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“So Far, So Feeble”: GOP Governors Have A Problem; The Ways They Govern

Even as Republicans boast of their chances to take over the United States Senate come November, their party’s governors across the country are facing dimmer prospects. From Georgia to Alaska, right-wing ideological rule imposed by GOP chief executives have left voters disappointed, disillusioned, and angry.

The problem isn’t that these governors failed to implement their promised panaceas of tax-cutting, union-busting, and budget-slashing, all in the name of economic recovery; some did all three. The problem is that those policies have failed to deliver the improving jobs and incomes that were supposed to flow from “conservative” governance. In fact, too often the result wasn’t at all truly conservative, at least in the traditional sense — as excessive and imbalanced tax cuts, skewed to benefit the wealthy, led to ruined budgets and damaged credit ratings.

Consider Gov. Scott Walker, famous for surviving the recall effort that Wisconsin’s outraged citizens mounted in response to his attacks on labor. While seeking to end collective bargaining in 2010, Walker also passed a series of regressive tax cuts that he vowed would bring at least 250,000 jobs. By sharply reducing state aid to schools and local governments, he temporarily closed a structural deficit – but this year, with state tax revenues declining precipitously in the wake of his tax cuts, Walker is facing a $1.8 billion budget deficit. And as for the jobs, most of them never materialized. Wisconsin is near the bottom of Midwestern states in creating new jobs.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback was equally faithful to right-wing orthodoxy. With the advice of Arthur Laffer, the genius responsible for Ronald Reagan’s exploding deficits in the 1980s, Brownback imposed an historically huge tax cut on the state. Declining revenues meant huge reductions in state services, especially education. And, as furious Kansans have discovered, the Brownback experiment has achieved poor employment growth combined with…yes, a massive budget deficit of nearly $350 million this year.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett’s first budget in 2011 included major tax cuts for corporations that cost about $600 million annually. By this point, it should be obvious who was required to pay for those favors: the children served by the state’s education system, who saw a billion dollars in cuts to their schools and programs, from kindergarten through college.

This year, the state is facing a budget shortfall of over $1 billion, but Corbett doesn’t seem to have learned much. He has demanded further income tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy – and will cost Pennsylvania another $770 million in annual revenue. And what about his promise that the state would become number one nationally in job creation? As of last summer, it ranked either 47th or 49th, depending on the data measured.

So far, so feeble – and it is scarcely more impressive in the other red states whose governors face reelection this year.

The politician tasked with rescuing his party’s beleaguered governors is none other than their colleague from New Jersey, Chris Christie, who serves as chair of the Republican Governors Association. From that perch, of course, the blustering Christie hopes to run for president – an aspiration that may recede still further from his grasp with each lost governor’s mansion this fall. Emotional as he tends to be, Christie surely empathizes with his fellow governors – because his very similar policies have landed New Jersey in equally precarious condition.

So it is puzzling to hear voters in places far from the Garden State – such as Iowa and New Hampshire – tell reporters that they admire Christie because he “saved New Jersey.” Evidently they don’t know that the state’s finances have been sufficiently terrible to provoke not one but two downgrades in its credit rating this year alone.

But bad bond ratings aren’t the only woe confronting the Big Boy, as President Bush called him. Christie is perfectly suited to his leadership role among the GOP governors – if only because his economic record may well be the very worst of any American governor in either party. The question that voters must answer, this November and two years from now, is when these failed fiscal and economic “experiments” – and the suffering they have caused – will at last end.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Governors, Red States, Tax Revenue | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Grappling With Their Shortsighted Rejection”: The Tough Politics Of Medicaid For Republicans

In the world of Republican politics, there is no surer bet than opposing ObamaCare. But conservative obstruction to the health care overhaul may finally be catching up with a handful of Republican governors running for re-election. Their rejection of ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid — the federal health assistance program for the poor and disabled — has been them losing both the argument and voters.

Princeton political scientist Sam Wang recently published an analysis of polling data from this year’s gubernatorial races. It found that Republican incumbents who resisted ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion — including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, and Kansas’ Sam Brownback — are in much tighter races than those who accepted it. “Republican governors who bucked their party’s stance and accepted the policy are faring better with voters — in these races, an average of 8.5 percentage points better,” Wang discovered.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Setting aside the incendiary politics surrounding ObamaCare and its alleged freedom-killing agenda, the simple truth is that Republican governors have blocked health insurance for nearly six million citizens. And they’ve done so despite the fact that under ObamaCare, the federal government covers all the cost of expanding Medicaid for the next six years, and at least 90 percent of the cost in 2020 and beyond.

Why have Republican governors spurned this incredibly good deal? Their ostensible justification has been disbelief that the federal government would hold up its end of the bargain, leaving states to pick up the tab.

