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AP-GfK Poll: Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget ditto …,


AP-GfK Poll: Medicare doesn’t have to be cut
May 23, 2011, 7:02 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — They’re not buying it. Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that arguments for overhauling the massive benefit programs to pare government debt have failed to sway the public. The debate is unlikely to be resolved before next year’s elections for president and Congress.

Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama’s Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year’s elections.

Medicare seems to be turning into the new third rail of politics.

“I’m pretty confident Medicare will be there, because there would be a rebellion among voters,” said Nicholas Read, 67, a retired teacher who lives near Buffalo, N.Y. “Republicans only got a hint of that this year. They got burned. They touched the hot stove.”

Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for about a third of government spending, a share that will only grow. Economic experts say the cost of retirement programs for an aging society is the most serious budget problem facing the nation. The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare recently warned the programs are “not sustainable” over the long run under current financing.

Nearly every solution for Social Security is politically toxic, because the choices involve cutting benefits or raising taxes. Medicare is even harder to fix because the cost of modern medicine is going up faster than the overall cost of living, outpacing economic growth as well as tax revenues.

“Medicare is an incredibly complex area,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who used to chair the Budget Committee. “It’s a matrix that is almost incomprehensible. Unlike Social Security, which has four or five moving parts, Medicare has hundreds of thousands. There is no single approach to Medicare, whereas with Social Security everyone knows where the problem is.”

That’s not what the public sees, however.

“It’s more a matter of bungling, and lack of oversight, and waste and fraud, and padding of the bureaucracy,” said Carolyn Rodgers, who lives near Memphis, Tenn., and is still working as a legal assistant at 74. “There is no reason why even Medicare, if it had been handled right, couldn’t have been solvent.”

In the poll, 54 percent said it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, and 59 percent said the same about Social Security.

Taking both programs together, 48 percent said the government could balance the budget without cutting either one. Democrats and political independents were far more likely than Republicans to say that neither program will have to be cut.

The recession cost millions their jobs and sent retirement savings accounts into a nosedive. It may also have underscored the value of government programs. Social Security kept sending monthly benefits to 55 million recipients, like clockwork; Medicare went on paying for everything from wheelchairs to heart operations.

Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is “extremely” or “very” important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.

The sentiment was a lot stronger among the elderly. Eighty-four percent of those 65 or older said both programs are central to their financial security. Compare that to adults under 30, just starting out. Just under half, or 46 percent, said they believed both Social Security and Medicare would be extremely or very important to their financial security in retirement.

Old, middle-aged or just entering the workforce, most people are keenly aware of the cost of health care, and that may be helping to focus more attention on Medicare.

“Health insurance these days is very costly, and it’s not something that most people can afford to go out and buy on their own,” said Tim Messner, 38, a technology quality assurance analyst from Barberton, Ohio. “I don’t know that we could possibly plan ahead for medical insurance, but if you had to replace Social Security or investments, you at least have an idea of what you can live on.”

Numbers tell the story. As health care goes up, the value of Medicare benefits is catching up to Social Security’s. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 1980 would have expected to receive health care worth $132,000 through Medicare over their remaining lifetimes, and $446,000, or about three times more, in Social Security payments.

For a similar couple who retired last year, the Medicare benefit will be worth $343,000, compared to Social Security payments totaling $539,000, less than twice as much. The numbers, from economists at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, are adjusted for inflation to allow direct comparison. For low-income single retirees and some couples, the value of expected Medicare benefits already exceeds that of Social Security.

The poll found a deep current of pessimism about the future of Social Security and Medicare. As much as Americans say the programs are indispensable, only 35 percent say it’s extremely or very likely that Social Security will be there to pay benefits through their entire retirement. For Medicare, it was 36 percent.

Again, there’s a sharp difference between what the public believes and what experts say. Most experts say the programs will be there for generations to come. But they may look very different than they do today, and Americans should take note.

“Do they have a basis for worrying that these programs are going to pay them much less than they’re currently promising?” asked economist Charles Blahous. “Yes, absolutely. Do they have a basis for being concerned that the programs may have to be structurally changed in order to survive? The answer to that is yes, too.” A trustee of Social Security and Medicare, Blahous served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Republican lawmakers don’t inspire much confidence right now when it comes to dealing with retirement programs, the poll found. Democrats have the advantage as the party more trusted to do a better job handling Social Security by 52 percent to 34 percent, and Medicare by 54 percent to 33 percent. Often, but not always, major revisions have been accomplished through bipartisan compromise.

