In the USA...Obama: Protecting the rich binds together the Republican Party
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 18:21 EST
President Barack Obama on Thursday said the only thing keeping Republicans together was a desire to shield the rich from higher taxes, in a new jab over an imminent budget confrontation.
Obama is mounting a full bore campaign push to heap blame on Republicans over a multi-billion dollar package of automatic spending cuts due to hammer the US economy on March 1.
The president wants to replace the cuts with a balanced set of spending cuts and revenue hikes obtained by closing tax loopholes, but Republicans in Congress are resisting the idea of higher taxes.
“My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations,” Obama said, adding that Republicans prefer spending cuts even though they could slow economic growth.
“That’s the thing that binds their party together at this point,” the president told the liberal Al Sharpton radio show.
“I think Republicans right now have been so dug in on this notion of never raising taxes that it becomes difficult for them to see an obvious answer right in front of them.”
Republicans, who lost a previous showdown with Obama over raising tax rates for the rich, say the debate over hiking taxes is closed.
They say they are willing to close loopholes, but only in the context of a sweeping reform of the tax code, and maintain that Obama wants to use proceeds from any immediate revenue rises to hike government spending.
As time runs out before the so-called “sequester” cuts hit, Obama called Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday, though the White House gave no details of the talks.
Cuts due on March 1 would slash defense spending by $55 billion and non-defense discretionary spending by $27 billion this year.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has said that a million jobs could be lost by the end of next year because of a slowdown brought on by the cuts.
**********Republicans Love to Regulate When it Benefits Their Wealthy Friends
By: Dennis S
Feb. 22nd, 2013
Republicans purportedly abhor regulations. Such regulations would include reasonable guidance for Wall Street/financial, health care, small business, educational and most particularly, any regulation that has to do with the environment and guns.
The typical Republican would much rather see children die of asthma and assorted respiratory diseases, cancer or any other pollutants that corporate factories introduce into innocent kid’s systems via the atmosphere. The GOP doesn’t care about kids. That was irrefutably proven in the right-wing reaction or lack thereof to the 20 deaths of 6 and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary. And if the wanton killing of 6 and 7-year-old children doesn’t shake loose at least a few firearms, you’re a moral zombie and that pretty well describes the current crop of Republicans.
Being totally cuckoo for 30 capacity mags, these zombies will heartily endorse gun legislation that was recently advanced in the South Carolina State Senate that would pre-empt federal gun laws and allow concealed carry in restaurants. “Will that be a table for 2 and a high chair for your .223 Bushmaster?”
So rapacious are these zombies to gun-up America that in the wake of Sandy Hook, one gun dealer after another quickly sold out of their heavy weaponry and ammo and had back-orders a mile long. That’s how much deaths of precious children mean to zombie right-wingers.
Much has been written that some kind of meaningful gun regulations will come out of the 113th Congress. ROTFLMAO!!! There will be tissue-paper thin background check regs mirroring what already exists that will pass as a response to Sandy Hook and other obscene minute-by-minute murders and suicides that mark our gun culture. The Feinstein “exceptions” bill is pure snake oil and any hope for anything meaningful was dashed the day the President read off his gun reform Executive Orders to the mass guffaws and criticisms of Congressional Republicans, the NRA and gun manufacturers.
However, you must recognize a truism that has gone fundamentally unreported in today’s media. Republicans do believe in regulation. It’s the degree of regulation that separates them from the Democrats. Take the environment. Republicans vote all the time for environmental regulations. And in every case they vote on the side of the special interests. They’ll vote “yea” on environmental regulations for instance if they’re severely watered-down versions of tougher Democratic bills. They’ll just not vote for regulations that save lives. Same for the gun culture. Death, no matter the age or circumstance is not part of the equation. Only the guns and wealthy corporate polluters matter.
We’ve all heard of the Norquist tax pledge; how about the “No Climate Tax Pledge?” It’s sponsored by the Koch Brothers Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the far-right climate deniers and tobacco industry puppets, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and National Taxpayers Union (NTU) headed by the former Executive Director of ALEC. The pledge: “I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” Legislators will be cognisant that no regulations violate this sacred clever pledge. One that would guarantee that any efforts to address climate change would lack funding.