But researchers at the Urban Institute threw cold water on this argument in a study last month. They found that the federal government has almost never reduced funding to the states for Medicaid. In fact, it has not done so since 1981, when President Reagan and Congress imposed a temporary funding cut.

Indeed, Congress has been far more likely to increase funding for state Medicaid programs. It has done so twice in recent memory — in 1997 and in 2005 — boosting state funding even while making other cuts to the program.

The sanctity of the federal commitment to Medicaid has only grown in recent years. As evidence of federal faint-heartedness, conservatives point to an administration proposal floated during 2011 budget negotiations that would have reduced federal Medicaid funding to the states.

But this bad idea was dropped after the states got newfound bargaining power from the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision making the Medicaid expansion entirely voluntary. With the expansion now optional, the administration can ill afford to weaken the financial carrot for red states to buy in. This has also made the administration agreeable to some conservative twists on traditional Medicaid, like using public dollars to enroll people in private health plans in Arkansas and Iowa.

The Urban Institute also quantified how much intransigent red states are losing by resisting ObamaCare. They’re turning down $400 billion in free federal money over 10 years. They will have missed out on over 172,000 new jobs in 2015 alone. And they’ve cost their hospitals $168 million, enough to completely offset ObamaCare’s reimbursement cuts to hospitals for Medicare and Medicaid.

And, of course, these states have also frozen themselves at pre-ObamaCare rates of high uninsurance. “While the number of uninsured in other states fell by 38 percent since September 2013,” the researchers explain, “non-expanding states experienced a decline of just 9 percent.”

As the midterm elections approach, Republican candidates are discovering that the politics around health care reform are becoming unexpectedly complicated. Trailing badly in the polls, Gov. Corbett announced last month that Pennsylvania will expand its Medicaid program. In states that have already expanded their programs, pro-repeal conservative candidates are stumbling to explain how they would handle new Medicaid enrollees.

But this is what happens when you engage with the actual policy implications of health care reform. Conservatives can whip up fear and hostility over an abstract big-government monolith called ObamaCare. But the actual programs contained therein (like expanding public health insurance for the poor) tend to be pretty appealing to voters.

As their arguments are rendered hollow, obstructionist Republicans are paying the electoral price for thwarting these types of programs. When they picked a fight against expanding Medicaid, conservatives chose the wrong bulwark for massive resistance against national health care reform.


By: Joel Dodge, The Week, September 9, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Medicaid Expansion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paying Back Campaign Donors”: Whose Presidential Campaign Will Your Pension Finance?

Wall Street is one of the biggest sources of funding for presidential campaigns, and many of the Republican Party’s potential 2016 contenders are governors, from Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas to Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. And so, last week, the GOP filed a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning the pay-to-play law that bars those governors from raising campaign money from Wall Street executives who manage their states’ pension funds.

In the case, New York and Tennessee’s Republican parties are represented by two former Bush administration officials, one of whose firms just won the Supreme Court case invalidating campaign contribution limits on large donors. In their complaint, the parties argue that people managing state pension money have a First Amendment right to make large donations to state officials who award those lucrative money management contracts.

With the $3 trillion public pension system controlled by elected officials now generating billions of dollars worth of annual management fees for Wall Street, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulators originally passed the rule to make sure retirees’ money wasn’t being handed out based on politicians’ desire to pay back their campaign donors.

“Elected officials who allow political contributions to play a role in the management of these assets and who use these assets to reward contributors violate the public trust,” says the preamble of the rule, which restricts not only campaign donations directly to state officials, but also contributions to political parties.

In the complaint aiming to overturn that rule, the GOP plaintiffs argue that the SEC does not have the campaign finance expertise to properly enforce the rule. The complaint further argues that the rule itself creates an “impermissible choice” between “exercising a First Amendment right and retaining the ability to engage in professional activities.” The existing rule could limit governors’ ability to raise money from Wall Street in any presidential race.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, a spokesman for one of the Republican plaintiffs suggested that in order to compete for campaign resources, his party’s elected officials need to be able to raise money from the Wall Street managers who receive contracts from those officials.

“We see (the current SEC rule) as something that has been a great detriment to our ability to help out candidates,” said Jason Weingarten of the Republican Party of New York—the state whose pay-to-play pension scandal in 2010 originally prompted the SEC rule.

The suit comes only a few weeks after the SEC issued its first fines under the rule—against a firm whose executives made campaign donations to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat. The company in question was managing Pennsylvania and Philadelphia pension money. In a statement on that case, the SEC promised more enforcement of the pay-to-play rule in the future.

“We will use all available enforcement tools to ensure that public pension funds are protected from any potential corrupting influences,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “As we have done with broker-dealers, we will hold investment advisers strictly liable for pay-to-play violations.”

