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Bennet saying all the right things

Wed, Sep 30, 2009

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It’s 7:30 a.m. Do you know where your community leaders are?

Having breakfast at the Pew Charitable Trust and waiting for Sen. Michael Bennet to show – and suddenly he’s there.

Bennet devoted much of his time to Washington’s current obsession, health care. He made it clear that the administration is committed to moving forward with legislation that will dramatically alter the way health care is delivered and funded, and he expects the bill that eventually emerges from Congress will be an improvement compared to the present system.

Bennet said that his constituents have made two things very clear.

“You’re deeply unhappy with the present health care system,” he said, “and you’re afraid that we’re going to make it worse.”

Then, like any nerdy, fact-driven graduate of a certain small liberal arts college nestled in the hills above the Connecticut River, he listed the factors that, he believes, make it imperative to enact health care reform.

“Median family incomes have declined by $800 since 2000,” Bennet said, “while health care costs have increased by 97 percent. Small businesses spend 18 percent more per employee on health care than do big businesses. Health care now takes 18 percent of our national income, and it’s on its way to 20 percent. We spend twice as much on health care as any other developed nation. I don’t have to tell you that if there are two businesses, and one spends 10 percent of its income to light and heat the building, and the other spends 20 percent, the one will find it easier to grow the business, put money back in and prosper.”

Bennet linked job creation directly to health care costs, saying that less GDP in health care means more jobs.

“We can’t solve the fiscal quagmire that we’re in without dealing with health care,” he said.

Bennet was asked about a bill sponsored by Sen. John Kerrey that would establish “veteran’s courts” to deal with the often-traumatized service members who, returning from deployment, often get embroiled in the legal system.

As Dave Philipps documented in his series in The Gazette, minor crimes might lead to more serious offenses. It seems clear that tweaking the legal system to facilitate appropriate intervention would be a good idea – and Bennet agrees.

“That sounds like something I should support, and probably co-sponsor,” he said, noting the bill number.

Bennet also spoke about proposed “cap and trade” bills, which are intended to curb carbon emissions. Such legislation, said Bruce McCormick of Colorado Springs Utilities, would be extremely costly for CSU and its customers (that means you), because it’s not technically feasible for the utility, which generates most of its power by burning coal, to make the significant emissions reductions that the bill would require.

Bennet was sympathetic, saying that he has “fundamental concerns with the cap and trade bills.”

“It’s a long process,” he said, “we’ll approach it with care.”

But he stressed that the country needs to take meaningful steps to encourage new renewables technology (“If we cede that to China and Europe, that will not benefit us”) and to reduce dependence upon oil from the Persian Gulf.

Listening to Bennet, it was easy to understand why Gov. Bill Ritter chose him to fill Ken Salazar’s seat. He’s formidably smart, well-prepared, knows how to communicate complex issues, knows how to disgree politely and how to evade without seeming to evade.

Next stop: the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where we filed into a splendid hearing room to listen to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donahue.

Donahue’s a guy from Brooklyn, direct, plain-spoken and a fierce advocate for businesses large and small. Donahue talked about health care (“we need a bill that actually works, not one that kills jobs”), and dismissed the recent controversy about the departure of a few members, including two major utilities, because they disagreed with the chamber’s position on climate change.

“We’ve got 300, 000 members,” Donahue said, “and three of ‘em left. And one of ‘em is gonna make a billion and a half out of the (cap and trade) bill. We’re in favor of dealing with climate change – but we have to do it right.”

Donahue really got going when the subject of illegal immigration came up, sparked by a question from Buddy Gilmore.

“If we just go ahead and send 15 million people back to where they came from, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” he said. “You’re gonna get a call from the nursing home, and they’re gonna say, ‘Hey, buddy, come get your mother-in-law,’cause she’s gonna come live with you, ’cause we can’t take care of her any more’ – and that ain’t good!

“And let me tell you something, when you say the health care bill shouldn’t cover undocumented workers, what do you think? Somebody comes to the hospital with a broken leg, we’re not gonna treat him, we’re gonna put him out in the street and let him die? It’s a lot cheaper to cover ‘em, instead of sending everybody to the emergency room. That’s just third-grade math.”

This afternoon: Michele Bachmann.

And by the way: Larry Liston owes me five bucks. He lost a bet. Explanation in next blog.

Irrelevant observation: The ceiling of the hearing room was decorated with the signs of the zodiac. Are the august senators who so often deliberate in that beautiful space somehow influenced by astrology? And if so, does that violate the separation of church and state?

Just asking …

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