4

Early Christmas for ballot measure committees

Christmas came early for a few California ballot measure committees.

The California Health Foundation and Trust gave $2 million Tuesday to Californians United for Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability. That committee backs a measure on next November’s ballot which would require the state to use fees paid by hospitals and federal Medicaid matching funds only for the intended purpose of supporting hospital care to Medi-Cal patients and to help pay for healthcare for low-income children, unless the Legislature casts two-thirds votes to do otherwise.

Also, the California Medical Association gave $1 million Monday to the committee backing a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The Secretary of State’s office cleared that measure’s proponents to start circulating petitions earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union has already kicked in $3 million, and billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco has given $1 million.

1

Barbara Lee leads effort to widen abortion access

Rep. Barbara Lee and two other House members led 70 Democrats in introducing a bill Wednesday that would require Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded health insurance to provide coverage for abortions.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, essentially would end the Hyde Amendment policy – a legislation “rider” attached to annual spending bills since 1976 that bans use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of incest or rape.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Each and every day, the rights of women are under attack in America – today, we push back because every person has a right to healthcare,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “The EACH Woman Act is a bold and groundbreaking step forward. This legislation would ensure that every woman can access all of her healthcare options, regardless of how much money she earns or where she lives.”

“Regardless of how someone personally feels about abortion, none of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., joined Lee in introducing the bill – which probably is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House.

Lee’s office quoted a recent poll by Hart Research which found 86 percent of voters agreed that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Support for that statement was strong across all age ranges, and stood at 79 percent of Republican surveyed.

The bill is supported by 33 national and state organizations. Policies like the Hyde Amendment and state insurance bans have withheld coverage for safe, legal abortion care for too long, said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

“It’s unconscionable that we have allowed politicians to take away some women’s decisions just because of where they live or their income level,” Saporta said. “The EACH Woman Act would ensure health coverage for abortion for every woman no matter what type of insurance she has, where she lives, or how much money she has.”

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said most Americans agree a woman enrolled in Medicaid should have all of her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by insurance, including abortion.

“And among young people and people of color, that opinion is a tidal wave,” she said. “We are ready to change the game in Washington. We are organized, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and paying visits to our members of Congress. We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”

National Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion-rights organization, didn’t answer an email Wednesday seeking comment on the legislation.

UPDATE @ 10:19 A.M. THURSDAY: Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, got back to me Thursday morning.

“There is empirical evidence that well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, probably much closer to two million,” he said. “The one to two million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment include, no doubt, many constituents of Congresswoman Lee. We think that each of these human lives has great worth. Contrary to the premises of the bill, we believe that pregnancy is not a disease, and we believe that elective abortion is not health care.”

0

House Dems say Medicaid shift would hurt seniors

Medicaid is vital to seniors in nursing homes and mustn’t be converted into a block-grant system as House Republicans seek to do, 32 House Democrats from California told President Barack Obama in a letter today.

“The Medicaid program has been an effective partnership between state and federal governments for our most vulnerable by providing services at the most affordable rate,” they wrote. “Although children and parents make up about 75 percent of Medicaid enrollees, they account for less than a third of the spending. In contrast, the elderly and individuals with disabilities make up about 25 percent of enrollees but about two-thirds of spending. This translates in California, according to a recent Families USA report, to helping fund nearly 69,000 seniors in nursing homes and providing nearly 517,000 seniors and persons with disabilities with Medicaid home and community service support.”

Changing Medicaid into a block grant indexed to inflation and population growth means shifting the burdens of rising health care costs and an aging population onto the states, the lawmakers wrote. The Congressional Budget Office reported last month that federal contributions under such a system would decrease by nearly 35 percent within a decade, and the Kaiser Family Foundation says that means California would lose nearly $122 billion in federal Medicaid funds, leading to benefit cuts and more eligibility restrictions.

“If you sign such legislation into law, California could see nearly 5 million more uninsured residents by the end of the decade,” they wrote.

The letter’s signers include Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

0

War of words over new GOP budget plan

The Republican budget plan rolled out yesterday by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, D-Wisc., has brought a flood of rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, particularly where Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are concerned.

From U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:

“The status quo is unsustainable. Our over $14 trillion debt is a threat to the future of our nation. Spending has been out-of-control for far too long. Our entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – look more like an empty promise that our children and grandchildren will pay for, but will never see.

“In February, we saw the White House’s response: a budget that taxes, borrows, and spends too much – demonstrating a complete failure of leadership to confront our spending-fueled debt crisis. In contrast, Paul Ryan has put serious ideas on the table to reform Medicare and Medicaid, streamline our tax code, cut spending, and confront our debt. He rightly includes a proposal to kick Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac off the government dole, fully repeal the budget-busting $2.6 trillion health law, and extend the 2001 and 2003 tax relief permanently, while reducing our corporate tax rate.

