Friday, June 30, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Governing too difficult

“We just simply don’t know how to govern. It’s almost like we’re serving in the minority right now.”

– Third District Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.)

of the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Steve Womack shared his frustrations with the Washington Post this week when he pointed out that not only has the Republican Congress failed to repeal and replace Obamacare as promised during the presidential campaign, but there’s not even a federal budget in sight.

He said a budget resolution “should have been put to bed a long time ago.” Republicans right now cannot agree on anything. Constituents are giving them an earful during the congressional recess with only about 10 percent of the voters supporting the Republican health-care bill to replace Obamacare.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson warned Thursday that Arkansas could not afford to cover hundreds of thousands of Arkansans if they’re dropped from Medicaid under the Senate bill, whose futures remain uncertain as more Republicans share Hutchinson’s fear that states would take huge hits under the plan, which calls for cutting Medicaid 35 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) twice postponed votes this week on the increasingly unpopular bill, which includes deep cuts in Medicaid and could affect 300,000 newly insured in Arkansas and 81,000 in Kentucky, where a third of the population is on Medicaid (Arkansas’ 948,000 Medicaid recipients are just under a third of the state’s population). Rand Paul, Kentucky’s other Republican senator, says the bill doesn’t cut enough recipients, although under Obamacare the number of uninsured in Kentucky has tumbled to just 10 percent.

While Arkansas’ two Republican senators, John Boozman and Tom Cotton, remain silent on the bill, they must realize Medicaid serves a cross-section of Arkansans, who are not happy with losing hundreds of millions in Medicaid payments mostly funded by the federal government. Cotton served on the Republican committee of 13 men who came up with the bill, but he will not publicly defend it.

Medicaid insures one in five Americans, including 60 percent of nursing home residents and pays for half the births in the U.S. That figure is more than 67 percent in Arkansas, second only to New Mexico, where 72 percent of the births are covered by Medicaid, the highest rate in the country.

The Senate leadership didn’t realize until it was too late that cutting Medicaid and other health-care benefits would not sit well with voters, including Republicans, many of whom have relatives in nursing homes and in drug-rehabilitation programs or have pre-existing conditions that would not be covered under the Senate bill. At best, the bill would provide insurance coverage with deductibles as high as $6,000, tripling rates for older Americans who are too young to qualify for Medicare.

Cuts included in the bill would hurt poor states like Arkansas and West Virginia, where the opioid epidemic is rampant. Bipartisan opposition continues to grow: Both West Virginia senators, Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Joe Manchin, oppose McConnell’s bill. The pattern is repeated in Nevada, where Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Catherine Cortes Mastro have spoken out against the Senate bill. Also in Maine, Republican Susan Collins and Independent Angus King are solidly opposed. In Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman are also against the bill.

So there’s an argument to be made for bipartisanship, although President Trump tweeted Friday he’d be happy with repealing Obamacare even if there’s no replacement, despite his campaign promise to do both.

Bipartisanship could help ensure the viability of Medicare and Medicaid, lead to real infrastructure spending that could create millions of jobs and restore America’s prestige around the world when we need it most.