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Michael Barone - John Boehner's successful year

All this year, House Speaker John Boehner has been taking criticism from all quarters.

He is a squish selling out to the Obama administration and the Democrats, many conservatives charged when he engineered bipartisan (mostly Democratic) approval of higher tax rates on high earners rather than go over the fiscal cliff. He is a radical hostage-taking Confederate-sympathizing terrorist, cried Democrats when he led House Republicans to pass a bill refunding the government but defunding Obamacare. He is irresponsible and obdurate, cried high-minded supporters of a grand bargain including entitlement reform, because he resolutely refused to negotiate with President Obama.

He is a squish selling out — you know the rest — yelled some conservatives last week when he rallied votes, successfully, for the bipartisan budget agreement hammered out by House and Senate Budget Chairmen Paul Ryan and Patty Murray.

Undoubtedly, some of these criticisms were sincere. Rational arguments could be and sometimes were made in their support. On occasion, Boehner seemed to be stumbling from one stance to something like its opposite. But I would argue that the cumulative result, in terms of budget, spending and tax policy, is far more favorable for Republicans and conservatives than they had any right to anticipate given the correlation of political forces after the November 2012 election.

Obama had just become only the 17th man to be reelected president in 220 years. (I'm counting Grover Cleveland, who was beaten for re-election in 1888 and came back to win a rematch four years later.) Democrats had, against considerable odds and with the incalculably valuable aid of some hapless Republican nominees, not only held on to their majority in the Senate, but had increased it from 53-47 to 55-45.

Boehner's House Republicans had lost only eight seats. But Republican candidates had actually won fewer popular votes than Democrats. (Two-thirds of that margin came from eight California districts where, thanks to that state's new law, there were no Republican nominees.)

In a House where there had been little bipartisanship in recent years, that meant that Boehner had to rally 218 of the 234 Republican members in order to pass legislation if Democrats were opposed. A defection by 17 Republicans would cut Boehner's leverage down toward zero. And many of these Republicans were of a mind to oppose anything they thought would accommodate the Obama Democrats.

Boehner could not count on favorable press coverage — or even much coverage at all, except when things went sour. His own gifts do not include the smooth articulateness that goes over well on television.

Given all that, and taking into account legislation passed, Boehner has had impressive policy success on budget, spending and tax issues. He has achieved that, on occasion, by tactical surrender. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert wouldn't allow a bill on the floor that wasn't supported by a majority of Republican members. Boehner broke the so-called Hastert rule in early January in the fiscal cliff crisis when he allowed a mostly Democratic majority to effectively raise tax rates on high earners. The alternative was raising taxes on everyone.

What's amazing here is that the high-bracket increases were not enacted until the fifth year of Obama's presidency.

Two months later, Boehner surprised Obama by accepting the sequester cuts. Democrats thought he would negotiate to increase defense spending. But few House Republicans cared enough about defense to agree to Democrats' demands for tax increases. Boehner read this mood accurately and extracted from it a major policy success. The sequester has held discretionary spending far below levels that the Senate and White House Democrats want.

In October, Boehner reluctantly agreed to a bill funding the government but defunding Obamacare. Enough Republicans insisted they wouldn't vote for the former without the latter. But the speaker was quick to climb down when polls showed Republicans slumping with voters — and to yield the spotlight to the ragged Obamacare rollout. In the process, he won the trust of most Republican members.

That trust was essential to passage, Thursday, of the budget bill, which tweaks the sequester, assuaging appropriators who want more leeway and hawks who want more defense spending. It institutes some small but probably permanent entitlement cuts and likely rules out another politically damaging government shutdown.

On policy, it's hard to see how Boehner could have accomplished more this year. And on politics, he has positioned his often obstreperous members well for 2014.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Medicaid expansion good for all our pocket books

Recently the N.H. Senate turned its back on about 58,000 citizens who, for the most part, can't afford health insurance. In essence, the Republican leadership wanted to rush all the eligible people into marketplace insurance within a year, and if things didn't' go as planned, they'd lose their insurance, the program would end and everybody would be left with nothing.

During the debates on expanding Medicaid, all we heard was the same talking points we've been hearing since the Affordable Care Act became law three years ago. It was all about Obamacare and how everybody should be afraid of it. No talk about how Medicaid expansion fits into the picture; just talk about disasters and train wrecks and how Governor Hassan was proposing an income tax. That doesn't sound like trying to find a way to ensure success.

