Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SEPTA On New Year's Eve

from the inbox:

Revelers heading to Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing or New York City’s Times Square to ring in 2011 can take advantage of extended SEPTA late night Regional Rail service to get home from the celebrations.

SEPTA has added additional late night trains to Trenton, Elwyn, Marcus Hook, Malvern, Chestnut Hill West, Warminster, West Trenton, Lansdale, Norristown, Fox Chase and Chestnut Hill East, scheduled to leave Center City after the midnight fireworks at Penn’s Landing. For example, the last train to Chestnut Hill West on a Friday evening normally leaves Market East at 11:47 p.m. With the extended New Year’s Eve late night schedule, the last train will leave Market East at 1:40 a.m., giving riders ample time to enjoy the aerial spectacular and make their way to the train station.

Riders travelling to New York to see the ball drop in Times Square can also connect with SEPTA at the Trenton Transportation Center. SEPTA trains will depart Trenton at 4 a.m., 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. for passengers taking early morning New Jersey Transit trains from New York’s Penn Station.

For SEPTA’s complete New Year’s Eve late night Regional Rail schedules, visit

In addition to the late night Regional Rail service additions, SEPTA announces the following New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day service adjustments:
• New Year’s Eve, Friday, December 31: All services will run on a Saturday schedule. Nite Owl Service will be in effect on the Market Frankford and Broad Street Lines.

• New Year’s Day, Saturday, January 1: All services will run on a Sunday schedule. The following bus routes will be detoured from 8 a.m. until the conclusion of the Mummers Parade: Routes 2, 7, 9, 12, 17, 21, 23, 27, 29, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, 42, 44, 48, 64, 68, 79, 124/125, C and G.

For additional information, such as fare details and trip-planning tools, visit SEPTA’s website at www.septa.org.

SEPTA Service for Tuesday's Eagles Game

from the inbox:

2010)-SEPTA Broad Street Line "Sports Express" service is set for the 8:00 p.m. Philadelphia Eagles/Minnesota Vikings football action on Tuesday, December 28 at Lincoln Financial Field.

SEPTA Broad Street Line Sports Express trains will leave Fern Rock Transportation Center every ten minutes between 6:08 p.m. and 7:38 p.m. en route to AT&T Station and Lincoln Financial Field.

Broad Street Line Sports Express trains leave from Fern Rock Transportation Center and stop only at Olney Transportation Center, Erie, Girard, Race-Vine, City Hall and Walnut-Locust Stations en route to AT&T Station and the Sports Complex. The express trip from City Hall to the Sports Complex takes only about eight minutes. Local and express Broad Street Line trains are also in service throughout the day.

In addition, SEPTA will open the lower level platform at AT&T Station before and after the game allowing for easier travel into and out of the station; after the game fans will find trains standing by to provide local and express service back to Fern Rock.

For additional information visit www.septa.org

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Philly Arts and Creativity Report

"Creative Vitality in Philadelphia: A Three Year Report" takes a snapshot of the creative industry in the region, with statistics from 2006-2008. The 17 page pdf report is available on the city's website: www.phila.gov/arts.

The Western States ARts Federation uses set criteria to develop a Creative Vitality Index. In the Philadelphia area roughly 17,000 people work in the creative occupations, which is below the national average; some aspects of the creative industry are better represented than others. For example, in the three years covered by the report the city lost camera operators but gained sound engineering technicians. The number of writers and authors was steady. The last five pages of the report are profiles of individual artists or artistic groups in the area.

SEPTA Holiday Schedule

SEPTA has adjusted schedules for some days over the holidays:

• Christmas Eve, Friday, Dec. 24: The Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, trolleys and most bus routes will run on Saturday schedules; Regional Rail will run on a Sunday schedule.
• Christmas Day, Saturday, Dec. 25: Most services will run on a Sunday schedule; Regional Rail will run on a special holiday schedule.
• New Year’s Eve, Friday, Dec. 31: All services will run on a Saturday schedule.
There will also be added late-night service on Regional Rail.
• New Year’s Day, Saturday, Jan. 1: All services will run on a Sunday schedule.

You can review schedule changes at: www.septa.org

Obama on DADT Repeal

Pres. Obama signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" today. Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, who played a significant role in moving the legislation forward, was on podium during the signing, and Obama singled him out for praise.

Here is an excerpt from the president's remarks:

Sixty-six years ago, in the dense, snow-covered forests of Western Europe, Allied Forces were beating back a massive assault in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. And in the final days of fighting, a regiment in the 80th Division of Patton’s Third Army came under fire. The men were traveling along a narrow trail. They were exposed and they were vulnerable. Hundreds of soldiers were cut down by the enemy.

And during the firefight, a private named Lloyd Corwin tumbled 40 feet down the deep side of a ravine. And dazed and trapped, he was as good as dead. But one soldier, a friend, turned back. And with shells landing around him, amid smoke and chaos and the screams of wounded men, this soldier, this friend, scaled down the icy slope, risking his own life to bring Private Corwin to safer ground.

For the rest of his years, Lloyd credited this soldier, this friend, named Andy Lee, with saving his life, knowing he would never have made it out alone. It was a full four decades after the war, when the two friends reunited in their golden years, that Lloyd learned that the man who saved his life, his friend Andy, was gay. He had no idea. And he didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what had kept him alive; what made it possible for him to come home and start a family and live the rest of his life. It was his friend.

Kathleen Sibelius At the White Board

The White House has released another video in the White Board series. This time Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, gets the markers and eraser. She talks about health reform and rate review. It's just a few minutes long and well worth a view.

SEPTA Employees Toy Drive

SEPTA employees donated enough toys, roughly 4,000 of them, to fill two buses. Wednesday at 9:15 those toys will be distributed to the following organizations:

• Child Abuse Prevention Effort (CARE), Philadelphia
• Community Action Agency of Delaware County, Chester, Pa.
• Community Associates of Strawberry Mansion, Inc., Philadelphia
• Greater Philadelphia Health Action, Inc., Philadelphia
• John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center,
• Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia
• Neighbor to Neighbor, Sharon Hill, Pa.
• New Beginnings C.C., Bristol, Pa.
• People’s Emergency Center, Philadelphia
• Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s Annual Holiday Party for the

This is the 30th year that SEPTA employees have been donating toys to charitable groups.

Kudos to our transit employees for giving needy children in the area a happier holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Update on the Affordable Care Act

from the inbox:

Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius provided an update today on progress made implementing the Affordable Care Act in the nine months since it was signed into law, highlighting the new benefits available to Americans across the country thanks to the legislation. She also took time to highlight new benefits coming in 2011.

“The Affordable Care Act has helped millions of Americans across the country gain more control over their insurance coverage, receive higher quality health care and start seeing some savings in their pocket,” said Secretary Sebelius. “And there is more in store for Americans under the new law in 2011, including scrutiny of large premium increases, free physicals for Medicare beneficiaries, and important new programs to improve patient safety. Still, some want to eliminate these benefits and put insurance companies back in charge. We won’t go back and we are committed to delivering the benefits of reform to the American people.”

"In Pennsylvania this year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, approximately $79.6 million in grants for strengthening public health and consumer assistance have been awarded, over 148,000 Medicare beneficiaries have had their prescription drug costs lowered and 289 Pennsylvania employers have had their highest early retiree health insurance costs significantly reduced," said HHS Region 3 Director Joanne Grossi.

Some important benefits of the law that went into effect in the first nine months:

Patient’s Bill of Rights: On September 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act’s Patient’s Bill of Rights took effect and began protecting consumers. The Patient’s Bill of Rights stops insurance companies from:

Denying coverage to children based on a pre-existing condition.

Dropping coverage when you get sick because you made a mistake on your application.

Putting lifetime caps on the dollar amount that they will spend on benefits. In the past, patients with cancer or other chronic diseases ran the risk of hitting a lifetime cap and losing access to care. The law also restricts most insurance companies’ use of low annual dollar limits on benefits. In 2014, annual limits will be eliminated.

Deny coverage or services without offering Americans in new insurance plans the chance to appeal the decision to an independent third party.

· Coverage for Young Adults: Young adults are able to remain on their parents’ health plan until they turn 26 if the plan covers dependent children and if coverage isn’t offered to them through their job.

Small Business Tax Credits: Starting January 1, 2010, up to 4 million small businesses became eligible for tax credits to help them provide insurance benefits to their workers, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The first phase of this provision provides a credit worth up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution to the employees’ health insurance. Small non-profit organizations may receive up to a 25 percent credit.

HealthCare.gov: On July 1, 2010, the Administration launched www.HealthCare.gov. A first-of-its-kind website, www.HealthCare.gov helps you make informed decisions about health care coverage by offering easy-to-understand information about what health plans are available in your state; how much they cost; what they cover, and lots more information tailored to your specific needs.

Insurer Oversight: The Affordable Care Act also provides new tools to help hold health insurers accountable to consumers. This includes new support for States for efforts to establish or strengthen consumer assistance programs. In 2011, insurance companies will be required to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health care and quality improvements instead of overhead, salaries, or administrative expenses – or provide rebates to consumers.

· Prescription Drug Cost Relief: In 2010, eligible seniors who fell into the Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage “donut hole” received a tax-free $250 rebate check to help defray their out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs. Over 2.8 million seniors and persons living with disabilities have received this benefit to date to help them afford their medications.

Support for Early Retiree Coverage: The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program established under the Affordable Care Act provides much needed financial relief for employers so early retirees and their families can continue to have quality, affordable insurance. Already, more than 4,500 businesses, unions, States, local governments and non-profit organizations have been approved to take part in the program.

Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan: Thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions who were shut out of the health insurance market were finally able to get the coverage and care they needed through the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) program.

Reducing Waste, Fraud and Abuse: Medicare has continued to take strong action to reduce payment errors, waste, fraud, and abuse. Current efforts to fight fraud returned more than $2.5 billion to the Medicare Trust Funds in FY 2009 alone. The President has made a commitment to reduce fraud in original Medicare by 50 percent by 2012. The Affordable Care Act makes an historic, ten-year, $350 million investment to build on these efforts to prevent, detect and fight fraud in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including new screening procedures for health care providers.

Strengthening the Health Care Workforce: The Affordable Care act provided $250 million in funding that, along with other funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will train up to 16,000 primary care physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners over the next 5 years. In addition, the Administration allocated $250 million in funds from the 2010 Prevention and Public Health Fund to programs to support activities such as community initiatives and the development of the public health infrastructure that can help prevent disease and illness before it starts. Equally important, it awarded and made available over $1 billion in funding to strengthen community health centers.

“In 2011, Americans will continue to see new benefits under the Affordable Care Act,” said Sebelius. “Seniors and people on Medicare will have access to free preventive care and lower cost prescription drugs. Insurance companies will have to justify high premium increases and states will have new tools to keep premiums low. And we’ll continue our efforts to improve the quality of care for all Americans.”

Some Affordable Care Act benefits coming in 2011:

Value for Your Premium Dollar: Starting in 2011, the Affordable Care Act will help tackle rising health insurance premium costs by having insurers that spend less than 80 percent of premium dollars on health care and quality improvements, as opposed to administrative, overhead and marketing costs, to provide a rebate to enrollees. In addition, the new law will provides additional resources to help States crack down on unreasonable health insurance premium hikes.

· New Benefits for Medicare Beneficiaries: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, starting on January 1, 2011, people with Medicare coverage can get an annual physical examination at no cost to them, and people new to Medicare will no longer have out-of-pocket costs for the “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam. Also starting on January 1, 2011, as the next step in closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap known as the “donut hole,” those reaching the coverage gap will automatically get a 50 percent discount on covered brand-name prescription drugs while in the gap.

· Safer Patients, Higher Quality Care: The Affordable Care Act provides a number of new policies and resources to help improve the quality of care Americans receive, and to keep patients safer.

Better Access to Primary Care: Too many communities suffer from a shortage of primary care doctors. To help ensure people on Medicare continue to have access to primary care providers, the Affordable Care Act is providing a 10 percent Medicare bonus payment for primary care services.

“Repealing the Affordable Care Act would eliminate these benefits, putting the insurance companies back in charge and making it harder to find a doctor,” said Sebelius. “We must not stop going forward. In 2011, Americans will continue to see new benefits under the Affordable Care Act.”

For more state-specific information about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, visit www.HealthCare.gov/center.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Note on the Zadroga Bill

Words are powerful and the choice of one word or phrase over another can significantly alter the general meaning of the entire work. Take, for example, the CNN article on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill, "Bloomberg urges passage of 9/11 health bill:"

The bill has been in legislative limbo since Thursday, when Senate Democrats failed to win a procedural vote to open debate on it.

No sir. No sir. That is not how that should be worded. Senate Republicans voted against considering it. That is not "failing to win a procedureal vote to open debate." That is Senate Republicans voting against talking about it.

The New York Daily News views it differently ("Sen. John McCain rips Zadroga 9/11 health bill push as 'fooling around'," by Michael Mcauliff 12/18):

Democrats brought the 9/11 bill up once before. The GOP slapped it down unanimously, saying it wanted to extend tax cuts before doing anything else. With those cuts passed, Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to bring the Zadroga bill back.

One GOP senator has pledged support for the bill, and several others, including Maine's Susan Collins, have said they will back the bill - with conditions.

Still, there is little time left, and major changes could kill the bill as easily as a "no" vote.

Jon Stewart devoted an evening of the Daily Show to the Zadroga Bill. It's well worth the time to watch.

You can read more about the bill at Open Congress.

Repeal of DADT

Over the weekend the House and Senate voted in favor of a stand alone bill to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Gays and lesbians in the military no longer have to lie about who they are in order to wear the uniform and defend their country.

Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district has been a prime mover of this legislation.

Here are a few sources for more information:

"U.S. Rep. Murphy pleased with gay rights victory," by Miriam Hill, Inquirer, 12/18; excerpt:

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy had just left the Flyers game Saturday when his cell phone rang in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center.
"Patrick," the voice on the phone said, "this is Barack."

President Obama was calling to congratulate Murphy on the Senate vote repealing the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, ending a 17-year battle over the role of gays and lesbians in the military.

Opensecrets gives an overview of which groups funded the fight on both sides and also provides an overview of the process the legislation will go through now (there is still more review before a final decision on repeal is made; at the very least is appears that it will take another few months before all is said and done.)

Kudos to Murphy on his work in this regard.

Allyson Schwartz In the News

Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz has been in the news the past few days. She represents the 13th district in Pennsylvania (parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County).

When the "Tax Cut and Unemployment Compromise" bill was signed, Schwartz was given a shout out in the President's remarks, and she was next to the president when he signed the bill (photo):

I want to acknowledge and thank Senator Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican leadership in the Senate; Dave Camp, Republican over in the House, for their willingness, as Joe indicated, to do what was right for the country, even though it caused occasional political discomfort. I especially want to thank the folks who are here -- Dick Durbin, Max Baucus, Danny Davis, Allyson Schwartz, Rob Andrews -- part of a broader team that worked very diligently both in the House and the Senate on the Democratic side to make this happen.

Looking ahead to the 2012 congressional elections, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post ("Steve Israel, new DCCC chairman, ready to go on 'offense' for House Democrats") mentions Schwartz as one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's recruiters:

As evidence of that approach, Israel notes that his newly formed recruitment team met Thursday to sketch out early targets, and he and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) will hit the road this week to scout out possible candidates. (Israel will be in Arizona; Schwartz in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sherrie Cohen's Website

Sherrie Cohen formally launched her candidacy for an Philadelphia City Council at Large. Her campaign website is www.cohen4council.com. A short form of her bio is:

A native of Philadelphia, Sherrie Cohen is the daughter of the late Councilman David Cohen. She is currently the co-chair of the Civil Rights Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association. In this capacity, she has drafted resolutions to present to the Bar’s Board of Governors supporting or opposing pending city, state and federal legislation. Recently, Sherrie has worked to increase the state minimum wage and for an exemption from city taxes for low-wage workers.

Here are a few of her comments:
“My commitment is to a citywide movement for equality of opportunity, participatory democracy, shared prosperity and social, economic, racial and gender justice. I want to empower the powerless and lift up the voice of the voiceless, fight to win on every issue where human rights and human dignity are at stake, and build a city that works for all of us” Cohen said to the crowd of supporters and activists gathered at the William Way Community Center in Center City.

Santarsiero's Reform Package

from the inbox:

State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, today announced that he will continue working to fulfill his promise of increased fiscal and personal responsibility for state House and Senate members by re-introducing a package of reform bills.

The first bill, reflecting the stance he took during the prolonged budget impasse of 2009, would have legislators forfeit compensation for a period after the annual end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, if a spending package has not yet been enacted.

The second bill would have legislators contribute 1 percent of their salary toward health benefits.

"This is a simple matter of fairness," Santarsiero said. "Employee contributions are certainly common among private business to assume a reasonable portion of the cost of health benefits, especially at a time when they continue to escalate."

Santarsiero refused to take his salary during the budget crisis in 2009 and has not taken other benefits that would increase his personal income by thousands of dollars, including refusal of the 2009 and 2010 Cost of Living Adjustment and the $163 per diem that is paid for each legislative session day or for any day a House member attends an official meeting or hearing.

The third bill would prohibit public officials and employees from using government resources for campaign activities, and would designate the action a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $5,000 or a prison term of up to five years. He said this legislation is needed following the "Bonusgate" scandal that has rocked the General Assembly in Pennsylvania during the past few years.

"Ongoing investigations and recent allegations of misuse of government resources for campaign purposes have brought to light the fact that there is no clear criminal penalty for this activity," Santarsiero said. "It's important for employees, elected officials and the public to have clear definitions of campaign activity and government resources."

Legislative Audit Advisory Commission Releases Report

from the inbox:

State Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission (LAAC), today released the independent financial audit of the General Assembly for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. LAAC earlier voted unanimously to approve the audit report and recommendations to tighten financial controls within the legislature.

The General Assembly audit, completed by independent auditors from Ernst & Young, found that the legislature dispersed $317,979,344 on operations in 2009-10, a 2.76 percent decrease from the previous year. The legislature ended the fiscal year with a $188,554,281 legislative surplus, a 6.4 percent decrease from the previous year.

Under Shapiro’s leadership over the past three years, LAAC has made significant progress on fiscal transparency and accountability through a detailed accounting of legislative expenses and an accurate calculation of the legislative surplus. Major reform recommendations, including the elimination of 46 of the 68 checkbooks used by the House leaders and chairs, were implemented. Recommendations in this year’s audit include:

· Adopting a policy to reduce or eliminate the reserves;

· Consolidating the remaining committee and leadership checkbooks into one controlled by the House Comptroller’s office; and

· Developing and enhancing the financial statement close process, including the implementation of a centralized financial information and controls system for the General Assembly.

"I am pleased that LAAC has unanimously approved the audit and recommendations as set forth in this report,” said Shapiro. “Over the past three years we have taken important steps to improve transparency in our legislative budget and reduce spending. It is critical that the public knows exactly what happens with their tax dollars and the improved transparency forces greater accountability in legislative spending."

“I want to thank the members of LAAC for their hard work and dedication to reform, especially the vice-chair, Representative Gordon Denlinger, and Senator Pat Browne,” said Shapiro.

LAAC was created in 1970 for the purpose of overseeing, reviewing and reporting on audits performed on the financial affairs of the General Assembly and making recommendations for improvements. LAAC appoints a certified public accountant to audit the financial affairs of the General Assembly and its legislative service agencies. At least one audit is performed each year. Shapiro was appointed to chair LAAC in October 2007.

The audit documents can be viewed online at www.pahouse.com/Shapiro.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

House Passes DADT Repeal

Today the House passed a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Congressman Patrick Murphy is one of the leading voices in this effort. Here is his statement:

“With today’s vote, we are a step closer to dismantling a policy that is not only discriminatory but is harmful to our national security. We’ve lost thousands of patriotic, highly-trained troops – infantry officers, fighter pilots, and even Arabic translators - who were kicked out of the military just because they happened to be gay.

Enough is enough. We’ve studied the issue, we’ve heard from our troops, we’ve debated repeal. Now it’s time to act. Democrats and Republicans came together in the House to pass repeal, and I urge Senators of both parties to follow suit and put an end to this policy once and for all.”

Congressman Joe Sestak also released a statement:
It is long past time that we repeal this discriminatory policy that has asked patriotic men and women to live a lie as they put their lives on the line for our freedoms,” said Congressman Sestak. “As a former three star Navy admiral, I have always advocated for an immediate end to this policy, not only because it was a compromise of our American principles that is counter to our civil rights but also because it weakens our national security. Too often, talented and dedicated men and women have been forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, I saw it happen.

“In a time of war, we cannot lose any more troops that we depend on to keep our country safe. I implore the Senate to move quickly toward final passage of repeal this year so that we can protect our nation while ensuring that those who keep it safe have the same rights they defend."

Congressman Sestak has cosponsored the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," in both the 110th and 111th Congresses. On March 4, 2010, with a Department of Defense review in progress, the Congressman sent a letter to President Obama urging him to issue an executive order to halt all dismissals under this policy. The DOD report, released on November 30, read: "We are convinced the U.S. military can make this change, even during this time of war." You can watch Congressman Sestak advocating for repeal after the release of the Department of Defense study: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TicFcsATQ_M.

The bill, passed today by a 250-175 margin, repeals “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after: 1) receipt of the DOD study, which has concluded; and 2) a certification by the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the President that repeal is first, consistent with military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting; and second, that the DOD has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement repeal. All three leaders support repeal.

The Senate will take up the bill either late this week or some time next week.

Tax Cut and Unemployment Extensions Impact on PA

from the inbox:

With the clock ticking toward tax hikes for all Pennsylvania residents and a loss of benefits for people out of work for an extended period of time, the President is repeating his call for the House of Representatives to act quickly on a bipartisan package of tax cuts and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

“This tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help to grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector. It will help to lift up middle class families, who will no longer need to worry about a New Year’s Day tax hike. It will offer emergency relief to help tide folks over until they find another job. And it includes tax cuts to make college more affordable; help parents to provide for their children; and help businesses, large and small, to expand and hire,” President Obama said today. “We worked hard to negotiate an agreement that’s a win for middle-class families, and a win for our economy, and we can’t afford to let it fall victim to delay and defeat. So, I urge Members of Congress to pass these tax cuts as swiftly as possible.”

The stakes are significant for Pennsylvania. If approved, 6.7 million Pennsylvania residents will receive more money in their paychecks as a result of the payroll tax cut – something nearly every mainstream economist agrees is one of the most powerful things that can be done to boost economic growth. Pennsylvania residents also would benefit from the continued American Opportunity Tax Credit that helped 335,000 families across the state last year. Additional tax cuts in the legislation also geared at middle-class families include the Earned Income Tax Credit, that helps families to climb out of poverty, and the Child Tax Credit extension, that will make sure families don’t see their taxes jump by up to $1,000 for every child.

Additionally, this bipartisan legislation would strengthen the safety net for 353,989 residents who are at risk of having their unemployment insurance (UI) benefits evaporate without Congressional action. Across the country, this month alone, 2 million Americans will lose their UI coverage if Congress fails to act.

With Senate approval, this afternoon the measure moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.



The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 provides vital tax relief and investments in our workers that will create jobs and accelerate economic growth. The bill has three key accomplishments:

· Working families will not lose their tax cut. A typical working family faced a tax increase of over $3,000 on January 1. That’s avoided under this bill, and working families won’t see their tax cuts go away next year.

· Focused on high impact job creation measures. The bill includes some of the best measures for jumpstarting growth and job creation, including a full year of emergency unemployment insurance benefits, a 2 percent payroll tax cut for working families and a continuation of tax credits for working families. This is on top of growth generated by extension of the middle-class income tax rates.

· Does not worsen the medium- and long-term deficit. These are responsible, temporary measures to support our economy that will not add costs by the middle of the decade. The President does not believe it is affordable to make the high-income tax cuts permanent and will continue to make his case for why we cannot extend these measures beyond 2012.

For Pennsylvania, the bipartisan tax cut legislation provides a significant boost for middle-class families.

· 6.7 million Pennsylvania residents would see more money in their paychecks because of the payroll tax cut.

· The American Opportunity Tax Credit extension would make it easier for families to afford to pay for their children’s college. Last year alone, 335,000 Pennsylvania families benefited from this tax credit.

· 353,989 residents, struggling to find work as the economy climbs out of the recession, would see their unemployment insurance benefits extended. Without action, UI benefits for at least 2 million Americans would disappear this month alone, with millions more in jeopardy in the weeks ahead.

Hats in the Ring

A number of people have implied or informally announced candidacies for county and city commissioner / council races. However, some have jumped in with formal announcements. Here are two:

Sherrie Cohen is running for Philadelphia City Council At-Large. She kicks off her campaign Wednesday evening.

Joe Grace is running for Philadelphia City Council, 1st District. His announcement event is on Tuesday.

Murphy Introduces Free Standing DADT Repeal

Congressman Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress (in 2006) has made the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" a signature issue. Murphy leaves office at the end of this month and wants to make one more effort to change the military policy that allows for discrimination based on sexual orientation. While previous attempts have been attached to other bills, the new bill concerns solely the DADT repeal. For more information see Colby Itkowitz's article, "Murphy's last battle," in the Morning Call.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PA Legislative Surplus at $188 Million

The state's legislative audit committee released a report today. Brad Bumsted of the Tribune Review has more details. The legislature has a $188 million surplus. State Rep. Josh Shapiro, chairman of the audit committee, thinks that's too much and it should be returned to the general budget. I kind of agree with him.

Note to Philadelphia: Code for American Coming in January

This month's issue of Fast Company magazine has several interesting articles. One is the seemingly requisite article on the 20th anniversary of Teach for America, focusing on alumni of the program.

There is a longer article on a new program called Code for America. The article, "ICitizen," by Anya Kamenetz. Here is a description of the program:

This January, a new organization called Code for America, with support from Yahoo, Microsoft, and others, will launch, aiming to leverage the idealism of a generation of young programmers, this time from within city hall. Modeled on Teach for America, it could not have arrived at a better time, given that budget deficits -- half a billion dollars in L.A., nearly $655 million in Chicago, $3.8 billion in New York -- are killing city services around the country. "This transcends political ideology," says Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America's founder. "One thing that people of different backgrounds can agree on is that government needs to get better."

This January the first 20 coders will fan out to five cities, including Philadelphia. The project for some of the other cities is listed but not the one for Philly. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. If, as the article on Teach for America says, two thirds of the teachers in that program stay in some kind of education, we can hope that our new code writers will make their home in the region when their Code for American term is over. Maybe one will start the next Microsoft or Google here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A White House Note on "Mini Med" Coverage

Here is an excerpt from an entry by Stephanie Cutter on the White House blog:

Unfortunately, many workers don’t have this kind of quality coverage. Employers who hire lower wage, part time or seasonal workers are more likely to offer limited benefit plans. Retail or chain restaurant employers frequently offer limited benefit plans that contain less comprehensive coverage and annual dollar limits on how much workers can receive in health coverage. The premiums for these limited benefit policies (known as mini-meds) are significantly lower than for policies with comprehensive coverage and are more affordable for lower wage workers and their families. In exchange for the low premiums, these policies generally come with high deductibles and annual dollar caps as low as $2,000. In addition, in many cases, employees are paying the full cost of the insurance policy, with no help from their employer.

The good news is that mini-meds will be eliminated in 2014, thanks to provisions that phase out insurance companies’ use of annual limits between now and 2014. The “phase out” has already begun to kick in, and in 2014 when annual limits are completely eliminated, consumers be able to purchase health insurance in state-based Exchanges -- new competitive marketplaces – where consumers and small businesses can shop for private coverage and will have the market power similar to large employers.

The bad news is that today mini-meds are often the only affordable option for many low-wage workers because retail and chain restaurants rarely offer their workers options beyond these plans. And because mini-meds are built around annual limits, estimates from employers and insurers indicate that beginning the phase out of annual limits this year would cause mini-med premiums to rise by more than 200 percent, forcing employers to drop coverage and sending many low-wage workers to purchase insurance on the more expensive individual insurance market, where they would get an even worse deal than what they have today. The result would be a whole new population of uninsured Americans.

To ensure that we protect the coverage that these workers have today until better options are available for them in 2014, the law allows HHS, in extreme cases, to issue temporary waivers from the phase out of annual limits. There are some important facts to remember about these temporary waivers:

•The waivers only apply to one provision of the law – the provisions phasing out annual limits. Insurance companies and employers that receive waivers must comply with all other parts of the Affordable Care Act.

•The waivers last one year. Insurance companies must reapply for the waivers each year between now and 2014 when annual limits on coverage will be completely prohibited and individuals will have more affordable and better private insurance choices in the competitive Exchange markets.

•All employers and insurers that offer mini-med plans may apply for a waiver if they demonstrate that there will be large increases in premiums or a significant decrease in access to coverage without a waiver. You can read a list of employers and insurers that have received waivers here.

HHS also took an additional step to ensure these workers know more about mini-med policies and the limited coverage they may be buying. The Administration is requiring the issuers of limited benefit plans to notify consumers in plain language that their plan offers extremely limited benefits and direct them to www.HealthCare.gov, where they may be able to find better coverage options. The Administration has also restricted the sale of new mini-med policies, except under some limited circumstances. You can read more about this new announcement here.

We’re committed to implementing the Affordable Care Act quickly and carefully, and as we do, we’re building a bridge to 2014 when Americans will have access to affordable, quality health care options.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Info on Social Security Teporary Payroll Tax Cut

from the inbox:

Payroll Tax Cut Will Help Workers and Will Have No Effect on Social Security

As a way to generate jobs and help America’s working families, the President agreed to a 2 percentage point reduction in the payroll tax rate next year as part of the tax agreement. The payroll tax cut will benefit more than 155 million workers – and will help generate growth and put people back to work. And, this tax cut will not affect Social Security. The President believes that Social Security is a sacred compact that in return for a lifetime of hard work, America’s seniors will have a chance to retire with dignity. We have an obligation to keep that promise and safeguard and strengthen Social Security for seniors, people with disabilities and all Americans, both now and in the future.

The law specifies that Social Security will receive every dollar it would have gotten even without the payroll tax cut. The legislation is absolutely clear on this point. In Section 601(e), the legislation states: “There are hereby appropriated to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund [the Social Security Trust Fund] established under section 201 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401) amounts equal to the reduction in revenues to the Treasury by reason of the application of subsection (a) [the payroll tax cut].” This is a legal way of saying that Social Security will receive exactly what it would have received absent the enactment of this provision.

No change in Social Security solvency or benefits. Since the Social Security Trust Fund will be paid back for every dollar lost because of the payroll tax cut, it will not affect the solvency of Social Security. Benefits will also remain exactly the same as they were before. Workers will get full credit toward future benefits for their work in 2011.

A smaller payroll tax cut was passed earlier this year with strong support, including from progressive supporters of Social Security. The HIRE Act cut Social Security payroll taxes for employers hiring unemployed workers and used a similar legal mechanism to transfer funds to prevent any worsening of Social Security solvency. It was supported by Social Security Chief Actuary on the Payroll Tax Cut “We have reviewed the language Title VI Sec 601. Temporary Employee Payroll Tax Cut included in the Senate Amendment to House Amendment to Senate Amendment of H.R. 4853 (MAT10785). We estimate that the enactment of this provision would have a negligible effect on the financial status of the Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program in both the near term and the long term. We estimate that the projected level of the OASI and DI Trust Funds would be unaffected by enactment of this provision.” (Letter to Secretary Geithner and Director Lew, 12/10/2010, emphasis added) 211 Democrats in the House and 57 Democrats in the Senate and it will expire as scheduled at the end of this year.

Numerous progressives have supported a payroll tax cut in the past. Recent supporters of different versions of payroll tax cuts include Arianna Huffington, Ezra Klein, John Podesta, and Laura Tyson.

The tax cut is temporary. This is a one-year, temporary tax break intended to help working families in these tough economic times and to help generate growth and jobs. After the temporary provision expires, payroll tax rates will return to what they were before. It would require an act of Congress signed by the President to change this automatic expiration.

Express Scripts To Keep 400 Jobs in PA

good news from the inbox!!

Workers at Express Scripts, Inc. facilities in Bensalem, PA – members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania - voted overwhelmingly yesterday and today to ratify a settlement agreement that will preserve approximately 400 jobs at the Street Road facility, reversing the Company’s announcement of plans to shutter all of its Bensalem operations.

In addition to maintaining most of the company’s workforce at the Street Road facility in Bensalem, the settlement provides a substantial severance package to approximately 500 workers facing layoff as a result of the closure of the Marshall Lane facility and some downsizing at Street Road.

The settlement resolves a months-long conflict between the company and the Union. Express Scripts is the country’s 2nd largest pharmacy benefit manager, and SEIU is the largest labor union in North America.

“This settlement will keep hundreds of good jobs here in Bensalem, and make sure anyone who gets laid off will be able to provide for their families in this harsh economy,” said Linda Chan, a Pharmacy Tech at the Marshall Lane facility, and a member of the union bargaining committee.

In mid-October, the company announced it would close the Marshall Lane facility on December 16th, 2010. Then, following the workers’ overwhelming rejection of the company’s previous final settlement offer, Express Scripts announced it would close the Street Road facility effective February 1st, 2011.

SEIU members have engaged in a national campaign to garner support and urge Express Scripts to maintain quality jobs in Bensalem.

The 2-year agreement approved today:
Rescinds the company’s decision to close the Street Road facility and maintains approximately 400 jobs there, with a commitment to keep the facility open over the life of the agreement.

Maintains affordable, family health care in the workers’ current health insurance plan.

Reinstates, with back pay, the three workers who were suspended for activity in support of the fight to save these jobs.

Provides a substantial severance package for workers being laid off – including a lump sum payment of $10,000 plus an additional week of pay for every year of service up to 10 weeks. In addition, workers will receive 5 months of employer-paid health care benefits or an additional $5,000 in severance pay, at employees’ option. For an employee earning $12 per hour, the severance package is the equivalent of up to 10 months and 1 week of full pay.

Gives recall rights for laid off workers if the facility reopens in the future.

“This has been a very difficult challenge. I am saddened that many people who helped build this company are being laid off. But by sticking together we saved 400 good jobs for this community and won an excellent severance package for laid off workers that most non-union workers could only dream about,” said Rickie Stemley, a Pharmacy Tech at the Marshall Lane facility.

“I am proud that we were able to save these jobs,” said Pam Rogers, President of the union at the two facilities. “The support we got from the community, other labor unions and people across the country was overwhelming.”

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Income Tax Rate / Unemployment Legislation

Earlier this week President Obama worked out a compromise with Senate Republicans on ending the Republican filibuster on extending the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, again takes to the White House White Board to explain what it would mean.

The President also recorded a video explaining why he thinks this is a good compromise.

Here is a description of the legislation as sent from the White House:

Highlights of the Framework

· Extending the 2001/2003 Income-Tax Rates for Two Years. The framework would end the impasse over taxes by extending the 2001/2003 income tax rates for two years and reforming the AMT to ensure that an additional 21 million households will not be hit with a tax increase. These measures provide relief to more than 100 million middle-class families.

· Key Administration Priorities to Support Job Creation and Economic Growth. In addition to the 2001/2003 rates, the Administration secured several provisions that are vital for our economy’s growth, which would not have been possible without this potential deal.

o An About 2% Employee-Side Payroll Tax Cut: The agreement includes an about 2%, employee-side payroll tax cut for over 155 million workers – providing tax relief of about $120 billion next year.

o Extension of Unemployment Benefits: The framework extends emergency unemployment benefits at their current level for 13 months, preventing an estimated 7 million workers from losing their benefits as they search for jobs.

o The Child Tax Credit: The $3,000 refundability threshold established in the Recovery Act for the Child Tax Credit will be extended under the framework, ensuring an ongoing tax cut to 10.5 million lower-income families with 18 million children.

o The Earned Income Tax Credit: The framework continues a Recovery Act expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit providing up to $630 for families with 3 or more children, and reduces the “marriage penalty” faced by working married families. Together, these enhancements to the EITC will help 6.5 million working parents with 15 million children.

o The American Opportunity Tax Credit: The new American Opportunity Tax Credit – a partially refundable tax credit that helps more than 8 million students and their families afford the cost of college – would be continued under the framework.

o 100 Percent Expensing: The framework agreement includes the President’s proposal to temporarily allow businesses to expense 100% of their investments in 2011, potentially generating about $50 billion in additional investment in 2011.

A number of businesses, industry groups, newspaper editorial boards (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) and others have come out in favor of the legislation.

Here are my thoughts: Initially I was very much against this legislation but having watched the video of the President explaining it, and watching the Goolsbee video I have come to accept the positive aspects of it. One continuing reservation is that by reducing the payroll tax it will be almost impossible to return it to current levels which could have lasting negative implications for Social Security. I would be more in favor of the payroll deduction decrease if there were an increase in the income that is taxed for Social Security. Right now income above a certain number (I think it is $106,000) is not taxed for Social Security. Lower the tax percentage and raise the limit and then I'd be more in favor of it. But keep in mind that am ill-informed on economic matters.

Obama on National Defense Authorization Act

from the inbox:

I am extremely disappointed that yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act. Despite having the bipartisan support of a clear majority of Senators, a minority of Senators are standing in the way of the funding upon which our troops, veterans and military families depend. This annual bill has been enacted each of the past 48 years, and our armed forces deserve nothing less this year.

