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Comptroller: NYC Can Ride out Economic Turbulence
"The events of the last few days," New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. began in an appearance September 17 at NYU Wagner, "have been astonishing."
Speaking at a morning briefing co-sponsored by the Wagner School of Public Service and the Citizens Union, Thompson said that New York City can ride out rough turbulence affecting the economy with the same resolve and resiliency it showed more than 30 years ago during a brush with municipal bankruptcy, and in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
"With every downturn New Yorkers have encountered, our city has rebounded stronger than before," the two-term comptroller said at the briefing session co-sponsored by the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the Citizens Union. "That is the spirit of New York. We are fighters. We are resilient. We are innovators."
Thompson spoke only hours after the Federal Reserve had worked out an unparalleled $85 billion rescue of American International Group, the latest dramatic development in the financial crisis involving mortgage-related assets. "Uncertainty is in the air," he said.
In his hour-long talk, Thompson sought to ensure city retirees and others that the city's pension funds are secure and are cushioned against by ups and downs in the financial markets.
"As Comptroller," he said, "I'm the chief investment adviser to our city's pension plans, and it's important to me to assure the retirees that the pensions are safe and secure. We've been reducing our exposure to risk by diversifying our portfolio beyond stocks and bonds. This approach is helping us weather these tough times better than we would have ever before."
Thompson also underscored his opposition to an effort by the City Council to extend, from two to three, the number of terms that a city official can serve. Thompson is contemplating a run for mayor next year to succeed Michael Bloomberg.
"The people have said that there are two terms," he said. "To undermine their will, to do an end-run around democracy is just wrong."
The breakfast briefing was part of an NYU Wagner/Citizens Union series that will pick up again on October 7 with a visit by Eric Gioia, two-term member of the City Council from Woodside, Queens.
On November 12, Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, who is also looking to succeed Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, will be the featured guest of the breakfast series.
Last spring, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and John Liu, councilman from Flushing, Queens, who is a prospective candidate for the public advocate's post, also appeared at Wagner as part of the series.
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Congress, Defense Issues, and the Future
NYU Wagner's Brademas Center for the Study of Congress held a well-attended and timely forum Dec. 14, 2007, on how the U.S. Congress can come to grips with looming defense issues such as the War on Terror, changes in force structure, Department of Defense reform, and base closings. The question addressed by the panel convened by Paul C. Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at Wagner, was, "How can Congress address these defense issues before they become intractable?" Part of a series of Brademas Center discussions on Congressional decision making titled "Legislating for the Future," the forum took place in the Rayburn Building in Washington, D.C., and included leading scholars on defense: Paul K. Davis, Principal Researcher, The Rand Corporation; Kenneth R. Mayer, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution.
Click the link below to view C-SPAN's coverage of the forum.
Through forums such as this, the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress - at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service - seeks to advance understanding of the powers, processes and political character of the U.S. Congress among scholars, students pursuing careers in public service, those working on Capitol Hill, and the public. It is named for its founder, the former U.S. Representative from Indiana (1959-81) and President Emeritus of New York University (1981-1992).
Conversation Starter: 'Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Act' - Part II?
The House vote to repeal what critics call "Obamacare" (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - ACA -- signed by President Obama on March 23, 2010) was a key part of the GOP campaign to win back the House of Representatives in the November elections. It worked as an effective mobilizing call to arms.
HR2 (Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Act) passed the House by a vote of 245 to 189 on January 19, 2011. The Senate, however, killed the bill February 2, and the issue receded to a background murmur. Republicans and Democrats have drawn their swords over the President's budget, instead.
Still, repealing the health care act is likely to return to the political agenda. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) states that "The Congress can do better in terms of replacing Obamacare with common sense reforms that will bring down the cost of health insurance and expand access for Americans."
To assess such a proposition, one would have to know more details about his party's solutions. But proposals so far are conspicuously absent.