Under the constituent-friendly pretext of defending the population against the greenhouse gases corporate crowd, former prosecutor and my Congressional Representative Trey Gowdy makes grand pronouncements like “Aggressive prosecution of environmental crime is one of the best ways to show good stewardship of what we have been given.”
This gratuitous politicizing, backed by no action, was mouthed while voting yes on House Amendment 88 tacked onto the H.R. 1 spending bill. The amendment blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from funding enforcement to lower mercury emissions from U.S. cement plants that kill an estimated 8,100 people a year according to EPA estimates. Gowdy also supported industry friendly H.R. 2681, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011. The cement folks drop $8,500 (about a buck for each annual death) on Gowdy’s campaign for the privilege of his votes. In spite of Gowdy, meaningful regulations remain in place, though they are at least 2 years or more away from enforcement.
There’s one slice of American life where Republicans really embrace regulations. The regulating of the most personal human interaction of all – marriage. In fact regulation of marriage is rampant in America. Republican homophobes introduced and codified most of these regulations in the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, state legislation, ballot initiatives or by way of state Constitutional Amendments. Of our 50 states, 42 of them “regulate” marriage to the point that a gay couple’s marriage would either not be recognized as legal or out-and-out denied. That’s 42 states effecting the most stringent regulation of all.
Women’s reproductive rights? Right-wingers are extraordinarily vigilant in regulating any and all such rights. Wisconsin is in the process of forcing transvaginal ultrasounds on newly-pregnant women. Virginia’s baby-faced and baby-brained Governor, Bob McDonnell, tried the same thing early last year before caving in to public pressures from thinking human beings. Draconian anti-abortion Republican regulations abound in a number of states; including Virginia and its Neanderthal peers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Michigan to mention but a few and the roster expands with every new session of red state legislatures. Regulations? They’re crawling out of state legislatures like stirred up fire ant mounds.
Parenthetically contraception also falls under the Republican ‘regulatory’ category. There’s an entire body of secular regulations (at least for Catholics) based on events from a couple of thousand years ago. Talk about your sophisticated lawmaking. A young guy named Onan, on papa Judah’s orders, laid his dead brother Er’s widow, Tamar, but pulled out early, thereby spilling his potentially impregnating seed. Media reports at the time (most likely from Wolf Blitzer of the Christ News Network) said Onan repeated the act on several occasions. “Spilling” your seed was a no no for which the Lord “slew” the second brother. Er had also ticked off the Lord resulting in an identical fate. Thus followed a “slew” of contraception regulations.
So there. Like daily fiber Republicans do, indeed, regulate; often with the same result.
********Obama Routs Republicans on Sequester as 56% of GOP Support His Balanced Approach
By: Jason Easley
Feb. 21st, 2013
Republicans have lost the sequester battle so comprehensively that according to the new USA Today/Pew Research poll, 56% of Republicans support Obama’s balanced approach to reducing the deficit.
According to a new USA Today/Pew Research poll, 49% those surveyed support the president’s short term delay of the sequester. Forty percent think the spending cuts should be allowed to go into effect. The Republican argument that new tax revenue should not be a part of further deficit reduction is being soundly rejected. Seventy six percent of those surveyed believe that the president and congress should focus on lowering the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Only 19% agree with the Republican approach of spending cuts alone.
Republicans have also lost a majority of their party on this issue. Fifty six percent of Republicans support Obama’s balanced approach to reducing the deficit. Just 42% of Republicans support their own party’s position that the deficit should be reduced through spending cuts alone, but seventy three percent of all of those surveyed think that the balanced approach should be weighted towards spending cuts.
The entire standoff over the sequester is centered around whether or not the cuts will be avoided with a balanced approach of revenue and cuts. Judging by this poll. it appears House Republicans don’t have a leg to stand on. They don’t have public support for their cuts only position, and they even lack the support of a majority of their own party.
President Obama has already won the messaging war on taxes, the deficit, and the sequester. His victory is so comprehensive that even a majority of Republicans support his position. This poll illustrates that Republican members of Congress are no longer only out of step with the rest of the country. On this issue, they are out of step with a majority of their own party.
