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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Josiah Bartlett Center Launches News Site- NewHampshireWatchdog.org

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy marks the one-year anniversary of its Watchdog Project by launching a news and information website designed to deliver the Center's ground-breaking reporting, commentary, and features. NewHampshireWatchdog.org will publish stories from investigative reporter Grant Bosse, Center President Charlie Arlinghaus's weekly column for the Union Leader, and updates on the Center's government transparency project overseen by Jay Flanders.

"For the past year, the Josiah Bartlett Center has provided the most comprehensive and authoritative coverage of the New Hampshire budget, the JUA Lawsuit, and how the Granite State is implementing the federal stimulus package," Bosse said. "New Hampshire Watchdog will give us a platform to share that coverage with our readers in a more dynamic and interactive way."

Over the past two weeks, the Josiah Bartlett Center has been the first to report several important stories, including the threat to the financing of Manchester's civic center, the rash of errors in the federal government stimulus oversight program that led to the creation of phantom Congressional Districts, and the impact that the health care bill under consideration in Congress could have on New Hampshire's medical liability laws. The new website will host a library for the nearly 1,500 reports filed by the Watchdog Project over the past year as well as discussion boards for public debate on state policy.

"As traditional media outlets cut back on the resources they can devote to complex stories, we're providing the depth of investigative journalism needed in a democratic society," added Arlinghaus. "As the Watchdog Project continues to grow, we're thrilled to be able to give New Hampshire residents better access to their government and its decisions."

Visit the news site at NewHampshireWatchdog.org.

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy is a free market think tank based in Concord, New Hampshire. For more information go to www.jbartlett.org.

Happy Blogoversary- New Hampshire Watchdog Turns One!

One year ago today, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy launched the Watchdog Project, promising to bring investigative journalism back to New Hampshire government. Over the past year, we've provided the best coverage of the state budget, the JUA lawsuit, and New Hampshire's implementation of the stimulus package.

As we enter our second year, we move our online publishing to a new platform, NewHampshireWatchdog.org. This news site will not only host our in-depth and breaking news, but provide more interactive access to our popular features, including Charlie Arlinghaus's weekly column, our Sunday Book Review, and Jay Flanders outstanding work on government transparency. Please visit NewHampshireWatchdog.org today, and reset your bookmarks.

The news site also lets you sign up for our New Hampshire Watchdog newsletter, send in news tips on stories we should cover, and leave comments both on our news stories on our blog. We hope you will find the new platform both education and entertaining, and make a daily must-read for keeping up with New Hampshire government.

See you at NewHampshireWatchdog.org.

Grant Bosse
New Hampshire Watchdog

PS- Later today, we will have breaking news on how the national health care debate could hamstring New Hampshire laws, and on the latest on inflated jobs estimates in the stimulus package.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recovery.org removes phantom Congressional Districts

The federal website set up to track how the government is spending $787 billion in stimulus money has corrected the errors in the database which showed 440 phantom Congressional Districts across the country, including three new ones in New Hampshire. Recovery.gov now shows that New Hampshire has received $285 million in the First Congressional District, $213 million in the Second, and $197 million that hasn't been assigned to either district.

ARRA Corrected

Federal officials blamed the phantom districts on data entry mistakes from stimulus grant recipients. Earlier this week, the Obama Administration was forced to remove 60,000 jobs from its stimulus report card after finding 12 recipients who over-reported the number of jobs created or saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Washington Examiner has found over 75,000 jobs in the stimulus report that don't exist. Reporters David Freddoso and Mark Hemingway have created an interactive map of bogus jobs, such as a $1,000 grant for a single lawn mower that is credited with saving 50 jobs.

Your Guide to the Stimulus, District by (Phantom) District

Bill McMorris has compiled all 440 phantom Congressional Districts on the Recovery.org website. The vast amount of bad data in the stimulus oversight project shows that it can't honestly be dismissed as just a few typos.

A debacle of the first order

Uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds sums up the increasingly ridiculous stimulus tracking website, Recovery.gov.

That whole thing has been a debacle of the first order. From the people who were supposed to return competence and transparency to the federal government.

Stimulus Help Line Advised Recipients to Enter Bad Data

ABC's Jonathan Karl follows up his report on stimulus money going to non-existent Congressional Districts. He finds even more errors in the projects in actual Congressional Districts, and at least one stimulus recipient who was advised to inflate his job estimates by the Administration's Help Line.

ABC News does not allow us to embed their videos, but you can watch the report here.

NH Representatives Respond to Phantom Congressional Districts

Adam Krauss at Foster's Daily Democrat has gotten reaction to this week's news of massive errors in the Recovery.org database from New Hampshire's two Representatives in Congress.

Matt Robison, chief of staff for Rep. Paul Hodes, D-Concord, said "there's no question that this was a serious mistake and an example of sloppy record-keeping by the administration and Paul Hodes believes we need real answers and an accurate picture of the situation that working families are facing."

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-Rochester, said the typos were discovered because of the "unprecedented level of transparency and disclosure" at Recovery.gov. "While it is unacceptable for Recovery.gov to have any typos, I am pleased that the administration is working to immediately correct them," she said.
No reaction yet from the Congressman from the mythical 4th, 6th, 27th, and 00th Districts.

