The political season is in full flower in D.C. Lots of things are being proposed and voted on in both Houses of Congress that will not become law any time soon. There is no looming debt default or government shutdown, so everyone simply is taking a stick to everyone else. They will be doing this for a solid three weeks in July.
A huge confrontation is coming on immigration. Two months ago Speaker John Boehner seemed to be prepping his caucus to take a vote on some version of reform. The Administration seemed to be doing things to accommodate this possibility. Events: Eric Cantor’s loss, Obama’s falling approval ratings, international crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, economic stagnation, the children’s march into the arms of ICE.
Instead of pushing reform, some House Republicans are calling for a cessation of deferred prosecutions – deporting record numbers of people apparently is not enough. All of this comes on the backdrop of a wildly unpredictable election season. What happens if inaction in the House continues? Obama cannot but react, he is being invited into a confrontation.
Things got started in earnest last week when Speaker Boehner began readying a lawsuit over executive power. At week’s end, Obama bluntly told Boehner that if the Speaker did not like him using his legal authority, then the Congress could very well do something about immigration. More will come soon as the debate widens over what to do with the refugee crisis on the Southern Border.
Health Disparities and Exchanges
Have you been agonizing over how you can help your health insurance exchange get those private insurance companies to join the fight against disparities based on race, culture, and language? Your worries may be over.
This week the Public Policy and Action Fund, Make the Road New York, and the Alliance for a Just Society released a new policy brief: “Addressing Health Disparities through the Marketplace: An Action Agenda for New York State of Health.” This report details recommendations about how New York State can use its insurance exchange to take practical and aggressive steps to implement new strategies in communities disproportionately excluded from the health insurance market.
We should be charging for it, but you can obtain your own copy of this slim volume for FREE at: http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-06_Addressing-Health-Disparities-Through-the-Marketplace-Print.pdf.
Maybe there is a race to the top for a change. Last Thursday Massachusetts Governor Patrick signed a bill providing workers in his state an $11.00 minimum wage by 2017. This temporarily will be the highest amount of any state. It follows minimum wage action in Connecticut and Vermont.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe used his item veto power to strike a portion of the legislative budget intended to prevent him from expanding Medicaid without approval of the General Assembly. The Republican House responded quickly to McAuliffe’s action through a parliamentary ruling that “voided” this veto on the grounds that the entire item with an appropriation had to be stricken.
The governor had not been able to veto the entire appropriation because it was buried in a section providing for the Medicaid budget. McAuliffe vows to press on, perhaps via the creation of a semi-private organization through which Medicaid funds would be funneled to the state. Attorneys are now being hired for the coming fight over the Governor’s legal authority.
Same-Sex Marriage Benefits
Molly and Mary got married in Maine. They moved to Miami to help save the manatees, cheer for the Marlins, and sip mimosas in the moonlight. This passion for alliteration may have landed them in a mess. Maine recognizes same-sex marriage but Florida does not. If they ever need to get the same Social Security benefits available to other married couples, they cannot do so in Florida.
Even though the Supremes tossed out the Defense of Marriage Act, spousal Social Security benefits for non-hetero couples only are available where same-sex marriage is recognized by the state.
Legislation to rectify this glitch in Social Security law was introduced into both Houses of Congress last week sponsored by Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin. It is called the SAME Act – S. 2305 in the Senate and H.R. 4664 in the House. If passed, it would permit same-sex couples to enjoy spousal benefits throughout the entire country.
We will chronicle carefully the meanderings of this measure as it makes its way through the corridors of Congress.
Some Election Stuff
If you had your money riding on the T Party you may have just lost the trifecta. With the exception of Eric Cantor’s self-inflicted defeat, it looks as though the Wall Street/U.S. Chamber wing of the Republican Party has prevailed in almost all Republican primary elections so far this season.
Perhaps the most interesting contest was in Mississippi where incumbent Senator Thad Cochran beat a Tea Bagger in a run-off primary by asking Black voters to save him from a cruel fate. Cochran also defended federal funding for Mississippi projects, including, egad, education! It seems to have worked. Hefty turnout in Black areas gave Cochran enough votes to squeak by Chris McDaniel who had the backing of such luminaries as the attorney for the KKK Wizard and Senator Rand Paul.
Perhaps the Mississippi Rs will want to reconsider the voter ID law they have enacted in an effort to suppress the turnout among the very voters who rescued Cochran.
By the way, even though he had picked the loosing fruitcake, Rand Paul acted as though the winning strategy was all his idea by praising how Cochran had expanded the electorate.
Unfortunately, T Party election losses are masking their real victory – the Republican agenda and the T Party agenda have essentially merged on issues like immigration reform, women’s health, the role of government, taxation, social insurance, health care, and job creation. But voters are less likely to notice because the “establishment” Republicans look less radical than the blatantly racist, homophobic, anti-women characters that the big money gang now has squelched. This may not bode well for the Democrats in the fall – the Ds had to be hoping for another group of totally radical R nominees to give them an extra edge.
Nevertheless, Democratic candidates have begun confronting conservatives over the issue of Choice. Supporters of Kay Hagen in North Carolina and Mark Udall in Colorado have begun sharp attacks on their Republican opponents anti-abortion records.
One more just for fun. New York City Representative Charles Rangel, who has represented Harlem since 1970, managed to squeeze through the Democratic primary even though redistricting and changing demographics had made his constituency more Dominican than Black. Rangel is always fun to watch. Maybe the house in Dominica that got him in so much trouble a few years ago was not such a bad idea after all?
New Fronts Open in the Rx Wars
If you think the fight between the Sunnis and the Shiites is bewildering, take a peek at this short report on the fight over drug prices.
- In January the National Community Pharmacists Association called for Congressional hearings about skyrocketing generic drug prices.
- In May the Association of Health Insurance Providers (yep, AHIP, the anti-consumer insurance group) attacked the drug maker Gilead for charging $1,000 per pill for Sovaldi, a Hep-C therapy.
- PhRMA struck back with the charge that the insurance companies are to blame because they push too much of the cost of treatment onto the patient with high co-pays and deductibles for drugs.
- According to a report last week in The Hill, AHIP President Karen Ignagni has upped the anti-PhRMA rhetoric: “Is this ‘whatever you can get away with’ pricing here … Is that the right thing for the future?” (Ignagni should know ‘whatever you can get away with pricing’ when she sees it.)
- PhRMA is now accusing critical care hospitals of using drug discounts as a “cash cow.”
- The Safety Net Hospitals pushed back last week saying through a spokesman: “We find it highly ironic that the pharmaceutical industry is talking about cash cows….They are the ones who are profiting off of the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals.”
Pharmacists, hospitals, insurance companies all jumping on PhRMA, but, so far, not a peep out of the Congress. Should you be perplexed by the quiescence of your lawmakers you can find enlightenment as you page through last year’s AJS report on campaign donations by the drug makers:
The South Dakota Republican Party is after Obama’s head. Their State Party Convention voted 191-176 to call upon Congress to impeach the President. Their reasons are the cancelled insurance policies, the climate change executive order, and the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange. We might assume that they do not want the President’s head in order to graft it onto nearby Mount Rushmore. One can hope that the Congressional Republicans do take up this impeachment call as a sure-fire way to bolster Obama’s approval ratings.