Commentary

The truth about NC’s unemployment insurance system

Senator Phil Berger

Senator Phil Berger

In addition to generating a steady stream of “alternative facts” about the world around us, the modern Right has also become extremely adept in recent years at manufacturing what one might charitably characterize as “alternative history.” See, for example, the repeated efforts of North Carolina Republicans to criticize Democrats and former Governor, Beverly Perdue, for the state education cuts that actually resulted from George W. Bush’s Great Recession.

At times, the misleading statements were so numerous and outrageous as to be truly absurd — especially in recent years as conservatives sought to take “credit” for restoring funding pared during the Recession. The truth, of course, was that the education funding cuts of the early Perdue years: a) were the result of a national economic collapse spurred by Bush’s casino capitalism policies that caused North Carolina revenues to plunge and b) would have been a hell of a lot worse had Perdue not taken steps to stop the GOP’s demands for more and bigger tax cuts. The supposed restoration of funding has never made North Carolina schools whole or returned them to where they were pre-recession.

Now the GOP’s special brand of revisionist history is being applied to the issue of unemployment insurance. According to various politicians and spokespeople, Republican policies over the past few years have “rescued” a system that was all but driven into bankruptcy by Democrats. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger once again pushed this disingenuous line Monday night in his response to the Governor’s State of the State speech. Like the tale about education funding, this is pure hogwash.

Here is the actual truth: North Carolina’s unemployment insurance trust fund did, in fact, get emptied out during the Great Recession. Calamitous, once-in-a-half-century economic crises that send unemployment into the double digits will do that. This is especially true when the fund is smaller than it should be — as it was prior to the Great Recession. The reason for this: incessant demands from Republicans and some conservative Democrats to slash unemployment taxes on profitable businesses — even when times were very good. In fact, at the onset of the Great Recession, the tax rate on a large percentage of North Carolina employers was 0%. That’s right: nada, zilch. They were paying no taxes at all. That seemed fine, of course, until the recession hit and quickly emptied the fund.

Now, fast forward to 2013 and the year the GOP gained control of all parts of North Carolina government. How did they “fix” the U.I. system? Not by restoring reasonable tax rates to rebuild the fund, that’s for sure. They “fixed” things by utterly devastating benefits and eligibility rules.

The result: Read more

Commentary

Veteran economist sums up Trumpcare bill in six scathing sentences

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein

There are a lot of words and numbers flying across the Internet this morning in the aftermath of yesterday’s finding by the Congressional Budget Office that the GOP Trumpcare proposal will cost 24 million Americans their health insurance coverage over the next decade. Among the best summaries thus far, however, comes from veteran economist Jared Bernstein.

This is from a column Bernstein penned this morning for the Washington Post:

“I can think of no other explanation for this plan than this: Republicans looked out at the country and concluded that the wealthy had too little after-tax income and the poor had too much health care. So, they wrote a bill that transferred about a trillion dollars that would otherwise have paid for Medicaid benefits and subsidies for low-income older persons to the wealthy in tax cuts and the well-off young in lower premium costs, with a bit of deficit reduction thrown in to meet the requirements of the budget process. Poverty policy expert Bob Greenstein told Vox that ‘No legislation enacted in recent decades cut low-income programs this much — or even comes close.’”

For those of you who thought that punishing the poor and rewarding the rich was a caricature of conservative policy, the bill should disabuse you of that impression. Readers of this column know I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I just don’t know what else to say about this. In the pantheon of mean-spirited, greedy, self-serving, inequitable and unjust conservative policy, this bill stands alone.” (Emphasis supplied.)

Commentary

Weekend news, commentary shine a light on looming Trumpcare chaos

One gets the real sense right now that the lid is about to fly off the pot of health care stew that conservatives are cooking up in Congress and that the mess that is sure to ensue is going to soil and scald a lot of innocent people. Raleigh’s News & Observer put it aptly in the conclusion to an excellent editorial entitled “Republicans propose a ruinous plan to replace the ACA”:

“The president promised many times that he’d have a replacement for Obamacare — which he repeatedly described as a ‘disaster’ — that would make health care cheaper, better and affordable. But instead of standing up to Republicans to make them guarantee that in their plan now winging its way through the House, Trump’s just putting the heat on to pass a repeal and this haphazard replacement quickly, all so he can boast of some accomplishment early on in his presidency.