Medicaid Expansion is part of the Affordable Care Act's plan to make affordable health insurance available to everybody. But Medicaid, like Medicare, has been the law since 1965, when it was passed by the 89th Congress. My dad, Ollie Huot, was a member of that Congress and he proudly supported the bill. I think we can agree that Medicare has made a big difference in the quality of life of senior citizens and Medicaid has saved a lot of poor people from unnecessary suffering.

Up to now, Medicaid has been extended only to certain kinds of poor people, like children, the disabled, and women with breast and cervical cancer. Now we want to be able to cover everybody under 65 (when they become eligible for Medicare) who can't afford it. Like those who purchase insurance through the marketplace, preventive services will be included, because, as we all know, medical care doesn't cost much unless you're sick or injured.

It isn't just the poor who are suffering because of last week's decision. If you pay taxes and want to see who else took it on the chin, go to your bathroom and look in the mirror! Health care costs the taxpayers of New Hampshire a lot of money. I'll give you one example; prisoners. Prisoners in our state prisons (and county houses of correction), get sick and have to go to the hospital. If you're behind bars you can't hold a job, so you can't afford health insurance. Thing is, Medicaid, up to now, does not cover persons 19 to 65 who are not disabled or otherwise eligible. Most of our prisoners don't qualify so 100 percent of the hospital and medical costs for these folks come right out of the general fund (or your county treasury!). So if you go to Dunkin' Donuts and pay the rooms and meals tax, or have a beer when you get home from work, you're paying 100 percent of those medical expenses.

And if you think it doesn't make any difference if we expand Medicaid now or five years from now, think again. The reason Governor Hassan and the House and Senate Democrats wanted to get the program running now, and held a special session of the Legislature, is that the federal government is going to pay 100 percent of the cost of expanded Medicaid for three years; but the three years starts January 1, 2014, not when you decide you'd like to start.

Medicaid Expansion isn't just going to help those who can't afford medical insurance and don't qualify for Medicaid. Had we voted to start putting the program to work January 1, 2014, over the next eight years nearly $2.5 billion of the money you pay the federal government in taxes would come back to New Hampshire and the drain on the general fund would decrease by almost $47 million. On top of that, our local hospitals, which have to provide care in their emergency departments for the people who can't afford either health insurance or medical care, is estimated to go down by some $82.3 million a year. Might that have an impact on the cost of medical care for everybody?

Finally, the cost of just about everything goes up every year. That includes the cost of providing government services. Not new services, but the same ones we've been getting for many years. The money we save with Medicaid expansion is going to keep us from having to find more money just for the things we have now. For example, I read last Saturday that audits by the Legislative Budget Assistant found the Department of Corrections' halfway houses and the Department of Education's management of school aid deficient. Both departments agreed, and said that although they are working to make things better, increased costs are preventing them from bringing the agencies back up to snuff.

We need to think hard about the decisions made by the Senate, but for it to mean much, we're going to have to do it pretty soon.

(David O. Huot, a Democrat, represents Laconia in the N.H. House. He is a member of the House Finance Committee.)

Last Updated on Monday, 16 December 2013 10:30

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Sanborn – November waterfront sales report

There were twelve residential waterfront sales on Lake Winnipesaukee in November, 2013 at an average sales price of $1,003,375. Last November there were also twelve sales, but a much lower average of $645,917. Six of the twelve sales last month were over the million mark thereby boosting the average for the month.

The least expensive sale on the big lake was at 455 Weirs Boulevard in Laconia. This 1940's vintage 944 square foot, two bedroom cottage was totally renovated in 1992. It has an eat in kitchen, large living room with wood stove, an unfinished basement for future expansion, and a great deck looking out toward the lake. The home is on the opposite side of the boulevard from the water so you do have to navigate Route 3 to get to your 151' of shorefront and dock, but that is kind of expected in this price range. This property was listed at $319,000 and sold for $299,000. It is currently assessed at $271,800.

