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Local Government This Week in Politics


Editor Dennis Maley runs down the week's big local, state and national political stories in this exclusive TBT feature. This week: in spite of PIP reform, insurance savings fail to materialize; why the media can't resist the fiscal cliff drama; Connie Mack and the political payback; Commissioner DiSabatino gets the cold shoulder; and do Republicans have an ulterior motive for opposing Susan Rice named Scott Brown?

It seems PIP reform is turning out to be just what a lot of opponents said it would – profit reform. New laws limiting personal injury claims in auto accidents were billed as a way to protect Floridians from skyrocketing premiums by limiting insurers' exposure on such claims. Restrictions, which removed licensed massage therapy and acupuncture from treatments covered under PIP and required that an “emergency” medical condition be proven before a victim were eligible for the full $10,000 benefit, are estimated to save insurers 25 percent on PIP policies.

Originally, the insurance-friendly folks in our state legislature were going to leave it up to the insurers to pass those savings onto customers, because hey, that's what insurance executives do with leftover money, right? Thankfully, it ended up requiring at least some cost protections in order to pass. Insurers were supposed to lower PIP premiums by 10 percent when they submitted rates Oct. 1 of this year, and then 25 percent by 2014. The actual numbers from insurance companies haven't come close. Of 44 filings that have been approved by the state's Office of Insurance Regulation so far, the average PIP savings is only 2.5 percent.

A couple of weeks back, I pointed out how ridiculous it seemed for some Republicans not just to feign such remarkable outrage over how the flow of information went public after the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, but to direct it at Susan Rice. But words were no match for the video montage that appeared on the Daily Show this week (see below).

Forget how silly it seems to have the man who chose Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate call someone with Susan Rice's resume “unqualified,” and watch what Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were saying in both the run-up to the Iraq War and the confirmation of Republican Condi Rice as Secretary of State after a stint at NSA in which she routinely made the Benghazi talking points seem like tea and crumpets by comparison. The word hypocritical comes to mind, though it doesn't seem pejorative enough.

Speaking of Secretary of State, Republicans have suddenly made a big deal out of letting anyone who will listen know that they are more than willing to get over their loathsome contempt for Senator John Kerry, promising an easy confirmation for the man they swift-boated in 2004, were he to be nominated. Could it be that Kerry's ascent to state would open up a Senate seat that recently-defeated Republican Scott Brown could run for?


The media loves a good emergency. That's why it can't help but anoint the so-called fiscal cliff as some sort of blockbuster, big-budget sequel to … dun, dun dunnnnt … the debt ceiling crisis. Yet even that manufactured drama was not as overplayed and over-hyped as our latest prime-time farce. Time and again, pundits refer to the fiscal cliff as an impending doom that will wreck the economy if a “grand bargain” is not struck before the “Dec. 31 deadline.”


In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. It would take months for the impacts of the automatic cuts and tax increases to start impacting the economy. Politicians could simply let the Dec. 31 deadline pass and start from scratch in fixing the various areas impacted.


For example, on Jan 1, they could propose a tax cut bill that lowers taxes on Americans making under $250,000 to their current levels, while allowing those for Americans making more than that (less than 2 percent of us) to return to paying Clinton-era tax levels, still amongst the lowest in U.S. history. Then they could propose a bill that removes the cap on income that is taxed for Social Security (Americans are not taxed on earnings over $106,800 each year) and means tests Medicare. That would take care of entitlements for at least the next 80 years!


Next, decide how much defense spending we need, by mandating that all upward adjustments on sequestration (which are scheduled to be 10 percent across the board cuts) also be put back across the board. We can't pretend we're serious about cutting the deficit, while growing the biggest piece of the spending pie. Finally, if they want to reform the tax code, go ahead. Because now we could do it in a thoughtful and pragmatic fashion for the sake of reforming the tax code, rather than pretending it's to solve a manufactured crisis.


Of course this is unlikely to happen, because it goes against the very reason this crisis was manufactured in the first place. Politicians knew that failing to come to a real solution over the drummed up debt-ceiling debacle would allow them to double down when December came. Perpetual cries for a grand bargain are little more than a rally cry to take hard-won social benefits away from middle and lower class earners so that the wealthiest can continue to pay less than their fair share.


In politispeak: put “entitlement reform” on the table and we'll reform the tax code without raising tax rates. In plain English: make working stiffs wait longer to get Social Security and Medicare, give them less if and when they do make it to that age, and take away some key middle-class tax benefits all so that the wealthiest Americans – the ones who have continued to take a larger and larger share of total earnings over the past decade – can continue to do so at the expense of the least fortunate. 



https://www.thebradentontimes.com/clientuploads/2012 congress/Connie_Mack4_220.jpg
Congressman Connnie Mack IV

In the political pay for play of the week, Congressman Connie Mack IV (R-Ft. Myers) authored a bill that would – surprise – directly benefit perhaps the biggest donor/bundler for his failed 2012 Senate bid. The Judgment Evading Foreign States Accountability Act would pressure Argentina to pay U.S. investors more than $3.5 billion worth of principal and interest on defaulted Argentinian bonds from 2001, by threatening to bar them from U.S. capital markets and restrict foreign aid.

New York venture capitalist Paul Singer, a big-dog campaign funder for Republican candidates, including Mack and his wife, Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, is one of the parties who would benefit handsomely. Employees of Singer’s investment firm, Elliott Management, also donated $39,000 to Mack’s Senate campaign – more than any other company.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere voted to approve Mack’s bill this week. Mack, who just so happens to chair the panel, voted for the measure, which he called a "bold step to safeguard American businesses and investors." Presumably because he was so busy trying to climb the political ladder, it is the only bill Congressman Mack has moved through the subcommittee in all of 2012.


Commissioner Robin DiSabatino

Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino (R-District 4) really raised the bar as chair of the Community Redevelopment Agency over the past year. DiSabatino rolled up her sleeves and got to work, tirelessly trying to revitalize some of the county's most challenged commercial areas. Her take the bull by the horns approach sometimes creased a couple of her fellow commissioners, and despite the model job she's done, they voted not to reappoint her as chair.

DiSabatino was absent from Tuesday's meeting, when her fellow commissioners elected new chairs to various boards and bodies that are sort of committees within the commission. Commissioners nominated Michael Gallen (D-District 2), who declined, saying he'd enjoyed working with DiSabatino and preferred to see her continue as chair. Gallen couldn't find another commissioner who agreed and the board instead nominated and approved incoming commissioner Betsy Benac (R-District 7).

Though the rest of the board may have failed to see DiSabatino's value in the role, it wasn't lost on those she's impacted, and I'd like to salute the fine work she did while chair. Business in Manatee County is not limited to large developers, phosphate mining companies and out-of-state businesses who are incentivized to relocate. Anytime someone takes a sincere interest in reinvigorating older, distressed pockets of our economic community in which many hard-working, local entrepreneurs have invested their life savings, it should be applauded.

Allowing such areas to deteriorate into slums, blighted by vacant commercial properties that become magnets for drug trade, prostitution, homelessness and violent crime only adds financial costs in the form of law enforcement and social services, while burdening our society with social costs that are much more difficult to measure. Manatee County has proven that a community cannot just concentrate on expanding its tax base by developing outlying rural hamlets, while the urban core rots from the inside out. Commissioner DiSabatino understood this and her leadership will be missed.


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