But there’s a big problem. ‘Obamacare’ isn’t the failure Republicans are trying to convince people it is. More than 20 million people have insurance under the ACA. And while premiums for some have gone up, the increases aren’t much for people with subsidies. People who are covered thanks to the ACA are in most cases satisfied. And the federal deficit did not explode as Republicans forecast it would. The private health care industry didn’t collapse. And no less than the American Medical Association is opposed to what Republicans are trying to do, because doctors and hospitals recognize that under the GOP plan, millions of people will lose their insurance, which means they’ll get sicker, which means some will die.

Cooler heads unfortunately are no longer in Congress. Former Speaker John Boehner, essentially run off by tea partyers, said recently of the health care fuss: ‘I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.’

Perhaps Boehner will be proved right in the end. But it appears that for now, chaos is coming.”

The N&O’s conclusions were bolstered over the weekend by the fact that a) House Speaker Paul Ryan won’t even say how many people will lose insurance under Trumpcare and b) the fact that all a key Trump economic adviser could muster in a response to a Fox News question about the six to 15 million people who would lose health insurance was that this was an “interesting” bit of news.

Fortunately, it’s clear that Americans are rising up to push back. As Think Progress also reported yesterday, there were massive townhall protests in some places against congressional conservatives in recent days. Let’s hope they keep taking place — even if most GOP members of Congress lack the courage to show up.
Commentary, News

AG Stein to US Supreme Court: GOP lawmakers cannot step in, defend Monster voting law

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday that should (if justice prevails) help move us another step closer to the final demise of North Carolina’s disastrous 2013 voter ID/voter suppression statute that’s also not so affectionately known as the “Monster Voting Law.”

In the brief, Stein forcefully refutes the last-ditch efforts of GOP members of the General Assembly to step in and purport to speak on the state’s behalf before the Court. This is from Stein’s brief:

“All of the petitioners in this case have moved to withdraw the pending petition. Thus, under normal operation of this Court’s rules, the petition should be dismissed….

Seeking to derail this ministerial process, the North Carolina General Assembly has fired a barrage of state-law arguments, seeking to create confusion about who controls state-related litigation in North Carolina. The very existence of these state-law issues confirms that the petition here should be dismissed. A state-law dispute over which branch of North Carolina government controls state-related litigation does not belong in this Court.”

The brief goes on to make the several specific arguments, including:

  • The General Assembly is not authorized to engage outside counsel on behalf of the state.
  • The General Assembly is not a party to the case.
  • The Attorney General represents the Board of Elections and its members.
  • The Attorney General and the General Assembly do not have an attorney-client relationship in this case.

Let’s hope the Court honors the brief’s final request: “The Attorney General of North Carolina, on behalf of all Petitioners in this case, respectfully requests that the Court dismiss the case.”

Commentary

Editorial: Lawmakers’ latest power grab is “infantile,” “abuse of power,” “insult to the people they represent”

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer is a blistering takedown of the General Assembly’s latest outrageous assault on the basic structures of North Carolina government  (see Melissa Boughton’s post below). This is from “GOP tries to further limit Cooper with changes in judicial appointments”:

“If they could, Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly would likely take away Gov. Roy Cooper’s authority, period. All of it. No Cabinet. No staff. No car. No mansion.

And they’d chuckle about how they paid back Cooper, a former legislator himself, for the heinous sin of — winning the governor’s office over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory, a fellow they weren’t crazy about anyway. Cooper won that office by a slim margin, but he did win with the most votes from North Carolina citizens. He was their choice, whether Republicans like it or not.

But in their latest infantile gambit, Republicans seek to take away from Cooper his right to appoint judges. One will would reduce the size of the state Court of Appeals just as three Republicans are retiring from that 15-member court. Those three would be replaced by gubernatorial appointment, which likely would mean three Democrats.”

After exposing the embarrassingly juvenile justification advanced by the bills’ sponsor, Rep. Justin Burr, and highlighting expert testimony of a former appellate judge who debunked the proposals, the editorial closes with this damning assessment:

“The Republicans are making Cooper’s Cabinet appointees go through a confirmation process just to annoy Democrats, and they’ve already reduced Cooper’s available patronage appointments and made it clear they intend to ignore his budget and formulate one of their own more to the liking of the wealthy and big business.

So to say they’ve gone too far in reaching into the selection of judges would be stating the obvious. Their behavior is an insult to Cooper, to the people, to the state constitution. It reflects a certain brand of immaturity.

But this isn’t kickball on the playground, and Republicans don’t get to take their state and go home just because their candidate lost the election.

They are, in their own amateurish, immature way, rewriting the separation of powers to create an imbalance in favor of the General Assembly. It is an abuse of power and an insult to the people they represent.”