The States: Healthcare and 2018

Los Angeles Obamacare rally. By Molly Adams via Flickr.

The States big idea: The American electorate is a fickle being, especially when it comes to healthcare…

Welcome to The States, where we attempt each week to get at the issues affecting folks in the key states of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Illinois (just cause). Yes, it’s noise but it’s also a break from all the Washington chattering and an attempt to stay focused on the politics, elections and events happening in the states that matter most. (Read more about why I’m doing this here and SUBSCRIBE to get this newsletter in your inbox.)

After everyone takes their jaws off the ground in Washington when they get done trying to figure out why Donald Trump Jr. would not only collude with our arch-enemy in Moscow to try to win now-President Trump’s campaign — but provided the world the evidence and throw Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort under the bus — they’ll try to figure out what to do with the American healthcare system. And the political promises therein.

Supposedly — it feels, especially at this moment, like the new normal of chaos has camped out on our television sets like a drunk uncle on the living room couch — the U.S. Senate will try to do just that on healthcare in the coming days. While U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell has canceled the first two weeks of Congress’s August recess to try to get his healthcare bill passed, it would be a bit of a wonder that anything could happen in the current environment as the presidency continues to be embroiled in scandal. Then again, it’s clear that voters — especially Republican ones, who don’t much care about the ongoing Russia scandal — expect Obamacare to be repealed, while moderates fear those who have benefited from, especially, an increase in Medicaid expansion, will be left without any coverage at all.

Lesley Clark from McClatchy gives us the on-the-ground stakes for Republicans from Canton, N.C., the district of one of the most conservative members of Congress, Mark Meadows.

Now, as Senate Republicans return to Washington this week still shy of the votes to make it happen, those people who say they’ve come through for the party are watching with mounting disbelief.
“They told us, ‘We have to get the House, we have to get the Senate before we can get things done,’” said Danny Gray, 51, a Canton contractor and high school football coach who criticized his party even as he stood dripping wet after a plunge in a dunking booth at a town fair. “We got them the House, we got them the Senate and even the White House and they still can’t get it done? They don’t take responsibility for anything.”
The targets of his disdain include House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose chamber managed to pass a bill after an initial fumble, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who scrapped the Senate bill before the Fourth of July congressional recess and has since suggested Republicans may need to work with Democrats on a fix if their own efforts fall short.

There are a few things to unpack here.

First, even if Congress does nothing on healthcare, Democrats hoping to overtake Republicans in 2018 may still have trouble given Trump’s popularity within the GOP. Clark’s story notes that even though Republican voters are frustrated with Congress over healthcare, they still like their own congressman, in this case Meadows. Secondly, his district provides an interesting litmus test in that he is being challenged by a Democrat promising a single-payer healthcare system — far to the left of where most would think a candidate could succeed in rural North Carolina. The early candidate focus on healthcare also speaks to the fact that we’ll likely have our FOURTH midterm election where the single biggest issue is both healthcare in general and Obamacare or its replacement specifically.

Our all-politics-is-national means that Trump’s popularity around 2018 may dictate what happens in Congress. The party of the president generally loses seats in the midterm elections, except for 1932 and 2002.
Democrats suffered a greater loss of power during Obama’s tenure than under any other two-term president since World War II. There are a million things that can happen between now and next November (and 1.5 million will), but it speaks to both the opportunity and challenge for Democrats and whether we’ll still have a Republican Congress.

It points to how difficult things will be for Democrats with Trump — despite everything — seemingly resilient. Just listen to Elizabeth Lewis from the McClatchy story:

Elizabeth Lewis, 28, who is studying early childhood education, says she feels similarly torn. She voted Republican despite worries that the party wants to uproot Obamacare. Trump, she said, is a different political figure who she believes will create jobs.
“It did worry me at first,” says Lewis, who currently receives Social Security disability insurance. “But I’m putting my faith in Mr. Trump.”

Specifically, here’s the somewhat in the weeds pitch to moderate Senate Republicans, per WaPo.

McConnell is prepared to preserve two of the Affordable Care Act’s existing taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 annually and couples earning more than $250,000 for several years, according to multiple Republican lawmakers and aides briefed on the plan. One is a 3.8 percent tax on investment income, and another is a 0.9 percent tax on wages and self-employment income.
By keeping these two taxes in place for anywhere between five and seven years, according to several Republicans, the federal government could steer more money to a stabilization fund that could to help offset consumers’ health-care costs while the new GOP plan goes into effect.
But the ideological disagreement over how to revise the ACA continued among Republicans.

It speaks to Democrats’ need for an increasingly state-level strategy: redistricting. President Obama re-entered the political fray to fundraise on the subject as we await a decision this fall on gerrymandering by the U.S. Supreme Court that would significantly affect many swing states we focus on here, especially Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, WaPo reported..

And in The States Sunday papers … a new and recurring feature

The front page of the Grand Rapids Free Press on Sunday.