The home representing the median price point is at 12 GWH in Tuftonboro. "GWH" does not stand for "Gee Willikers, Henry" but is short for Governor Wentworth Highway for those of you not familiar with the lingo on the other side of the big lake. This charming, three bedroom, three bath, 3,064 square foot cape was built in 1960 and features an updated kitchen, large living room with a fireplace, two bedrooms on the main level, and a master suite on the second floor. There's also a family room, kitchenette, and bath in the walkout basement so you can park the kids or the in-laws down there when they come to visit. The house sits on a third acre lot with 114' of frontage, and an "L" shaped dock on Winter Harbor. This property was offered at $999,000 and was on the market for 133 days before finding a buyer at $920,000. The Tuftonboro tax assessment is currently $861,800

The highest sale for the month on the lake was at 51 Garnet Point Road in Moultonborough. This home is a turn of the century cottage (that would be 1898 not 1998) that was owned by the same family since it was built. The two bedroom, two bath cottage is as one would expect; lots of wood, bead board, beamed ceilings, an updated kitchen and, of course, the requisite stone fireplace. But the real selling feature is the 5.6 acre lot with 640' of sandy water frontage. There is also a wonderful two bay boat house and a bunkhouse at the water's edge. This property was listed at $2.295 million and sold for $1.8 million after just 57 days on the market. It is assessed at $1.3 million. It's a great spot and I would expect to see a new home constructed there in the near future.

There were two sales on Winnisquam in November. The property at 100-102 Tucker Shore Road consists of a 1930's vintage two bedroom, one bath cottage on a .08 acre lot and a two bedroom one bath cottage on a .15 acre lot with 35' of frontage on the canal leading out to Winnisquam. The sale also included an .08 acre vacant lot with 25' of frontage on the main body of water. This property had been on and off the market since 2003 (yes, 2003) when it was listed for $325,000. The most recent listing started in June 2013 at $229,000 and sold for $195,000. Total time on the market was 1,297 days and the property is currently assessed at $284,600. The other sale was at 45 Dutile Shore Rd in Belmont. This is a contemporary four bedroom, two bath home with 2,454 square feet of living space that was built in 1962 but was completely and tastefully renovated. This home features beautiful cabinetry, hardwood floors, a first floor master, lower level gym, family room and sun room, plus a waterside cabana. The third acre lot has 133' of frontage, docking for two boats, and a sandy beach. This home was listed at $569,000 and sold for $535,000 after three months on the market. It is currently assessed at $445,000.

Up on Squam, the only sale for the month was at 18 Perkins Lane in Holderness. This is a 2,790 square foot contemporary, four bedroom, two bath home built in 1940 and is just steps from the water. It sits on a .55 acre level lot with 265' of frontage. The home features a nice kitchen, knotty pine living room with stone fireplace, and a covered porch overlooking the water. Pretty nice! This property was listed at $725,000, reduced to $675,000, and sold for $632,000 after 157 days on the market. The property is currently assessed at $650,000.

Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 12/10/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 11:17

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Christopher Boothby - Continuing a legacy; meeting new challenges

When I heard that my mentor, Ray Burton, had passed, I felt an acute loss and deep sadness. Anyone who lives in Executive Council District 1 probably saw Ray at some parade, ribbon cutting, or selectman meeting. This was Ray's charm. He knew just being there was important; but more important was listening to concerns, discussing the events in Concord, and following up with letters or phone calls. As an intern for him in the 1980s, he stressed the essential value of being a resource to people.

Nobody can replicate Ray, but the next Executive Councilor must continue to meet the high standard he has set for serving the needs of District 1 residents. My run for the Executive Council will focus on continuing Ray's legacy, while meeting the new challenges that face the district's 130 cities, towns, and unincorporated areas.

What does this mean? It means looking at state government with a critical eye toward efficiency, and giving district residents top value for each dollar they pay in state taxes.

Fiscal responsibility
Executive Councilors "ensure the executive branch of state government is fiscally conservative and above reproach." These are not my words, these are from the Executive Council website (www.nh.gov/council/overview.html).

Executive Councilors have a duty to enforce fiscal restraint. I do not support an income, sales, or any broad-based tax. I do support mechanisms to reduce regulation and assure executive departments use resources in the most efficient means possible.

To show why this is important, let's use a banker as an example. If you speak to your local banker, that person will tell you how much time (and money) is spent with regulatory requirements. While regulation is necessary, excessive regulation hinders economic growth. In state government, when we remove, modify, and simplify regulations — then enforce existing regulations with similar efficiency — we provide state employees a better way to do their jobs, and we make life easier for all of us.

Support local economic development
As Executive Councilor, I will work to increase collaboration between the state and local groups such as the Belknap Economic Development Council, Claremont Industrial Development Authority, and the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council. Throughout District 1, organizations like these promote our area, provide resources to emerging businesses, and work with both government and residents to develop an entrepreneurial future for our district.