A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly gay or lesbian. A great majority of the American people agree. This law weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity and equality.

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill. While today’s vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts. I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session.

Obama on Doc Fix

from the inbox:

“I am pleased Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate have agreed on legislation that will prevent a significant pay cut for doctors from taking effect and help ensure seniors on Medicare can continue to see the doctor they know and trust. I encourage Congress to act quickly on this proposal. This agreement is an important step forward to stabilize Medicare, but our work is far from finished. For too long, we have confronted this reoccurring problem with temporary fixes and stop-gap measures. It’s time for a permanent solution that seniors and their doctors can depend on and I look forward to working with Congress to address this matter once and for all in the coming year.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

R.I.P. Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards was one of my favorite people on the national political scene. She wrote well, as you might expect of someone who had taken graduate classes in English, and I enjoyed reading her autiobiography. She was smart, classy and, at least from my vantage point, seemed very familiar with the "juggle" of keeping up with kids, jobs, and politics. One of the sections of her book that I most enjoyed was her description of the way her older son's friends took over her house. It is a phenomenon I have some experience with myself and seldom hear other people address.

My thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially her children.

Tomorrow, back to Pennsylvania politics.

Corbett's Transition Team

Governor-elect Tom Corbett has announced his transition team, and, as might be expected of any elected official, not everyone is happy with it. There are 17 committees with a total of 400 people involved. The full list of people on the various subject oriented committees can be found at http://www.philly.com/transitionteam

Angela Couloumbis of the Inquirer noted in "Corbett names huge cast to transition panels," (12/01):

In choosing the group that will advise him on education, Corbett included several staunch charter school advocates. They include Vahan Gureghian, a Gladwyne lawyer who operates the state's largest charter school, Chester Community Charter School in Chester.

Gureghian contributed $250,000 to Corbett's campaign and donated heavily to other Republican campaign funds as well, state records show. Gureghian was also named to cochair Corbett's working group on transportation and infrastructure.

Also on Corbett's education committee: State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, the Philadelphia Democrat who is one of the most vocal proponents in the legislature for charter schools and school choice, and David Pollard and Joel Greenberg, both with Susquehanna International Group.

Susquehanna International's executives - Greenberg among them - gave an astonishing $5 million to Williams' unsuccessful campaign for governor in this year's primary because they liked his stance on school choice, particularly his support for the use of publicly funded vouchers to enable more families to pay for private education.

"When I look at the list of people he's chosen for education, no one jumps out who is an advocate for traditional K-12 education," said Lawrence A. Feinberg, a Haverford Township school board member and cochair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, which advocates for public education.

Also on the education team is a Bucks County woman who leads a tea party group. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune ("Transition team member irks Dems," by Mike Wereschagin, 12/02). She is quoted as calling President Obama a Marxist and saying liberals are in league with radical Islam. According to the article she was chosen because of her home schooling advocacy work.

The Delaware County Daily Times reports ("Corbett under fire for advisers' links to industry," by Marc Levy 12/06):
The head of another citizen advocacy group, Barry Kauffman of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said he saw nothing wrong with including people from all walks of industry, as long as the perspective is balanced. But he criticized Corbett's team as being light on public interest viewpoints.

Kauffman gave Corbett credit for reserving a transportation committee slot for AAA, the consumer-oriented nonprofit travel club with millions of members, but noted that the health and welfare committees lack AARP representation. There are no student associations or parent-teacher organizations on the education committee, Kauffman said.

The energy and environment committee does not include the Sierra Club or Audubon, and the veterans' committee includes a representative of Veterans for Corbett, but not any of the various veterans groups in Pennsylvania, he said.

Just to take one example, here is the membership list for the education committee:

Co-Chair – Joel Greenberg, Susquehanna International Group
Co-Chair – Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor University of Pittsburgh

* Jim Agras, CEO of Triangle Tech and State Board of Education
* Jeanne Allen, President of Center for Education Reform
* Chris Bravacos, President, Bravo Group
* Matt Brouillette, President, Commonwealth Foundation
* PA State Rep. Paul Clymer
* Marie Conley, Chair of the Human Resources Committee, Board of Governors
* Bill Donahue, Treasurer of Donahue Family Foundation
* Carolyn Dumaresq, Partner, Dumaresq Consulting
* Dan Fitzpatrick, President/CEO, Citizens Bank
* Amy Foerster, Saul Ewing
* Don Francis, Independent Colleges & Universities
* Dennis Giorno, Malady & Wooten
* Vahan Gureghian, Chester County Charter School
* Larry Jones, President of Charter School Association
* Michael Karp, President of University City Housing
* Ruth O'Block Grant, Member, Board of Trustees, Seton Hill University
* Pat O'Connor, COB, Temple University, Cozen & O'Connor
* PA State Senator Jeffrey Piccola
* David Pollard, Susquehanna International Group
* Ana Puig, Co-Chair of Kitchen Table Patriots
* Father Ed Quinlan, Secretary of Education, Harrisburg Diocese
* Cynthia Richey, Director of Mt. Lebanon Library System
* Richard Sand, Managing Partner of Sand & Saidel Law Firm
* Dave Schulik, Shulick Law Offices
* Carl Singley, Counsel, Ciardi, Ciardi and Astin
* Karen Stout, President of Montgomery County Community College
* Bob Taylor, Trustee, Slippery Rock University
* Paul Taylor, Executive Director Archabbey, St. Vincent's College
* Ron Tomalis, Director of Dutko Worldwide
* Dennis Tulli, Cyber Charters
* PA State Senator Anthony Williams
* Charles Zogby, K12 Inc. (Knowledge Universe).

There aren't any teachers listed and no one is identified as being part of any pta or pto or parents' association. Other than someone on the state board of education I don't see any representation of public k-12 schools at all. Granted some of the people are the listed are likely parents but their identification is business related and none of those businesses are related to public k-12 education.

Transition team members are asked to sign ethics and confidentiality agreements. Their duties include coming up with recommendations for the new administration by mid-January. Corbett is not obligated to follow their recommendations. Appearances do matter, though, and, as a parent and former pta board member, I'm a little concerned about the absence of a representative of public education on that committee.

DVRPC Seeks Public Comment

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as opened a public comment period for the Draft Fiscal Year 2012 Planning Work Program. This document outlines all of the federally funded planning projects slated for the nine-county region from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012. The listing includes DVRPC projects, as well as projects planned by member governments and transit organizations. The Work Program is developed annually by the DVRPC Board with its planning partners to reflect the region's short-range planning needs.

Copies of the Work Program are available on DVRPC's web site, www.dvrpc.org/WorkProgram. Note that the full document is about 317 pages.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

More on Express Scripts

From Friday's Tri-Advocate:

Pharmaceutical distributing behemoth Express Scripts this week also jumped on the Scrooge bandwagon and announced it would close two Bensalem facilities and lay off almost 1,000 people, despite being wildly profitable in recent years. The reason? It wanted $8.8 million in labor concessions, and the union only offered a meager $8 million. For the uninformed, the state has, as recently as 2009, come to the table with significant financial help for Express Scripts for the express (no pun intended) purpose of keeping them in Bucks County. We are sure there are some unhappy elected officials in Bucks County today.

ADP Monthly Job Reports for November

ADP has issues its monthly jobs report, for November 2010. It shows more growth in small businesses (non-farm), though medium sized goods-producing firms outpaced small firms in that category. Service-producing industries grew in small, medium and large sized companies. Here is an excerpt:

This month’s ADP National Employment Report shows an acceleration of employment and suggests the nation’s employment situation is brightening somewhat. November’s gain in private-sector employment is the largest in three years. This is the tenth consecutive month of gains, which have averaged 47,000 during that period. Nevertheless, employment gains of this magnitude are not sufficient to lower the unemployment rate, which likely will remain above 9% for all of 2011. Furthermore, given modest GDP growth in the second and third quarters, and the usual lag of employment behind GDP, it would not be surprising to see several more months of only moderate gains in employment even as the economic recovery gathers momentum.

According to the ADP Report, employment in the service-providing sector rose by 79,000 in November, the tenth consecutive monthly gain. Employment in the goods-producing sector rose by 14,000, the first monthly increase since March 2007. Construction employment dropped by 3,000 during November, the smallest decline since June 2007, and manufacturing employment increased by 16,000.

Notes From This Week's WSJ

I'm still reading the Wall Street Journal even if I'm no longer compiling mentions of Pennsylvania in its pages. Nonethless, a few interesting articles from this past week (I subscribe and read the print version but link to online where it was easily findable):

"Stepping on the gas: natural-gas vehicles are taking off in some suprising places," by Benoit Faucon (11/29). Interestingly the places using the most natural gas vehicles are in the developing world. For example, Iran, which doesn't have the capability to refine it's own crude oil and is concerned about trade sanctions. The US lacks refueling stations.

"One green design fits all," by Stephanie Simon (11/29). This is a short case study of PNC bank wanting to develop a design plan for new branches that would meet LEED green standards. The team that worked to develop the architectural design included architectural firm Gensler, CJL Engineering of Moon Township, PA, and Philadelphida based Clemens Construction Co.

"Employers still uncertain on hiring new graduates," by Joe Light (11/29) says companies aren't hiring because of "concerns about taxes, health-care costs, and the undertain political picture in addition to economic woes." It also says big companies are doing better than midsize companies. This is reinforced by "Smaller firms still hesitant to hire," by Sara E. Needleman (12/02), although it ends with this disquieting quote "'It really challenges you as an entrepreneur to request more from your people,' says Mr. Noon. 'But the economy has been a great excuse. Peple are very grateful to have jobs.'"

