Every now and then, you and I are allowed a glimpse of reality by the people we elect to high office.
They pull the curtain aside for a few valuable seconds — just long enough for us to be startled.
The surprise doesn’t have to be a lie — and usually isn’t. More often, what we are met with is a situation that is far more nuanced and complicated than the spoon-fed rhetoric that we get from the flat screens in our living rooms.
Take the issue of Republicans and the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. Last fall, “repeal” was the byword among GOP candidates — until it became clear that Democrats would retain control of the Senate.
Then the slogan shifted to “defund.” We will starve the beast into irrelevance, House Republicans vowed.
Last week’s unanimous vote for an outright repeal of health care legislation was understood to be a largely a symbolic gesture to tea partyers.
Afterwards, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia promised that an amendment to defund health care reform would be added to a federal spending bill up for a vote this week. The bill is intended to fund the federal government for the rest of this year.
Cantor’s hurry-up attitude isn’t universal. Even among Republicans.
Not so fast, Gov. Nathan Deal said that very same day, in a little-noticed interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting. And “not so fast” is precisely what he meant.
The immediate occasion was Georgia’s decision to join in an effort to speed up a U.S. Supreme Court review of a pair of federal court challenges to health care reform now in play.
“One of the real problems that some of us as governors foresee is that, if the mandates on states remain in place, but the funding from the federal level to carry out those mandates is withheld, that’s the worst possible condition that states could be left in,” Deal said.
The governor had pulled the curtain aside.
A spokesman emphasized that Deal is as opposed to health care reform now as he was last year, when — while still a member of Congress — he voted against it.
But if federal funding for health care reform is cut, and its requirements remain in place, then state government could be left holding a very large bag.
For instance, extending health care coverage to the adult (up to age 26) children of state workers will add nearly $18 million to the state budget in 2011 and $35 million in 2012, according to a memo from the state Office of Planning and Budget.
Other requirements applied to state workers will add $40 million to costs in 2011 and $45 million in 2012, the memo said. Requirements to help already retired state workers cross the bridge to federal Medicare could cost another $160 million over two years.
Federal health care reform legislation included billions of dollars in cash to help state governments meet those sudden, new expenses. Cut that money in Washington — without repealing the coverage requirements — and the burden falls on state governments. And then on you.
“If Washington doesn’t want to pay for the health care mandates, then remove the mandates. We need repeal, not a passing of the buck to Georgia taxpayers,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson.
And we haven’t even begun to address the new burdens on the state’s Medicaid bill.
Which is why Deal has asked the U.S. Justice Department’s help in speeding these challenges to health care reform to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final resolution.
(It should be noted that the letter signed by Deal and other Republican governors asks only for expedited treatment of the district court cases, in Florida and Virginia, in which judges overturned the health care overhaul — not the two cases in which judges upheld it.)
Even an express-lane case could take years to resolve. Barring an injunction to block enforcement, the state of Georgia would still be required to meet the costs of the health care requirements now in place, Deal maintains.
And 28 other Republican governors are presumably in the same financial boat with him.
Late one night in Washington this week, the House Rules Committee, controlled by Republicans, considered a myriad of amendments to that spending bill mentioned earlier. A floor vote is scheduled for this week.
But the panel rejected broad amendments aimed at defunding health care reform. House rules don’t permit the use of spending bills to legislate, the Republican chairman ruled — not that U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., is an admirer of health care reform. “An abomination,” she has said.
A defunding amendment could still be tacked onto the spending bill.
But it is interesting to note that, behind the curtain, there would be Republicans hoping that it did not succeed — not yet.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider