Commentary

The Senate version of Trumpcare: Worse than we’d imagined

Reporter Amanda Michelle Gomez at Think Progress has the latest in a story entitled “Senate’s health care bill shreds Medicaid and essential health benefits, and more”:

“Any hopes that Senate Republicans would moderate their House colleagues’ health care bill were dashed on Thursday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) finally unveiled his chamber’s long-awaited version of the GOP health plan. Sen. McConnell’s bill looks a lot like the House’s American Health Care Act—except where its cuts to coverage, particularly Medicaid are even harsher.

Here are some key Senate market reforms in the Senate draft released Thursday:

  • Elimination of the individual and employer mandates.
  • Premium taxes based on age, income, and geography like Obamacare but, but with adjusted thresholds that disproportionately hurt older and poorer Americans
  • Begins to cut Medicaid program expansion starting in 2021, with a three-year phase out. (This will not matter for 8 states with “trigger laws,” which terminate immediately once federal funds are affected.) And then cuts the rest of the budget’s program too.
  • Tax cuts for the wealthy by repealing Obamacare tax increases.
  • Cost sharing subsidies end in 2020, but could end earlier if the Trump Administration cuts them off.
  • States can still waive Obamacare regulations, such as essential benefits.
  • Planned Parenthood could face a one-year Medicaid funding freeze.

The Senate Republicans who largely shaped the health care bill looked to make the House-passed bill more palatable for its moderate and conservative members. The result was a bill that differs in some respects from the AHCA while being largely the same in its net effect.”

The report goes on to to explain that Senate leaders are looking to pass the bill next week through what’s known as the “budget reconciliation” process in order to get around the Senate’s usual 60-vote rule. The story also notes that there’s no word from the Prevaricator-in-chief yet on whether he considers the proposal “mean.”

Environment

Former Wilmington mayor: “We’re here to express our outrage” over GenX contamination in drinking water, Cape Fear

Children are at particular risk for chemical exposure through drinking water. Not only are their bodies smaller and the chemical burden on them greater, but they also drink more water. Wilmington pediatrician Dr. David Hill told the crowd, “If you can find a safer source of drinking water, do so.” (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

J ust steps outside the door of the Coastline Conference Center in Wilmington, the Cape Fear River moseys on its last 35 miles of its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. But the 300-plus people inside the conference center no longer trust the Cape Fear as their source of clean drinking water.

GenX, an unregulated contaminant, has been detected in both the river and drinking water. The chemical can’t be removed using traditional water treatment methods.

Cape Fear River Watch hosted a GenX Community Forum on Wednesday night, where, former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson said, “we can express our fear, concern, worries and outrage.”

These emotions have troubled many Wilmington residents since June 7, when the Star-News reported the findings of a team of scientists including NC State University professor Detlef Knappe. That study, published in 2016, showed GenX had been detected in drinking water, with its upstream source being Chemours. A spinoff of DuPont, Chemours discharges GenX into the Cape Fear via the factory’s effluent.

If the river suffers, we suffer Click To Tweet

Gen X in the family of PFOA chemicals (perfluoroctanoic acids), a byproduct of manufacturing Teflon. PFOAs are widespread in the environment; they’re even present in house dust. Despite their ubiquitousness, GenX is classified as an “emerging contaminant” by the EPA. Emerging contaminants have not been independently tested for safety or toxicity; nor are they regulated. Its effects on human health are unknown. GenX is biopersistent, meaning it remains in the body, in this case, for an estimated one to three years.

“‘We don’t know’ is a tremendously unacceptable answer,” said forum panelist John Green, a local attorney.

Chemours has not sampled its discharge and instead used modeling to estimate levels of GenX. Based on 2013-14 data provided by Chemours, the state Department of Health and Human Services has determined that levels of 70,000 parts per trillion in drinking water presents a “low risk.” Although a safe level has not been established, the international threshold is 90 ppt; the EPA has set a “health advisory” for combined levels of PFOAs above 70 ppt.

UNC Wilmington professor Larry Cahoon, a forum panelist, is a biological oceanographer who specializes in water quality analysis and remediation. He emphasized that Knappe’s study indicated GenX is only one of several PFOAs in the Cape Fear. “It’s a cocktail,” he said.

