sometime during that year.

Keep in mind, school districts have five years before funding is completely phased out for that student — 100 percent the first year, 80 percent the second, then 60 percent, 40 percent and, in the fifth year, 20 percent.

School systems with declining student enrollments have benefited greatly from this method, while those with growing enrollments have suffered, even though both face the same problem of changing enrollment.

The governor’s budget wants to finally end ghosting to make sure the money follows the student. If the student is not there, the money for that student wouldn’t be, either. However, the House Democrat’s budget proposal includes the ghosting formula.

A declining enrollment creates no more problems than an increasing enrollment. Officials from schools with declining enrollments say the students leaving are not from one class, but rather a few from every classroom; therefore, they cannot get rid of any teachers. However, neither can a growing school corporation place all the new students in one classroom and hire one teacher.

Growing schools are forced to handle their greater enrollments by redistricting to most efficiently handle students; declining schools should do the same.

These are not easy problems for superintendents to resolve. But that is what their job is and why we put them in those positions. Tough decisions aren’t always easy for businesses and families either, but they have to make them when their income declines.

I don’t think we should ask our schools to do anything we wouldn’t do as families and business people. They should not be exempt from the struggles everyone else faces.

Wes Culver (R-Goshen) represents House District 49 in the Indiana House of Representatives.  His website is www.electwesculver.com.