The GOP lawsuit aims to stop that promise from becoming a reality. In predicating that suit on a First Amendment argument, those Republicans are forwarding a disturbing legal theory: Essentially, they are arguing that Wall Street has a constitutional right to influence politicians and the investment decisions those politicians make on behalf of pensioners.

If that theory is upheld by the courts, it will no doubt help Republican presidential candidates raise lots of financial-industry cash—but it could also mean that public pension contracts will now be for sale to the highest bidder.


By: David Sirota, Senior Editor, In These Times, August 15, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Public Pension Funds, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Health Care Sabotage 101”: The GOP, Not A Botched Website, Is The Real Obstacle To Implementing Obamacare

It’s the latest chapter of Barack vs. the Health Care Killers, The Continuing Saga of Posturing, Bad Faith, Spite and Ineptitude.

Republicans, who have used every trick in their playbook to gum up the works of the Affordable Care Act, are now holding hearings to investigate how the works got so gummed up.

They could save themselves the trouble by looking in the mirror, just as O.J. Simpson could have done to find his wife’s killer. But that would rob them of the chance to grandstand.

In fairness, they do have one point. The Obama administration botched the debut of its insurance marketplace website so badly that it fairly begged for an investigation. And since Republicans had little or nothing to do with the website, the blame for its failures falls squarely on the president and his deputies.

The screw-up was a gift. GOP lawmakers were calling the law a failure before most of it went into effect, but lacking any evidence they had to rely on mere accusation. Now, finally, they can say that their worst predictions had some validity.

Nevertheless, Republican “outrage” over the glitches is hard to take seriously. If they’re really looking to find what went wrong — and there was plenty — one suspects it’s only so they can clone the virus. Then anyplace where the law is working, such as Kentucky, Washington and Oregon, they can infect the system, watch it crash, shake their heads and snicker.

Come on, folks. Republicans want to “fix” what’s broken here as much as they want to “protect” women by targeting their reproductive rights and “defend” the vote by obstructing it. But because went live on the same day that the party crazies shut down the government over the law’s funding, they were too deep in their own morass to capitalize on it. Worse, they had to fold on the shutdown without getting anything in exchange. No wonder they’re pouncing on the chance to grill the people whose job it was to enable what they’ve called the worst law in the history of man.

Yes, the administration deserves to be on the hot seat. There was more than enough time to make sure the website worked properly and there is no excuse for its failure to do so.

Mr. Obama had to know that the first weeks would set the tone for public perception. If he had wanted to raise doubts about the program or shoo people away, he couldn’t have done a better job of it.

Once again, we have to wonder what goes on in his mind. This legislation is only the most important accomplishment of his presidency. He put everything on the line for it. Millions of people are counting on it for coverage they cannot otherwise afford. If he can’t get the introduction right, well, let’s just say it’s a good thing he won’t be running again.

But then there’s that pesky caveat called perspective. A botched website, which can and will be repaired, is nowhere near the biggest obstacle to the success of health care reform. That distinction goes to the program’s sworn enemies, who have been conducting a misinformation campaign of false claims and scare tactics since the law was passed. To hear them tell it, “Obamacare” will turn people into devil worshipping socialist homosexual vegetarians who want the terrorists to win. So of course they will do everything they can to stop it.

Exhibit One: The quickest and easiest way for states to enact the law’s reforms is to expand Medicaid, which would trigger a huge infux of federal dollars for the first several years. Yet Republican governors in 26 states have refused to do so. The primary excuse is that they won’t be able to afford it once the federal money stops. The subtext is that they’d rather sabotage the president than help their own citizens get the treatment they need. Thanks to them, according to a New York Times analysis, the new law will leave out two-thirds of the nation’s black citizens and single mothers, and half of the low-wage workers who currently lack insurance.

In addition, GOP governors (including our own Tom Corbett and, regrettably, a few Democrats) have refused to create insurance exchanges that would facilitate reaching the uninsured. Instead, those people will have to go to the federal exchange.

They’re also refusing to assist applicants and blocking the use of so-called “navigators,” whose job is to help people understand the law and sign up for its benefits. When a constituent calls with questions, they are making sure they’ll get no answers.

Then there was the government shutdown, during which Republicans offered more than 40 measures to cripple the law. They failed in every sense, but it still cost the country $24 billion.

It doesn’t take a genius to see where the real obstruction lies. For all its screw-ups, the Obama administration is trying to make health care reform work. And for all their public posturing, Republicans are trying to ruin it. But the law was duly passed, it’s here, and it’s not going away. They should save the fake righteousness for a cause that isn’t already lost.


By: Sally Kalson, Pittsburg- Post Gazette, October 26, 2013

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Caught Between Arithmetic And Ideology”: Can Republicans Afford To Buck The Tea Party?

