“Are ‘Death Panels’ Coming To Scott Walker’s Wisconsin?”: A Scheme To Make Middle-Class Workers Pay Even More For Health Care
Scott Walker could be on the verge of giving Infowars some great conspiracy theory fodder. A move by Wisconsin’s Group Insurance Board to substantially increase how much state employees pay for their health insurance is drawing unqualified and sharp opposition from labor leaders but could once have drawn criticism from Sarah Palin, as well. That’s because the proposal includes “consultations about end-of-life care, which some called ‘death panels,’” as the Wisconsin State Journal put it.
Death panels?! In the great Badger State? Putting Badger Staters to death? How could this be? One may have asked, as some on the right did during the debate over the Affordable Care Act. But here we are, with the Wisconsin state government overseeing what’s set to be the controversy-free implementation of new policies designed to save the state money through its employees’ end-of-life decisions.
Quick background: The Wisconsin state government is having some tough fiscal times, and Walker’s budget proposal suggested substantial cuts in a number of areas, including to the University of Wisconsin system and to K-12 education. The governor’s budget proposal also called for savings of $81 million on the state employees’ group health insurance program. (Remember that in 2011 the governor oversaw the passage of Act 10, which virtually ended collective bargaining for most of the state’s public sector unions.) But the budget wasn’t too specific about how to save that $81 million. Instead, Walker’s proposal directed the state’s Group Insurance Board to work with Atlanta-based Segal Consulting to figure it out.
The most buzzed-about change, the Wisconsin State Journal reported, will require public sector employees to pay twice as much out of pocket for their health care than they do now. These changes are projected to save the state $85 million over the next two years (Wisconsin passes budgets biennially), and most of the savings “will come from increasing out-of-pocket limits and introducing deductibles for the vast majority of state workers who don’t have them,” according to the paper. Individual employees will have new $250 deductibles, and family deductibles will be $500.
The Group Insurance Board voted for the changes on May 19, and unless the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee moves to require legislative approval for the changes, they will go into effect Jan. 1, 2016, according to Mark Lamkins, communications director for the state’s Department of Employee Trust Funds. The board that approved the changes has 11 members, some of whom are Walker appointees. The majority of the Walker appointees on the board voted in favor.
And the change has labor leaders irate.
“What the group insurance board did today is unconscionable,” said Wisconsin AFSCME executive Marty Beil, according to THOnline. “I’d also call it evil that they’re treating state employees at that level. It’s incredible.”
But Walker’s critics on the left aren’t just going after him for increasing public sector employees’ expenditures for their health care. They’ve also targeted him for a tiny provision the board approved that seeks to save a bit of money through end-of-life care. The memo laying out the cost-cutting health-care proposal doesn’t detail how these changes would work, and the State Journal reported that “[e]nd-of-life care consultations, also called advanced care planning or palliative care, would save $292,500.” That’s hardly a hefty sum. Lamkins said the changes would involve “keeping people out of institutions near the end of life, giving them more opportunities to manage their care-treatment plan.”
He added that the change is designed “to ensure that members facing serious illness and survival of less than six months are informed of care options and are able to make treatment decisions based on their individual values and goals of care.”
Reached for comment, Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for the governor, pointed out that the phrase “death panels” is nowhere to be found in any of the health care change proposals. But that hasn’t defused liberal ire about the panel’s move.
That’s because Walker has been one of the most outspoken conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act.
“When Sarah Palin was trying to derail Obamacare over ‘death panels,’ Scott Walker didn’t say a word defending the need for people to have end-of-life counseling and instead on his first day as governor wasted taxpayer dollars suing the federal government over Obamacare,” said Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now. “But wrapped in a scheme that would make cash-strapped middle-class workers in Wisconsin pay even more for health care, Team Walker quietly slides this into the mix. The inclusion of the palliative counseling is critical, but Scott Walker would have saved families a lot of grief if he would have stood up to the Tea Party in 2010 instead of this backdoor deal now.”
Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, voiced support for Walker’s so-called death panels but said he was frustrated the governor didn’t do more to defend the Affordable Care Act.
“The right, using Sarah Palin, shamelessly tried to call simple voluntary end-of-life consultation a ‘death panel’ early in the debate over Obamacare,” he said. “There’s obviously a great irony that the Walker administration would now come forward with an end-of-life consultation provision. I still have to say that it’s good policy, most likely, it’s just incredible hypocrisy for them to come out with that after Walker has been one of the most disingenuous critics of the ACA.”
It’s doubtful, of course, that any of this will be a problem for Walker’s 2016 ambitions. Nobody ever did poorly with Iowa Republican caucus-goers because critics on the left were too noisy. But the debate highlights one of the tricky aspects of running for president as a governor: that the tiniest provisions in uncontroversial policies can easily become flashpoints for controversy.
By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 21, 2015
“ALEC Cookie Cutter Legislation”: Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill Is ‘Word For Word’ From Rightwing Lobbyist Group
Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is considering a Republican presidential run, has promised to sign into law an anti-union bill targeted at the state’s private sector workers that is an almost verbatim copy of model legislation devised by an ultra-rightwing network of corporate lobbyists.
On Friday, Walker dropped his earlier opposition to a so-called “right to work” bill, which he had described as a “distraction”, signalling that he would sign it into law should it succeed in passing the Wisconsin legislature. Republican members are rushing through the provision, which would strip private sector unions of much of their fee-collecting and bargaining powers.
On Monday, the bill cleared a committee of the state senate. A vote of the full chamber is slated for later this week, and of the assembly early next month.
The resumption of union battles in Walker’s home state comes at an awkward time for the probable 2016 candidate, as he seeks to shift attention away from Wisconsin and towards a national political platform. On Thursday he will speak at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, where he will seek to press home his recent meteoric rise from a relatively obscure midwest executive to a leading contender among top Republicans.
It has now been disclosed that the Wisconsin 2015 right to work bill is a virtual carbon copy of a model bill framed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). The council acts as a form of dating agency between major US corporations and state-level Republican lawmakers, bringing them together to frame new legislation favorable to big business interests.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which monitors the activities of Alec, has compared the Alec model bill and the new Wisconsin proposal and found them to be nearly identical.
“This bill is word for word from the Alec playbook, and that’s no surprise as the Wisconsin legislature is dominated by Alec members,” said the CMD’s general counsel, Brendan Fischer.
Walker too has close ties to Alec. He actively supported several Alec bills between 1993 and 2002, when he was a member of the Wisconsin assembly. On Sunday Alec posted to its Twitter feed a photograph of Walker with the Alec chief executive, Lisa Nelson, in which she said: “Great to be with Alec alumni @ScottWalker”.
The governor is no stranger to fighting unions. His current ascendancy is in part due to the national name recognition he gained when taking on public sector unions at the start of his first term in office, leading to headline-grabbling mass demonstrations.
To some extent, a renewal of such battles could play to his favour among the hardcore of rightwing Republicans who tend to determine the outcome of the party’s primary elections. On the other hand, any suggestion that Walker gave his backing to cookie-cutter legislation devised by a corporate lobbying group could hand the Democratic party valuable ammunition should Walker win the nomination and go on to face a general election.
He has already provided his opponents with considerable material for potential attack ads. In a recent trip to London to burnish his foreign policy credentials, he dodged a question about whether he believed in evolution. In December he got his “Mazel tovs” confused when he signed a letter to a Jewish constituent: “Thank you again and Molotov.”
The brewing union confrontation comes as Walker is increasing the pace of his exploratory activities around a 2016 campaign. The son of a preacher, he has been wooing evangelical Christian conservatives who are a key constituency in the opening caucuses of the presidential election in Iowa.
He has also stepped up meetings with prominent Republican donors.
The Wisconsin right to work bill is just one part of a nationwide push by Alec to undermine union power and rein in minimum wage levels. Twenty-four states currently have right to work laws and a rash of state legislatures are taking up the issue, partly under Alec’s encouragement.
By: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, February 23, 2015
For all the current and former Republican governors facing serious scandals – Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, et al – let’s not forget about Gov. Scott Walker. The Wisconsin chief executive is in the middle of a tough re-election fight – which he’ll have to win to move forward with his presidential plans – and a lingering controversy is making his task more difficult.
To briefly recap, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. When Walker faced a recall campaign, however, he and his team may have directly overseen how outside groups – including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits – spent their campaign resources.
Late Friday night, the allegations surrounding the governor’s office appear to have grown far more serious. Consider this report from Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal.
Gov. Scott Walker personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, which prosecutors cited as evidence the governor and his campaign violated state campaign finance laws, records made public on Friday show.
Among the groups that donated money to Wisconsin Club for Growth during that time was Gogebic Taconite, which contributed $700,000, according to the records. The company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
In an April court filing unsealed briefly on Friday, a lawyer wrote, “Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited.”
I think it’s safe to say these revelations do not cast Walker and his team in a positive light. On the contrary, Friday’s night’s evidence appears quite damning.
As additional reporting from the weekend makes clear, Team Walker, with the governor’s direct involvement, is accused of raising money for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn ran ads to support the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies.
In one especially damaging detail, Walker was dispatched to Las Vegas with talking points on the importance of unregulated contributions for the supposedly independent nonprofit group.
“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits,” an aide told Walker via email. “Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
Wisconsin Club for Growth allegedly funneled these unregulated contributions to allies, all to help Walker prevail in his recall election. Indeed, the reports suggest the governor insisted on Wisconsin Club for Growth maintaining a leadership role in order to “ensure correct messaging.” A fundraising consultant for Walker to one of the governor’s campaign consultants, “We had some past problems with multiple groups doing work on ‘behalf’ of Gov. Walker and it caused some issues.”
The coordination aspect is clearly problematic under campaign-finance laws, but the scandal may also include a possible quid-pro-quo angle.
Other Wisconsin Club for Growth donors included Gogebic Taconite LLC, which has proposed opening a 4 1/2-mile long iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company gave $700,000 to Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Walker signed legislation last year streamlining state mining requirements and paving the way for the project. The documents don’t show whether Walker directly solicited donations from that company. A spokesman for the company did not return a message seeking comment.
There are 71 days until Election Day in Wisconsin. These are probably not the kind of headlines the Republican governor was hoping for as the campaign cycle approaches Labor Day.
Postscript: If you’re new to Walker’s scandal or need a refresher, this Q&A is helpful (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 25, 2014
Up until fairly recently, Wisconsin’s Bill Kramer was the Republican Majority Leader in the state Assembly. As Rachel noted on the show on Friday, that changed when the state lawmaker was charged with two counts of felony second-degree sexual assault – charges that cost Kramer his GOP leadership post
The charges were not, however, enough to compel Wisconsin lawmakers to throw Kramer out of the state Assembly all together. He’s no longer the Republican Majority Leader, but he’s still a voting member of the legislative body. Some in the party have called on Kramer to quit, but for now, he seems to be determined to stay in office, and his colleagues aren’t prepared to force the issue, at least not yet.
Perhaps they’ll be interested to know that the recent sexual-assault allegations are not the first time Kramer has been accused.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, his chief of staff and a Waukesha County GOP official were all told three years ago of allegations that a then-aide to the senator had been sexually assaulted by state Rep. Bill Kramer, but none of them took the matter to the police or Assembly leaders.
The woman told her supervisor in Johnson’s office and a number of other people, but decided at the time to have her attorney send a letter to Kramer rather than go to the police, records show. Last month – nearly three years after the alleged assault outside a Muskego bar – the woman learned of Kramer’s alleged mistreatment of other women and filed a complaint with Muskego police that has resulted in two felony charges of second-degree sexual assault.
According to the weekend report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a woman who worked for Ron Johnson was allegedly assaulted by Bill Kramer in 2011, who then quickly informed several people, including her supervisor in Johnson’s office, Tony Blando, the senator’s chief of staff, who informed the senator himself.
But they didn’t tell anyone and remained silent when Republican state lawmakers elevated Kramer to the Majority Leader’s office. The aide in the 2011 incident only came forward after the 2014 allegations against Kramer came to public light.
So why didn’t the senator say something at the time? Initially, Johnson and his office didn’t want to comment, but after the Journal Sentinel was published online, the senator’s office changed its mind
…Johnson’s office issued a statement saying that when the woman spoke with Johnson and his chief of staff, Tony Blando, she already had an attorney. “Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando conveyed their commitment to be 100% supportive of any actions she chose to pursue on the advice of her legal counsel – up to and including the filing of criminal charges,” the statement said. “She requested that Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando keep the matter confidential and take no further action. Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando fully honored her request.”
