The Washington Times-Herald

September 20, 2013

EDITORIALS: Another pointless fiscal battle; Mental health reform not the sole answer


CNHI News Service

Another pointless fiscal battle is taking shape in Washington

(New Castle News / New Castle, Pa.)

The chest thumping continues in Washington. And the problem-solving is nowhere to be seen.

Once again, House Republicans have their sights set on pulling the plug on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. As in the past, the effort will come to naught.

President Obama has vowed to veto the latest House measure should it reach his desk, but it won’t. Senate Democrats will never advance it.

That’s the way it’s been with a series of House votes intended to target Obamacare. They accomplish nothing, other than appeal to a political base that celebrates confrontation and despises communication and compromise.

This time around, however, the vote may be more than symbolic nonsense. The move is tied to a larger effort to temporarily extend funding for the federal government. Unless Democrats support the Republican effort to end fiscal support for Obamacare, there won’t be enough money to fully fund federal operations.

Plus, in the near future, Washington would run out of authority to borrow more money and risk defaulting on debt.

The consequences of that would be catastrophic for the economies of the nation and the world. So common sense says the politicians in Washington may threaten such a move, but they won’t allow it to happen. Republicans insist shutting down the government is not their goal.

But these days, common sense and Congress have little to do with each other.

For the first time this week, some House Republicans advanced an alternative to Obamacare. That’s a step forward, because so far, the party hasn’t offered anything of consequence to replace the Democratic health plan.

Yet rather than use their proposal as a platform for generating support for a different health care system, Republicans continue to play the same game: Get rid of Obamacare and then come up with something else. Sometime. Some day. Maybe.

It’s no secret that the recovery in the American economy has been sluggish. There are many reasons for that, including economic weakness overseas.

But the silliness in Washington, which has the government lurching from crisis to crisis and fueling a sense of continued uncertainty, is simply bad for business. When companies aren’t sure what tax policies, health care rules and other government regulations they will encounter down the road, they are less likely to invest and pursue growth.

The two parties need to challenge each other; that’s a crucial part of the democratic process. And they need to debate issues and raise public awareness.

But the key to all of this is engagement. Rather than hammering out differences, the two parties continue to act as ships pointlessly passing in the night, and never reaching the shore.

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Mental health not sole answer on mass shootings

(The Mankato Free Press / Mankato, Minn.)

Another mass shooting — this time at the Navy shipyard in Washington — has reignited a discussion about greater gun control. Yet again, a similar factor in this shooting — mental illness — is not getting the attention necessary to find solutions, partly because those solutions are not as clear.

The shooter — 34-year-old former Navy reservist — reportedly had some mental health issues that in hindsight could have been and should have been addressed earlier.

There were plenty of warning signs, many of them pleas from the shooter himself. Aaron Alexis told Newport, R.I., police about a month ago he was being followed by people using “some sort of microwave machine” on him and preventing him from sleeping. He reportedly stayed in various hotels to escape the voices coming through the walls.

He also sought treatment from the Department of Veteran Affairs for paranoia. He knew something was wrong, but it wasn’t helping.

To what degree mental health played into this incident will be difficult to quantify for a variety of reasons. First, there are privacy concerns, and families have complained they are blocked from getting even basic information necessary for them to help. The law requires permission from the patient before revealing such information, and many times they are the ones who do not recognize or admit to the problem.

Then there are mental health advocates who rightfully insist that being mentally ill doesn’t mean you are prone to violence. True enough, but let’s look at the numbers. A 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 10.4 million people experienced serious mental illness in the previous year. Nearly half of them did not receive treatment and many of them were homeless, crime victims, suicides or imprisoned.

Gun control advocates now are pointing to the ease with which Alexis was able to buy a shotgun even with his mental health record. Even though Alexis was seeking treatment and possibly diagnosed with mental illness, this does not disqualify someone from purchasing a gun.

While it’s true federal law prohibits the sale of guns to people who have been declared mentally unfit, it is a legal standard only a court can decide. Under the law, a diagnosis of mental illness — even voluntary commitment — does not prevent the purchase of a gun.

So while some gun rights activists would like to divert discussion away from gun control to mental health treatment or restrictions as the cure-all for gun violence, we need a robust discussion on parallel paths that do not exclude one from the other.

And part of that discussion may mean spending more on mental health treatment and changing the laws addressing such hot button topics like involuntary commitments and sharing of mental health data with law enforcement in a timely manner.

Just as reasonable gun control efforts can require background checks, so must the mental health field relent on issues of treatment and privacy.