Since the Tea Party emerged following President Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Republican governors have frequently been the faces of some of the most extreme policies in recent political memory. Even before her infamous “finger point” at the president, Arizona’s Jan Brewer was signing and defending her state’s racial-profiling bill, SB 1070. In Ohio, John Kasich championed a law—later repealed by voters—to strip public employees of bargaining rights. In Florida, Rick Scott has pushed a plethora of hard-right policies, from drug screening of welfare recipients and government employees to reductions in early voting. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, who has a moderate streak, went to the extreme last December when he approved “right to work” legislation in a state built largely by union labor.

Yet Brewer, Kasich, Snyder, and Scott are among the nine GOP governors who have staked considerable political capital on Medicaid expansion, a key piece of the Affordable Care Act. They haven’t been quiet about it, either. Brewer made good on a threat to veto every piece of legislation that came before her until lawmakers sent her a bill to expand Medicaid. Snyder rankled his party when he told recalcitrant Republican state senators to “take a vote, not a vacation.” Scott was among the first Republicans to announce his support for expansion. Kasich, struggling to win support from his party’s lawmakers, has vowed to find a way to expand Medicaid even if they won’t.

All this, while in Congress, the Tea Party Republicans have worked tirelessly to shut down the government rather than see the Affordable Care Act continue, marking it as the emblem of Obama’s big-government liberalism.

By championing Medicaid expansion, these governors are defying the Tea Party, which was instrumental in their elections. Such defiance has been exceedingly rare from Republican officeholders on any level since the Tea Party revolution of 2010. That election transformed state legislatures and governors’ mansions—in many cases overnight—into ideological strongholds. Increasingly, the policy priorities of national right-wing groups like ALEC and Americans United for Life began to take precedence over state-specific agendas, and bipartisanship disappeared from state capitols almost as thoroughly as it has Congress. “The broader pathologies of our politics have clearly moved to the state level,” says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author with Thomas Mann of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which made the case that Republican extremism and hyper-partisanship has crippled Congress.

But Kasich, Snyder, and Scott govern states that Obama has won twice. They have all struggled with low approval ratings and polarized the electorate with their far-right policies. They all face tough battles for re-election in 2014. By backing Medicaid, they were guaranteed to inspire Tea Party wrath. By opposing it, they would deny health coverage to huge numbers of low-income residents, shut the door on billions in federal funding, and risk further alienating voters.

“Republican governors are caught in a tug-of-war between arithmetic and ideology,” says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “For some of them, ideology wins, and for others, who are looking to their self-interest and the interests of their state at least in the short to medium term, they have done a very simple calculation and that is that the Medicaid expansion is a good deal for their states.”

There’s little denying that Medicaid expansion to cover many more adults, is a good deal for every state. For the first three years, the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the cost for new recipients. After that, states will never pay more than 10 percent of the costs of expanded coverage; the rest of the bill goes to Washington. In Ohio alone, more than 500,000 people would gain access to coverage. With more people covered, of course, the costs to states of uncompensated care will drop. In June, a report from the Rand Corporation found that the first 14 states that opted out of expanding Medicaid will have 3.6 million more uninsured residents, lose $8.4 billion a year in federal payments, and pay an additional $1 billion in uncompensated care in 2016.

The arithmetic hasn’t been enough to convince most Republican governors to back Medicaid. Sixteen of the 30 oppose expansion, including the chief executive of another state Obama won twice, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Three other GOP governors had yet to venture a position.

Then there’s Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, a governor emblematic of the dilemma facing unpopular Republicans in swing states. Obama won Pennsylvania by 11 points in 2008 and by 5 points in 2012. But Corbett, who won in the 2010 wave, has stuck to the Tea Party agenda on everything from voter ID to welfare cuts. He was quick to announce that his state would reject federal funds for Medicaid expansion.

Under enormous pressure, however, he changed his mind, and last week announced he would support Medicaid expansion if the federal government agreed to a slew of concessions. Unlike Walker, a strong favorite in 2014 thanks to weak and divided opposition following a failed recall attempt, Corbett is among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. Corbett is now trying desperately find some political path to moderation—though it’s likely to be too little too late and it stands in contrast to those like Snyder and Kasich, who actually took the lead on the issue.

That a minority of Republican governors has backed Medicaid expansion does not add up to a major shift in the political dynamic. But it could be significant, depending on the outcome of the 2014 elections. If a governor like Scott or Kasich can manage to win re-election even after infuriating his right-wing base on a key issue, it will send a couple of important messages to other Republicans, at least those in purple states: Yes, the Tea Party can be bucked. And no, making policy based on the needs of your state does not amount to certain political death. It might even save you from it.


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, September 23, 2013

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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