Also disquieting, "McDonald's defends health plan," by Janet Adamy (12/02). While McDonalds offers corporate workers and restaurant managers health care plans without a cap on benefit payments, with a bottom level plan costing $682 to $920 a year, most restaurant workers are offered "mini med" plans. The most commonly selected plan costs $710 a year and has a $2,000 anual limit on benefits. The company pays 80% of the corporate / manager premiums it only pays 20% of the restaurant worker premiums. Oh, yes, the company wants the medical loss ratio" (the percentage of premiums spent on actual medical care) dropped from the 80% that will be imposed next year due to health care reform, to half that.

"Signs point to extending all tax cuts temporarily," by John D McKinnon and Janet Hook (12/02) refers to "Democratic priorities such as extension of tax breaks that benefit the working poor, as well as further extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless." Those are, in my view, good priorities to have. Less welcome news in "Two-year deal on taxes possible," by John D. McKinnon and Janet Hook (12/03) (italics mine):

A final deal might not only extend the lowered income-tax rates signed inot law by President George W. Bush, which end on Dec. 31, but also the corporate research credit, a long list of alternative-energy subsidies and targeted breaks for motorsports tracks, restaurants and filmmakers.

"Military retirees resist push to cut health costs," by Nathan Hodge (12/03). Let's keep these costs the same and not extend tax cuts to the wealthiest.

Sebelius and More in More

When Pink Magazine stopped publishing printed issues (they are still on the web at www.littlepinkbook.com) More Magazine filled out the issues left on my subscription. I was dubious at first but each issue has just enough politics and social issues to keep my interest amidst the jewelry and cosmetics ads and articles. In the December 2010 / January 2011 issue you can find:

* a Q&A with Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. One except:

Q: How does health care reform help women?
A: I like to remind women that they are at the front of the beneficiary line, because women currently are most likely to be uninsured or underinsured, given their work status, until they reach Medicare, when it levels out a bit. The changes, both in the insurance market and with consumer protections, really impact women.

* an article on Wendy Kopp who started Teach for America 20 years ago (since it's the 20th anniversary there are a fair number of articles on the organization these days).

Neither are on the web that I can find but it either intrigues you it might be worth the $4.00 to buy a copy.

Mike Fitzpatrick Mentioned in Philly Mag

Mike Fitzpatrick, once and future congressional representative of the 8th district, rates a mention in the December issue of Philadelphia Magazine. The subject of the article is New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Here's the last two paragraphs of "Man Man," by Jason Fagone:

I tried to catch him in mid-October, when he swung through the Philadelphia region. A little after noon, Christie addressed a catering tent full of donors in Bucks County. It was a $500-a-plate luncheon benefiting congressional candidate Mike Fitzpatrick. The donors applauded as Christie spoke of a return to “core principles”: Fitzpatrick “will stand up for his congressional district,” he said, “and he will stand against crazy spending, out-of-control debt, and even higher taxes.”

Toward the end of his 15-minute speech, Christie told the faithful that if Fitzpatrick lost, he’d know it was because they didn’t work hard enough: “I don’t wanna have to come back here.” He wagged his finger and made a stern face, and the donors roared; here he was, Mr. Angry, giving them — them! — some of the good stuff. They stood, clapping their hands raw, as Christie tumbled down from the podium, giving me and half a dozen other reporters the slip, jackknifing toward a gap in the tent.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

This is a longer press release that I would normally post but it contains a lot of useful information so, here goes:


Administration Releases New Guidance That Gives Small Employers

Full Set of Tolls to Claim Credit for 2010;

IRS Has Sent Postcards to 179,000 Pennsylvania Small Businesses that May Qualify

Today, many small businesses across America struggle to provide health benefits to their employees. On average, small businesses pay about 18 percent more than large businesses for the same health insurance policy. The Affordable Care Act helps level the playing field by lowering costs for small businesses and increasing their bargaining power. At the same time, small business owners will have the flexibility to make choices they believe are right for their business and their employees. Starting in 2014, firms with up to 100 workers can pool their buying power and reduce administrative costs by purchasing insurance through a health insurance exchange. And the Congressional Budget Office predicts that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, premiums in the small group insurance market will decrease 1 to 4 percent by 2016.

To make health insurance more affordable for small businesses, the new law also includes tax credits for many small businesses that offer coverage to their workers. Starting in 2010, small businesses that have fewer than 25 employees, pay average annual wages below $50,000, and pay for most of their employees’ health coverage may qualify for a tax credit of up to 35 percent of health expenses. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the tax credit will save small businesses $40 billion by 2019. Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations may qualify for the tax credit.

The tax credit is already having a substantial impact. Insurance companies have used the tax credit to encourage more businesses to provide benefits. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City has promoted the tax credit and enrolled more than 9,000 new members covered by 400 new employers; 38 percent of those new employers did not previously offer insurance.

Today, the Obama Administration is releasing new guidance that will make it easier for small businesses to claim this tax credit.

Key Facts about the New Guidance:

Addresses small business questions about which firms qualify by clarifying that a broad range of employers meet the eligibility requirements, including:
Employers that pay for a portion of their employees’ health care costs through a broad range of contribution arrangements.
Religious institutions that provide coverage through denominational organizations;
Certain small employers that cover their workers through multiemployer health and welfare plans; and

Includes the one-page form (Form 8941) and instructions used to claim the credit for tax year 2010 – both are now available at www.irs.gov.

Facts About the New Guidance

· Gives Small Employers Full Tools to Claim Credit for 2010. The new guidance includes all the tools small businesses need to claim the credit when they file their 2010 taxes, including the one-page form (Form 8941) and instructions used to claim the credit for tax year 2010, as well as the remaining guidance for 2010. All of this information is now available at www.irs.gov.

· Clarifies that Religious Institutions Qualify. Due to their special status under other law, religious institutions that obtain coverage through a denominational organization that self-insures the coverage can qualify for the credit, even though the coverage is not fully insured – a requirement for most employers. The guidance makes clear that this rule applies solely for purposes of eligibility for the small business tax credit.

· Explains “Qualifying Arrangement” – Wide Range of Employers Qualify. Following up on previous guidance issued by the Treasury Department that provided transition relief to help businesses claim the credit for 2010, the new guidance clarifies that a broad range of common arrangements used by employers to subsidize insurance coverage for their workers will qualify for the credit for tax years 2010 to 2013. For example, firms that pay more to help older workers cover the higher premiums and firms that allow employees a choice of coverage, may both qualify for the credit. For tax year 2010, small employers have the flexibility to use the transition relief set forth in the earlier guidance or to take advantage of the rules in the new guidance.

· Clarifies that Certain Employers Contributing to Multiemployer Health and Welfare Plans Qualify. The guidance provides that a small employer that makes contributions to a multiemployer plan that are used to pay premiums for employee health insurance coverage may qualify for the credit, so long as 100 percent of the cost of coverage for all employees covered by the multiemployer plan is paid from employer contributions and not by employees.

Getting the Word Out to Small Businesses

To ensure that small businesses know about the credit and how to claim it, the Administration has undertaken a nationwide educational campaign to reach small employers and their tax preparers.

Web Features. WhiteHouse.Gov, HealthCare.Gov , and IRS.Gov all feature special sections on the credit, including tax tips, detailed frequently asked questions and a worksheet to help small business owners determine whether they qualify.
Millions of Postcards to Small Businesses: The IRS has sent out over 4 million postcards to employers that may qualify for the credit, including 179,000 in Pennsylvania.

Over 1,000 Tax Workshops and Small Business Forums. Every year, tens of thousands of small businesses and tax professionals around the country attend Small Business Forums and Tax Workshops to learn about new developments in tax law. This year, IRS outreach has had a special focus on the small business credit, featuring it at over 1,000 events.

Email Blasts to Thousands of Tax Professionals and Small Businesses. IRS is getting the word out through its IRS e-News for Tax Professionals and e-News for Small Businesses. Each newsletter reaches over 175,000 tax professionals and small business owners.

Facts About the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

Available Immediately. Enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, the credit was effective January 1, 2010. As a result, small businesses currently providing health care for their workers receive immediate help with their premium costs.
Broad Eligibility. The Council of Economic Advisors estimates that 4 million small businesses are eligible for the credit if they provide health care to their workers.

Substantial Benefit. The credit is worth up to 35 percent of a small business’s premium costs in 2010 and in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, this rate increases to 50 percent.

Firms Can Claim Credit for Up to 6 Years. Firms can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that.

Non-Profits Eligible. Tax-exempt organizations are eligible for a 25 percent tax credit in 2010 and in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, this rate increases to 35 percent.[1]

Gradual Phase-Outs. The credit phases out gradually for firms with average wages between $25,000 and $50,000 and for firms with the equivalent of between 10 and 25 full-time workers.

Premium Cost Eligibility. To avoid an incentive to choose a high-cost plan, an employer’s eligible contribution is limited to the average cost of health insurance for small businesses in that state.

No Reduction Due to State Credits. The credit is not reduced if an employer also receives a state health care tax credit or subsidy (except in limited circumstances to prevent abuse of the credit). In particular, an employer that receives such a state tax credit or subsidy also receives the full federal credit based on its entire contribution so long as the federal credit does not exceed the employer’s net contribution. According to lists compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 20 states offer these benefits.[2]

· Dental and Vision Coverage Qualify. Small businesses can receive the credit not only for traditional health insurance coverage but also for add-on dental, vision, and other limited-scope coverage.

