At News Office, Grim Economic Outlook Shared
Coming away from a raucous town hall meeting involving over 3,000 boisterous citizens and a national TV audience last week, Rep. Jim Moran confirmed in exclusive remarks to the News-Press his confidence that, in reference to his congressional colleagues, “we’ll get it done” with comprehensive health care reform this fall.
Just two days after Moran and Former Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean met the challenge of a huge turnout of anti-health care reform hecklers and nay-sayers last week, Moran arrived at the office of the News-Press for an extraordinary free-wheeling two-hour roundtable discussion with members of the News-Press staff. While he was upbeat about getting health care this fall, he was astonishingly pessimistic about the economy and the rise of social tensions that will follow another sharp downturn.
Moran said the reason that opposition to health care reform “is even more intense now” than it was for Hillary Clinton’s efforts in the 1990s, and others, is “because opponents suspect it is going to pass” this time.
Health care is a $2.4 trillion industry, he said, and health insurance companies make hundreds of billions off the current system. All this is now being threatened, and a lot of their money is going to pay lobbyists who organize grass roots efforts to de-rail it, Moran said. That doesn’t account for all the opposition, because many others are “just plain afraid.”
He said that the current cost of premiums for health care coverage in a completely unregulated market has grown from $7,000 a year per family in 1993 to $15,000 now, and projected to more than double to $36,000 by 2019, or 20 percent of an entire average family income. With no inflation, just this year, the cost has grown by 10.5 percent.
It is left entirely to unregulated insurance companies to determine who gets insurance, what kind they get, and how much.
With a public option, Moran noted, the current Medicare option would effectively be extended to the entire population, creating a healthy competition to bring costs down. In all versions of health care reform now being considered by Congress, insurance companies are denied their current right to deny insurance based on a pre-existing conditions, or for any other reason.
But if Moran expressed optimism about getting real health care reform accomplished, he was far less enthusiastic about the state of the U.S. economy, and forecast a significant “double-dip” downward in the economy and the stock market, with a considerable amount of “creative destruction” ahead for the nation.
The dip will happen as it begins to dawn on people that the American people’s “greedy habits” that fed the excesses of the nation’s consumer-based economy leading up to the crisis last fall have changed for good, Moran said. “Seventy percent of the consumers in our economy won’t go back to spending the way they did before, to spend more than they earn,” he noted, predicting that if unemployment numbers continue to grow along with that, the economy will lurch sharply downward and “fall off a cliff,” by the end of 2011.
By then, he added, the appetite for spending trillions in more federal stimulus dollars will have abated, and a new threat, that of inflation, will arise.
Moran said there will soon be 50 to 60 million adult Americans who will have no role in the economy, because they will lack the educational skills to participate. These people will gravitate to the cities, which will exacerbate problems, as differences between urban culture and what the new waves of unemployed will bring will lead to “great differences across cultural lines,” and sew deep and abiding social unrest, he forecast.
Competition from overseas will also diminish American economic strength, he envisioned, until the U.S. can transform itself through a process of “creative destruction” to eliminate industries that are not competitive.
When asked what a young American should do to be successful in this environment, Moran advised that he or she “learn a foreign language skill.”
“Every American should speak fluent Spanish,” he quipped. “And many also Chinese. Chinese, after all, constitute a fourth of the world’s population.”
He added, “Find something you enjoy and become an expert in it. In the U.S., it is what you know, and how disciplined you are that matter.”
With only 4.5 percent of the world’s population, Moran remarked, “America can only grow by selling overseas.” He suggested things like software and technology, entertainment, marketing and communication of ideas.
Asked what he feels is the one product the U.S. has to export that no other nation can match, Moran said, “Creativity.”
“Our cultural advantage is our creativity,” he said. “In other major nations of the world, thinking is linear.” He cited the work of Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” and former professor at George Mason University.
Florida cited in his work the Ballston Corridor of Arlington, which is in Moran’s 8th Congressional District, Moran said. “There is a place where ‘coffee and collaboration’ generate creative insights and fresh ideas. It is a vastly superior approach to what the Russians and Chinese can do.”
But, the congressman noted, the U.S. has suffered from a dramatic decline in the rate of investment in education, beginning in 1980. “Between 1948 and 1980, there was a 10 percent increase in investments in education every year. Since 1980, it has been only one percent a year.”
On Afghanistan, Moran said that the U.S. is “stuck in there for the long term” for geopolitical reasons. “We’re trying to build a nation there, not because we have to, but because they’re in the same neighborhood as India, China and the Russians. We need to stabilize the situation there. The key will be to move from a concept of a military victory to ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of a hopefully-emerging civil society.”
Of the world’s superpowers, Russia is the greatest threat, Moran remarked. “The Chinese are merchantilists, and more clever. They have grown their global influence by taking U.S. dollars and investing them in infrastructure in Africa and elsewhere. The Russians are serfs who seek to extend their global reach by dangling natural resources and threatening in a ham-handed way.”
Where should the U.S. work hardest to strengthen its global ties? “Clearly with the European Union,” Moran replied. “They are us. There is a core commonality between Europe, Canada and the U.S. which should also extend to Central and South America.”
The U.S.’s global relations were severely damaged by the Bush administration, Moran said, through a combination of neglect and exploitation.
Moran, who has been in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years and has seniority on the powerful House Appropriations and Defense Appropriations bodies, said that his top personal goal as a legislator is to bring health care reform.
“It’s doable,” he said, noting that there are 700 personal bankruptcies every year in his own congressional district due to medical bills. “There are 26,000 in my district living on the brink of bankruptcy for the same reason,” he added.
Beyond that, extending public transit infrastructure in his district is a key goal. “Not more asphalt, but light rail branched off from public transport,” he stressed.