Friday, April 29, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Campaign in full swing

Ads attacking Rep. Mike Ross for being a spendthrift hit the radio market this week in that huge new district that sweeps up from the Mississippi River to near the Missouri border. It’s the first salvo in the 2012 congressional elections, which the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee hopes will whisk the last Democratic congressman in Arkansas out of office.

Soon we will see radio, TV and newspaper commercials here and in much of the rest of the state with the opposite theme, praising the state’s new Republican congressmen for voting to smash federal spending and end budget deficits. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending a little to target the First and Second District representatives, Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin, for voting to end Medicare in 2021 and replace it with a mandate that the elderly and disabled buy private health-insurance policies. But the Democrats, like in 2010, will not spend much in Arkansas because they don’t have as much money to spend and the state is not considered a good prospect for Democratic gains because President Obama is unusually unpopular in the state.

The hypocrisy in all the advertising is not hard to miss. Take the ads against Ross, who has made himself famous for opposing congressional spending projects, such as the Medicare prescription-drug program in 2003. He voted against the Democratic health-insurance reform in 2009 because he said it would not save enough money. But Ross made himself vulnerable to the Republican attack by voting against all five budget blueprints, from the liberal to the extreme Republican plan of Paul Ryan, in a single day. Ross didn’t find any of them acceptable.

But the Republican ads make it sound like Ross just did not want to reduce federal spending on anything and that he was the biggest spender of all. People in the Fourth District have many good reasons to be disappointed with Mike Ross, but his support of government spending is not one of them. The ads aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind about Ross.

Ross’ vote against all five budget blueprints saved the Republican campaign committee from having to condemn him for voting against the Republican plan, which would involve defending the plan. Of course, they can’t. The Republican plan, which the ads do not even mention, would decimate south Arkansas, which has an extraordinarily high number of elderly and disabled who depend on Medicare and one of the highest percentages in the country of people who receive medical assistance through Medicaid—either nursing home care, SCHIP for poor children or other small health assistance programs.

The Republican plan adopted by the House would essentially turn Medicaid over to state governments, which would have to decide how to ration the diminishing federal help—empty many nursing home beds, cut off sick children or stop the catastrophic assistance for extremely sick and disabled infants. The Republican plan would slash taxes for a few hundred of the richest people in Arkansas and offset it by making the elderly and poor pay more for health care.

Ross would sure enough have cut his own throat by voting for such a plan in his poor district.

Griffin and Crawford will have their work cut out defending their own votes with the Republican leadership, but the GOP is more adept at this than Democrats. Griffin said he was merely “saving” Medicare by turning it into a private-voucher system. The plan gives Griffin, Crawford and other Republicans some cover by protecting current Medicare beneficiaries from having to absorb a huge part of future medical bills themselves or see their care rationed by insurance companies protecting their profits, so perhaps those people will not get too mad. You see, the GOP system wouldn’t go into effect until 2021 and people who would be going into the system after that aren’t much worried now about things so far into the future.

There is another proven strategy, which works for all clever politicians: Say one thing, do the opposite and take credit for both.

It was on display last week at Conway and Little Rock. Griffin went to Conway to help kick off the construction of a new city airport to replace the dangerous one downtown. Griffin has been blasting government spending—a highly popular move as long as you keep it vague—and in particular the stimulus spending that was supposed to soften the economic downturn by hiring people for local projects and putting spending money in their pockets.

The $25 million Conway airport project depends upon 90 percent federal aid. Griffin’s predecessor, Vic Snyder, helped get money for the project. Yes, Griffin praised the project for having a big economic impact on central Arkansas. No one snickered and no one pointed out the hypocrisy. Sen. John Boozman, who signed a Republican pledge last year not to seek any federal money for Arkansas projects and told people to go see his opponent, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, to get her help, was honest enough not to show up and take credit, though he did issue a statement from Washington saying the project was important and a boon to economic development.

Griffin, Crawford and the rest voted to cut $450 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which tracks weather patterns throughout the country and the hemisphere. It would cut $126 million from the National Weather Service, which has been providing all that data and radar to the TV and radio stations on thunderstorms and tornadoes coursing through Arkansas communities this turbulent spring.

Yes, it’s the Weather Service that’s endangering the country’s economic security, not the mammoth increases in war, defense and domestic security spending, health care or sharply reduced government revenues. Our congressman is on its trail.