Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Other Shoe on So-Called "Private Option" costs

We have been told that about 155,000 people have signed up for the so-called "Private Option", which is an expansion of government subsidized medical coverage via the Medicaid program.  Since poor children and very poor adults were already covered under various Medicaid programs, once you follow the money and take away all the window dressing this is essentially government health care for adults who earn over 17% of the federal poverty level but less than 138% of it (about $16,500 a year for an individual).

The "Private Option" is a Medicaid program.   It is not private at all except that it combines the worst features of crony-capitalism with the worst features of socialism all in one ultimately un-affordable package.  Much has been made of the fact that this new Medicaid program is already, three months in, experiencing 11% cost over-runs, called wrap-around costs.

Some legislators have come to so identify with the state government and so un-identify with the taxpayers that they act like if the state does not have to pay for it then it is free.  It is not free to the citizens, just the state government.  American taxpayers are on the hook for all costs of the so-called "Private Option".  Right now as both state and federal taxpayers we are on the hook for 100% of the regular costs as federal tax payers and 100% of the wrap-around costs as state taxpayers.  Forbes has estimated that these wrap around costs will obligate state taxpayers to around ten to fourteen million extra dollars in 2014, and an increasing amount thereafter.

Starting in 2017 we will be responsible for a decreasing percentage of regular costs as federal taxpayers and an increasing percentage as state tax payers until we are responsible for 90% of the regular costs as federal tax payers and 10% of the regular costs and 100% of the wrap-around costs as state tax payers.  Since our state does not have its own printing press and thus the ability to "borrow" vast quantities of funds at essentially no interest, the increasing cost coming to the state will bring immediate pressure to increase taxes.

What is amazing is that these costs have been so high even though the lawmakers responsible for the scheme tried to rig the pool of "private option" enrollees by segregating out the 10% least-healthy and sending them to the traditional Medicaid program.  The next time a private-option legislator tries to claim they did not vote to expand Medicaid you might point out to them that even if you were to accept their flat-out delusion that the "private option" is not a Medicaid program, which it is, there is still the fact that 1/10th of "private" option enrollees were always meant to be sent to traditional Medicaid roles.  So yes, its an expansion of Medicaid, both in the form of the new program and the traditional one.

What is more amazing to me is how little discussion there has been about the addition costs coming from the 10% most sickly among poor and semi-poor adults who are being added to the state's traditional Medicaid rolls due to the Medicaid expansion. If 155,000 have been signed up for the "private" option then I suppose about 15,500 have been added to traditional Medicaid rolls.

It is true that the federal government is paying all the costs this year, but us citizens are federal taxpayers too.  Because they are financing this expansion of government with debt we may not have to pay increased taxes for it right away, but either we or our children will have to pay for it eventually.  And starting in 2017 we will begin paying for a share of that group too.  After a few years, we will pay for 10% of those increased costs, and that's if the federal government keeps all of its promises about how much of this it will fund (hint, in the long run they won't and they can't).

So how much will we have to pay each year for the expansion of traditional Medicaid under the "private" option program?   I don't know, but these are the sickest slice of a sub-population which tends to be sicker than average.   How many have health issues related to meth addiction?  How many have AIDS from homosexual relations?  How many need new livers from alcoholism?   How many are simply eating and slouching their way into a million dollars worth of medical bills?

I can easily see the cost of these patients being $10,000 or even $20,000 per year.  Even if it is only the former figure, that means we taxpayers are on the hook for 15,500 X $10,000 equals 155 million dollars in additional government health care expenditures.  15.5 million of that will be as Arkansas taxpayers and the rest as federal taxpayers, if FEDGOV keeps all of its promises about this program.   I expect my numbers are very conservative.

Look, I am not saying that the meth addict, the promiscuous homosexual who picked up AIDS, or the alcoholic who needs a new liver don't deserve medical care.  I am not saying that at all.  I am saying that I don't want my children to be sent the bill for all of it, which is what is presently happening.  All of these promises are being paid for by debt.  It is not being done on a pay-go basis at all.

So everyone is looking at the immediate benefits but ignoring the long term costs, since they are not paying them.  I just think my kids should have a say in the decision on whether or not their earnings should be used to give one million dollars worth of medical treatment to prolong the life of an AIDS victim for another three years, or if instead they should someday be able to buy a house. Like it or not those are the kind of hard choices people have to make in the real world where money does not exist in infinite quantities.  Right now, because of the "private" option, your kids and mine have no say in the matter.  The money they haven't made yet, the money they will need to have the kind of decent life most of us have enjoyed, is being spent on adults whose own choices have ruined their health.   Its automatic now.

'The government' does not really have any money.  They are just giving those pieces of paper they hand out value by borrowing against the earnings of the next generation.  Your children's future earnings are the collateral for all the loans FEDGOV is getting to pay for all of this.   Voting for those who support this program is not the "nice" thing to do, it is not the "compassionate" thing to do.  It is just more immediately gratifying than doing the right thing.  It is just choosing to relieve ones self of the stress of telling people "no" now at the expense of the next generation.  Whether or not our children end up blessing us or cursing us will depend in part on our willingness to make the hard choices and pursue a just morality over a shallow, feel-good-about-ourselves-today pseudo-morality on questions just such as this one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bureaucrats Dissing the People's Branch of Government

The Legislature is supposed to be "The People's Branch" of government.   It is the one most directly accountable to the individual citizen.   If an individual citizen feels they have a bad President, there is little they can do about it.  It is much easier for them to have an impact on who their Congressman or state legislator is than who their President is.

As conceived by the Founders, it was to be the "first among equals" of the three branches of government. They were to make the laws, and the executive was only there to enforce such laws as they made.  The judiciary was there to interpret such laws.   As envisioned, the legislature was the lynchpin of the nation's government.   The other two branches existed only to work with the material given them by the legislature.

That has all changed now.  The legislature is by far the weakest branch, almost irrelevant these days (to some extent by their own choice). We all know they roll over for the courts, and that's not always a bad thing.  But they are now dominated by the Executive Branch as well.   The bureaucracy attached to the executive branch has almost replaced them as they pass vague laws which empower agencies that churn out "regulations" which give the law meaning.  That is, this is what happens when the executive doesn't simply make up the law themselves via expansive signing statements, or heavy-handed executive orders which either make up fiat law on the spot or announce that laws properly passed will not be enforced.

The continued disrespect that the legislature gets from the executive bureaucracy is a serious problem that has reached epidemic proportions, yet is seldom discussed.  Our representatives are only as good as the information they are given.  If they are kept in the dark, or even lied to, then they simply cannot make good decisions on our behalf no matter how capable they are as individuals.

The Arkansas Project touched on this issue recently when Rep. Joe Farrar tried to get information about the costs of the so-called "private option" from DHS spokesperson Amy Webb.   She kept telling him that he would get the information to him soon.  I guess she meant when he read it in the newspapers because the Demo-zette got the data he had been asking for before he got it!

She apologized for it, and Farrar accepted her apology, but I have seen situations where any "apology" would be insincere, should not be accepted, and even if it was accepted should not serve as an excuse to get out of accountability to "the People's Branch."

The ledge is constantly being given bad information, or kept from information, that they need to do their job. Let me tell you this story so that you will see how bad the problem is: I was part of an effort to get a bill passed which would allow parents of autistic children to direct home or other services, under and in accordance with an Individual Education Plan devised by state certified personnel, using the money we would already be spending on them in the public school classroom.  It was not a voucher program, and it was not applicable to the general student population, but it was close enough to all that to scare the educrats.