U.S. Senate policies do not appear to directly address cases in which employees are assaulted by individuals from outside the Senate but do require internal reporting of sexual harassment. Each senator establishes his or her own employee policies. […]
According to the criminal complaint, the woman decided not to go to police at the time of the incident because she didn’t want to embarrass her family, the Republican Party, Kramer and Johnson as her employer. Instead, she had her lawyer send Kramer a letter saying she had been assaulted, that Kramer needed to seek treatment for drinking and that she would reconsider her decision not to report the incident to law enforcement if she learned of him acting inappropriately toward others in the future.
In other words, based on this reporting, Johnson and his team kept quiet because the alleged victim asked them to.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2014
“Early Voting Under Attack In Wisconsin”: Republicans Putting Up Even More Obstacles To Civic Participation
It may soon get a lot harder to vote in Wisconsin.
State and federal courts are currently deliberating the outcome of Wisconsin’s enjoined strict photo ID law. Governor Scott Walker this week said he would call a special legislative session to modify the law if it’s struck down, so voter ID could be in effect for the November 2014 election. And, this Wednesday, Senate leadership muscled through a bill, SB 324, which would cut back on early in-person absentee voting in that state. The measure passed 17-16, with one lone Republican joining the state’s Democratic Senators in casting nay votes. If the vote in the Assembly falls along party lines like it did in the Senate, the rollbacks could very well become law. Governor Walker has stated that he is open to instituting cutbacks on early voting if the measure reaches his desk.
In Wisconsin, all voters who apply may vote absentee in advance of Election Day, either by mail or in-person at the local municipal clerk’s office. Early in-person absentee voting starts the third Monday before the election, and is available through the Friday preceding Election Day. The bill passed by the Senate would eliminate early voting on weekends, and require that all early voting during the week conclude no later than 7 p.m. The bill also proposes a 45-hour weekly cap on early voting. Under the current law, which has no such restrictions, two communities that are home to nearly 15 percent of the state’s total population and nearly half of the state’s non-white population, Milwaukee and Madison, offer extended hours to serve more voters.
Cutting back on early voting puts up obstacles to civic participation. Voters like it, and they use it. When people can choose to vote on a day and time that does not conflict with work, family care, or other obligations, they are more able to wait in lines and undertake the other administrative costs involved in voting. Over the last three presidential elections, an average of 14 percent of voters in Wisconsin cast early ballots. Despite what some lawmakers are doing to make it harder to vote, citizens around the country support increasing access to the ballot. For example, a recent Iowa poll found that people there overwhelming believe that ensuring every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot outweighs concerns over ineligible voters. And, as the Brennan Center found in its comprehensive 2013 study of early voting, it’s also popular with the people who administer elections, because it reduces stress on the voting system on Election Day, leads to shorter lines, and allows for more opportunity to discover and correct problems before the polls close.
In producing our report, we looked into which jurisdictions have most successfully implemented early in-person voting, and were able to distill a set of seven best practices. Wisconsin does begin its early voting period a full two weeks before Election Day, which is one of the identified best practices for administering early voting. Another is to offer early voting on weekends, including the last weekend before the election. In fact, in eight of the nine states with the highest early voting turnout in recent elections, jurisdictions are required by law to offer early voting on at least one weekend. Not only does current Wisconsin law not mandate any weekend hours—instead leaving that decision up to the individual jurisdictions—but under the proposed changes weekend voting would be actively prohibited. A third best practice is to offer extended early voting hours during the week outside of business hours. The bill approved by the Wisconsin Senate, conversely, limits how many early voting hours may be offered each week, and likewise prohibits evening early voting after a certain hour.
Given the popularity of early voting among those who vote and those who administer elections, it’s hard to understand why Wisconsin lawmakers are intent on limiting early voting systems and throwing up more and more obstacles to the franchise. Their efforts would be better spent making elections more free, fair, and accessible for their constituents.
By: Jennifer L. Clark, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, March 14, 2014