This same poll found that if the sequester cuts go into effect, congressional Republicans will be blamed by 49%-31% margin. The Boehner plan to blame Obama for the sequester is now a verified flop. If House Republicans maintain their unpopular position, you can expect their percentage of the blame to increase in the coming days.
House Republicans aren’t going to win a battle of public opinion with President Obama. The more they try, the bigger they lose.
*********John Boehner Whips Up a Batch of Desperate Lies After Getting Busted on the Sequester
Feb. 21st, 2013
Police officers often apprehend car thieves in stolen cars, or shoplifters wearing stolen merchandise, and instantly face a barrage of lies and excuses that are so unbelievably bizarre it is almost enough to make one embarrassed for the criminal frantic to avoid arrest. Yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner penned an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal that was tantamount to a criminal attempting to lie his way out of trouble after being caught red-handed, and if the subject were not so serious, one might pity Boehner’s peculiar attempt at logic and desperate pack of lies in his screed, but sequestration cuts are serious; Boehner is not. What Americans can take away from Boehner, and Republicans as a group, is that they are aware their rigid obstructionism and hostage-taking are bearing fruit in plain view of the public and their feeble attempt to cast blame on the President portrays them as lost and desperate.
The theme of Boehner’s fantasy-filled essay was “it’s all Obama’s fault,” and that Republicans are well-aware of the sequester’s devastating effects “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more,” but still the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama agrees to an equal amount of entitlement spending cuts. Many Republicans are scoffing at the paltry $85 billion in domestic cuts, but Boehner opined the amount is indeed “deep” and devastating, but unlike Boehner and Republicans, President Obama wants to avoid them making Republicans look unreasonable and deliberately imposing unnecessary damage to national security and the economy.
Boehner, wrote that it was unfortunate the President “has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress,” but the President has proposed a plan that asks both sides to compromise, as have Senate and House Democrats, as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but Republicans have offered nothing. Boehner claimed “House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security” and through his spokesman said, “We support replacing the indiscriminate cuts in the sequester with smarter cuts and reforms (of an equal amount). That’s what we did with the sequester replacement bills written by Chairman Ryan that we passed last year.”
Last year was 112th Congress, and any eighth-grader knows bills, replacement or otherwise, passed in one house of Congress in the last session are moot in the current session, but when your only point of argument is fallacy, there’s little reason attend reality, and if Republicans do support replacement cuts: where is their proposal? The GOP is hopelessly clueless and desperate to avoid the blame they know the American people will saddle them with, and in lieu of even giving the appearance of a plan, or care about America, their last-ditch effort is blaming the President. However, even some Republicans understand the gravity of the sequester and that it does not fall under the purview of the President and one spoke up. Justin Amash (R-MI), is no friend of the Obama Administration, but he sees the folly of blaming the President for the sequester. He said, “it’s a mistake on the part of Republicans to try to pin the sequester on Obama, it’s totally disingenuous. The debt ceiling deal in 2011 was agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, you can’t vote for something and, with a straight face, go blame the other guy for its existence in law.” Amash has only been in Congress since 2011, so maybe he missed the memo that part and parcel of being a Republican is “blaming the other guy” for everything; especially Republican economic malfeasance.
The serious nature of the debt ceiling situation in 2011 will go down as a watershed moment for Republican malfeasance because for the first time in American history, every member of the Republican caucus held the debt ceiling hostage and gave President Obama the price for ransoming the credit and good faith of the United States. If the President failed to give Republicans more than $2 trillion in debt reduction, Republicans would crash the economy on purpose leading Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to boast, “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting, most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” and said “he could imagine doing this again.” In fact, he promised that “it set the template for the future. The President will not get the debt ceiling increased without spending cuts in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.” Republicans balked at a balanced approach to deficit reduction en masse in the debt limit crisis and during super-committee negotiations that set the course for the sequester to go into effect in eight days.
