Wherefore art thou Rubio?

Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote up or down on the nomination of Texas oilman Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. If they do not approve him, his nomination will go to the Senate floor without a recommendation, which would make it more unlikely that the closely divided Senate – 52R-48D – will ultimately confirm him. The key figure in the political and ideological drama surrounding Tillerson’s nomination is US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Tillerson, like the man who nominated him, has a history of favorable comments about Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. While President Trump’s views about getting along with Russia have been political, Tillerson’s have been business. When CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson dealt with Putin, and many other world leaders, in an effort to buy or sell petroleum. Rubio, however, sees the issue in moral terms. And he pushed, indeed pushed hard, to get Tillerson to agree that Putin is a “war criminal,” citing the mysterious deaths of his political opponents. Is Rubio’s stance essentially a moral or ideological one, or is there political ambition in the mix of motives? Barney Bishop, Tallahassee-based political analyst, says, “I surmise that he’s just very strong on foreign policy, on Cuba, China and Russia. And he’s not a big fan of Donald Trump,” who famously dubbed Rubio “Little Marco” during the unsavory GOP nomination battle. Bishop adds, however, “I was a little surprised at his tone at the Tillerson hearing.” University of South Florida Professor Susan MacManus points out that Rubio “has a long history of making strong statements on foreign policy.” She adds, however, “Everybody...

A Georgian Looks Into the Social Security Crystal Ball

Late last month, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated projections for Social Security (see “CBO’s 2016 Long-Term Projections for Social Security”). Long story short: CBO believes that the consequences are larger, arrive sooner and tend to be much more expensive to fix than the public typically believes. Those expectations are generally formed based on the estimates of the Trustees for Social Security Trust Funds, which are more widely reported. Nonetheless, both forecasts are legitimate and well founded. So it is reasonable to view these estimates as book-ends for the discussion about Social Security, where CBO provides the conservative end and Trustees are the more optimistic. The combined estimates provided by the Trustees and the CBO essentially say that we can expect Social Security to pay full benefits for 12 to 17 years. Once the trust funds are exhausted, experts believe that cuts will range between 20 and 30 percent. CBO believes that the cost to fix Social Security is nearly double the projected remedy suggested by the Trustees. The figure 4.68 percent of payroll means that payroll taxes would rise to 20 percent – assuming that Medicare does not push the figure higher. Why are the estimate different? In simple terms, CBO expects the system to generate less revenue and spend more money. For CBO’s explanation of the differences between CBO’s long-term Social Security projections and those of the Social Security Trustees, (see Congressional Testimony of CBO Director Hall ) This trend is magnified by the interest earned on the Trust Fund. In 2029, CBO expects the combined Trust Funds to reach zero. Going into 2030, the...

Georgia’s 5th Congressional District Is In Dire Straights

  President-elect Donald Trump is correct. Georgia’s 5th Congressional District – like many urban centers across this country – is in dire straits. If you look beyond the shiny skyscrapers, sports venues and new bicycle trails, the capital of the New South fails miserably those who make it home. Congressman John Lewis’ refusal to accept the outcome of the Nov. 8 election and to focus on the needs of his District shows how out-of-touch he and other veteran lawmakers are in this nation. Trump has more of a pulse of what is happening with the people of inner cities such as Atlanta than the icon of the civil rights movement. Lewis’ 5th Congressional District consists of the city of Atlanta, south DeKalb County – including Decatur – portions of Henry and Clayton counties. The workers who frequent Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown by day still primarily flee to the suburbs and exurbs at night. They don’t enroll their children in local schools nor create enough jobs to boost the underclass. Consider this: A 2015 report by the Annie E. Casey foundation found that 80 percent of African American children in the city of Atlanta live in poverty compared to 6 percent of whites and 29 percent of Asians. The same report found that unemployment is 22 percent for African Americans in Atlanta compared to only 6 percent for whites. Meanwhile, whites earn three times as much as their black counterparts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in November of 2016, the unemployment rate was 6.2 percent in Clayton, 5.2 percent in Henry, 5.1 percent in DeKalb and 5 percent...