Read more

2018 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Price tag for tax cuts in final budget tells half the story

The Locke Foundation was having fun with math yesterday in an effort to defend a fiscally irresponsible package of tax cuts in the final budget lawmakers are close to approving. Why? because—wait for it—they would like you to think they haven’t just given another green light to tax cuts that further pump up the gains for wealthy taxpayers while making virtually no progress in addressing the tax load carried by middle- and low-income taxpayers.

Amidst their convoluted and selective use of the numbers, they try to confuse their readers about three primary facts regarding the state’s tax code after the passage of this budget:

  1. The average tax cut received by the taxpayer in the top 1 percent (whose average income is $1 million) compared to the pre-2013 tax code is nearly $22,000, which is more like 96 times the tax cut that the middle-income taxpayer in North Carolina will receive each year as a result of tax changes since 2013. The average tax cut for middle-income taxpayers is $225.
  2. Once the final budget passes, one in three of net tax cut dollars goes to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, whose average income is a million dollars. Under the final budget, nearly 80 percent of net tax cuts since 2013 will flow to the top 20 percent of taxpayers once all the latest tax code changes are fully implemented.
  3. When we look in isolation at this year’s tax plan, policymakers may have paid attention to their egregious track record when it comes to addressing the tax load for most North Carolinians but they have fallen short of setting our tax code right. Their final tax plan still gives the wealthiest taxpayers the majority share of the net tax cut compared to current law. And their full track record shows their failure to put middle- and low-income taxpayers front and center as they make their tax policy decisions. Budget writers and supporters don’t want to talk about all the changes that have happened since 2013, the loss of the personal exemption and other credits and deductions that benefited working families, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the broadening of the sales tax.

Still worse, with this final budget they continue to push us further towards a single revenue option in addressing future downturns—raising the sales tax, which will inevitably mean asking more from low- and middle-income taxpayers again.

Rather than try to present and sell tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations as the everyman approach to growing the economy, which it isn’t, a more urgent math problem needs to be worked out, sooner rather than later. Read more

Commentary

NC government will give $300K in public funds to religious anti-abortion advocacy group

It’s bad enough that North Carolina lawmakers are preparing to give a bunch of money to so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that mislead women by implying that they provide actual health care when their entire mission is to convince them to carry their pregnancies to term, no matter what the circumstances of the pregnancy or health risks. Now, they’re prepared to make things worse by earmarking $300,000 to a Texas-based anti-choice advocacy outfit that exists to outlaw all abortions. This is from the folks at the nonprofit watchdog Media Matters:

“Human Coalition is an anti-abortion organization that uses internet marketing strategies to deceive so-called ‘abortion-determined’ women in an attempt to steer them to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), facilities that try to convince pregnant persons to reject abortion. According to a February 2017 Live Action News profile of the group, the organization’s goal is to ‘make abortion unthinkable and unavailable’ by directing patients to a network of CPCs — some of which are operated by Human Coalition itself. In 2007, founder Brian Fisher and his friend Tim Kachuriak piloted the idea of ‘targeting the people making [pro-abortion] searches with ads for life-affirming resources,’ theorizing that they could use ‘internet search engine marketing’ to stop abortion. The organization was referred to as Online for Life until 2016 when it rebranded itself as Human Coalition. In a March 2017 speech for the hate group Family Research Council (FRC), Fisher told attendees, ‘Human Coalition is one of the larger pro-life groups in the country that no one has ever heard of.’”

This from the group’s website:

“Abortion is a stain on America. And the God who gives life will not hold us guiltless.”

Now, under the new proposed state budget, if it becomes law:

“$300,000 in nonrecurring funds for each fiscal year of the 2017-2019 fiscal biennium shall be transferred to the Human Coalition, a nonprofit organization, to develop and implement a two-year continuum of care pilot program…

Funds  allocated  to  the  Human  Coalition  shall  be  used  to develop and implement a two-year pilot program at its Raleigh clinic to provide a continuum of care and support to assist women experiencing crisis pregnancies to continue their pregnancies to full term.”

In sum, just one of scores of dreadful decisions in the new state budget. Let’s hope Governor Cooper vetoes it and calls out the many outrageous provisions (like this one) included therein.