Republicans own the sequestration cuts and despite Boehner’s accusation it falls on President Obama, they cannot convince anyone it is not their intransigence that will damage national security and the economy. Perhaps Boehner took the time to pen his screed because a 2011 presentation he gave regarding the Republican’s use of the sequester as a strategy surfaced that has his name, literally, all over it. Boehner’s desperation was most evident in blaming the President’s demand for a balance of revenue and cuts to avoid the sequester, and it proves Republicans still cannot accept November’s election results. He said, “The president has repeatedly called for tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes,” and it leads one to wonder if Republicans are even in the same universe as the rest of America. Besides the results of the election, the people have overwhelmingly supported a balanced approach to deficit reduction and especially new revenue Republicans reject out of hand.
Boehner is the worst Speaker of the House since Newt Gingrich, and his inability to work with the President, or control his caucus, cannot possibly come at a more inopportune time. He can attempt to lay blame on the President and Democrats, but they have proposed several options to avoid sequester cuts while Republicans are pointing fingers instead of even attempting to stop certain damage to national security and the economy their sequester will bring. Yesterday the Department of Defense notified Congress it will be furloughing its civilian workforce of 800,000 employees if sequestration goes into effect on March 1, and House Democrats called for Congress to return from their vacation to get to work to prevent the damage the across-the-board sequester brings in eight days. Boehner’s answer is to blame the President and bemoan the “deep and devastating” cuts to national security and the economy, and write a 900-word op/ed full of mendacity that defies reality and demonstrates Republicans are desperate and guilty.
*********By Snubbing Chris Christie at CPAC, the GOP Proves They’ve Gone Fringe
By: Sarah Jones
Feb. 21st, 2013
CPAC is suggesting that they snubbed Chris Christie this year. He is not “invited” to the cray-cray. That’s what he gets for helping his constituents by dealing with the President.
Another way of looking at this is that only Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is smart enough to avoid addressing CPAC this year. He’s already proven that he’s able to strategize for the long term and knows the value of being seen working with the President and Democrats.
The rest of the clowns are piling into the shrinking GOP tent, including electoral losers Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Of course, neither of them have a thing to lose; they’ve already lost.
For some reason, NBC suggests that this means CPAC is mainstream. While I get how they got there (CPAC used to be far right of the party, anti-establishment), I think what it really means is that the entire Republican Party has gone fringe. They just don’t know it yet.
Let’s recap: Republicans, including the headliners at CPAC, are all polling poorly and have lost national elections precisely because of their positions. CPAC is the driver of those losing positions (wrong on immigration, wrong on gay rights, wrong on women’s rights, wrong on taxing the rich, etc).
CPAC is also a happy home for white supremacists and the NRA while banning gay Republicans like GOProud. If you were planning to run for President in 2016 and thought you might like to actually win, would you want to be seen pallin’ around with plummeting poll contagion? Would you want your picture taken with Mitt 47% Cayman Romney or Sarah Death Panels Palin?
CPAC is snubbing the Republican with the highest approval ratings (Chris Christie), while cozying up to already-losts and never-will-bes. So while CPAC may be establishment Republican now, it’s not mainstream. And that’s because the Republican Party is no longer mainstream.
The Tea Party has driven the Republican Party off of the cliff of reality and national electability. Republican “stars” Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan will all be hawking their wares at CPAC (anyone want to buy a water bottle?).
Anyone seen their polling numbers lately? They have to go to CPAC. A section of the conservative fringe is all they have.
Christie had his fun playing the raging Obama hater last year at CPAC. But it’s time to get serious about winning a national election, and perhaps the governor distinguishes himself from his brethren via his ability to read a poll sans skewing.
Chris Christie is the only Republican who stands a chance in 2016 and he’s not going to ruin that by getting smeared with CPAC stench. Maybe they snubbed him, maybe it was mutual. No matter what, not appearing at CPAC will only help the Governor, who seems to have realized that appeasing crazy doesn’t feel as great as actually winning.
February 21, 2013 02:00 PMBiden Smacks Down NRA In Fiery Speech
Joe Biden just wrapped up one of his best on-fire speeches in Connecticut, not far from Newtown. He declared the days of NRA supremacy over, saying that "inaction on gun control is unacceptable." Then he aimed his verbal fire at the NRA, via TPM:
The “standing assumption” today is that “this is kind of the third rail of politics,” Biden said. “That if you take this on, somehow, there will be a severe political price to pay for doing it. Because that’s what’s happened in the past.”