Top Dem slams Recovery.gov errors

Fox News interviews Rep. David Obey, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, about the rash of errors plaguing the stimulus oversight project at Recovery.gov.

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Obey called the inaccuracies on Recovery.gov "infuriating" and said the success of the government's stimulus package has been "obscured by the silly mistakes."

"In my judgment, someone who doesn't know which congressional district they're in doesn't have enough of a clue to receive taxpayer money in the first place," Obey said.

"When you put out information that turns out to be inaccurate, you shouldn't be surprised if the public says, 'Hey, do they know what they're doing?'" he added.

The new health care bureaucracy


True health care reform will allow more options and more choices. The current plans in Washington create a central control that transfers authority from the people to the government and from the state to the federal government. Whether you believe in greater government spending or not, this is exactly the wrong approach.

Anytime Washington gets involved in any policy decision, Washington writes all the rules and tells everyone what to do. Health care is no exception. What started as a plan to find ways to cover people who don't have insurance transformed into thousands of pages of new regulations, mandates, prohibitions, oversight and general central control.

The federal government does not currently set mandates for health insurance; each state does to varying degrees. The new health care bills would transfer most of that authority to Washington. Washington will write the rules because Washington knows best.

Does Washington want to set up a few basic minimums that should be included? No. It wants to set up minimum coverage levels higher than many people's insurance today, maximum coverage levels, specific programs that every policy must include and a new administrative office to review and approve plan designs, plan changes and premium changes.

Generally, the more things a health insurance plan covers, the more expensive it is. Higher co-pays or deductibles will reduce the amount of financial risk and, therefore, the amount of the premium. More expensive plans will cover a higher percentage of "actuarial value," the amount you are expected to cost by statistical averages.

A high-deductible plan might make a lot of sense for a healthy young person, who will be covered against a catastrophe, but still have an affordable premium and, therefore, will buy insurance rather than avoiding it.

However, under the proposed reform, high deductibles are not allowed. New plans must cover at least 70 percent of value. You can keep the plan you have unless it's a budget plan. Budgets and cost-sharing are not going to be permitted. Never mind that most economists think that consumer involvement in costs is a good way to reduce the rate of premium increase.

On the other hand, while we want you to have insurance, we also don't want it to be too good. If your insurance coverage is too good, we're going to tax it. At the levels being considered in the Senate bill, New Hampshire state employees' coverage is about 25 percent too generous. In addition, about 25 percent of employers in New Hampshire give a benefit that the government thinks is too generous. Too nice to your workers? We'll tax that.

It's Goldilocks government at its best. We don't want plans that are too big or plans that are too small. Every plan needs to be just right.

Instead of Goldilocks making these judgments, we'll have a health choices commissioner. The commish will be assisted by the creation of more than 100 new bureaus and federal programs, including the Health Benefits Advisory Committee.

Our new health choices commissioner will have the authority to decide what falls into the just-right range of policy choices that are preapproved for you to choose.

Whether the final bill includes a government-run "public option" or not, the new regulations on private policies amount to more or less the same thing as the government actually running the plan. The "choices commissioner" will be able to approve or deny premiums, dictate coverage levels and "negotiate" prices. So the government will decide what coverage you can have, what it will cost and how much providers will get paid.

There are other ways to make changes in health care that don't involve a large new office in a concrete building in Washington making the rules for everyone in America.

Louis Brandeis believed that change could come from a single state serving as a laboratory of democracy to "try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." In theory, we could watch what happened in a state like Massachusetts and decide if it would work here.

The current proposals in Washington are the exact opposite of Brandeis' approach. A giant new bureaucracy won't allow different states to experiment with different things. Limiting plans to a narrow range of choices -- not too expensive, not too cheap -- eliminates any choices and innovation even in the design of individual plans. Centralized government planning with strict limits on thinking outside the government box does not traditionally lead to innovation.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

NH Stimulus Director responds to Phantom Congressional Districts

Orville "Bud" Fitch, Deputy Attorney General and Director of New Hampshire Office of Economic Stimulus, has responded to news this week that the federal government's Recovery.gov database has created phantom Congressional Districts across the country.

Responding to an inquiry from the Josiah Bartlett Center, Fitch says he learned about the problems with the Recovery.gov database upon returning to the state yesterday.

Preliminary information is that this may stem from reports filed by folks who received funds directly from the federal government and report directly, not through the State's process. We worked hard to ensure congressional district data was accurate on the reports filed by State ARRA fund recipients. We are attempting to identify whether the non-existent congressional district data stems from input errors from these reports filed by others or if they involve entities doing work in NH who have headquarters in other states where they have the congressional districts listed. The federal reports that recipients of ARRA funds are required to submit have fields for the Congressional District where the primary work site is and also for the Congressional District where the recipient's headquarters is located. If one is not careful during input and when reading, the two could be confused.

Fitch added that he has asked his staff to look into the errors, and determine if the faulty data came from the state reports he submits or from individual recipients. Reporter Bill McMorris has found 440 phantom districts nationwide which are listed as receiving $6.4 million from the Americand Recovery and Reinvestment Act.