What they really hated about it though, was that it gave the parents more leeway on who was to educate their child and where than parents of children with autism had ever had before.  Oh, they could get tossed from the program if they were not implementing the IEP agreed to by the state personnel, but the state had to jump through hoops to toss them instead of the parents having to jump through hoops to get permission from the DOE to take each step forward.

I am here to tell you now that the bureaucracy lied repeatedly to the legislators over that piece of legislation.  They told them anything they had to in order to scare them out of voting for that bill.   They told them that we could lose our title X federal funding if it passed.  The educrat (I would mention her name if she was still working there, but I understand she has since been canned) also filibustered.  Parents who drove hours to speak got no chance to tell their side of it because this DOE person who was right next to the legislators every day of the session took up all available time.

 The House Education Committee voted it down, but the sponsor called for an interim study on the question, and it passed.  Usually, these studies are just a polite place to send bills to die, but we found a good lawyer (Greg Brown of Rogers) who found the applicable case law proving that courts had ruled in some cases that states had to go beyond even what we were asking for.

We has asked a devastating series of questions in our interim study, but the DOE simply did not respond.  Bear in mind that when they voted for the interim study, the legislators were voting to have these questions answered.   When it came time for the big meeting to discuss the findings of the study, the other side did not even show up.   The joint committee on education endorsed our findings right down the line. There was no threat to the state's federal education money poised by the bill in question, in fact the state might be more open to an expensive lawsuit by the failure to pass it.

The next session, we were back again. This time they could not claim that the bill would cost us federal education dollars, but State Budging did present a cost study where they claimed implementing the bill would cost the state $84 million.

Strangely enough, two years ago this same state agency presented a cost study which claimed that implementing the bill would cost the state zero dollars per year!  And under static budgeting assumptions, that was correct.  Since the bill would only use existing dollars in one pot and put those dollars in another pot, under static budgeting assumptions the obvious answer on how much the bill would cost was zero additional dollars.  And static budgeting was all they ever did.

When the first barrage of mis-information (that the bill would cost us federal education dollars) was defeated they had to come up with a back-up plan.  Apparently that plan was to change how they scored the bill for spending state dollars so that the same program which they said would cost zero additional dollars two years before would cost $84 million additional dollars!

How did they do that?  For the first time I or the sponsor had ever seen, they switched to dynamic scoring instead of static scoring to estimate the cost of a bill.  Under static scoring rules, the number of people in some state education program was a constant.  They would just move from the public school classroom to this program and back again.   Dynamic scoring recognized that there were children out there who were not being served in public school but who might be enticed to participate in this program.   I agree that this would be the case, but the point is they only used static scoring before.  They only dusted dynamic scoring off and used it in this one instance- where a really big cost number would scare off the legislature.

Their dynamic scoring assumptions were also insanely far off.  For the numbers to work, Arkansas would have had to have had far more autistic school age children than the national average, none of whom were presently being served.   They also double-counted the expenses for these children- they gave the local districts the money and then gave the proposed program the money too.

We called them on the numbers, and finally budget Director Weiss got involved.  He told the legislators that they had revised their estimate and that the program would cost "$5 to $10 million" to implement.  That was quite a discount from the $84 million they said it would cost the previous day, but he still had to use dynamic scoring assumptions to get the cost even that high.   And if more children are being served by the program, if there are children out there right now not in school and not being served but get served because their parents finally feel there is a state program which can help them be appropriately educated, then why shouldn't serving more children cost more money?

What should be done about behavior like this?  Simple.  Bureaucrats should lose their jobs.  They are there to execute the laws the legislature passes.  They are there to provide accurate information so that the legislature can make rational decisions about what the law should be.   If they don't do that, or worse if they provide mis-information, then they should be gone.  Period.  I think legislators should vote on who among the bureaucrats ought to be gone.  If a bureaucrat named Alice Jo Webb conceals information from state legislators who have been asking for it, if she is the worst offender, then members of the ledge should ask the Governor to remover her.  And if he doesn't, then put a line in every single appropriations bill which says "no monies from this bill may be used to pay a wage, salary, or any other employee compensation to one Alice Jo Webb presently of (their address)."

If that sounds harsh, let me tell you that if we don't the results on you and your children will be even harsher.   Good legislators cannot effectively function in an environment like the one I described above.  I realize that is not always the environment, but when it is, someone should go.  This problem of disrespect of the legislature is serious, pervasive, and its not going away unless and until they take measures to defend their turf, which is also your turf, from executive branch assault.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Arkansas' Derelict Legislature

We live in times where the legislative branch of government is held in low esteem.   The judicial branch runs over it, the executive branch runs over it.   Heck, even the bureaucrats of the executive branch run over it- what law is passed does not seem to matter so much as how the regulators regulate what has passed. In our state, they are increasingly losing power to what I call "fiefdom government." Wow-this article could be a bit of a downer if you don't see that there is a solution to the problem, so I will just put that here so you might come back to it later.

If the legislative branch has real any function left at all, it is to exercise the "power of the purse strings".  Yet amazingly, both Congress and our state legislature seem anxious to pass the buck and turn over their last remaining shreds of real power over to the executive.  That way you see, they don't have to make any tough calls.   At that point, they will exist only to preen and bloviate about how bad various things are even after they have given away all of their power to do something about any of those things.  The two-party system has undermined the intent of the Founding Fathers with respect to the function of the legislature.

The elites who run both D.C.-based political clubs called "parties" consider the legislature to be a speed bump in their accelerating efforts to send your children's money to the special interests which fund them both.  They want to legislature to be irrelevant, and so they are increasingly arranging things so that it is irrelevant.  Even the legislators themselves want to shift all the heat for tough decisions elsewhere so that the money skids to their party's special interests stays well-greased while they tell the voters that it is out of their hands.  And it is out of their hands- because they passed rules saying so.

Remember when voters objected to Congress raising the debt ceiling?  Every member of the Arkansas federal delegation voted for it, and they all took heat for it.  So what they and the rest of Congress did was to select a "super committee" made of a few members of each party from safe seats and say that this "super committee" would make the decision for all of them.  That way, if you object to raising the debt ceiling, you have no one to vote against.  It was an outrageous dereliction of their duty to exercise the power of the purse strings, but it fooled voters for a while unto believing there was "nothing they could do" to stop the debt ceiling from going up.

More recently, for the first time in the history of our Republic, Congress gave the Executive Branch unilateral power to increase the debt ceiling an unlimited amount.  In theory Congress could come back and vote against the increase after the fact, but under the new rules the President could just veto their disapproval and they would have to get enough votes to over-ride a veto to stop the increase.   For the first 236 years of our Republic a simple majority of Congress was needed to approve any increase in the debt ceiling.  Now a super-majority is required to stop an increase which the Executive can initiate on his own.

The problem of 'the irrelevant legislature', irrelevant by their own choice, is not limited to the federal government.  It is an artifact of the complete capture and corruption of the two-party system which has destroyed the finances, economy, and freedom of this nation.  A strong legislative branch, the People's Branch, would be a serious impediment to the elite's looting of America, thus those who run both parties on behalf of the elites want the legislature stripped of all real authority, and most of the puppets they arrange to send to Congress are all too-happy to comply.   Now someone else makes all the tough calls and they can just attend fund-raisers and be feted by lobbyists.

The same thing is going on in Arkansas, even though it is not as corrupt and advanced as the federal legislature is in abdicating their responsibilities.  After Gov. Mike Beebe basically bribed Senator Jane English to change her vote on the so-called "Private Option" by shifting $28 million dollars in state spending to her preferences without specific legislative approval, I started asking questions.  How could he do that?  Doesn't the whole legislature have to approve a spending change that large?  Well, I got some answers recently, and those answers reveal the same underlying problem I demonstrated existed on the federal level- the legislature chooses to basically abandon a large part of its duty to exercise the power of the purse strings over to the executive in order that the executive might have plenty of money available to give them pork.

As an aside, some might object to my referring to the $28 million dollar in spending as a "bribe" because as far was we know English is not personally benefitting from the money- government is just doing something the way she wants it done.  Some would argue that "back room deals" like this have always been cut.  That's right, they have been, but its always been wrong.  That's why previously they were done in "the back room."  Beebe and English have taken this corrupt practice and done it in open daylight right on the front porch.

Using public money to change an unrelated government program for your vote is less efficient for the tax payer than a bribe to an individual!  When lobbyists tried to bribe Rep. Womack of Arkadelphia with campaign contributions for changing his vote on the Private Option the going rate was $30,000, and no serious opposition.   One could speculate that this amount of money directly to legislator's campaign coffers was enough to do the job since eight house members who had been voting against the "Private Option" for at least a month flipped within 20 hours at the same time Womack reported the bribe attempt.

You see, when you give the bribe directly to an account with the legislator's name on it, it apparently takes about $30,000 to flip their vote.   When you only say you will spend some tax money they way they want on some project that does not benefit them directly, it takes $28 million in taxpayer spending. At least that was the price tag in this instance.   Not only is the practice morally reprehensible, its a terribly inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.   Maybe Beebe should have offered to pay English directly for her vote and saved the taxpayers $27 million.

Anyone who cares about what the standard should be to honestly negotiate bills, see this article about The Martin Standard.

But back to the issue of how Mike Beebe could have even legally done such a thing.   The devil is in the details of our state's "Revenue Stabilization Act."   The act is hailed by the mis-information media as a key to our state maintaining a balanced budget.  Nope, the folks who wrote our state Constitution 150 years ago get the credit for that.   The Revenue Stabilization Act as currently used simply serves to insure that the Executive Branch will have plenty of funds available to bribe legislators with back room (or now front porch in our crass times) deals of the sort arranged with English.

The way it is supposed to work is that essential funding is placed in "A" category spending. They appropriate maybe all but $100 million in expected revenue in this category.  Then there is supposed to be things that are in "B" category which only get funded if all of "A" category spending is funded.   There is also a "C" category which is made of things that only get funded if all of "A" is funded and all of "B" is funded, but as you will see this rarely gets used......

The legislature is in the habit of saying "yes" to almost any appropriation bill so long as it is in "B" category.  This is on the assumption that it will never be funded unless there is a surplus.  While that's true, such thinking also insures that all surpluses will be spent.  The legislature does not just appropriate the extra $100 million dollars in revenue they are expecting into "B" funds, they actually appropriate double, triple or even quadruple what the state is expected to get in revenues.   There is no restraint because they figure the money will never be spent, so why not just say "yes"?

Well, one good reason is that passing all those broadly worded bills funding every department under the sun allows the Governor to come in and unilaterally decide where all excess revenues will be spent.  That is, every penny which come in over the limit of "A" category appropriations is sent to "B" category appropriations, and since everything is absurdly over-appropriated in "B" category the Governor essentially gets to pick which of those "B" category items he wishes to fund.   They also tend to be very broadly worded.    The effect in this state is to give the Governor a second budget which is no longer subject to legislative approval.  The legislators get a certain amount of that back in pork, but that is unhealthy too, both for the taxpayers and for checks and balances between the branches.

The proper thing to do is for the legislature to really do their job and make the tough calls.  They need to fund category "A" like they are doing it now, only maybe shave the margin a little closer.  For "B" category, instead of passing appropriations that are triple the amount of the whole budget, they should fund to maybe 105% of expected revenues.  If more money than that comes in, it should sit as savings so that the voters can be in on the conversation about what ought to be done with it. They should use it to really prioritize, to make the calls about funding that they were sent there to make.  This way, "B" category can be used the way it was intended to- to fund things that the legislature, the whole legislature not just the few members in the back room with the Governor, decide should be funded if money is available.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Rest of the Health Care Safety Net Comes Down as State Bets Lives on Obamacare

This is all just so predictable.  In fact, I did predict it, but it was so obvious that it should not be any big deal that I did so.  The movers and shakers in this state are betting the lives of poor adult Arkansans that Obamacare will work and is sustainable. They are also betting that their mostly cosmetic modification of Obamacare which they mis-named "The Private Option" will work.

Legislators were pressured into voting for the bill with claims of "people are going to die" if they don't.   The truth is, people are always going to die and in the long run there is nothing the state can do about that.  If Obamacare works exactly as designed, some adults may get extra years of life at the expense of the children who will have to pay for it (since it is now being paid for with debt) spending extra years of their lives working to pay off the debt incurred to do so.   If Obamacare fails, or if it finally leads to a collapse of the dollar due to the world losing faith in our ability to keep our fiscal house in order, then many, many more people are going to die due to a lack of health care.

You see even poor people who did not have access to traditional health insurance plans, or who had conditions not covered under those plans, still had a patchwork system of health care services in place.  This was through a combination of private charity outreaches, community health clinics, and hospital provided clinics (to keep those same people out of their emergency rooms).   What is happening now is that this network of healthcare, the system the poor used prior to Obamacare coming in with all its big promises that it has no means to keep, swooped in and for a time made them appear to be superfluous.

Here is an excerpt from a recent "Mena Starr" article, but the same thing is happening all over the state, heck all over the country in places where, like Arkansas, Medicaid was expanded to comply with the demands of Obamacare....
“Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore,” Stacey Bowser RN, 9th Street Ministries Clinic Director, stated. “We’ve gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won’t be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission. ..."
To the left, this is a triumph.  To the wise, this is a tragedy.  The almighty state has stepped in and rendered the need for a private charity null and void.  You can be sure that this is not only happening in Mena, but throughout Arkansas and every other state which expanded Medicaid.  Thus, our state's network of private clinics withers and passes as all chips are placed on government's number.  And not just "government" as a whole, but the central state, as in Washington D.C.   The one which even Rahm Emanuel, the current President's former Chief of Staf,f called "dysfunctional" and is working to get his city less dependent on.

You see not only did private charities have a network of clinics for the poor, but state and local government have one as well.  Though there political pull might still save them, they too are in danger of being put out of business due to Obamacare.  After all, why provide a network of state and county health clinics when all the poor can get access to medical care via Obamacare?

Private hospitals often sponsored clinics which gave free medical care to the poor out of their own self-interest- just to keep those people out of the emergency room where by law they had to get some treatment. Those too can go away since their former clients can now sign up for Obamacare. What the hospitals once was doing for free will now be paid for by the federal government laying more debt on your children.  I say "free", but the reality was that the up-charged everyone else to pay for the clinics.  Will we get that money back now?  There is no sign of that happening. This looks like a multi-billion dollar windfall for hospitals.