· Employers Can Choose the Most Favorable Method of Determining Hours Worked. Because the tax credit’s matching rate is highest for employers with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), the number of hours worked is an important factor in calculating the credit. Employers can choose among three different methods of determining hours to minimize their bookkeeping duties while receiving the maximum tax credit for which they are eligible. Employers can look at actual hours of service, or can use simple rules of convenience to estimate hours based on total days or weeks of service.

The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit: Four Cases

Example 1: Auto Repair Shop with 10 Employees Gets $24,500 Credit for 2010

Main Street Mechanic:

· Employees: 10

· Wages: $250,000 total, or $25,000 per worker

· Employer Health Care Costs: $70,000

2010 Tax Credit: $24,500 (35% credit)

2014 Tax Credit: $35,000 (50% credit)

Example 2: Restaurant with 40 Part-Time Employees Gets $28,000 Credit for 2010

Downtown Diner:

· Employees: 40 half-time employees (the equivalent of 20 full-time workers)

· Wages: $500,000 total, or $25,000 per full-time equivalent worker

· Employer Health Care Costs: $240,000

2010 Tax Credit: $28,000 (35% credit with phase-out)

2014 Tax Credit: $40,000 (50% credit with phase-out)

Example 3: Foster Care Non-Profit with 9 Employees Gets $18,000 Credit for 2010

First Street Family Services.org:

· Employees: 9

· Wages: $198,000 total, or $22,000 per worker

· Employer Health Care Costs: $72,000

2010 Tax Credit: $18,000 (25% credit)

2014 Tax Credit: $25,200 (35% credit)

Example 4: Manufacturing Company with 12 Employees Gets $14,700 Credit for 2010

Acme Air Conditioning, LLC:

· Employees: 12

· Wages: $420,000 total, or $35,000 per worker

· Employer Health Care Costs: $90,000

2010 Tax Credit: $14,700 (35% credit with phase-out)

2014 Tax Credit: $21,000 (50% credit with phase-out)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Today's House Vote on Middle Class Tax Cuts

Here are a few interesting infobits on the US House vote today on middle class tax cuts.

Wondering how Pennsylvania's congressional delegation voted? Here's a breakdown:

* Altmire, Jason,(4th) - Y
* Brady, Robert, (1st) - Y
* Carney, Christopher P., (10th) - Y
* Critz, Mark, (12th) - Y
* Dahlkemper, Kathy, (3rd) - N
* Dent, Charles W., (15th) - N
* Doyle, Mike, (14th) - Y
* Fattah, Chaka, (2nd) - Y
* Gerlach, Jim, (6th) - N
* Holden, Tim, (17th) - Y
* Kanjorski, Paul E., (11th) - Y
* Murphy, Patrick J., (8th) - Y
* Murphy, Tim, (18th) - N
* Pitts, Joseph R., (16th) - N
* Platts, Todd, (19th) - N
* Schwartz, Allyson Y., (13th) - Y
* Sestak, Joe, (7th) - Y
* Shuster, Bill, (9th) - N
* Thompson, Glenn W., (5th) - N

A full congressional roll call with votes is available.

Congressman Joe Sestak released this statement:

Congressman Joe Sestak (PA-07) voted today to help pass tax relief for all Americans and prevent an unaffordable financial burden for the middle class that would occur if tax cuts are allowed to expire after December 31, 2010, as currently scheduled. The House approved the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 by a 234-188 margin.

“It was in the best interests of the working families and our economy that I proudly helped pass a critical extension of middle class tax cuts for those who need relief in difficult times,” said Congressman Sestak. “Not acting would do considerable harm to Americans who are trying to provide for themselves and their families as our economy recovers from the worst recession since World War II. While all Americans will receive relief, the decision to not extend tax cuts that only impact the wealthiest individuals and businesses demonstrates a lesson that should have been learned from that recession: wealth does not trickle down from the ultra rich. After a decade of irresponsibly-formed tax policy that created record deficits and debt, we simply cannot afford an extra $700 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest few who do not have an incentive to reinvest that money in our economy. I urge the Senate to swiftly pass this legislation and give economic certainty to all American families before the tax cuts expire at the end of this year.”

The Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 permanently extends the marginal tax rate reductions enacted by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001 for all tax brackets affecting income up to $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples filing jointly. In addition, the legislation makes permanent a number of other key provisions impacting the middle class and small businesses by:

* Permanently reducing capital gains and dividend tax relief for middle-class taxpayers on adjusted gross income up to $200,000 for single filers and adjusted gross income up to $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. The bill would maintain the current 15% rate for middle-class taxpayers.
* Permanently extending EGTRRA and ARRA improvements to the child tax credit. EGTRRA doubled the value of the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000, allowed the child tax credit to be claimed against the alternative minimum tax, and enhanced the refundable child tax credit. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“ARRA”) further enhanced the refundable child tax credit by allowing taxpayers to begin claiming the refundable credit once the taxpayer has received $3,000 of earned income.
* Permanently extending marriage penalty relief for middle-class taxpayers. Prior to EGTRRA, numerous marriage penalties existed in the tax code. Among other things, EGTRRA increased the basic standard deduction for a married couple filing a joint return to twice the basic standard deduction for an unmarried individual filing a single return and also increased the size of the 15% regular income tax bracket for a married couple filing a joint return to twice the size of the corresponding rate bracket for an unmarried individual filing a single return. The bill would permanently extend this tax relief.
* Permanently extending education tax incentives, such as the deduction of student loan interest (maximum of $2,500) for single filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 and married couples filing jointly with adjusted gross income of $150,000.

The expiration of tax breaks for the very wealthy will not target small businesses, according to the independent Tax Policy Center, which has found that only 3.2 percent of the wealthiest business owners would be affected and fewer than half of them earn the majority of their annual income from their businesses. They include hedge fund managers, owners of multinational companies and lobbyists.

Finally, the bill provides a two-year extension of alternative minimum tax (AMT) relief to protect 25 million families from the AMT.

A few more interesting notes about the votes.

Ezra Klein did some research on presumptive next Speaker of the House John Boehner's district and how it would be affected by his "no" vote:
There are 238,781 households in John Boehner's district. There are 2,824 of them with an income above $200,000. That's 1.1 percent. And that 1.1 percent is too large, as many of those people make between $200,000 and $250,000, and so every dollar of their income will be eligible for the tax cuts the Democrats are pushing.

Sen. Lamar Alexander make an interesting statement in the Senate, noting that a proposed compromise would not affect the people in his state but he opposed it nonethless. From PoliticalCorrection:
With members of Congress fighting over the fate of the expiring Bush tax cuts, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has put forward a compromise that would maintain the current rates on all earnings under $1 million. Even though Schumer's plan raises President Obama's original threshold for letting upper-income tax cuts expire by a multiple of four, Republican lawmakers are sticking with their dubious argument that such a plan would be unfair to small businesses across the country.

Yesterday, however, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) undermined the credibility of his party's claims. While speaking on the Senate floor, Alexander said that even though he opposes the proposal, he was "delighted" by Schumer's willingness to target his own constituents for tax increases. "Most of the people whose taxes he's trying to raise live in New York," he said. "I mean, they're not in Tennessee. We're a relatively low income state." Joking that Schumer's plan basically amounts to a "tax earmark," Alexander argued that it would "raise taxes on just a small number of people, most of whom live on Wall Street in New York.

Strange days indeed.

Impact of Not Extending Unemployment on Pennsylvania

from the inbox:

Failure by Congress to act on extending unemployment benefits will have stark consequences for Pennsylvania residents, according to a new report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Over the course of the next year, nearly seven million workers across the country – including 353,989 in Pennsylvania – will lose the temporary support that helps them keep food on the table and make ends meet while they search for a job if Congress fails to act.

“Extending this support to those hardest hit by this crisis is not only the right thing to do, it's the right economic policy,” said CEA Chairman Austan Goolsbee. “Letting millions more Americans fall into hardship will hurt our economy at this critical point in our recovery and immediately undermine consumer spending.”

Without extended benefits, Pennsylvania would have had 47,195 fewer jobs as of September 2010, and failure to act to extend benefits again could cost the state 31,228 jobs by the end of next year.

Benefits for the jobless are particularly important during the holiday season. In addition to providing support for families when they need it most, the positive effects of the program on the economy are likely to be greater since American families tend to spend more during the holiday season. In December alone, two million Americans will lose their coverage if Congress fails to act, the report finds.

To view the full report, including more state-by-state numbers, click HERE.

The full report is a 19 page pdf. The last two pages provide some numbers by state.

New PennDems Board

Congratulations to the newly elected PennDems (student organization at the University of Pennsylvania) Executive Board:

President -- Isabel Friedman
Vice President -- Jake Shuster
Events Director -- Andrew Silverstein
Political Director -- Troy Daly
Legislative Director -- Emma Ellman-Golan
Communications Director -- Andrew Brown
Membership Director -- Graham White
Treasurer -- Sacha Samotin
Community Outreach Director -- Daniel Rockower

Two New Pennsylvania Judges Nominated to District Courts

Today, President Obama nominated seven people to seats on the United States District Court. Two are in Pennsylvania:

Mark Raymond Hornak: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Mark Raymond Hornak has been a partner at the law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC since 1989, where he specializes in civil litigation, labor and employment law, media defense and governmental representation, and is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. For more than 15 years, he has also been solicitor of the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, which owns PNC Park, Heinz Field, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and Consol Energy Center. Prior to joining Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC in 1982, Hornak served as a law clerk to the Honorable James M. Sprouse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He received his J.D. summa cum laude in 1981 from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and his B.A. cum laude in 1978 from the University of Pittsburgh.

