Budget cuts in Medicaid at the state and federal levels will cost hundreds of thousands of poor people their state-subsidized health insurance in the coming months, Stephanie Simon reported in the Los Angeles Times 4/24/05. The federal government will drop $1 billion of its share of Medicaid costs this year because of changes in the cost-sharing formula. President Bush proposes to reduce federal spending on Medicaid by as much as $40 billion over the next decade. In Tennessee, where Medicaid is 33% of the state budget, Gov. Phil Bredesen plans to end coverage for more than 320,000 adults, many of them elderly. In Missouri, where nearly one in five residents is enrolled in Medicaid, which is 30.7% of the state budget, Gov. Matt Blunt is poised to sign a bill to eliminate Medicaid coverage in three years.
Medicaid was enacted in 1965 as a joint federal-state program to provide basic care for poor children, pregnant women and people with disabilities. States administer the program and pay 20% to 50% of the total costs, depending on state wealth. Medicaid covers 53 million Americans. It pays for nearly 60% of all nursing home residents and 37% of all births. Medicaid also covers drugs for many patients with AIDS, many transplant recipients and many senior citizens on dialysis or undergoing chemotherapy, as well as the more mundane medical expenses of low-income working families.
The Vermont House took a step toward providing health coverage to the uninsured as the Democrat-controlled House approved a health care reform plan 4/20/05 over the opposition of Republicans. According to the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, the plan, which moves to the Senate, calls for state government to provide primary care coverage by July 2007, hospital coverage by October 2007 and universal coverage for other medical needs no later than July 2009. Costs and possible taxes to pay for the coverage would be studied this summer, but Democrats don't have enough votes to override an expected veto by Republican Gov. James Douglas, who raised fears of health rationing and oppressive payroll taxes. But local doctors and some small businesses supported the bill, David Sirota noted. "[D]octors were pleased to see the proposal picking up steam" because "they say universal access to health care would help them provide better care, and would not drive them from the state," WCAX-TV in Burlington reported. Similarly, the president of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility said, "We believe this bill will move Vermont in a direction that is good for the economy. A program of this type will make Vermont a more desirable place to do business."
CREDIT CARDS VS. SMALL BIZ. As President Bush prepared to sign the lobbyist-written bankruptcy peonage bill, the Wall Street Journal reported 4/12/05 that small businesses are also getting the shaft as the finance industry charges them higher transaction fees when consumers use credit cards. The Journal notes that merchants are incurring increasingly higher fees as card companies try to maximize profits. The National Retail Federation estimates that rates will increase anywhere from 2.7% for a basic Visa card transaction to 9% or more for a transaction made with a MasterCard corporate card. While "bigger businesses can absorb the fees more easily or pass them along unnoticed by raising prices a few pennies," small businesses can't, and are either forced to raise prices, or swallow more of the cost. David Sirota, who wrote in the January 2005 American Prospect that the interests of Big Business is often diametrically opposed to the interests of small mom-and-pop businesses, commented, "This is a perfect example: huge credit card companies and banks are using the government's lax oversight to bleed small mom and pop businesses dry. Will lawmakers sit by and merely pay lipservice to small businesses as they always do? Or will they actually act to stop this abuse?" Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a Loan Shark Prevention Act that deals with credit card companies ripping off consumers. A nice piece of companion legislation, Sirota suggested at davidsirota.com, would be a bill regulating the fees that credit card companies are allowed to charge small businesses. Meanwhile, the draconian bankruptcy bill takes effect in six months.
JEFFORDS RETIREMENT SETS UP SANDERS RUN: As US Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., announced he will not seek re-election, Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent progressive congressman, reportedly plans to run for the seat. A May 5, 2004, poll showed Sanders the most popular politician in the state. He went on to win his eighth term with 68% of the vote. See www.bernie.org.
DEMS EYE DELAY CHALLENGER: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has a target on his back and former US Rep. Nick Lampson (D) is looking at the possibility of taking him down. Lampson, a four-term congressman from Beaumont, lost his seat in 2004 after DeLay's radical redrawing of Texas congressional districts overwhelmed him with Republicans in northeastern Houston suburbs. But if Lampson moves into the western part of his old district in Galveston County, he could take on the ethically-challenged DeLay, who beat a novice, Richard Morrison, by 55% to 41% this past November. Also considering a race is Houston City Councilman Gordon Quan. Morrison said 4/25/05 he won't run again, citing family obligations.
DEAN: R'S 'EVIL,' 'BRAIN DEAD': Since taking over as chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year, Howard Dean has suggested that Republicans are "evil," that they are "corrupt" and "brain-dead," the Washington Post noted 4/25/05. He tagged Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., as a "liar" and the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that he mimicked a "drug-snorting Rush Limbaugh" at an event there. Democrats don't seem to mind the former Vermont governor's bluntness, the Post noted, quoting a Senate Democratic aide: "You don't want a wallflower for a party chairman." Dean's remarks have not attracted much attention in the national media, in part because he has focused largely on local and regional news outlets since taking the party's helm in February.
HUMAN GENES IN RICE: Scientists have begun putting genes from human beings into food crops in a dramatic extension of genetic modification, the London Independent reported 4/24/05. Japanese researchers have inserted a gene from the human liver into rice to enable it to digest pesticides and industrial chemicals. The gene makes an enzyme that is particularly good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body. But critics say the technology creates unnatural combinations of living things and no one will want to eat the partially human-derived food because it will smack of cannibalism.