As we create our economic future, we must safeguard what makes New Hampshire beautiful and unique. For this reason, I oppose Northern Pass. Rather than compromise our natural resources, we must respect and protect them, knowing that they are an integral part of our economic success.

An advocate for District 1
I will fight for the residents of District 1. This means that District 1 will be properly represented on state boards and commissions It means government officials will come to our towns, speak to our residents, and follow-up with promised answers. I will attend government meetings and local events, and provide multiple means of contacting me. Most importantly, it means you will receive a timely answer when you contact me, regardless of your issue. This is the essence of government service; and an area in which I will emulate my mentor, Ray Burton.

The primary election is on Tuesday, January 21. I look forward to you contacting me with your questions and concerns at www.christopherboothby.com, or at (603) 455-8002.

(Republican Christopher Boothby of Meredith is the co-owner of Boothby Therapy Services in Laconia and a candidate for the District 1 Executive Council seat. He is a former member of the Belknap County Board of Commissioners.)

Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 11:03

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Bob Meade - Hand out or hand up

When the 16th Amendment was ratified one hundred years ago, it gave the federal government the ability to lay and collect taxes on individual citizens. Prior to that time, the federal government assessed each state their portion of the federal budget, based on each state's population. States would then levy a tax on the citizens, collect the money, and send it to the federal government. President Taft wanted a more equitable way to assess citizens for their share of the federal expenditures and, from that, evolved the 16th Amendment.

While President Taft was right, the mere fact that the government can impose taxes on individuals as it sees fit, is cause for concern. Individuals simply don't have the voice, or the clout that a state government has, to put pressure on the federal government to manage more wisely. The ability to tax also negates the need to find real solutions to problems, as it allows bureaucracies, once started, to continue to grow regardless of their performance. Every deficiency or failure of the bureaucracy brings a shout, a demand, for more tax revenues. There is no need for a bona fide solution, just levy more taxes and let the failed bureaucracy continue to grow.

An example of a new bureaucratic failure is the website for the Affordable Care Act. The site has already incurred over $600 million in costs and has yet to perform up to any measure of acceptable standards that normal businesses would demand. More money will continue to be thrown at the problem in the hopes that it will one day operate within some standard norms. No business would have ever permitted such excessive cost over-runs, or have undergone such minimal testing, or have proceeded to launch when every pre-cutover signal was that the cutover would be a failure, or, importantly, have no security built into the system. To say that it has been a novice performance up to this time is the kindest thing one can say.

However, to this point, the website failure is miniscule when compared to other federal bureaucratic failures. For example, the War on Poverty was started under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, in the hopes of elevating those in need out of poverty and into the middle class. At that time, there were about 34 million people living at the poverty level. Fast forward to 2009, and we find about the same percentage of people were living in poverty as did when the program was started . . . in spite of the fact that over $16 trillion has been spent trying to eliminate it. One of the side effects of that "investment" is that in 1965, two thirds, or 67 percent of low-income households were headed by a full-time worker. By 1991, only 11 percent of those households were headed by a full-time worker. An article in the New York Times pointed out that, in 2009, the federal government spent $14,849 for every man, woman, and child living in poverty. The article went on to say, "Throwing money at the problem has neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self-sufficient."

To this point, our national debt of $17+ trillion is quite close to what we have spent on the War on Poverty, without making any significant improvement in the poverty level. It seems that our bureaucracies prefer to seek tax revenues more than they seek solutions to problems. Why not try seeking solutions? For example, there are some geographic locations in this country that have been poverty stricken for decades, and there appears to be little hope of turning around that problem. Shouldn't we consider a family relocation plan that would allow people to move from systemic poverty areas to locations with good employment? In combination with that relocation plan, provide a corresponding job training program for members of the household so they could become proficient in any number of marketable skills. Such a plan would help people work their way out of poverty and become self-sufficient, and, in the longer term, would reduce the Federal expenditures that exist today.

When WWII ended, returning military could use their GI benefits to learn any number of trades . . . plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, and so on. The employers who were willing to take on that training responsibility were compensated for a portion of the wages they paid to the apprentice. Over time, the employer no longer needed to be subsidized, as the trainee had become skilled in his chosen field and could offer his services on the open market.

This is but one example. The federal government is rife with problems in need of solutions. Every process can be improved. We should stop suffering bloated bureaucracies and demand solutions to problems.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 10:04

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