The old rules no longer apply after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., Biden said, calling inaction on gun control “unacceptable.”
“What I say to my colleagues … I say to you, if you’re concerned about your political survival, you should be concerned about the survival of our children,” he said. “And guess what? I believe the price to be paid politically will be to those who refuse to act, who refuse to step forward. Because America has changed on this issue.”
Also, the Washington Post:
Biden, his voice getting louder and louder, delivered a point-by-point rebuttal of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activists’ arguments against stricter gun restrictions. Biden argued that people do not need AR-15s and other so-called assault rifles for self-protection.
“They say well, it’s about our culture,” Biden said. “The facts are our culture’s not killing 25 people a day. It’s weapons and high-capacity magazines. It’s criminals who get guns without going through a background check.”
Biden accused some questioners on his online chats of planting questions designed to place roadblocks to his gun-control agenda.
“They say, all you’re going to do, Biden, you and the president, you’re going to deny law abiding citizens their rights under the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “Not true.
Let the pearl-clutching begin! Tomorrow is a Day of Action on gun control, sponsored by Organizing for America. It's time for the majority to tell the NRA to sit down and let sane people work on reasonable gun laws, beginning with universal background checks.
click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD1vUVwOY_Q&feature=player_embedded
February 21, 2013Buying a Gun? States Consider Insurance Rule
By MICHAEL COOPER and MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
Both sides in a nation sharply divided over guns seem to agree on at least one thing: a bigger role for the insurance industry in a heavily armed society. But just what that role should be, and whether insurers will choose to accept it, are much in dispute.
Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance. Doing so would give a financial incentive for safe behavior, they hope, as people with less dangerous weapons or safety locks could qualify for lower rates.
“I believe that if we get the private sector and insurance companies involved in gun safety, we can help prevent a number of gun tragedies every year,” said David P. Linsky, a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts who wants to require gun owners to buy insurance. He believes it will encourage more responsible behavior and therefore reduce accidental shootings. “Insurance companies are very good at evaluating risk factors and setting their premiums appropriately,” he added.
Groups representing gun owners oppose efforts to make insurance mandatory, arguing that law-abiding people should not be forced to buy insurance to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. But some groups, including the National Rifle Association, endorse voluntary liability policies for their members. And as several states pass laws making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons and use them for self-defense, some gun groups are now selling policies to cover some of the legal costs stemming from self-defense shootings.
The United States Concealed Carry Association recently began selling what it calls Self-Defense Shield. “If you’re forced to justifiably use your gun in self-defense,” its Web site says, “Self-Defense Shield will help pay for your expert pro-2nd Amendment lawyer by reimbursing your legal-defense expenses following your acquittal — an ingenious system critical to the arsenal of any responsibly armed citizen.”
Premiums for such insurance range from around $200 to $300 per year; in general, the coverage is narrowly written and excludes cases where a gun is used to commit a crime.
Some specialized underwriters are reviewing what their policies cover when it comes to shootings, and weighing whether they should offer new types of coverage for gun owners. And as more states pass laws allowing people to bring guns to public venues — including restaurants, bars, churches and the parking lots of their workplaces — some business groups have expressed concerns that they could be held liable for shootings on their properties, which could drive up their insurance costs.
On Thursday, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut outlined his proposals to reduce gun violence — which included universal background checks, a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines and a stronger assault weapons ban — he called for officials to study “whether owners of firearms should be required to carry additional insurance.”
The insurance industry is wary of some of the proposals to require gun owners to buy liability coverage — and particularly of bills, like one that was filed in New York that would require coverage for damages resulting not only from negligence but also from “willful acts.”
Robert P. Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that insurance generally covered accidents and unintentional acts — not intentional or illegal ones. “Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson,” he said.
Some claims stemming from shootings have been covered by homeowners’ insurance — even by policies that said they did not cover illegal acts.