“The White House and its Capitol Hill allies need to demonstrate real leadership and join Republicans in working to solve the tremendous fiscal challenges facing our nation. Unfortunately, what we are seeing from the other side is a defense of an unsustainable status quo and political attacks on Republican ideas. That’s not the kind of leadership the American people are asking for.

“As Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, we need to consider all ideas to fix our broken entitlements, cut spending and reform the overly-burdensome tax code. We know that the Medicaid expansion in the $2.6 trillion health law threatens to bankrupt both states and the federal government. We know that cutting over a half-trillion dollars from a nearly bankrupt Medicare system to create new entitlements and expand existing ones is the height of fiscal irresponsibility. We know that Social Security will not exist in the future if we fail to reform it now. We know our tax code is too complex, threatens our ability to compete in the world, and needs to be overhauled.”

Democrats contend future Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries are now being asked to suffer because Republicans have forced the extension of tax cuts for millionaires and because of the nation’s profligate war spending over the past decade.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Ryan’s plan “would give huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, all paid for by destroying Medicare for our seniors and denying health care to our most vulnerable children.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said Republicans have “reneged on their commitment to Medicare. They don’t believe that senior citizens and people with disabilities have a right to guaranteed health benefits. Instead, they will turn the health of seniors and people with disabilities over to private insurers. Say goodbye to secure health care when you need it most. That’s what this budget means to anyone in America who hopes to grow old.”

Stark’s office today cited an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that says a typical Medicare beneficiary would spend more for health care under Ryan’s plan because private plans would cost more than traditional Medicare and the government’s contribution would grow more slowly than health care costs.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said:

“The American people understand we can’t continue spending money we don’t have, especially when doing so is making it harder to create jobs and get our economy back on track. The Administration has put forward a budget for next year that raises taxes by $1.5 trillion and is silent on our debt crisis, a surefire recipe for destroying jobs. Our budget will help spur job creation today, stop spending money we don’t have, and lift the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children’s future. Our budget also recognizes Americans are concerned not just about how much government spends, but how government spends it, and keeps our pledge to set strict budget caps that limit federal spending on annual basis. Most importantly, this budget shows families and small businesses that we’re serious about dealing with America’s spending illness so we can put our country on a path to prosperity.

“Chairman Ryan and the members of the Budget Committee have done an excellent job putting together a budget worthy of the American people. I hope every American concerned about our country’s future will take a look at it.”

More from your local lawmakers, after the jump…
Continue Reading

1

PPIC on voter priorities, term limits, immigration

I wrote a story today about the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey ‘s results on Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan, but there was a lot more in the survey that’s worth unpacking.

About half of Californians (48 percent) say that if they were setting national priorities, the focus would be on spending to help the economy recover, while 44 percent say it would be on reducing the federal deficit. Likely voters feel differently: 36 percent would spend to help the economy and 58 percent say reducing the deficit is a higher priority.

But dissatisfaction is widespread: 62 percent of all adults and 64 percent of likely voters think Congress and the Obama administration are not doing enough to help create jobs.

Nearly all Californians say the federal deficit is a very serious (63 percent) or somewhat serious (28 percent) problem. When asked about three major areas of spending in the national budget:

    • 75 percent want to protect Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly. Across parties, demographic groups, and regions, adults want to spare the program from significant cuts.
    • 67 percent want to protect Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Partisan differences emerge on this question, with 77 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents wanting to spare the program and half of Republicans saying it is more important to reduce the deficit (51 percent) than protect Medicaid from significant cuts (41 percent).
    • 51 percent of adults say it is more important to reduce the deficit than prevent cuts in defense spending, while 40 percent say sparing the Pentagon from big cuts is a priority. Independents (57 percent) and Democrats (54 percent) prefer to reduce the deficit than protect defense spending; Republicans are more divided, with 46 percent favoring deficit reduction and 49 percent favoring prevention of defense cuts.

Even with these federal budget woes, California remains true “blue:” Almost half of Californians – 48 percent – say President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats are doing a better job on efforts to agree on a federal budget, while only a quarter say the Republicans in Congress are doing a better job.

Two months after Republicans gained control of the House and with rancorous budget negotiations still in progress, 56 percent of Californians and 52 percent of likely voters approve of the president’s job performance; 38 percent of all adults and 44 percent of likely voters disapprove.

But dissatisfaction with Congress is widespread and bipartisan. Most Californians (58 percent) and likely voters (69 percent) disapprove of its job performance; 61 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of independents disapprove. As with the state Legislature, however, Californians have more positive views of their own member of the House of Representatives. In the U.S. Senate, 45 percent of all adults and the same proportion of likely voters approve of Barbara Boxer’s performance, while Dianne Feinstein’s numbers stand at 48 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

In other findings, the economy and jobs was named as the most important issue facing the state — as it has since March 2008 — by 53 percent of all adults; far fewer mention the state budget (14 percent) or education and schools (10 percent) as their top priority, and gas prices are now mentioned by 4 percent. Most Californians – 59 percent – say the state is headed in the wrong direction, but that’s more optimistic than one year ago when 76 percent felt that way.

