LAS CRUCES – National leaders in science, health care and government outlined American problems of headache-provoking proportions as a fourth annual Domenici Public Policy Conference got under way Wednesday.
Former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in whose honor the New Mexico State University event is held, is scheduled to weigh in himself today, joining former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin to comment on the nation’s fiscal crisis.
Previewing speakers in opening remarks Wednesday, Domenici, a longtime chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and New Mexico’s longest-serving U.S. senator, said, “If this conference does nothing more than frighten you about the status of this nation’s fiscal policy … it would be marvelous.
“Somebody is going to have to do something,” Domenici told most of the roughly 850 people registered for the conference, expressing frustration with leadership in Washington.
Norm Augustine, former CEO and chairman of Lockheed Martin, which runs Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, started the day with a daunting assessment of U.S. competitiveness in a global economy.
How is the U.S. doing in comparison with other nations, including China? “Not well,” said Augustine, who has visited and studied 109 countries.
He said roots of American competitiveness problems lie in the U.S. education system in general – and especially in one producing far too few students well-schooled in science and math, and far too few capable of becoming engineers and researchers.
“Today, our nation’s youngest generation is the first in our nation’s history to be less well-educated than their parents,” he said.
“It is tempting … to say, ‘Let market forces solve the competitiveness and standard-of-living problems,’ “Augustine said. “But that, from a U.S. perspective, is the problem. Market forces are solving the competitiveness problem. Individual companies are doing so by creating jobs outside the United States.”
As did other speakers, Augustine related the problems he outlined to the nation’s current debt and budget crises.
The true test of a congressional “supercommittee” effort to resolve the federal debt and deficit crises is whether members will “distinguish between expenditures for near-term consumption and long-term investments, such as education and research,” Augustine said.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said American health care also is in a “transitional time.”
“There is consensus that the current state of health care in the U.S. is unsustainable,” Daschle said. But he underscored what he said is a crucial and continuing question in an America deeply divided on how to solve the problem.
“What is the appropriate role of government today? Daschle asked. “That is were the dividing line falls.”
J. Mario Molina, president and CEO of Molina Healthcare, said Americans don’t necessarily “consume more health care” than people in other countries. “We just pay a lot more for it.”
And Molina said the overall cost to government for health care will grow as 16 million people are added to insurance rolls after the recent federal health care overhaul.
“We will cover more people,” he said. “It will cost more money.”
Molina noted that a lot of what is going on in American health care stems from “socio-economic problems. … A lot of our people live in poverty,” he said.
And Molina said 20 percent of patients account for 80 percent of government health care costs. These are people he called “duals,” who are income-eligible for Medicaid and age-eligible for Medicare.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was the day’s final speaker, outlining her agenda for the start next week of a special legislative session and reminding any listeners of her fundamental government and economic strategy.
“The surest way to impede economic growth is to raise taxes,” the first-term Republican governor said. “State government simply will have to learn to do more with less.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal