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Thursday, January 21, 2010 11:53 AM

Healthcare: The Un-Baked Cake - Has It Melted?

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In the wake of the Massachusetts massacre, inquiring minds are wondering "Is Healthcare Dead?"

That is certainly a good question given senator-elect Scott Brown's repeated statements he would be the 41st senator to reject it. However, that possibility needs to be balanced with the possibility the house accepts the senate version of the bill as is, or the house attempts a legislative move known as reconciliation (allowed only once per year).

Today we have clarification from President Obama that the house will not accept the senate version straight up, and reconciliation is likely off the table. So where does that leave us?

Please consider Obama Weighs Paring Goals for Health Bill

President Obama signaled on Wednesday that he might be willing to scale back his proposed health care overhaul to a version that could attract bipartisan support, as the White House and Congressional Democrats grappled with a political landscape transformed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.

“I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on,” Mr. Obama said in an interview on ABC News, notably leaving near-universal insurance coverage off his list of core goals.

But it was not clear that even a stripped-down bill could get through Congress anytime soon. On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders said they were weighing several options. But some lawmakers in both parties began calling for a scaled-back bill that could be adopted quickly with bipartisan support, and Mr. Obama seemed to suggest that if he could not pass an ambitious health care bill, he would be willing to settle for what he could get. In the interview with ABC, he cited two specific goals: cracking down on insurance industry practices that hurt consumers and reining in health costs.

As the full Congress returned to Washington to start a new legislative year on the first anniversary of Mr. Obama’s inauguration options were limited and there were signs of a divide between the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill. House leaders signaled that they had effectively ruled out the idea of adopting the Senate bill, which would send it directly to the president for his signature. Yet close advisers to the president said such a move was still on the table.

Senate leaders said they would not risk antagonizing voters by trying to rush a bill through before Mr. Brown could be sworn in, and Mr. Obama agreed. “People in Massachusetts spoke,” the president told ABC. “He’s got to be part of that process.”

At a news conference at the Capitol, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada made clear that Democrats did not see a clear path forward.

“The election in Massachusetts changes the math in the Senate,” Mr. Reid said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that people are hurting.” Pressed about the health care legislation, Mr. Reid said, “The problems out there — it’s certainly more than health care.” Pressed again, he said: “No decision has been made.”

[Senate Republican leader] Mitch McConnell was asked if the health care bill was dead. “I sure hope so,” he said.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she was eager to work with Democrats in devising an alternative to the health care bill passed four weeks ago by the Senate on a party-line vote.

“What I hope the White House will do is start from scratch and, instead of pushing this bill through the House, work with a bipartisan group of senators to achieve a consensus bill that would have widespread support,” Ms. Collins said. “There are many provisions of the bill that have bipartisan support. And I believe the president would be wise to draft a new bill that he could get through both the House and the Senate with supermajority votes.”
So, Is Healthcare Dead?

The answer is perhaps. For certain healthcare is stalled and it will also be scaled back. If it is scaled back it will cost less money. Once again I point out how dollar friendly this is.

I talked about some of these issues yesterday in No Way Out For Japan.
US Dollar Positives

  • Japan demographics as noted above
  • Greece bailout
  • Spain property bubble
  • Baltic state currency collapse
  • Savings rate in US headed north
  • Extreme bearish US dollar sentiment
  • Pending implosion in the UK
  • Canadian property bubble bursting
  • Australian property bubble bursting
  • Hard landing in China, collapse of the RMB

Moreover, I would like to point out that the Massachusetts special election is likely to be US dollar positive. After the special election Democrat massacre, there will be little sentiment for more bailouts but there will be increasing calls for more fiscal prudence and less government spending. It will be much tougher to pass stimulus bills, or bills of any kind.
The Un-Baked Cake

Sweeping agendas costing over $1 trillion dollars were all but baked in the cake.

That cake is now melting in the rain of a Brown victory. Moreover, cap-and-trade is dead, and state bailouts will be pared back at a minimum.

Some dismiss the idea of a US$ rally noting our budget deficit still exceeds that of every other country. That is not the proper way of looking at things. One must figure out what was priced in and how other countries might react if the world economy collapses a second time, like I believe it will.

Certainly Japan is in deep trouble, much worse off than the US in my estimation. We also need to see how the UK and Europe respond when their recovery hits the brick wall of reality.

In the US, healthcare might be pared back from $900 billion to say $400 billion, or it might even be scrapped. States are more likely to be forced to rein in their budget deficits with less help from Washington.

The Re-Baked Cake

If healthcare is the un-baked cake, the return of Glass Steagall just might be the re-baked cake. Please consider Glass-Steagall: Be Careful What You Wish.
Everyone wants more small business lending and less risk. Sorry folks, that is physically and logically impossible. Reducing reckless risk, especially risk born by others (taxpayers) is a good idea, but it's important to understand exactly what that will mean to earnings going forward.

Think of the affect lower share prices and reduced risk taking will have on pension plans and 401Ks. In the long run, less risk is a good thing, and I am in favor of it. I just doubt people are prepared for what it means.

The stock market is already insanely overvalued, and the regulatory actions everyone is clamoring for will make it even more so. Good luck with that.
Dollar bears ignore all of this even as gold and silver are being pounded again. Will it last? Hard to say, but the seasonally favorable period for gold and silver (August to January) is coming to a close. The chart of silver looks outright bearish.

That aside, I still like gold long-term. It is one of the few bull markets whose long-term trendline did not bust in 2008. I also think the trendline on gold at $975-$1000 holds, and that gold would likely be a great buy if it gets there, but for that we have to wait and see.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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