Commentary

Phony state legislative budget process continues this morning

Here’s a classic example of the absurdity of the North Carolina General Assembly’s budget writing process from this morning’s committee meetings on Jones Street. House Appropriations subcommittees convened this morning to look at a new version of the budget bill that House leaders authored in secret. Though a superficially better process than the Senate — where the subcommittees had zero public role — it quickly became clear that the meetings were essentially for show.

In the Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, for example, members learned how the designated pots allotted to their categories of state government had been filled and then had some discussion. Rep. Billy Richardson, for example, offered a powerful explanation as to why far too little was being appropriated to the office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS).

Here’s the kicker, however: Upon hearing Richardson’s legitimate beef, committee chairs informed him that if he wanted to make any kind of amendment to raise the appropriation level in IDS or any other line item, he would have to propose an equal cut in some other JPS item. In other words, the idea of taking money from tax cuts or savings was verboten. All amendments would have to comply with what we might call a “rob Peter to pay Paul” rule. The committee than recessed for one hour and informed members they had 60 minutes (less really) to prepare any such amendments they might care to offer under these absurdly restrictive conditions. You can read all of the rules here.

In other words, the “process” being implemented this morning is essentially meaningless. While it is superficially superior to the kangaroo legislating that when on in the Senate, when it comes to the basic of budgeting and governing — i.e. deciding how much to spend and how to prioritize on anything other than a micro-level — the House is really no different. GOP bosses have already decided the important matters in private. What’s more they’re so insecure in their decision making that they won’t allow genuine “give and take” debate in which elected representatives of the people have a real opportunity to propose meaningful amendments in public.

Commentary

What you need to know about the new report on Trumpcare

Health policy expert Brendan Riley of the N.C. Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project released his analysis of the Congressional Budget Office report on Trumpcare last night, Here’s what he found:

Today, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the American Health Care Act passed on May 4 by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 217-213. The bill was amended less than 24 hours before the final vote, and the House – including nine Republican lawmakers from North Carolina’s congressional delegation – passed it without having obtained the critical analysis from the CBO about the impacts on health coverage.

The previous iteration of this bill failed to attract sufficient votes from centrists and conservatives alike. Yet the amended bill would devastate older North Carolinians, Tar Heels with lower incomes, and our neighbors living with pre-existing conditions. Overall the CBO finds that the amended Trumpcare bill would:

  • Leave 23 million more Americans uninsured than the Affordable Care Act;
  • Hike premiums, particularly for low-income communities and people over the age of 50;
  • Eliminate affordable coverage options entirely for less healthy consumers and those with pre-existing conditions; and
  • Provide tax breaks to the wealthy, insurers, and drug companies at the expense of the Medicaid program, for which it would cap federal spending and cut by $834 billion.

Today’s CBO analysis confirms what we knew all along: last-minute amendments negotiated in the middle of the night made the American Health Care Act even worse for the American people. These changes would eliminate key protections for consumers, including the ban on pricing discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and minimum standards of coverage for plans.

Contrary to predictions recently made by Senator Thom Tillis, the CBO estimates that states would take up waivers to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions against pricing discrimination and to allow insurance companies to sell plans that offer bare-bones coverage and minimal protection from major medical risks. In fact, Read more

Commentary, News

BREAKING: CBO report says Trumpcare would cost 23 million their health insurance

The Congressional Budget Office has released its much anticipated analysis of the American Health Care Act (aka “Trumpcare”). Here’s a link to the report: https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752

And here is a summary from the New York Times:

A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would increase the projected number of people without health insurance by 14 million next year and by 23 million in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That 10-year figure is slightly less than originally estimated.

It would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over a decade, less than the $150 billion in savings projected in late March for an earlier version of the bill. And in states that seek waivers from rules mandating essential health coverage, the new law could make insurance economically out of reach for some sick consumers.

“Premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,” the budget office concluded.

The new forecast of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another blow to Republican efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The Senate has already said it will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is sounding uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.

“I don’t know how we get to 50 at the moment,” Mr. McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday. “But that’s the goal.”

Check back later for more updates and detailed assessments from experts at the North Carolina Justice Center as to the impacts in North Carolina.