The bottom line is this, the politicians in Arkansas have fixed it so that we are placing all of our chips on Obamacare.  It is not just the middle class who lost their existing health care coverage when Obamacare went through, it now turns out that poor people are losing whatever health care coverage they had too, on the hopes that Obamacare will be better.  The existing health care infrastructure for poor adults is going away due to Obamacare.  If in a few years we realize that we can't afford Obamacare, the poor will be far worse off than they are now.  "
This is my prediction for what will happen.  We will get into this thing and in a few years FEDGOV will try to shift costs to the states or something else will happen which will cause it to fail.  We will then realize that the money to pay for all of these promises does not exist.  The money to pay for it never existed, they only said it did in order to gain control over your family's health care.  We will have dismantled our existing health care structure for the poor only to see the single federal system the state's leaders pinned all of our hopes on fall apart.  

The window of opportunity to avoid disaster is rapidly closing.   If we can escape this thing in the next year it may not be too late to keep much of our existing health care infrastructure for the poor in place, and bring back on line that which we have lost.   Five years from now, I believe it will be too late.  The people will have wandered off, the equipment will have been dispensed with, the facilities put to other uses.  \


Mark is an advocate for a philosophy of government called "Localism."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Resisting Revisionism on Rove

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.” - Winston Churchill

As I moved to adulthood, I was very late to grasp what many people sense instinctively- the role of the will when it comes to accepting something as true:  People believe what they wish to believe rather than what the evidence available to them suggests.  What is more, many strongly resist any effort to get them to change these beliefs until absolutely forced to do so by urgent circumstance.  When reality hits them in the head with a 2X4, that's when they will face it.  Until that point, they will aggressively resist any attempts to revise their positions, perhaps even lashing out in anger at the person warning them that its time to duck.  

I was slow to catch onto this aspect of human nature (though I claim no exemption from it).  For a while I just thought I should get more skilled at presenting the information.  Experience has taught me that this is sometimes worse than futile.  It's counter-productive.  The more starkly and irrefutably truth is presented to a person not willing to hear it, the more angry they become.  They become madder, not wiser!   

This tendency for people to see only what they wish to see is most common on the far left, but none of us are immune.   Many of my Tea Party friends for example, seem to have revised their mental history when it comes to the last Bush administration and "The Architect" Karl Rove.   Some of them think America was only in trouble when Obama got in office and the Bush administration represents the good old days that the Tea Party came into existence to fight to restore.   If that is what you want to believe, and you will get upset if someone shatters this idea, then just stop reading right here.  Perhaps we will talk again after the swelling from the 2X4 goes down.....

Was the Tea Party a response to Obama only?  No.  It got kicked into high gear when Obama pushed for a bill which mandated gigantic "stimulus" spending, but the movement was coalescing even during the Bush White House.  It was anger and frustration with both parties, especially the big bank bailouts, which prompted the Tea Party. After all, if what formed the Tea Party was simply anger at the Democratic Party, the people who first started the Tea Party could have just joined the Republicans instead of starting something new.  

 It is true that the national protests did not get organized until February of 2009, but that was mere days after Obama took office on January 20th.    The discontent was fermenting long before that, and the trigger for the protests was not just Obama's stimulus plan, but the big bank bailouts that Bush, Obama, and McCain all supported over the objections of almost all Americans.  
Newsmax had this interview with pollster Scott Rasmussen.  Here is an excerpt from that report.... "The Bush and Obama administrations’ bank bailouts triggered the tea party’s rise, he says."
"Voters are really upset about that,” Rasmussen explained. “Establishment figures said wait a minute, the bailouts saved America. Most Americans have the opposite belief.”
Tea partyers’ anger focuses on two issues, he says. “They think federal spending, deficits and taxes are too high, and they think no one in Washington is listening to them, and that latter point is really, really important.”
The Wiki article on the "Tea Party Protests" also acknowledge that the two-party bank bailouts were the impetus for the protests.  Here is a very early UPI article from April of 2008, before the election, which says that "the Boston Tea Party is serving as a template for protests across the nation" without giving many specifics.   The suggestion to send Tea Bags to the Congress and Senate (not the White House) for example, was made on Jan. 19th 2009, the day before Obama took office.  It was between February and April 16th of 2009 that the media began covering the movement, but that was the beginning of its coverage, not its existence.   It was then that people knew there was a band-wagon to hop on, and many hopped on it.

I think what happened was that a lot of traditional Republicans who were OK with Bush saw this movement going on and decided to jump on the band wagon.   They were OK with Bush on a purely partisan basis.   They did not care to object when he did the exact same kinds of things they were mad at Obama about (big bank bailouts, federalization of education via NCLB, domestic spying, expanding government health care via Medicare Part D, pushing for amnesty for illegal aliens, excessive spending).  

When this second wave hit, it expanded the movement but in a way almost killed it. It almost blunted the real signal that much of the country is dissatisfied with the two DC-based political parties.  As the outsiders troubled the system, some of them were invited to become cozy with the insiders.    This ongoing process risks moving Tea Party members from being on the cutting edge of political change to one of the last ones to know how the country really feels.  If the Tea Party is nothing more than an amen corner to the Republican party, if it is only there to cheer one half of the DC party machine rather than hold them both accountable, then it is superfluous. 

That brings me to Bush advisor Karl Rove.   I don't hate the man.  I don't wish him any ill-will at all.  I simply disagree with him on public policy and do not wish him to be a member of the group of people who are ruling over me.   Karl Rove is anti-tea party.   He is the ram rod of one of the most prominent groups of Republican big money establishment wing of the Republican party.  He formalized that opposition with a project called "American Crossroads", but the blow back from the conservative grassroots caused that brand to become damaged.   So what he did was keep the same idea but launch a spin-off group deceptively named "The Conservative Victory Project" By that they mean "a conservative who can win".  And by that they mean, no conservative at all, as experience has shown us.  

Karl Rove is anti-Tea Party.   That much is common knowledge, again except among many Tea Party folks themselves.   They may remember an image of Rove from their GOP days that is dangerously out of touch with present reality.  While they are fondly reminiscing on a mental picture of Rove based on who they thought he was, the real one is on the phone to big donors trying to raise the money needed to destroy their movement.    

That Rove is on the forefront of the Establishment's push back against the Tea Party is obvious and clear, but again, accepting truth is more than a matter the facts, its a matter of the will.    Plenty of Tea Party people, as an act of the will, refuse to accept the abundant evidence that Rove is out to defeat the Tea Party movement.  Other Rove fans who are ostensibly in the Tea Party know what Rove is up to.  They approve because their first allegiance is to the GOP establishment and they are only associating with the Tea Party to live out the old political adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

Some may refuse to accept the facts, but for those willing to accept them there is no doubt that Rove is out to defeat the Tea Party on behalf of the GOP establishment.  What is slightly less obvious is that he left the White House under a cloud.  I recently had a professional political consultant, good at what he does, insist that Rove was in the White House until the very end of the Bush administration.  In other words, so completely did he revise events in his mind that he was sure Rove never left early at all, much less under a cloud.

The CNN coverage of Rove's resignation mentions that he was leaving while under subpoena from Congress concerning his role in the firing of U.S. Attorneys and replacing them with close political operatives like Arkansas' own Tim Griffin.  The accusation was that they intended to use the offices for political prosecutions.  

Maybe the people who don't know much about the circumstances surrounding Rove's departure only watched Fox News. The Fox news story on the same event does not even mention the U.S. Attorneys scandal, even though it was so big that it was widely considered to be a major reason that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned at about the same time as Rove.  Not that I have much faith in CNN, but I consider that to be a ridiculous omission by Fox. The Wall Street Journal report was somewhat between the two, waiting until the last paragraph to mention the scandal's role in his departure. 