Sue DeSantis, 61, a store clerk from West Milton, Ohio, worries she won’t be able to rely on either program. Both are important to her well-being, but she thinks changes are inevitable. And she has little confidence in lawmakers.

“I don’t put my faith in politicians, and I don’t put my faith in the government,” said DeSantis. “I’m a Christian. I believe that God will take care of me. That doesn’t mean I should be foolish and not look at anything, but I don’t believe that the politicians are necessarily going to do the best for the common ordinary person like myself.”

The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted May 5-9, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

Poll results: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Obama asks Congress for education bill by Sept.


Obama asks Congress for education bill by Sept.
March 14, 2011, 4:58 p.m. EDT
Associated Press
Article Posted by Calvin lee Ledsome Sr.,

WASHINGTON (AP) — Urging Congress to send him a new education law by fall, President Barack Obama focused Monday on the big concerns of parents and lawmakers alike: how student progress is measured and how schools that fall short are labeled.

Citing new estimates, Obama said four out of five schools may be tagged as failures this year under provisions of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.

“That’s an astonishing number,” he said. “We know that four out of five schools in this country aren’t failing. So what we’re doing to measure success and failure is out of line.”

Obama’s call for a rewrite of the education law appears unlikely, at least by his September deadline. The House education committee’s Republican chairman acknowledged the need for improvement but called the president’s time line “arbitrary.”

While the law enacted in 2002 under George W. Bush has become an easy political target, Obama acknowledged that it set the “right goals”: educating all children, having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, and highlighting the achievement gaps between rich and poor, white students and many minorities, and students with and without disabilities.

But he said improvements are needed in measuring student progress and labeling schools that fall short. He called for measuring creativity and critical thinking along with math and reading skills, and for rewarding good teachers while showing little leniency for bad ones.

“In the 21st century, it’s not enough to leave no child behind,” Obama said. “We need to help every child get ahead. We need to get every child on a path to academic excellence.”

The Education Department estimated last week that the percentage of schools labeled as “failing” under the law could more than double this year, jumping from 37 percent to 82 percent as states boost standards to try to satisfy the law’s mandates. The law set a goal of having all students proficient in math and reading by 2014, a standard now deemed unrealistic.

Schools that fail to meet yearly targets over time are labeled as needing improvement, a designation that upsets many parents who consider it an unfair stigma. Such schools often are described as failing, although the law itself does not use that term. Obama suggested it does, however, by repeatedly using the word “failing” to describe such schools during Monday’s appearance at an Arlington, Va., middle school.

Obama said he wants a more flexible system focused on preparing graduating high school students for college and career, and assessing whether that goal is being met. Reading, math and science proficiency will continue to be emphasized, he said, but skills like critical thinking, creativity and collaboration should also be measured.

He also called for better efforts to prepare and support teachers that encourage their creativity yet holds them accountable for student progress and doesn’t make excuses for the occasional bad teacher.

Obama has met several times this year with a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers leading efforts to rewrite the law. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that an update is needed; they disagree on the federal government’s role in education and on what’s the best way to turn around schools with a history of poor performance.

The Senate committee handling education held 10 hearings on the issue last year and its chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has said he is working with Republicans to introduce a bill by Easter.

The situation is far different in the House. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was chairman of the House education committee when the No Child Left Behind law was enacted, has not indicated whether he intends to make the rewrite of the law a priority.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the current chairman of the House education panel, acknowledged the importance of overhauling the education law but suggested that Obama’s September deadline had already fallen by the wayside. He said the committee was continuing to get input from school officials and state and local leaders.

“We need to take the time to get this right,” Kline said. “We cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms that encourage innovation, flexibility and parental involvement.”

Obama has been visiting schools around the country — in Miami, Boston and Arlington, Va., so far — to promote his education agenda, while fighting with lawmakers over how deeply to cut domestic spending to balance the budget and begin trimming the federal deficit.

Insisting he recognizes the need for fiscal discipline, Obama reiterated Monday that education spending is an area where he is unwilling to compromise. He said an educated and skilled work force will attract jobs and make the country more attractive to businesses.

“We cannot cut education. We can’t cut the things that will make America more competitive,” Obama said.

Education is one of Obama’s better issues, according to recent AP-GfK polling that found nearly two-thirds of the public, or 64 percent, approve of his handling of the issue.