After Congress passed the ACA, Boehner called it a "dangerous experiment." Texas Gov. Rick Perry called it "socialism on American soil." Many of their Republican colleagues have reread the script used by the American Medical Association (AMA) in opposing extensions of health insurance coverage propounded by President Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. They suggest that the ACA will result in a "government take-over" of American medicine, at worst, and "government-run" health care, at best.
But such attacks are dangerously misleading because they distort present realities and generate ill-founded fears.
We already have a massive government role in American health care; and for good reasons. We have socialized expenditures for our highest-risk populations - the elderly and severely handicapped (Medicare) and for the very poor (Medicaid) -- and we have a system of socialized medicine for our military veterans, which delivers health care of higher quality than what is received by the average American.
At the same time, most health care in the U.S. is provided by private non-profit hospitals and private doctors reimbursed on a fee-for-service basis. Clinical decisions remain largely in the hands of our physicians and to the extent that there has been increasing intervention and regulation of these decisions, it has come most forcefully from private insurance companies. Meanwhile, we have more government expenditure of biomedical research (NIH) and public health (CDC) than any nation in the world. And the system produces staggering rates of innovation in pharmaceutical research, medical devices and medicine.
The ACA is largely a bipartisan, half-way reform strategy inspired more by former Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts than by left-leaning advocates of single-payer health insurance reform. It does not nationalize the health insurance industry. It does not increase the share of public hospitals. It does not set uniform prices for hospital and physician payment across all payers. And it does not assure universal coverage.
At best, the ACA, if implemented in 2014, will begin to increase coverage to 32 million of the more than 50 million Americans who are currently uninsured. It will achieve this objective through Medicaid expansion and the creation of health insurance exchanges that will strengthen federal regulation of the private health insurance industry through the prohibition of risk selection by insurance companies (the ban on refusals to cover pre-existing conditions and to set annual and life-time limits on coverage).
Finally, the ACA, passed before the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, begins to reverse the post-Reagan policies of increasing income inequalities. It does so by increasing the existing Medicare payroll tax on all those earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for couples).
These are significant, but modest, steps toward what political scientist Jo White calls the "international standard" among health systems in wealthy capitalist democracies - Japan, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands, and many more.
This standard, met by all governments in such nations, either imposes taxes on its citizens or enforces a health insurance mandate to provide access to a minimum level of health care services. Without taxes or a mandate, there can be no universal health insurance coverage. Without universal health insurance coverage, we cannot meet the international standard.
Conversation Starter: Mayor Bloomberg's Bid to Ban Soda Purchases with Food Stamps
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long made it a paramount goal to rid New York City of unhealthful foods, and he recently asked the Federal government for permission to prohibit Food Stamp recipients from using stamps to buy soda and other sugared beverages in the city.
Supporters are cheering Bloomberg’s stance, saying he’s striking a blow for better dietary habits and ultimately lower public health costs and consequences such as obesity. But critics question the move, seeing it as an example of big government, even patronizing toward the poor.
Research can be a valuable guidepost for public officials. In 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg required restaurant franchises to put calories counts on their menus, NYU Wagner professors Rogan Kersh and Brian Elbel sought to measure the impact of the calorie labeling initiative on consumer habits at fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods. Their survey of 1,156 adult found little direct evidence to support the Mayor’s view that the posting of calorie counts causes fast-food patrons to buy items containing fewer calories. Elbel’s and Kersh’s widely discussed study, published in the journal Health Affairs, emphasized that follow-up studies are needed to determine the value and effectiveness of menu labeling and other obesity-related policies.
Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to prohibit the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks as “an extremely innovative policy approach to tackle the complicated and multifaceted problem of obesity. It deserves a rigorous assessment, to evaluate its overall impact on healthy food choice and obesity,” says Professor Elbel, assistant professor of medicine and health policy. “The rest of the nation can then learn from the New York City experience as these and other policies to fight obesity are considered across the country.”
What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is it good public policy? Or should it just be allowed to fizzle out? Visit Wagner’s Public Service Today blog to post your comment today.