A couple of my friends who are looking for excuses to not see that Rove left under a cloud repeated the White House claim that Chief of Staff John Bolton had told "senior staff" that if they did not leave by a certain date then they would be expected to stay until the end of the term.  They reason that this deadline was why Rove and Gonzales departed when they did, and so quickly.  That's rubbish.  Rove and Gonzales were both far closer to Bush than Bolton.  Bolton was not making the rules for them.  They could have left anytime they wanted to and their 30 year personal friend G.W. Bush would have allowed it.   The story about the deadline is an obvious fig leaf to cover the departure of two very senior staff right as the U.S. Attorney's scandal was getting hot. 

Another claim was that if Rove was guilty, he would stay and keep the protection of the White House attorneys.   He still had that protection, because the Bush administration continued to exert Executive Privilege in order to block Rove's testimony.  Rove was found in contempt of Congress, but that carries no jail time.  Rove would not have gotten jail time anyway, because at that level the two parties don't prosecute each other.  

Look, Bush did not prosecute the Clinton gang for any of their improprieties and the quid pro quo is that the Democrats would not prosecute the Bush side for their crimes either.  It is to the advantage of the elite of both parties, but to the great disadvantage of the American people, if they simply don't prosecute members of each other's highest ranks.  They may pontificate, but they don't prosecute.   This is why I told a friend three years ago that Attorney General Eric Holder will never be prosecuted no matter how many deaths he is responsible for by arming ultra-violent Mexican drug cartels in violation of our law.   The two clubs, at the highest levels, give each other a pass.  At most, they resign.  Rove and Gonzales resigned.

A close Karl Rove associate, Tim Griffin himself was part of the fallout.  He stepped down in June of 2007 when he realized that the Senate would never confirm him as a U.S. Attorney.  At the time his statement said it was "to pursue opportunities in the private sector."  In reality, he got paid by the Presidential Campaign of Fred Thompson, but that campaign folded by the end of January 2008.  By September of 2009 Griffin apparently had had enough of private sector opportunities and announced for Congress.   

There are a lot of claims floating around out there about Griffin's role in the politicalization of the U.S. Attorney's offices, but I want a little more evidence before I even talk about that here, if it even bears talking about.   None of it even matters for my point.  Karl Rove is an enemy of the Tea Party by his choice, and Tim Griffin is a Karl Rove protege, yet Griffin appears to have almost unanimous Tea Party support in his latest campaign. This is so even though he has two Republican primary opponents.   It makes no sense at all to anyone who is looking at it objectively- but again that might be the problem.    

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Deconstructing Nate Bell on Ballot Laws

Last month, I reported to you that Neighbors of Arkansas, a group of which I am a member, was suing the state of Arkansas for an outrageous change to the ballot access laws for independents.

The sole co-sponsor of the bill changing the law was Nate Bell of Mena, the socially conservative, fiscally enigmatic Republican who voted to fund Medicaid expansion in Arkansas under Obamacare so that he could stop it later, or some such nonsense.   Bell and I have also clashed on the use of debt to fund highway maintenance. Steve Brawner of the Arkansas News Service did a story on the suit, and here is how he describes Bell's thinking on the matter...

Bell said the change in the signature deadline was made to create “an equal footing with regard to timetable,” not to try to burden independent candidates. When independents had until May 1 to turn in their signatures, that meant party candidates weren’t really sure about the election landscape until shortly before the party primary. That affected fundraising, volunteer recruitment and other activities, he said.
Bell, who once was elected constable as an independent, argued that it’s actually easier to collect signatures in the winter because people are more likely to be home. Besides, the best way to collect signatures is by finding large groups of people, not walking door to door.
“The ones who are complaining about it being a barrier are the same candidates who frankly aren’t going to be competitive in the election,” he said.
So shifting the deadline by which independent candidates must turn in their petition signatures from the delightful Spring months of March, April and May to the cold and early-dark months of December, January, and February was not trying to make a burden for independent candidates?   Last cycle, seven independent candidates for the state legislature qualified for the ballot.  This year, only one did.  Does anyone reading this article believe that the people of Arkansas are seven times more satisfied with the two-party system than they were two years ago?  A more likely explanation is that the Dead of Winter signature collection period makes it much harder for independents to get on the ballot, and basically impossible to file at the last minute.

Bell's idea of an "equal footing with regards to time table" is that Republicans and Democrats can go decide to file at the last minute based on what they see, while independents must act weeks or really months in advance gathering the signatures they will need to file.  Remember, the real deciding vote for the so-called Private Option, if it was not Bell himself, was Rep. Kim Hammer, another bait and switch Republican who voted against the "Private Option" until the filing period to run against him was closed, then switched his vote.

And don't you just love this contention: "When independents had until May 1 to turn in their signatures, that meant party candidates weren’t really sure about the election landscape until shortly before the party primary. That affected fundraising, volunteer recruitment and other activities."

Am I the only one who sees that as basically saying he wanted the law changed because it was more convenient for the establishment party politicians?  But what does it even mean?  Does it mean that politicians did not know how to change their image based on who they were running against?

Also, it belies the statement that he wanted an "equal footing with regard to time table".  Say there are two or more republicans in a primary, and two or more Democrats, and the vote to determine who will face who is held on May 20th.   When they won't know the Democrat or Republican landscape until May 20th then even giving the independents until May 1 does not give them an "equal footing" as regards to time table.  And now that unequal footing is made even more unequal because Bell's bill has moved  the date for independents and independents alone back to early March.  His change does not put anything on an equal footing.  Rather, it exaggerates the already skewed law which says that Independents have to show their hands first.

I will let the readers who suffered through this most recent Winter judge whether Bell is talking sense when he claims that collecting signatures is easier in the Winter than the Spring.  His claim about 'the best way to gather signatures isn't door-to-door' may or may not be true in Mena, where districts are huge due to sparse populations.  Those doors are usually far apart, and any crowd is likely to have your voters in it.  But none of that applies to more populated districts where people from three or four legislative districts may use the same post office or be in any crowd you see.  You can't be sure the voter is in the right district unless you go door-to-door, and a lot of doors are close together.  Bell may just be taking what he has found to be true for him and assuming it universally applies to everybody.  It is hard to be a fair person when one can't imagine one's self in the other person's shoes.

As for his last comment, about the people complaining not being the ones who can win anyway, I was complaining so I guess it was aimed at me.   I think we should just have ballot access laws which allow citizens equal access to the ballot regardless of how they choose to run and then let the voters decide who does or does not have a chance.  I was at about 39% in 2012 as an independent and I think the disgust with the two-party system which has mismanaged the country is worse now than then.  I'd like a chance to convince 6% of the voters to change their vote, resulting in a 12% swing and a victory, regardless of who Nate Bell thinks is or is not a credible candidate.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Strong Tea in Garland County

What should a TEA Party be?  What is its function?  Some think they should not exist at all.   Some think it should be a cheerleading section for the Republican Party.   Others feel it should serve to help the right kind of candidates win Republican primaries.  And then there is the Garland County TEA Party.    What is happening there is very interesting, and in my opinion should serve as both an inspiration and a model for other groups throughout the state, and beyond.