Commentary

House leadership should seize opportunity for ambitious teacher pay proposal

With the delayed release of the House budget proposal, legislative leaders have had ample opportunity to address the many shortfalls of the Senate budget proposal. Ideally, House leadership will take a more responsible approach towards funding future class-size requirements, resisting expansion of unaccountable voucher programs, and the dismantling of the Department of Public Instruction. However, the best opportunity for House leadership to improve upon the Senate budget proposal may involve a more enlightened and ambitious approach towards teacher pay.

According to recently released estimates from the National Education Association, North Carolina’s average teacher pay ranking improved from 41st to 35th. North Carolina’s improved ranking is good news, but the average pay ranking is not very useful for determining what type of pay is needed to attract and retain the best and the brightest into the profession. Instead, policymakers need to look at how North Carolina teacher salaries compare with the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina whose jobs have similar college-level education requirements. Countries with high-performing education systems such as South Korea, Finland, and Singapore offer teacher salaries that are competitive with other professions. By contrast, North Carolina’s teacher salaries are only about 57 to 65 percent of other college graduates in the state. According to this more useful measure of teacher salary competitiveness, North Carolina ranks 49th.

Given the woeful state of teacher salary competitiveness, the primary goal of any House teacher pay proposal should be focusing on increasing teacher salaries across the board. The Senate’s plan would provide teachers average raises just under 3.8 percent. By contrast, Governor Cooper’s budget proposal would provide teachers average raises of 6.2 percent. With additional creativity, House leadership could certainly afford an even more ambitious teacher pay plan. Read more

Commentary

Another new low: Trump nominates right-wing blogger to the U.S. Court of Appeals

There is more compelling evidence this week  of the critical importance of progressives paying close attention to (and fighting back against) Donald Trump’s frightening plans for remaking our federal judiciary. This is from court watchers at the nonpartisan Alliance for Justice:

“Paperwork submitted by John K. Bush, President Trump’s nominee for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, reveals that Bush has spent a decade writing inflammatory and, often, offensive blog posts for the website Elephants in the Bluegrass.

Writing under a pseudonym, G. Morris, Bush authored more than 400 entries for the ultraconservative blog run by his wife Bridget Bush. While Bush pontificates on a broad swath of issues, one common theme runs throughout his writings: Bush displays a remarkable contempt for any issue he deems liberal or progressive, often launching into personal attacks on individuals he disagrees with. Bush’s writings should disqualify him for a lifetime seat on the federal bench for two reasons. First, Bush’s writings raise serious concerns about whether, as a judge, he will be able to approach the issues presented to him with an open mind, applying the law to the facts of the case without regard to his personal ideology. Second, Bush’s distasteful rhetoric demonstrates that he lacks the judicial temperament necessary to serve as a federal judge….

Reproduced below is a sampling of Bush’s troubling blog posts:

  • In a post entitled The Legacy From Dr. King’s Dream That Liberals Ignore, Bush conflates the goals of the civil rights movement with those of the pro-life movement, concluding with the following statement: ‘“The two greatest tragedies in our country—slavery and abortion—relied on similar reasoning and activist justices at the U.S. Supreme Court, first in the Dred Scott decision, and later in Roe.’
  • While live blogging from the 2016 Republican National Convention in July, Bush wrote Baring My Pre-Convention Thoughts, reflecting on the 2008 presidential election: ‘The Democrats were making history with the first serious African American candidate. McCain wasn’t the first anything. Only the most diehard of protestors thought it worth their time to protest him. This year is different. The Democrats are trying to win with the same game plan as in 2008, only substitute woman for Black.’

As Supreme Court expert Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress explains in an excellent post, “this is not normal.” What’s more, Bush’s legal views are extreme on an array of issues:

“In any event, Bush’s public statements and writings do not simply reveal political views that place him very far to the right. They also reveal legal opinions that are widely out of step with well-established law accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s not something that presidents typically look for in judicial nominees.”

Of course, this is just the beginning if progressives don’t push back. As was explained in this post a couple of weeks back, 15% of the federal judiciary now stands vacant and awaiting Trump nominations. Simply put, for those who care about resisting Trumpism, there is no more important battle in the coming months and years than the fight for our courts. With Thom Tillis sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, let’s hope North Carolina voters let him know about their concerns in this area in the weeks and months ahead.