Robert David Mariani: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Robert David Mariani has spent the past 34 years as a civil litigator in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he specializes in labor and employment law. Since 2001, he has been sole shareholder in the law firm of Robert D. Mariani, P.C. Before that, Mariani was sole proprietor in the Law Office of Robert D. Mariani from 1993 to 2001 and was a partner in the law firm of Mariani & Greco from 1979 to 1993. He received his J.D. cum laude in 1976 from Syracuse University College of Law and his A.B. cum laude in 1972 from Villanova University.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Patrick Murphy at Widener

Today PCN replayed a talk given by Congressman Patrick Murphy at his legal alma mater, Widener University. I watched it this evening and typed up notes. This is not intended as a transcript, just rough notes. My apologies in advance for any errors or misconceptions.

Patrick Murphy at Widener University Law School (Harrisburg)

"Lessons Learned from Baghdad to Congress"

Inaugural Patrick J. Murphy Lecture 11/22/10

John Gedid, Widener Law & Government Institute Director introduces the lecture series.

Dean and Assoc Provost Linda Ammons introduces Murphy.

Congressman Murphy 199? graduate, 2002 recipient of ??? Award, commencement speaker, member of national adivsory class of advisory ??? of Widener School of Law. 2009 receipient of John F Kennedy New Frontier Award. [lengthy, did not get most of it]

PJM: thanks. [thanks many people] It's an honor to be here for the inaugural lecture for what I hope will be an informative series. I hear the first year students turned in their first paper today. Thanks for those who came after getting little sleep. I sat where you are in 1996. In know in years to come you will make all of us proud. Always considered it a minor miracle that I could earn a law degree form Widener. Grew up in a row house in NE Philly, son of police office and a legal secretary. A friend died when I was 17 and that made me realize how quickly everything can be taken away from you. I turned my life around. As freshman in Bucks County Community College made dean's list, went to Kings College, joined Army.

Lessons parents taught served me well. Never back away from a fight if you believe it's one worth fighting. One night when I was 10 a kid knocked on the door and wanted to fight me, after taunting me at school. Dad said if a guy wants to fight you go fight him. Went outside and fought out in the street under streetlight. Heard father urging him on in the background. Learned from challenges and standing up to neighborhood bullies. Seek out challenges and tackle them head on. After 9/11 was teaching Constitutional Law at West Point. Realized country faced new and unprecendented challenge. Terrorist threat from abroad killed over 3K people. Had been in Army for 8 years. My country had been attacked and I wanted to join brothers and sisters in arms. Went to Bosnia as part of Judge Advocate General's corps., served under Gen. David Petraeus. When returned country was gearing up for Iraq. Mixed feelings, Gen. Powell said war should be last option. But received orders and shipped out with 82nd Airborne Division, JAG for combat brigade. Sometimes led convoys, 2 or 3 vehicles, up and down Ambush Alley. I was responsible for those soldiers and those convoys, responsible for helping Iraqi justice system stand up on its own. It proved to be an uphill battle. [Cites time when one of his soldiers spotted an IED by side of 6 lane highway, reported it]

When I got back home I felt Pres. Bush's decision was wrong. I decided to do something about it and run for office, let experience of 2 deployments help make decisions in Congress. With $300 in bank and NE Philly accent that made some cringe, made decision to run for Congress. The powers that be in DC were less than enthused. Met Rahm Emmanuel who looked at my proposal (8 pages) gave it a passing glance and said don't come back until you raise 250K. Over next 9 months worked hard, raised money and more. Our operation in thsoe days, a dusty basement office, an old computer, a few college interns, you wouldn't have thought we had much of a chance. This is one of the challenges my father would have said was worth tackling. Wanted to change our foriegn policy and shake up DC. Working phones, asking for support, so be it. After thousands of hours on the phone, wearing out soles of shoes, won the race, by .6%. There were people who said I should quit but I also knew that I wanted to stand up for a better America. There were challenges. I stumbled through some early media appearances. Any time I was starting to feel sorry for myself I only had to remember what got me started in the first place. There were 19 men I served with who were never coming home. These past fours years serving in Congress have been a whirlwind.

One of my priorities is repealing "Don't Ask Don't Tell." During my time in the Army saw some soldiers dismissed because of their sexual orientation. At 19 I accepted that but as I got older and when I graduated from college I couldn't think of a justification for it. Our brave American heroes were being told they weren't fit for military service, not because they weren't brave enough or strong enough, but only because of their orientation. In battle no one cared who you dated back home. One day I told my campaign team I wanted to tackle that issue and they told me it was a toxic issue, don't take it. I remembered what my dad said and that was the end of it. I fought for what I believed would make our country a better and stronger country. No matter what path you take in law school, remember that there is no price high enough for your principles and your values. My father used to say if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything. That's not to say I didn't have my doubts. I wondered if I would be good enough because I didn't go to Harvard or Yale but standing next to people I learned I was. Your possibilities are endless. Professor said get over the fact that you aren't at Harvard or Yale. They are learning the same thing and he said he was teaching what he would teach there. Bring your A game.

Only 30% of American have a college dgree, only 1% has law degree. The JD after your name is more than letters on a business card. It is a responsibility. As the Bible says to whom much is given much will be required. Back in 1977 Att Gen Edward Levi, said ... "if we have a govt of laws and not of men it takes dedication of men and women to fairness and impartiality." [blogger's note -- not sure I have this quote correctly.] Today our country faces crisis. There are over ????? people eligible for free civil assistance?. Through the Wills for Heroes program in Bucks. Police and firefighters make wills. Most of the firefighters who died on 9/11 didn't have wills. Through your actions you are showing fairness and justice. the knowledge and experience you have gained in halls of Widener puts you in that 1%. You understand the principles on which our country was founded. You will run into setbacks in your professional and personal life.

Think of a woman I met while running. Shelby Oppenheimer. At 27 married and starting a fmily. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, given 3-5 years to live. When I met her she was confined to a hospital bed, breathed with ventilator. She talked about her little daughter, 8 years old. She said all I want out of life is to see my daughter go to her senior prom. My only chance to do that is through embryonic stem cell research. I want you to tell my story because my voice is too soft but yours is not. As I promised her I continue to talk about that. Saw her at her daughter's bat mitzvah, prom is only a few years away. Remember Shelby's grit and determination. Never allow anyone to dictate to you what you can accomplish in your life. Be the voice of others whose voice is too soft to be heard. No one is too busy to give some of their itme to let someone breathe a little easier.

What will you do, what will you accomplish with what you have been given, you who are part of the 1%. I lost my election three weeks ago. The guy I edged out four years ago by .6% came back and riding a wave of voter discontent, beat me. Despite the worst economy since the Great Depression, bringing in 3K jobs, 4th largest solar field in American. We fought to make the lives of middle class families better. This was a setback. If I was ever tempted to succomb to self-doubt and pity I think of Shelby. I think of those 19 men I served with. I promised Shelby I would be her voice. I remain committed to public serivce, either as an elected official or a husband or father I promise not to back down. These are the types of challenges we need to face [he gives a long list of scenarios people losing their homes etc].


Q: Beside economy, what other challenges we have to meet as a nation?

PM: Clearly our foreign policy. We have heroes still serving in Iraq and Afghistan. ??% come home with PTSD, homeless. strain on families. What you do at Widener's veterans law clinic is so important. When are we going to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. What are we going to do to wean ourselves off foreign oil. investing in wind solar and geothermal. Also nuclear energy.

Q: If PM had any involvement in military tribunals.

PM: There were 3500 paratroopers in my brigade. Unfortunately had to court martial about 6 of them. We also staffed Iraqi justice system. Sheik Mouad (sp?) threated to kill Americans, tortured Iraqis, tried him in Iraqi criminal court, I brought the case where he was prosuecuted. He's still in jail. Obviously military tribunals in Gitmo. whether that is death penalty or life in prison.

Q: most difficult challenges

PM: serving in Iraqi, lead team of 7 men, make sure we were doing what's right. I remember when I was there, Al Rashid Baghad is the size of Philly, but while Philadelphia has 7K cops, Baghdad had 3500. It was difficult. As JAG in charge of prosecuting ????, soldiers coming in with divorce papers, worried they would never see their kids again. There's a lot of challenges out there.

Q: Congress in a lame duck session, any issues you are trying to push

PM: some budgetary things. defense bill. DADT repeal, waiting for Senate, passed in House. McCain used to say when military leaders ask for it, now they've asked, and he says he wants to see a study, now there's a study and they are moving the goals posts again. We've kicked out over 1200 heroes because of this. We need the troops. I got letters from a lot of people after taking lead on this. One from a company commander, on 4th deployement. He had had to counsel so many people who got "Dear John" letters, and other family issues. Never thought he would get one but did. Since he's gay he can't talk to anyone about it. I'll work as hard as I can until Jan. 3rd. Still very blessed, wife and kids. America is a great country but we need to make it even greater.

Q: advice for law students who want a career in govt service

PM: The Law and Government Institute a good first step. sat in your seat 14 years ago. think about where you want to be in 10 years or 20 years. Then work back, what to do to get there. As a student here I worked for a state rep Tom Tangretti. Got an offer for a good paying job but turned it down to work in Philly DA's office. Worked as a first year law student on a murder case. Years later I was a prosecutor, was a JAG. If you want to fight for justice intern in those office and see what it's like. If you like politics, the state capitol is just down the road. Take advantage of law review and other opportunities. I got rejected from law review but years later wrote a book. If you get rejected keep trying.