Elements of the Garland County Tea Party helped former Hot Springs police Captain Mike McCormack get on the ballot for Garland County Sheriff- as an Independent.  Not only that, but the sole person who filed for the state legislature as an independent this year is State Senate Candidate George Pritchard, a former Garland County Justice of the Peace.   Pritchard was able to utilize the network and expertise developed from getting McCormack on the ballot to get the signatures needed to launch his own candidacy.   I spoke with Reggie Cowan, a board member of the Garland County Tea Party about their approach and how they see their own role in the public debate.

Most small towns in the state have city councilmen and mayors who file as independents.   For other offices, Arkansas has had independent candidates before, but not winning candidates.  That changed two years ago when Robert Akin was elected Drew County Judge as an Independent.  Akin tapped into a growing discontent with both parties.  Cowan says that McCormack considered all of his options, and decided that Sheriff is not a policy-driven office.   It's an office where honesty and impartiality should be paramount.  He decided he preferred to run with a non-partisan label even though he was recruited to jump into the GOP primary.

Although there is a Democrat in the race, and four are vying for the spot on the Republican side, Cowan thinks McCormack can get votes from supporters of both parties as well as those who don't identify with a party.  There have been independent candidates before, but they have rarely been good candidates.  Maybe its not the independent label that is the loser in Arkansas politics, but rather the sort of person who usually ran under that label in the past.   They were lone wolves, not backed by local grassroots groups.   Cowan sees McCormack as a good candidate.

Can McCormack win a three way race?  Akin did in Drew County. Remember, in County races they have run-off elections if no one gets over 50% of the vote.  That is going to leave people free to vote their conscience.  They won't have to vote for one major party candidate or the other out of fear of "splitting the vote."  They can vote for who they want in the first round and if they don't make it to the run off then vote for the least-worst alternative there.   That's all the more reason to have run-offs for all elections, preferably instant run-offs, but that's another story.

Most people see the TEA Party as hyper-partisan, but here is a case where they are helping someone run for what should be a non-partisan office in a non-partisan manner.  And the person they recruited is hardly the most right-wing they could find, rather, he's one of the best qualified they could find.

That brings us to the other race, State Senate.  Unlike the Sheriff's race, there is an incumbent.  Sen. Bill Sample is a Republican, but one who loves big government.  Sample checked in at #8 on the Arkansas Watch list of "Ten Worst Legislators in the State of Arkansas."   Garland County has tilted Republican, but much of that comes from the crony-capitalist wing of the GOP.  That's how Sample got in to start with.  There is no Democrat on the ballot to challenge Sample.

Cowan and other members of the Garland County Tea Party recruited former Garland County Justice of the Peace George Pritchett to run against Sample as an Independent.   Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they recruited Pritchett and he considered all his options.   He choose to run as an Independent, and they backed him regardless of his choice.    The $7,500 filing fee to run for state senate as a Republican was definitely a factor. Why rush to get all that money when it could just go to your opponent's campaign should you lose what is likely to be a slanted party primary campaign?   Add to it that Sample already has an opponent in the GOP Primary, Jerry Neal.

It was a smaller area TEA Party that courted Neal, but I like the result.   Crony-capitalist Republican Sample gets challenged in the primary and in the general election.   Men like that may raise a lot of money from special interests by voting for big government, but if activists would just follow this recipe then they would not get to keep it.  Hit them in the primary with a primary challenger, then hit them again in the general with a grass-roots backed independent.

So we see that in both cases the candidates choose to run under an independent label not out of necessity, but out choice.   I think we are going to see more of that, as a reflection of the increasing disgust many Americans feel towards both DC-based political clubs.   The TEA Parties can serve to back candidates who run for offices which are not policy-centric and thus ought to be non-partisan, like Sheriff, and they can find candidates to supplement when the two-party system breaks down and fails to provide good candidates- as is now the norm.

Those are the TEA Parties I see surviving, and thriving.   The ones on track for extinction are those who are redundant cheerleaders for one half of a two-party system which has obviously failed America.

Asa Hutchinson and a Diet of Mealy-Mouthed Mush

The state legislature has just finished a tough battle over whether or not to expand Medicaid under the so-called "Private Option".   This program combines some of the worst elements of Crony Capitalism and Obamacare all in one ultimately unaffordable package.   The legislature, after much deal-making and arm-twisting by Governor Beebe, barely scraped up the super-majority required to fund the measure.

Asa Hutchinson is considered to be the establishment favorite to win the Republican nomination for Governor.  Hutchinson was remarkably recalcitrant during the debate over the private option.  His presumed Democratic opponent, Mike Ross, seemed frustrated by Hutchinson's evasive statements on the issue.   His opponent in the Republican primary, Curtis Coleman, is staunchly opposed to the so-called "Private Option" and has tried to make hay out of Hutchinson's refusal to take a strong stand on the issue.

"There is only one Governor at a time" Hutchinson said in response to questions as to why he was not more forthright on the issue.   That sentence bothers me just as much as his failure in general to take a strong stand about Medicaid expansion.  It indicates that he is failing to take a strong stand not out of some deep respect for the legislature,  or out of concern about executive over-reach.  Rather, it hints that he is merely waiting his turn to use the same unsavory strong-arm tactics that Mike Beebe used to get his way on the issue.

The legislature has become almost irrelevant in the last 40 years as power has shifted to the courts and the Executive Branch.  I don't believe this is an accident.  Elites are opposed to rule by the people, and the Legislature is known as "The People's Branch".   At least it was intended that way.  But citizens hold it in low regard these days, because they understand that it does not represent them.   Instead, members increasingly represent the desires of party HQ in D.C., or the chief executive if he is of their party.  The Democrats in the legislature marched in lock-step with Beebe.  They did not represent their "constituents" at all.  They represented him.

The solution is to quit routing our legislative candidates through the same DC-based parties as our executive branch candidates, preferably electing them as independents, so that they can once again be a check and a balance on over-reaching executives instead of their enablers, but I digress somewhat.  This article is mostly about executive over-reach and only consequently about how we elect our legislature.

Once upon a time, laws were named for the members of the legislature who originally sponsored the bill.   The very name "Obamacare" shows how the power has shifted to the Executive.  And if Obama can get no bill through because the other party holds too many seats, he is now threatening to act without legislative approval.  He can get away with this because almost half of each house is comprised of his own party members who will not impeach or convict him no matter what.  Its like a mafia-style family.  There is no way an executive could get away with that if legislators were independents or members of different parties than the executive.   Again, the result is to make the legislature mostly irrelevant.

The genius of our Arkansas founders is that they produced a constitution which required a legislative super-majority to pass appropriations.   This made, for a while during the fiscal session, the legislature in Arkansas relevant again.  If they were really determined to take the heat, a determined group of legislators could stop government expansion.  

To counter this, Mike Beebe took extreme measures.  Not only did he threaten, he bribed.  Senator Jane English sold her vote in exchange for Beebe changing the way $24 million dollars in tax money was spent.  Several million dollars of this money came from general revenues and a "rainy day" fund.  In other words, the legislature as a whole did not approve of moving this money.

Beebe also with-held critical information from the legislature.  Although it would have saved billions in the long run to say "no" to Medicaid expansion, in the short term, looking only at state dollars and not overall-taxpayer dollars, it would cost $89 million more to say "no" to Medicaid expansion.   Beebe kept demanding that those who opposed expanding Medicaid tell him where this $89 million would come from.  What programs would they cut?  What taxes would they raise?

Two days after they voted to expand Medicaid, his administration revealed that there was a $116 million dollars in excess revenue available!   They had the money to fill the supposed funding gap all along, but he treated the legislature like mushrooms.  Beebe has always treated the legislature, and by extension the citizens they are supposed to represent, with this sort of contempt.