In Michigan, the Grand Rapids Press, “Where Do We Draw the Line.” (not available online), which showed readers how a 50–50 split in votes by Republicans and Democrats resulted in nine Republican seats and five Demoratic. The Detroit Free-Press showed how problem cops who elude justice and hop from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in an investigation called “Disorderly Conduct.” An accompanying editorial blasts state and local officials for inaction.

In Minnesota, the Duluth News-Tribune covered Unaffordable Housing, a rental housing crisis. “With yearlong waiting lists for subsidized housing and a significant shortage of options for the working class, Duluth’s affordable-housing crunch is hitting residents of all backgrounds,” the paper reported The Star-Tribune details a case of a Nazi SS guard who has so far escaped punishment and, in his 90s, continues to live freely in Germany. The FBI is helping German authorities with the case and helped track down a woman who was at the camp and is now living in Minnesota. This is fascinating: “For decades, perpetrators like the guard Meisel pointed out — unnamed because he doesn’t know he is being investigated — evaded charges because German authorities only tracked those they could link to killings. That changed with a new legal precedent set with the 2011 conviction of a guard from a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, who became the first to be charged there as an accessory to some 28,000 killings.”

In Ohio, an Alaska dateline leads the Cincinnatti Enquirer, which tracked down a family being eyed (but not yet charged) for killing eight people. The Springfield News-Sun has a story on the opioid epidemic (not available online) that shows how businesses are having trouble hiring people who can pass a drug test. In better news, the Air Force is looking to ramp up production, affecting a key area base and employer, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says.

In Wisconsin: the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports on the affects of the Senate healthcare bill. The kicker quote:

“The question is how valuable is health insurance,” said Robert Town, an economics professor at the University of Texas-Austin. “What is it worth? What is it worth to society to subsidize health insurance for middle- to low-income folks in this country?”

The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) has some good news on the front page: an unemployment rate near 3 percent, almost a record.

In North Carolina: The Charlotte Observer leads with a story from McClatchy’s Anita Kumar about Trump personally pocketing membership fees from his golf clubs. The Raleigh News & Observer features a story about farms relying on guest worker programs. It may not be popular politically but, as one farmer put it, “The U.S. complains with our mouths full. They want to eat it, but they don’t want to pick it.”

In Virginia, U.S. Rep. Scott Taylor “pulls no punches,” the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk reports, as he runs around the capitol looking to gain influence. Graham Moomaw of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on how a shadowy advocacy group sought to sway the governor’s primary but doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

In Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about how CNN’s relevancy comes with a price. Its high-profile tangling with Trump has been a boon: “CNN’s ratings reached record total viewership in the second quarter, and the network has seen some of its highest numbers ever in the coveted adults 25 to 54 demographic.” The Augusta Chronicle says local leaders are asking for more more money for infrastructure improvements.

Here in Illinois we are still trying to decide what its budget agreement means, no more so than the politicians running for governor, the Chicago Tribune featured in a front page story. The Peoria Journal Star features a Washington Post story about President Trump’s being at odds with foreign leaders.

Illinois technically resolved its budget crisis that we covered last week, but the political fireworks are just beginning. As Greg Hinz in Crain’s covers, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner fired his chief of staff in a show that he’s doubling down on his budget veto in his race for re-election:

Out is Rich Goldberg, who as the governor’s office put it in a press release is “transitioning back to foreign policy, national security and consulting,” and apparently will play no formal role in Rauner’s government or re-election campaign. In is Kristina Rasmussen, president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian group that repeatedly rapped Rauner for even hinting that he might agree to a tax-hike deal with Democrats if he could get structural, anti-union reforms.
The shift does not augur well for making nice with Democrats to help avoid a downgrade of state debt to junk levels, as one agency suggested may be on the way. And it likely means big trouble over a new school financing plan that Rauner has threatened to veto because it allegedly provides too much help to Chicago Public Schools — even though a Rauner veto could mean that schools won’t be able to open anywhere in the state next month or in September.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ended up with some victories, per the Tribune.

Emanuel got pension reforms passed, the potential for more money from a 911 phone fee increase and lawmakers’ approval of an education spending plan that would drive more money toward Chicago Public Schools. Earlier, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a plan to crack down on people convicted of repeat gun crimes that the mayor had pushed for.

In other odds and ends….

The Sun-Times may avoid annihilation with a bid to buy the struggling paper coming from a former alderman.

And North Carolina is bracing for budget shortfalls in future years. My question: if the economy is getting better — see Wisconsin’s 3 percent unemployment — why does it seem so many state budgets are in bad shape?

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I’m Jeremy Borden, an independent journalist and writer based in Chicago. The States is a byproduct of my split personality and life up North and down South and the understanding that the swing states will tell us where we’re headed. Each week, I keep track (or try — tips help, please!) of what’s happening in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia (which will be a swing state soon enough). I’m adding my home state of Illinois, the home of the Midwest’s urban epicenter, Chicago, which sits in the middle of America’s urban-rural divide.

Let me know how I’m doing and tips/ideas I can steal at borden.jeremy@gmail.com and follow Untold Story for continuing coverage.