Solid majorities of Californians (61 percent) and likely voters (70 percent) say current legislative term limits are a good thing, although 68 percent of all adults and likely voters favor the general idea of an initiative proposing to restructure term limits that already has qualified for the ballot.

Most Californians – 65 percent – say illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should have a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, while 30 percent say they should be deported. A majority – 68 percent – also favor a law that would let illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children gain legal resident status if they join the military or attend college.

And, questioned before the U.S. and its allies launched air strikes on Libya, most Californians – 64 percent – said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to actively promote democracy around the world.

1

Tom Campbell rolls out federal budget plan

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell just held a conference call with reporters to walk us through his federal budget plan, which would produce a $562 billion deficit in FY 2011 – far less than the $1.27 trillion deficit contemplated by President Obama’s plan.

The White House’s budget would let non-defense discretionary spending grow from $581 billion this fiscal year to $670 billion in the next. Campbell wants to cap it at this year’s level, perhaps by eliminating $3 billion in annual spending on corn ethanol subsidies and by selling off Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Of $585 billion in not-yet-spent economic stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Campbell would take half and use it to cut payroll taxes for employers hiring new employees who’ve been out of work for at least two months. And rather than spending another $100 billion on the jobs bill now making its way through Congress, Campbell would redirect that money to pay down the national debt.

He’d do the same with $200 billion in money returned by banks from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP); President Obama wants to spend that money to stimulate small-bank lending.

And he’d trim $45 billion out of Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program by letting them grow only enough to cover all who are eligible and to keep up with the general inflation rate. Instead of presuming Medicaid will cover everything, he calls for using this money and the states’ contributions to buy insurance policies for the eligible at a fixed price, flexing the government’s buying-power muscle to get a better deal.

“Overall, you have to say this is how much we have to spend, and no more,” he said, adding he rejects President Obama’s proposals to impose a fee on banks bailed out by TARP and to let the Bush Administration’s tax cuts for the rich expire. “I think that would be a mistake in the current economic circumstances.”

GOP Senate primary rival Carly Fiorina has blasted Campbell for having supported tax increases at times in the past. He said today that as a gubernatorial candidate last year he proposed $3 in spending cuts for every $1 he’d have raised through a temporary gas-tax increase, and had his plan been adopted, Californians would be better off.

But the state and federal budgets are like apples and oranges, he said; the state can’t print money, yet must maintain prisons, schools, roads and other programs without fail.

Asked about Fiorina’s now-notorious “demon sheep” Web video, Campbell said his only reply is “this news conference and the substantive work I’ve done on the budget, that returns the campaign to serious discourse.” (Of course, today’s high road aside, it was only a few days ago that his campaign had some choice words for Fiorina’s ad, and that Campbell himself touted it as a fundraising aid.)

He wouldn’t announce any fundraising numbers, although he said it’s going “exceptionally well” – many who weren’t supporting him for governor are now supporting him for the Senate. He’s contemplating doing fundraising events in New York and Washington, D.C., he said, but no dates have been set yet.

UPDATE @ 4:37 P.M.: Fiorina is irked by Campbell’s comments. From campaign spokeswoman Julie Soderlund:

“It’s encouraging to see that Tom Campbell has finally realized what a huge problem his well-documented and long-standing support for higher taxes is going to be in this campaign. What is also going to be a problem is his continued attempts to misrepresent his record and deceive voters. Unfortunately, facts are stubborn things, and the facts in this case are clear: Carly does not support higher taxes on the Internet or otherwise. Tom Campbell supports taxing the Internet – and has for a long time – and he also supports higher gas taxes, sales taxes, car taxes, and the list goes on.”

Actually, Campbell didn’t say his support of last year’s unsuccessful Proposition 1A – which would’ve coupled a spending cap and a rainy-day fund with one- or two-year extensions in sales, income and car tax hikes – was “a huge problem.” He called it a show of “pragmatism” in which he believed “the overall good is worth the short-term harm,” and he said he believes most Republican voters would agree.

As for Fiorina not supporting “higher taxes on the Internet or otherwise,” I’m not sure how that jibes with the report filed yesterday by KGO television’s Mark Matthews, which said Fiorina in June 2000 acknowledged “(i)t’s not realistic of our industry to stand and say this taxation should never be applied to e-commerce,” and urged states to “(b)ring our taxation system into the modern age so that we can tax in a fair way both on line and offline transactions.”