Here, at last, is my point. I don't object to Asa Hutchinson staying out of the fight, if he was staying our for the right reasons.  I am OK with a mild-mannered executive branch.  We need a lot more of that to return to the sort of government our founders intended.   If Asa Hutchinson wants to defer to the legislature, then that's a good thing.  If he wants to be the kind of chief executive who believes they are simply there to Execute the laws which the legislature passes rather than give the legislature bills and demand that they rubber-stamp them, then I approve.  The trouble is, I doubt that this is the real reason for his "judicious" approach to Medicaid Expansion.

Even at that, there would have been nothing wrong with him making a strong statement as to his policy preference on the issue.  What I would object to strenuously, especially since  he basically "sat out" the battle of the century, was if once he got in office he resorted to the same sort of unseemly tactics employed by Beebe to shoe-horn this bill through the The People's Branch even though the people themselves were not in favor of it.  

"There is only one Governor at a time" is no reason to stay out of the battle, especially if you are going to be the one who has to clean up the mess that your predecessor is making.  And the voters deserve to know what kind of Governor he intends to be.   Does he strongly favor X, oppose X, or will he leave X and other law-making matters mostly up to the legislature?   And let's go beyond the policy, what about the tactics Beebe used to get his favored policy passed?

Will Hutchinson resort to cutting deals with individual legislators on how public funds are spent, cutting out the rest of the legislature, in exchange for votes on unrelated matters, as Beebe did with English? In other words, will he or will he not honor "The Martin Doctrine" as it regards reaching compromise on legislative items? Will he favor a policy of keeping the legislature in the dark as to the state budget's true condition, as Beebe has done?  Will he threaten legislative members as Beebe has done?   People deserve to know not only where he stands on policy, but on procedure and ethical conduct in office.   Right now, I don't think we know any of that.

Monday, March 03, 2014

More Evidence Higher Ed is Insanely Over-Funded In Arkansas

I have maintained for years that higher education is extremely over-funded in Arkansas.   Heavy subsidies of higher education does not "create jobs" in this state, because labor is mobile.  Rather, when a state has a higher-ed system grossly disproportionate to the size of its underlying existing real economy higher ed is a subsidy from the taxpayers of that state to the economies of other states where the students must go to find work.   Or those students graduate and then take a job around here which does not require a college degree, in which case the higher ed represents of massive misallocation of resources.

Now I have a study whose results back me up, even though its is not what it is trying to do.  The article is yet another attempt to bleed the taxpayers for more higher-ed money.  It claims that if current trends in higher-ed funding continue, then within a certain number of years in one state after another the states will provide zero dollars for higher ed.  Really all they are doing is taking a trend where the most wild-eyed over-spending for higher ed is being ratcheted back a notch and extrapolating that trend to absurd degrees to get their chart.  In Arkansas, and in many other states I suspect, most if not all of the "reductions" in spending are due to falling revenues from lottery proceeds spent on education. But the chart still shows who the outlier is- Arkansas.

Take a look for yourself, it is about a third of the way down and to the right on this link.  Using their unsound extrapolation of data, 47 states will quit funding higher ed completely by the year 2140.  Three states will continue to fund it. Ten years later, one of those three, Georgia, will quit funding it. For the next 45 years, only two states will fund higher-ed until in 2194 New Mexico's subsidies to higher ed would cease.  For the next 73 years, only one state would be subsidizing higher-ed- Arkansas.

Again, the conclusions about how far the reductions would go are silly, but the chart and data are still useful for showing how ridiculously out-of whack our state is compared to the rest of the nation on higher ed.   If lavishing grotesque amounts of tax dollars on higher ed really was some kind of key to prosperity, one would think we would be the richest state in the union instead of one of the poorest.

One trouble may be that there is no major party in this state which acts as any kind of restraint for higher ed spending.    The Democrats want to spend money on it, but so do many of the Republicans who have big ideas about "work force education" (a planned economy with respect to labor inputs as opposed to a free market).   Many big republican legislators are paid by colleges, such as Gilbert Baker and now Johnny Key.   There is no party of no when it comes to higher ed spending in this state, and it shows.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beebe vs. Martin on True Political Compromise and Principled Governance

Governor Mike Beebe got Medicaid expansion passed through the Senate by acceding to the wishes of a single legislator (Sen. Jane English (R) of Little Rock) as to how tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent, and diverting several million dollars from the "Rainy Day Fund" and "General Revenues" without the specific approval of the overall legislature.

If all that is legal, it shouldn't be.  What a chicken-scat way to run a state government.  Just do whatever gets you what you want now, regardless of how much damage the precedent will do to the state in the future.

The bill has not passed the house as I write this, but Beebe minion (even though he is a Republican) House Speaker Davy Carter is forcing the House to vote on the exact same bill over and over until it passes.  Again, what a chicken-scat way to run state government.   Obviously, they are working to see who they can bribe or bully into voting for the exact same bill the member opposed four times before.

OK, Mark, you say they are doing it the wrong way.  What is the right way to do it?  If you claim they are unprincipled in the way they pass legislation, then what is the principled way?  Here I will defer to a definition provided by our Secretary of State.  Secretary of State Mark Martin understands what "compromise" on legislation means under principled governance:
True political compromise is not achieved by individual politicians abandoning or changing their principles due to positive or negative incentives external to the bill being considered. True political compromise is only achieved when the bill being considered is sufficiently changed to reflect the principles of a sufficient number of politicians the electorate chose. To insist upon re-voting on the exact same bill repeatedly is to insist that those voting compromise their principles rather than the bill itself compromise to reflect those principles.
"Principled Governance" is something this state has never had a surplus of, and it is scarcer now than ever.     The ruling class in this state has consistently gotten bills passed in unprincipled ways.  It is worse here than in many states, in my view.  Certainly the bribery with tax dollars is more open here than elsewhere.  

Corruption has consequences.  Arkansas should be one of the most prosperous states in this nation.   We have a wide array of natural sources, including oil, gas, and timber.   We have a hard working population with below-average wages and cost of living.   We are centrally located and have an excellent system of waterways.  When any entity underperforms over a long period of time, it is invariably the fault of those who are running it.   The ruling class of Arkansas has been holding the state back.   The private option fiasco has been just one example.

In an atmosphere of taxpayer-financed payoffs it costs a lot more money than it should to get anything passed.  This is because the expectation is that there will be pay-offs external to the bill being considered.  This only encourages more hold-outs to make even more demands.  This drastically drives up the cost of governing even as it reduces the efficiency of governing.  In the short term it looks like Gov. Mike Beebe "got something done".   But he did it in a manner which accelerates the structural rot in our whole system.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Accepting the Left's Premises on Medicaid Expansion (Private Option)

If you are already familiar with the background, you may want to skip down to this point "*****".

The Arkansas Legislature is in a dead-lock over whether to fund a key component of Obamacare- the expansion of Medicaid.  In Arkansas, this is being done via a Medicaid plan which routes the Medicaid money through insurance providers first rather than directly to the providers of medical services.  This scheme is deceptively called the "Private Option".  So far it seems to combine the worst of Socialism and Crony Capitalism in one un-affordable package.