A majority of the public also views the education law unfavorably. An AP-Stanford poll last fall found that two-thirds of the public either thought the law has had “no real impact” or had made schools worse.
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The uneasy ties of Americans and their government


Feb. 2, 2011, 7:20 a.m. EST
Published Through Associated Press

Posted by Public Blog News Posting Service: http://publicblognewspostingservice.com

He said that would be like solving homelessness by passing a law making people buy a house.

A step too far. Not the American way.

That was Barack Obama, presidential hopeful.

Like every leader and many citizens, he was searching for the right balance between what government should do for people and what people should do for themselves.

His answer on that point changed. But in the United States, the question never does.

A debate that began in the bloody throes of revolution has persisted through history’s pendulum swings left and right: the New Deal activism of Franklin Roosevelt, the pushback of Ronald Reagan, the squishy years of Bill Clinton’s “third way” and George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” the ambitious agenda of Obama.

Then that debate landed in a Florida courtroom, where U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson examined the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, marveled at all its moving parts, likened it to a “finely crafted” timepiece and took a hammer to it.

“The Act,” he wrote, “needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.” Meaning Congress.

Vinson ruled it was unconstitutional for the government to force people to get health insurance. Never before, he said, has Congress made people buy something “just for being alive and residing in the United States.”

The law remains in effect pending appeals and a likely Supreme Court showdown. The judicial scorecard now is 2-2 for and against the law in challenges brought by states.

In most other richer countries, it’s an article of faith that government will help with health care, just as it provides public education and tightly controls guns. Universal health care programs are a source of national pride despite vigorous complaints about service and cost.

But in the U.S., the unfolding court cases and political donnybrook have made clear that the law, a massively complex instrument that stuffs a dozen acts together and touches every aspect of medicine, hit a simple nerve.

Americans don’t yield easily to being told by their government what to do.

They are suspicious that a helping hand will become a heavy hand — that Washington’s offer of end-of-life counseling will turn into a federal death panel, that an attempt to control childhood obesity will lead to the feds crushing grade-school bake sales.

Reagan’s cry that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” echoes on one side of the debate.

Even so, Americans elect many Democrats.

They elected Obama, who ran on an agenda packed with hundreds of specific things, large and small, that he promised the government would do.

Indeed, the federal government has been a growing presence in Americans’ lives for generations.

Due mostly to Medicare and Medicaid, for example, Washington picks up 43 percent of the nation’s health bills, a share that the new law is expected to raise only incrementally in the years ahead.

The government makes laws to keep Americans safe from toxic water and air, to ensure baby strollers aren’t dangerous and to regulate precisely how many maggots and mites a can of food may properly contain.

Americans might possess a residual frontier mentality, but those pioneers never saw a Social Security check — and woe to any politician who tries to pry that entitlement out of anyone’s hands now.

Ask people what they want the government to do and the answers are none too helpful for leaders who are trying to divine which way the winds are blowing.

On the health care law, public opinion is about as complicated as the statute itself. In an AP-GfK poll last month, 41 percent opposed the law and 40 percent supported it, just one of a battery of surveys that have pointed to widespread public unease about the overhaul but an unwillingness to just let it go.

Two months earlier, an AP-CNBC poll asked people about cutting the federal budget and found scant support for taking money away from specific services.

On programs big enough to make a difference, like Social Security, farm subsidies and Medicare, people were split. And they were broadly against cutting money for education or homeland security.

Vinson, a Reagan appointee who paid out of pocket for the birth of his first child, presided over a case in which both sides and the judge visited the touchstones of history that have helped shape what the federal government can and cannot force everyone to do.

To aid the government’s case, it was pointed out that the Judiciary Act of 1789 required men to serve in a posse. There have been mandates to serve on a jury, participate in the census, submit to eminent domain and exchange gold bullion for paper currency.

The court reviewed the 1942 case of poor Roscoe Filburn, an Ohio farmer who was prosecuted for growing 239 more bushels of wheat than the federal government allowed even though the grain was to feed his own chickens, not manipulate prices. The Supreme Court ruled against him, extending Washington’s power to regulate commerce.

In his ruling, though, Vinson ended up in the pocket of the tea party — the Boston Tea Party, that is.

It is difficult to imagine, he said, that a people who revolted against Britain’s colonial tea tax “would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea.”

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Warmest regards,
Calvin L. Ledsome Sr.,


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