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Thom_Tillis_official_portraitWhen I last posted about the Senate debate between Speaker Thom Tillis and Sen. Kay Hagan I had listened to the exchange on radio but I had not yet watched the video. Watching television coverage of the debate one could hardly miss that Tillis was, once again, wearing a blue lapel pin from the science and advocacy organization Autism Speaks.

The pin highlights an important question that the media and voters should be asking Tillis: Where does he stand on minimum coverage requirements for insurance?

The primary argument Tillis pushes against the Affordable Care Act and Sen. Hagan is that the health law set a new floor for health insurance benefits. That’s why some plans were initially cancelled. It’s why some plans cost more than before the enactment of reform. But for the Autism community setting minimum standards for insurance was one of the most important parts of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, Autism Speaks and the Autism Society are still doing critical work to ensure that insurance companies are adhering to these new mandates.

Moreover, Tillis personally advocated for a bill expanding on the minimum requirements set by the ACA by mandating insurance coverage for the diagnoses and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Assuming that Tillis was sincere in his support of new insurance requirements it’s difficult to see how he could object to the health reform law establishing similar mandates. And if he supports minimum requirements in general but opposes specific coverage mandates in the ACA then he should specify which services he would make optional for insurance companies. Would he say that insurers can go back to not covering pregnancy? What about prescription drugs?

The answers to these questions cut to the core of the Speaker’s opposition to health reform and voters need to know where he stands.

Commentary
Tillis Hagan

Photo: WRAL.com

There’s been a great deal of discussion in the media and elsewhere in recent days about the issue of sexism in politics and, in particular, whether it was just a friendly and appropriate sign of progress or a sexist and disrespectful bit of backsliding for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis to repeatedly refer to his opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, as “Kay” during their first debate.

One staffer at the John Locke Foundation attacked reporter Laura Leslie of WRAL last week and accused her of “helping to keep the false narrative alive.” The staffer then went on to say the following:

“What Leslie fails to mention in her story is that Hagan and Tillis were colleagues in the N.C. General Assembly for several years, which makes the first-name basis very understandable, and not a show of disrespect.”

A fact check, however, raises some doubts about the Locke staffer’s claims — at least the part about Hagan and Tillis being old buddies. Speaker Tillis began his service in the House of Representaives in 2007. This means he and Hagan were only in Raleigh at the same time for one term — during which he was  a backbencher in the House GOP minority from Mecklenburg County and she was a powerful Senate Appropriations chair from Guilford County who was running for the U.S. Senate (she was. of course, elected in 2008).

The bottom line: While it’s certainly possible that the two had friendly interactions during that brief window, it would have been quite unusual given normal General Assembly dynamics. Moreover, it’s simply untrue that they were “colleagues in the the N.C. General Assembly for several years.”

Commentary

As expected health care played a major role in the first debate between Sen. Hagan and Speaker Tillis.

Tillis took two major lines of attack against Sen. Hagan on health care: he chastised Hagan for saying that people could keep the insurance plan they like, and he criticized the policy of setting minimum standards for insurance plans. He also mentioned at the end of the debate that people will pay 11 percent more for insurance next year but that was a strange sidebar claim with no evidence to support it. Insurance policies are not yet posted and have not even completed regulatory review.

On the first point Tillis chose his words carefully. Koch brother groups in North Carolina keep claiming that thousands of people in the state lost their insurance. The Tillis camp apparently realizes that this is a ridiculous assertion. So Tillis said that thousands of people received cancellation notices from their insurance company. This thrust was parried by Hagan when she pointed out that the plans were continued when she and other members of Congress pressured the Obama Administration to keep the policies in place. She also noted that insurers continued selling non-compliant insurance plans to consumers after the Affordable Care Act was signed without adequately explaining that the policies would have to change after 2014.

On the second point Tillis argued that people should be able to purchase any insurance plan they want without regulations on what is covered. The Affordable Care Act imposes some standards on insurance policies. Hagan didn’t spent much time responding to this charge, although she could have noted that his push for mandating that insurance cover Autism treatments directly contradicts his criticism of health reform. The problem with deregulating insurance is twofold. Read More

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Former House Speaker-turned lobbyist Harold Brubaker

Former House Speaker and current top-ranked lobbyist Harold Brubaker – Photo: NC General Assembly

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research is a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state. Moreover, its commitment to sober and thorough research in which the focus is on getting things right more than getting them fast is a welcome departure from the norm in today’s hyper-fast-paced policy environment.

That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual “rankings” of lobbyists and lawmakers.

Every year (or at least it seems like every year anyway — I’m actually not sure how often these darned things come out ), the Center releases the results of surveys it conducts of the denizens of the state Legislative Building on the “effectiveness” of lawmakers and lobbyists. The results are then converted into a “rankings” system and released with much fanfare. Think of it as a kind of once-per-year AP Top 25 football team poll for politicos. Today, the Center released its lobbyist list.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word “effectiveness,” which as a practical matter, has come to mean “power and influence.” Surprise! This year, the “most effective” lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker. Similarly, last spring’s rankings touted Phil Berger and Thom Tillis as the “most effective” legislators. What a shocker that was! (I mean, who’s kidding who? Saying Harold Brubaker is “more effective” than some underpaid nonprofit advocate for sick kids or the environment is like seriously reporting that Florida State has a “more effective” football team than N.C. Central.)

Maybe it’s the notion Read More

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Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400You know…the day that North Carolinians can finally say adieu to the 170 members of the 2013-14 General Assembly? As has almost always been the case with the current crop of state lawmakers, the signals are mixed and confusing.

News reports this morning indicate that even as legislative leaders  look for ways to append a badly needed fix onto the terribly flawed budget that was just passed a few days ago, they’re once again playing political games with each other and the citizenry.  If this is how things end — with a critical provision to help schools made contingent upon a new corporate giveaway scheme — it will be a fitting conclusion to a remarkably ineffective and discombobulated session.

As Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono notes this morning:

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the N.C. legislature comes to the end of its long short session in a squabble over how and when to end it. It hasn’t mattered much that the Republicans are in charge of everything – the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. GOP infighting and House vs. Senate power plays – along with a little muscle-flexing or attempts at it by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff – have been constant backdrops during the session that began May 14.

In the plaintive words of Rodney King, paraphrased: Can’t they all just get along? Or at least agree to close down the shop and get out of town? And save us taxpayers the $50,000 a day it typically costs for them to be in session?

Of course, there’s a very good chance this will not be THE day. Having apparently failed to fashion a coal ash clean up plan in the more than six months that have passed since the Dan River disaster, the General Assembly may return yet again after the fall election for a rare “lame duck” session. If that happens, at least a couple of things appear to be certain:

1) It won’t be the first time the adjective “lame” will be used in the same sentence with the 2013-14 legislature and  2) Coal ash will be far from the only mess that will be left behind for future General Assemblies to clean up.

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