All of the Democrats support funding the expansion.   Almost all Republicans were elected on a platform of opposing it, but more than half have caved and decided to vote to fund it anyway.  The federal government has arranged funding to conceal and mis-state the cost of this expansion of government in the short term.    When Gov. Mike Beebe says rejecting the "Private Option" will leave an 89 million dollar hole in the budget here is what he means:  The feds would not borrow 89 million more dollars on the taxpayer's account and give it to Beebe and the legislature to spend on expanding Medicaid, with Arkansas Blue Cross taking a cut on the way.   

Several polls have been cited showing that the public is split fairly evenly on whether to expand Medicaid, even when the poll mentions it is part of Obamacare.  Still, all of the polls on the subject are extremely slanted in favor of the expansion for this reason- none of them mention how the expansion will be paid for.  They all say something like "do you favor expanding Medicaid so that uninsured adults have access to medical coverage?"  

Well, if there is no price tag attached to it, what kind of ogre would be against that? Sure, health care for everyone!  But that is not a fair question because it asks if people want to give someone else a benefit while never mentioning who will be stuck with the bill for it.  If the question was stated giving both costs and benefits rather than just benefits it would be more like "do you favor expanding Medicaid so that uninsured adults have access to medical coverage to be paid for by sending the bill to the next generation via increased government borrowing?"   I am confident that most Arkansans do not want to steal from children to pay for government hand-outs, but the questions are never asked that way.

Fortunately a 3/4ths majority of the legislature is required to pass appropriations bills.  Two votes have been held, and the forces that want to fund it appear to be short and getting shorter of the number required.  The conservative Republicans, the ones who have been keeping their campaign promises, have mostly resisted the pressure.   

They don't have to do a thing other than what they have been doing to win.  Despite his childish threats to hold the same vote over and over until its passed, the clock is ticking against House Speaker Davy Carter.   But unfortunately, the conservatives have recently fallen into a trap.  They have accepted the false premises of their enemies.   Unless they start taking on these false premises instead of trying to accommodate them, they are going to wind up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Oh, they may get re-elected a time or two more, but only by continuing the policies which are destroying the country.  


The question they have been asked over and over again by the media is "what are you going to do for the 100,000 Arkansans who have already signed up for insurance through the Private Option?  Are you just going to take their insurance and leave them with nothing?" Another version of this is "well, you are just saying 'no' to everything, what is your alternative?  What is your plan to make certain that all adults have access to medical care?

Their (Sen. Jim Hendren and Rep. Bob Ballinger did most of the talking for a large group of conservative legislators) response to this pressure can be seen at this press conference held at noon today.   They say they don't want to take any health insurance away from those who have already signed up.  Their solution is to freeze enrollment in June, and fund it at that level until next March, when the next legislature can decide whether to re-open enrollment or defund the program.  This course of action will require a waiver from the feds, which if not granted would result in the defunding of the program after June.

In advancing this proposal, they have walked into a policy trap.  The left started by making an unreasonable demand, fund this all now, and they feel like they have to "compromise" and offer something in the middle (fund much of this now and decide later whether to fund the rest of it).  They have basically surrendered to negotiating on a Hegelian basis, which cannot produce an end result of truth.

I negotiate for a living, and they are doing this wrong.  They are doing this wrong if the goal is to defend conservative principles.  If they have a goal of rescuing a floundering gubernatorial candidate of their political party then they may be doing it right.   But that would just be more fodder for the idea that all legislators should be elected as independents rather than go through a D.C. based party.   That way they would owe only the people in their districts, not a party label. Instead of changing their views to do whatever is in the interest of the Governor when he is in their party, they can just worry about what their constituents want.

Reporters immediately asked Ballinger and Hendren about people who had not signed up by the end of June.  Why leave them without health insurance? And if they did not want anybody to lose their health insurance then why only fund it until this time next year when, presumably, if the legislature fails to re-fund it, then all those same people who will lose their health insurance this July (when current funding runs out) would lose it just the same next March?

All good questions if one accepts the premise that the government should provide health insurance to every able-bodied adult.  But that's the problem.  It is a false premise.   It's not up to them to provide an alternative way for the government to provide able bodied adults with health insurance, because it is something the government should never be doing for many reasons.   

What is the conservative alternative to "ensure" people have health care?  We have no plan to do that, nor should we have a plan to do that, because it is a plan which cannot be done without taking money and freedom from whoever we force to pay for it all (in this case, the debt for the next generation, stealing from children with no vote to defend themselves).  

What's my alternative? Freedom, that's my alternative.   I will take it further because the choice is not really between government provided health care and freedom.  The long term choice will be between the illusion of government-provided health care and freedom.   Choose the former and you will lose freedom, but in the long run you will not gain health care.   Europe and Japan are broker than we are after one generation of trying it, and that was with us shouldering most of what should have been their defense spending.   We are even not paying for the government health care we have now- Medicaid and Medicare are drowning us in debt.  

Something is going to ration scarce resources, and no man-made law can undo that iron law of economics.   With government health care, instead of your family budget deciding how much health care you will have, a government bureaucrat will decide.  When scarce resources are being allocated, there will be a rationing process.  That may be painful, but its reality.  Lying, thieving politicians sell people on the idea that they don't have to face that reality if they just give up their freedom, but its another lie.  Reality will have to be faced - either now or once our national credit card is maxed out and we are in an even worse position to deal with it.

Some people are complaining that we can't give 100,000 people health insurance and then take it away from them when the funding runs out in June.  It was written right into the law that it was not an entitlement and they could lose it, so why can't we? Plus, it never should have been given in the first place.

If every day I take a dollar from you and give it to Joe, am I doing Joe wrong by telling him that come July I am going to quit taking a dollar from you and giving it to Joe?   Of course not. Joe had no right to your dollars in the first place.  Joe gets six months worth of benefits from the deal.  If he loses them, well, he is losing something that he never should have gotten in the first place.  Not that we are denying one single person health insurance,  What we are doing is denying them access to other people's earnings to pay for health insurance.

It never should have been funded in the first place.  The answer is not to freeze it in place for a year, the answer is to undo the mistake and de-fund it.   By accepting all of the left's premises, they are going to wind up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Government does not have the means to fulfill their promises of what they will do for you if only you give them control of your health care.  And they don't care that they can't keep the promises they are making, they are just saying whatever they have to say to get control.

This thing was sold with lies ("if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period"), it was passed in Arkansas with lies ("a vote for the Private Option is a vote against Obamacare") and now it is being sustained with lies as they tell us we just can't simply end a program that did not exist six months ago even though they assured us then that it was written into the law that it was not an entitlement and could be ended at any time.

I urge conservatives in the legislature to re-consider and reject this path to defeat whereby you want to freeze enrollment but continue to fund it.  Once you surrender on the premises you surrender on the argument.   Instead, if you must offer "compromise", delay all of the funding until March of 2015.  That is, when it ends in June it ends for eight months.  We stop stealing dollars and giving them to Joe.  Then the next legislature can decide in Jan. and Feb. of 2015 if they wish to resume stealing dollars and giving them to Joe.

Obama himself has unilaterally delayed certain aspects of the law with his name on it for a year.  He delays implementation whenever he wants.   The Legislature should do the same and defer this decision until after the elections so that the people, the real rulers of this state, can break this dead lock in a way that will have some legitimacy.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mad Man Takes Legislature Hostage!

News Flash: Mad-man holds legislature hostage! The vote to fund the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare failed in the house today by five votes.   House Speaker Davy Carter says he is going to keep calling for the same vote until he gets the result that he wants! Is this the way the Republic is supposed to work? Someone call hostage rescue! Really, read this and see if you can come to another other conclusion.