Atlanta’s Peach Drop: Poised to Write a New Chapter in its History in 2017

For the 28th consecutive year, Atlanta’s famous 800-lb Peach made its way down the tower at Underground Atlanta, signifying the end of 2016 and celebrating the beginning of 2017.  Despite the rain and cold of the evening, the crowd’s enthusiasm remained undampened.  With the pending sale of Underground Atlanta and its likely transition into a mixed-use development, those who braved the elements to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Underground Atlanta were likely the last to witness the Peach Drop at this historic venue. As one of the tens of thousands of people attending this year’s Peach Drop, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of bittersweet nostalgia as the evening progressed. Make no mistake: I am thrilled that Underground Atlanta will get a new chance to shine as a true gem of Downtown Atlanta. Over the years, I’ve witnessed Underground’s highs and lows. As a young man living in Atlanta in the 1970s, I (along with countless others) helped make Underground Atlanta the city’s Mecca for nightlife. The next decade saw Underground all but abandoned: the result of growing competition, as well as transportation infrastructure expansion that claimed several blocks of Underground’s clubs, along with most available parking. Underground Atlanta would get a new chance to thrive again in the late 1980s- just about the time I was granted my first opportunity to serve the people of Atlanta as a member of the City Council. In that capacity, I strove to ensure the success of the “new” Underground Atlanta’s 1989 debut. Among the efforts that I championed at the time was the creation of the Peach Drop New Year’s...

SR 24 Would Change Rule on Unrecorded Senate Votes: Goes to Committee on Rules for Floor Vote

  Like most Georgians, it is my opinion that all votes under the Gold Dome should be recorded and the record readily available to the public. As D.A. King has noted on InsiderAdvantage (‘State Senate rule allowing unrecorded votes should be scrapped’, January 4), in the Georgia Senate, the default method for approving amendments to legislation that has already cleared public scrutiny in the committee process is an unrecorded, hand vote. When this happens, there is no record of the vote from any member on the vote machine or in the permanent Senate Journal. Current rules require a total of five senators to request a traditional, recorded vote on floor amendments. Most such votes go unrecorded. In an effort to add to the transparency of state government and eliminate the possibility of confusion on any senator’s vote in the senate chamber, I have filed Senate Resolution 24. It would change the existing Senate rule so that any one senator could ask for a recorded, Roll Call vote on floor amendments. SR 24 is open for co-signers and I hope for full bipartisan support from the 56 Senate members this week when we return to business. I also hope that voters will make their support for SR 24 clear to their own state senators, regardless of party affiliation. It is my experienced opinion that changing this outdated Senate rule will protect all members and aid in the public’s ability to understand the legislative process. Passage of my proposed rule change requires a two-thirds majority if SR 24 is allowed to go to the full Senate. Georgians of all political views...

Georgia’s certificate-of-need law strikes delicate balance in care, cost

  Georgia’s thoughtfully considered health policy framework is again under siege at the state Capitol, with the 2017 legislative session marking the latest scrimmage in an almost decade-long campaign by well-financed, out-of-state interests to radically reorganize the delivery of health care. This year, as with too many before it, these out-of-state forces are expected to propose abandoning Georgia’s important “certificate-of-need” framework, which creates community-responsive requirements that promote access to quality health care throughout Georgia while also controlling cost by forgoing unnecessary, redundant facilities. Said another way: this law prevents the operation of duplicative health care centers absent a demonstrated public health care need. It prevents, for instance, a major out-of-state corporation from contriving a new and unnecessary health care center that selectively targets only the most-profitable patient groups and skirts existing requirements to offer care for the indigent–a responsibility that our full service hospitals are required by law to bear. Changes of the sort proposed in sessions past would directly jeopardize the financial health of Georgia’s hospitals, both rural and urban, and shred the critical safety net installed to protect the poorest among us. The Hippocratic Oath, the prevailing ethos of modern medicine that imprints in our doctors a moral and universal responsibility to care for their all patients, is not selective, so why then should our hospitals be? That’s an easy answer: they shouldn’t, and certificate-of-need laws see to that within the current, managed framework. There are no easy answers in health policy. Possible reforms require careful consideration. That’s why two years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal created a special commission of health care experts and state and local...

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