Viewpoints: 'Empty Budget Gestures'; GOP Should Endorse 'Doomsday' Sequester; 'Imagined Dangers' Imperil Vaccine Successes

Los Angeles Times: Obama And House Republicans Trade Empty Budget Gestures
President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to put off -- again -- the start of the "sequester," a series of across-the-board spending cuts that would save $1.2 billion over 10 years. ... The president's speech is likely to have zero effect on Capitol Hill. ... Republicans believe they've done enough on the revenue side of the equation. Their focus now is on finding a way to force Democrats to accept cuts in entitlement programs, which are the main driver in Washington's long-term budget problems. So, what did House Republicans do Wednesday? They rammed through a bill (HR 444) that would require Obama to submit a budget proposal by April 1 that would eliminate the deficit within 10 years -- something Republicans have yet to do with any of their deficit-slashing budget resolutions (Jon Healey, 2/6). 

The Wall Street Journal: A Fiscal Fantasy
Meanwhile, the entitlements that Mr. Obama refuses to reform continue on autopilot. Government health-care spending will double over the decade, with Medicare rising to $1.079 trillion in 2023 from $592 billion this year, Medicaid to $572 billion from $265 billion. ObamaCare insurance subsidies add another $949 billion. For the first time the U.S. will spend more on health programs ($13.850 trillion in 10 years) than on Social Security (2/5). 

The Wall Street Journal: The Unscary Sequester
The sequester that nobody seems to love would cut an estimated $85 billion from the budget this fiscal year starting in March. Half of the savings would come from defense and half from domestic discretionary programs. Medicare providers would take a 2% cut. This "doomsday mechanism" … was the fallback when the White House and Republicans couldn't agree during the 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations. The White House strategy was to create a fiscal hatchet that would disproportionately carve up the defense budget to force the GOP to raise taxes. … This hasn't worked. Republicans have rightly concluded after two years of being sucker-punched that the sequester is the main negotiating leverage they have and may be the only way to restrain spending. So now Democrats and a gaggle of interest groups are denouncing Mr. Obama's fiscal brainchild because the programs they cherish—from job training to education … to money for Planned Parenthood—are about to get chopped too (2/6). 

Tampa Bay Times: Lifetime Medicare And Social Security Taxes Vs. Benefits
Are Social Security and Medicare benefits actually a partial refund of what the beneficiary has already paid in taxes? The Tampa Bay Times takes a closer look in a February 2013 story by Louis Jacobson. Here we provide a visual display in bar charts of the Times' findings, which were researched from the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan research institute that produces annual statistics on the topic. ... In most cases, people get more from Social Security and Medicare combined than they put in, though the specific amount can vary depending on income and family circumstances (2/6).

The Medicare NewsGroup: Ending SGR: The Time Is Now
The failed Medicare physician payment formula known as the SGR, which has plagued Medicare patients and physicians for over a decade, must be eliminated now and replaced with policies that promote efficiency, quality and value in Medicare for patients and taxpayers. The AMA has called on Congress again and again to stop the broken cycle of scheduled cuts and short-term patches that impede the development and adoption of new ways to deliver and pay for high quality patient care (Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, 2/6).

The Wall Street Journal: Rolling Back The War On Vaccines
Thanks to a massive international vaccination effort, world-wide fatalities from smallpox fell from two million annually in 1967 to zero by 1980, when health authorities confirmed the complete eradication of the disease. The Salk and Sabin vaccines have saved five million people from paralytic polio, and eradication of that once common disease is in sight. Vaccination against infectious childhood diseases now prevents more than 2.5 million deaths annually, with an extremely low risk of serious side effects. Yet these achievements have rendered the benefits less visible to young parents, enabling imagined dangers and the rare side effects of vaccines to capture heightened attention (Jay Winsten and Emily Serazin, 2/6).

Dallas Morning News: Erasing The Stigma Of Mental Illness
The baseline for Mayor Mike Rawlings' call to action on mental illness was to get the vexing, pervasive subject on the table, where it can emerge as a community focus. Consider the first step a positive one. The 600-plus people who gathered at City Performance Hall in downtown Dallas on Tuesday night were focused and ready to move forward, in a number of directions. The event was "Erasing the Stigma: Mental Illness and the Search for Solutions," a joint project of the mayor, The Dallas Morning News and KERA. It sprang from Rawlings' alarm that any community — not just Newtown, Conn. — can experience unspeakable tragedies if it stays oblivious to festering problems related to mental illness (2/6).

Miami Herald: The Trauma Over Trauma
For anyone wondering what all the drama was about at the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting this week involving workers from Kendall Regional Medical Center, here's a clue: Trauma patients can mean big money for revenue-starved hospitals, and suddenly everyone wants a piece of the action. ... The issue was whether the commission should reconsider a vote to allow Jackson Health System to take legal action to defend its ability to provide quality trauma care to the community. Wisely, the commission decided to leave Jackson free to protect itself by resorting to the courts, if necessary, to defend the level of service offered by its Ryder Trauma Center, one of the top-rated emergency treatment hospitals in the country (2/6).

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