United States News Digest
Senate Democrats Give Up on Berwick
March 5 (EIRNS)This week, 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter to President Obama demanding that he withdraw the nomination of Sir Donald Berwick to continue as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. According to Politico, Senate Democrats read the handwriting on the wall, and decided yesterday not to go forward with the nomination. Senate Democratic staffers told health-care lobbyists that the nomination is dead; there won't even be a confirmation hearing for Berwick.
Last year, Obama gave Berwick a recess appointment in order to avoid the spectacle of Republicans interrogating the candidate on his well-known views on rationing health care. Now, with his nomination dead, he'll be out of a job come Dec. 31, 2011.
Democrats have a similar problem with respect to funding Obamacare. Without the filibuster-proof majority they used to pass the health-care reform law, they can't pass a budget bill that fully funds the reforms, because Republicans will filibuster it. And Senate Democrats won't vote for the House-passed budget that includes nine amendments that de-fund all aspects of the reform. This appears to be a bigger obstacle to passing a spending bill to cover the rest of fiscal 2011 than spending cuts, which has dominated the debate until now.
New Jersey's Fatman Governor Demands More Blood
March 4 (EIRNS)New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie lied again, during a March 2 town meeting in Hillsborough, when he claimed that he's not interested in busting the unions the way Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do. "It has nothing to do with breaking the union," he said, reported the Newark Star-Ledger. "It has to do with shared sacrifice." Contracts are up with 14 public employee unions this year, and Christie said he looks forward to an "aggressive and adversarial" bargaining process. "I love collective bargaining. Let me at them," he said. "Get me out of the cage and let me go."
The rotund Christie also let it all hang out in response to a retired teacher, who asked him to explain why he was cutting cost-of-living adjustments for her 80-year-old sister-in-law, while pouring out money for the Atlantic City casinos. When she questioned his explanation that he was "saving" the economy of southern New Jersey, he belittled her, saying "Everybody has got the 80-year-old aunt story."
The questioner told the press: "I'm not angry. I'm frightened."
Reduced Staffing Means Increased Risk for Firefighters
March 2 (EIRNS)The dangers of short-staffing fire departments to "save money," were illustrated this week in Sacramento, Calif., when a firefighter fell from the roof of a house. Fire Capt. Gene Dibble, a 24-year veteran, had one foot on the ladder and the other on the roof, when the ladder slipped and he fell to the ground, landing on his oxygen tank and fracturing his spine. "Short staffing could have played a role, because there was no one there to foot the ladder," Sacramento battalion fire chief Jay Glass told KXTV-10 news. "It could have been prevented, because there probably would have been someone holding the ladder at the base and it wouldn't have slid out." Glass pointed out that Dibble was on the roof because a ladder truck had yet to show up.
The Sacramento Fire Department has been closing two units per day on a rotating basis as a budgetary measure, and such "brownouts" have been shown to slow response times and increase fire deaths in other cities.
The Los Angeles Fire Department has been dealing with similar woes. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Newton, in an op-ed posted yesterday, reports that the department's budget has declined by about 12% over the last few years, and its daily staffing by 13%, while calls for help increased by about 9% from 2008 to 2009. Newton notes that, on a daily basis, the department closes one of its three divisions, two of its 16 battalions, and half a dozen ambulances. "As a fire department, we're at a tipping point," battalion chief Chris Kawai told him. Fire chief Millage Peaks, who has been on the job for 17 months, talking to Newton at the funeral of a fire fighter who died on Feb. 18, said of his tenure, "It's been 17 months of sleepless nights. I worry about the public. I worry about my firefighters. They're working harder now than they've ever had to work."
In Sacramento, firefighters will soon get a bit of a reprieve, thanks to an $11 million Federal grant that will allow the city fire department and the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District to hire 50 new firefighters, but the grant does nothing to address the underlying economic disintegration.
GOPers Demand 'Flexibility' on Medicaid; Dems Hail 'Quality' over 'Quantity'
March 1 (EIRNS)Anyone looking for the realities of the economic crisis, would have been sorely disappointed at this morning's hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the subject of Medicaid and the states. The witnesses were governors Gary Herbert (R) of Utah, Haley Barbour (R) of Mississippi, and Deval Patrick (D) of Massachusetts. Herbert and Barbour were full of praise for their own efforts at reform in their respective states, but were also demanding "flexibility" from the Federal government to allow them to make changes to their programs to fit their own ideas of how Medicaid should be run.
Patrick, on the other hand, aided and abetted by Democrats on the committee, claimed that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives Massachusetts all the flexibility it needs, in large part because it was modeled on the reform implemented by Patrick's predecessor, Republican Mitt Romney, in 2006. While Patrick claimed many benefits of that reform, his most important assertion was that the reform is "realigning incentives on the basis of the quality of health care delivered rather than the quantity"one of the mantras of the Nazi-like Obamacare policy.
Aside from the states' rights argument, Herbert and Barbour also complained that Medicaid is eating large parts of their state budgets, forcing them to cut spending in other parts, primarily education. Herbert said that the expanded Medicaid provision of the ACA would cost his state $1.2-1.3 billion over the next ten years, which he said would force the state to cut from other programs or raise taxes. Similarly, Barbour said that this provision would require "a very big tax increase," to cover cost increases of $1.3-1.7 billion over the next ten years.
Neither advocated deep cuts to the program, however. Rather, they called for the flexibility to make changes, such as in eligibility, to control costs. Barbour bragged that he had reduced Medicaid cost growth from 16% a year to 4% a year, mainly by shifting pharmaceutical costs from the state program to Medicare Part D, but also by requiring beneficiaries to prove their eligibility every year. While there has been talk of some states opting out of Medicaid altogether, both Herbert and Barbour denied supporting such an option.
National Governors Association Casts Its Lot With Qaddafi
Feb. 28 (EIRNS)The National Governors Association (NGA), which concluded its Winter meeting in Washington today by applauding a predictable demonstration of Obama sophistry, has named Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin to head its panel on health and human services.
In his infamous Wisconsin "budget repair bill," which he is trying to impose over the bodies of his constituents, Walker has decreed that the state Secretary of Health and Human Services is empowered "to override state Medicaid laws as [he] sees fit and institute sweeping changes," including reducing benefits and limiting eligibility. The specifics of his bureaucratically couched proposals have led MilwaukeeCountyFirst.com to label him "the one-man death panel."
In his NGA post, Walker will be working with a new executive director, whose expertise is slashing health-are costs. The executive director Dan Crippen will, in April, replace Ray Scheppach, who has held the post for 28 years. Crippen is a former executive director of the failed Merrill Lynch, including its International Advisory Council, who showed his credentials as director of the Congressional Budget Office in President George W. Bush's first term. Before that he was a top domestic policy advisor to the Reagan Administration.