The families of the two students responsible for the 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Colorado were able to use money from their homeowners’ policies to settle a lawsuit brought by families of most of the victims. In 2001, a California court ordered an insurance company to defend a policyholder whose 16-year-old son shot and killed a friend with a Beretta handgun that he had found in his mother’s coat. But the year before, a North Carolina court ruled that an insurance company did not have to cover the expenses of a policyholder who had shot and wounded a prowler on his property.
Christopher J. Monge, an insurance agent and gun owner in Verona, Wis., recently wrote a book, “The Gun Owner’s Guide to Insurance for Concealed Carry and Self-Defense,” which he sells at gun shows. Mr. Monge said that the problem with most liability insurance is that it promises coverage only in cases of a gun owner’s negligence, or an accidental shooting — and not if the gun owner shoots someone intentionally in self-defense. “A negligent act is covered by your liability policy, but if you intentionally shoot somebody, it could be excluded,” he said.
So as more states pass self-defense laws, Mr. Monge said that he found several insurance companies that would specifically offer liability coverage in cases of self-defense, usually in the form of an “umbrella” policy that added a higher level of coverage than the routine coverage for negligence in a homeowners’ policy. An umbrella policy adds coverage for unusual, but potentially expensive, incidents.
But he opposes proposals to make liability insurance mandatory. “They’re barking up the wrong tree, if you ask me,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of gun owners are going to be safe and not go crazy.”
States have been considering mandatory gun insurance bills for years, but no state has passed one yet, said Jon Griffin, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures. When Illinois considered a bill in 2009, the National Rifle Association wrote that it would “put firearms ownership out of reach for many law-abiding Illinoisans.” The N.R.A. endorses a policy that offers excess liability coverage — “because accidents do happen no matter how careful you are” — and another that offers “self-defense insurance.”
The recent trend of allowing guns in more public places has alarmed some business groups. When Ohio enacted a law allowing guns in bars in 2011, the Ohio Restaurant Association opposed it, writing officials that restaurant owners “expect that this law would be perceived by insurance companies as increasing the risk of injury in establishments that sell alcohol, which of course would result in increased liability insurance costs.” Owners have not reported higher premiums because of the new law, said a spokesman for the association, Jarrod A. Clabaugh, but some worry that a shooting could drive up their insurance costs.
The current debate over mandatory liability laws is being watched with interest by Nelson Lund, the Patrick Henry professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law. Professor Lund proposed the idea of mandatory insurance in a 1987 article in the Alabama Law Review, seeing it as a form of gun control that could be consistent with the constitutional right to bear arms. But he said that he had not studied any of the current proposals, and noted that it made a great deal of difference how they are written.
“If this were done, the private insurance market would quickly and efficiently make it prohibitively expensive for people with a record of irresponsible ownership of guns to possess them legally,” he wrote in the 1987 article, “but would not impose unreasonable burdens on those who have the self-discipline to exercise their liberty in a responsible fashion.”
Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.
February 21, 2013Governors Fall Away in G.O.P. Opposition to More Medicaid
By ABBY GOODNOUGH and ROBERT PEAR
Under pressure from the health care industry and consumer advocates, seven Republican governors are cautiously moving to expand Medicaid, giving an unexpected boost to President Obama’s plan to insure some 30 million more Americans.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that expanding Medicaid to include many more low-income people was an option under the new federal health care law, not a requirement, tossing the decision to the states and touching off battles in many capitols.
The federal government will pay the entire cost of covering newly eligible beneficiaries from 2014 to 2016, and 90 percent or more later. But many Republican governors and lawmakers immediately questioned whether that commitment would last, and whether increased spending on Medicaid makes sense, given the size of the federal budget deficit. Some flatly declared they would not consider it.
In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott reversed his position and on Wednesday announced his support for expanding Medicaid, proponents say that doing so will not only save lives, but also create jobs and stimulate the economy. Similar arguments have swayed the Republican governors of Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Ohio, who in recent months have announced their intention to expand Medicaid.
The shift has delighted supporters of the law.
“I think this means the dominoes are falling,” said Ronald F. Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a consumer group. “The message is, ‘Even though I may not have supported and even strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act, it would be harmful to the citizens of my state if I didn’t opt into taking these very substantial federal dollars to help people who truly need it.’ ”
Nationwide, Medicaid covers 60 million people, most of them low-income or disabled. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 17 million more people could be enrolled if all states took the expansion option. So far, 22 states have said they will expand the program, 17 have opted against it, and 11 have not yet decided, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm.
Some Republican governors remain firmly opposed to the expansion of Medicaid. In her State of the State address, Gov. Nikki R. Haley said, “As long as I am governor, South Carolina will not implement the public policy disaster that is Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”
Gov. Rick Perry affirmed that “Texas will not expand Medicaid” and said he was proud that Texas did not follow other states “scrambling to grab every tax dollar they can.”
The change of heart for some Republican governors has come after vigorous lobbying by health industry players, particularly hospitals. Hospital associations around the country signed off on Medicaid cuts under the health care law on the assumption that their losses would be more than offset by new paying customers, including many insured by Medicaid.
Politics could also be a factor in states where Republican governors have decided to expand Medicaid. Mr. Obama won all of those states except Arizona and North Dakota in last year’s election, a fact that may have influenced several of the governors’ decisions. Some of the seven are also up for re-election next year.
Religious leaders have added a moral dimension to the campaign in some states. The Roman Catholic bishops of Salt Lake City and Little Rock, Ark., for example, have urged state officials to expand Medicaid.
The Obama administration has tried to win over skeptical state officials by offering new flexibility to manage Medicaid as they like. On the same day that he agreed to expand Medicaid in Florida, Mr. Scott got federal permission to move more Medicaid beneficiaries into private managed care plans.
Mr. Scott’s support for expanding Medicaid is particularly significant — Florida is the fourth most populous state — and surprising. A onetime hospital executive, he has been among the most strident critics of the health care law, and his opposition to it was a cornerstone of his 2010 campaign for governor.
The battle is not over, however. In Florida, as in many other states, expansion is subject to approval by the Legislature, whose Republican leaders have expressed misgivings. The legislative session begins next month, and advocates say they plan to press ahead with a lobbying campaign.
Leah Barber-Heinz, a spokeswoman for Florida Chain, a health advocacy group, said it was trying to inform lawmakers and the public about who would benefit from an expansion of Medicaid. More than one-fifth of Florida residents, roughly 4 million of 19 million people, lack health insurance.
“There are so many misperceptions about the uninsured,” Ms. Barber-Heinz said. “So we’re trying to show faces of who would be impacted: people who have been hit by the recession, people who have been laid off, educated people, people who own homes.”
Jeanie Vincent of Hawthorne, Fla., who has been uninsured since she lost her job teaching middle school in 2010, would probably be eligible for Medicaid if the state expanded its program. Ms. Vincent, 61, fell behind on her mortgage after she got emergency retinal surgery in 2011 and owed $2,000. She owes an additional $3,000 for a knee surgery, which she is paying off at the rate of $10 per month.
Qualifying for Medicaid would provide peace of mind, she said.
“It would be amazing because I wouldn’t have to worry,” she said. “What happens if I fall and break something or if I have a heart attack?”
Every few days, state hospital associations and advocates for poor people issue reports asserting that the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid would outweigh the costs. In recent weeks, such reports have been issued in Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The existence of such a report was a decisive factor in Ohio, where Gov. John R. Kasich decided to embrace an expansion after months of lobbying by coalitions of churches, hospitals, business groups and others.
Publication of that study — by Ohio State University, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, the Urban Institute and Regional Economic Models — was “a major watershed moment,” said Ari Lipman, lead organizer of Greater Cleveland Congregations and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition.
The study, Mr. Lipman said, helped proponents reframe the expansion of Medicaid as something that would help the state budget and the state economy while providing health insurance to more than 455,000 people by 2022.
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican, noted an even more striking anomaly last month when she recommended expanding Medicaid. If a state does not expand Medicaid, some United States citizens will be unable to obtain health insurance, but some legal immigrants with the same income in the same state could get it.
“For poor Arizonans below 100 percent of the federal poverty level,” Ms. Brewer said, “only legal immigrants, but not citizens, would be eligible for subsidies.”