POLLS NUKE GOP AMBITIONS: An ABC/Washington Post poll found public support for Bush and the Republicans sinking like a stone. On Bush's handling of Social Security, 64% disapproved; on Iraq, 56% disapproved; on the economy, 57% disapproved; on energy policy, 54% disapproved. And asked which party better represents your personal values, 47% said Dems while 38% ID'd the GOP. The poll, conducted April 21-24, found 66% opposed the GOP's plan to change Senate rules to make it easier for the GOP to confirm Bush's judicial nominees.
American voters oppose Bush's Social Security plans by a 20-point margin. Hart Research, in a April 15-19 survey, found 58% of voters oppose Bush's proposed changes. Independents oppose Bush proposals by a 63%-28% span, seniors oppose it 64%-31% and voters in "purple states" closely contested by Bush and Kerry oppose it 56%-38%.
Hispanic voters oppose Bush's plan to privatize Social Security by a margin of more than 2 to 1. A poll commissioned by Latinos for a Secure Retirement (LSR), Americans United to Protect Social Security (AUPSS) and the New Democratic Network (NDN) and conducted March 28 to April 10 found that 71% of Latinos were aware of Bush's plan, and those who were aware were opposed by a margin of 59% to 24%, with 17% undecided. Opposition to Bush's plan increases dramatically with more information, as 65% said Bush's plan was a "bad idea" after hearing arguments for and against privatization, while 26% said it was a "good idea." See americansforsocialsecurity.com.
WHITE HOUSE PUNISHES KERRY BACKERS: The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission meets three times a year to discuss technical issues such as telecom standards and spectrum regulations. But *Time* magazine reported 4/24/05 that at least four of the two dozen US delegates selected for a meeting in Guatemala were bumped by the White House because they supported John Kerry's 2004 campaign. In the past, anyone with the expertise and interest in going was given a slot, *Time* reported. But since the start of Bush's second term a political litmus test has emerged.
'ATLANTIC' MOVES INSIDE BELTWAY: When the owner of *Atlantic Monthly* announced that he would move the venerable magazine's staff from Boston to Washington, D.C., David Sirota remarked it was because we need more reporters who are insulated inside the D.C. Beltway and out of touch with the concerns of average Americans. David Bradley said he hopes to reduce costs for the 148-year-old perennially unprofitable *Atlantic* by housing its 37 staffers with nearly 300 employees in the National Journal Group, which includes the weekly *National Journal*, monthly *Government Executive* magazine and daily newsletters *Hotline* and *Congress Daily*.
OOPS: A German citizen detained by US forces for five months in an Afghan prison was released in May 2004 on orders from Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, after she learned the man had been mistakenly identified as a terror suspect, government officials admitted 4/22/04, according to the *New York Times*. Khaled el-Masri, 41, a car salesman who lives in Ulm, Germany, was taken from a bus on the Serbian-Macedonian border on Dec. 31, 2003, was assumed to be a member of al Qaeda because his name was similar to a Qaeda suspect on an international watch list. He was flown on a CIA-chartered plane to a prison under a secret program of transferring terror suspects from country to country for interrogation, officials said. At the prison in Kabul known as the "Salt Pit," Masri said, he was shackled, beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs by interrogators who pressed him to reveal ties to al Qaeda. His case reached Rice in May 2004, officials said, and twice, over several weeks, she ordered him immediately freed. He finally was released in Albania on May 29, 2004.
FINAL: NO WMDS IN IRAQ: The CIA's top weapons inspector in Iraq said 4/25/05 that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction has "gone as far as feasible" and has found nothing, the Associated Press reported. Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, in an addendum to the 1,000-page report he issued last fall (available at gpo.gov), all but closed the investigation into the purported programs of Saddam Hussein that were used to justify the 2003 invasion, as Bush administration officials repeatedly assured the US and world leaders that they knew where Iraq's WMDs were. And US inspectors found no evidence that Syria helped Iraq hide any WMDs, the *Washington Post* noted 4/26/05. A Gallup poll released 4/26/05 found 50% of Americans say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about Iraq's WMDs and 54% disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq.
GAS PRICES TURN DRIVERS INTO RIDERS: High gas prices are turning some drivers into riders, say public transit authorities in several states. An Associated Press-AOL poll conducted in mid-April showed 58% of Americans have reduced the amount of driving they do as a result of higher energy costs. Public transit officials in Cleveland, South Florida and Denver reported increases in bus and train ridership, AP reported. The Bush administration has proposed dismantling Amtrak, the national passenger railroad service.
THEOCRATS SEEK TO DEFUND COURTS: Fundamentalist Christian leaders who have been working closely with senior Republicans to place right-wing judges in the federal courts have also been exploring ways to punish sitting jurists and even entire courts viewed as hostile to their cause, the *Los Angeles Times* reported 4/22/05. "There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's more than one way to take a black robe off the bench," said Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, according to an audiotape of a March 17 session provided to the *Times* by the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, named one potential target: the California-based US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. "Very few people know this, that the Congress can simply disenfranchise a court," Dobson said. "They don't have to fire anybody or impeach them or go through that battle. All they have to do is say the 9th Circuit doesn't exist anymore, and it's gone."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also has spoken of defunding the courts. "We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse," DeLay told reporters 4/13/05.
Perkins and Dobson have been working with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations, a legislative tool that has allowed Senate Democrats to stall 10 of President Bush's 205 nominations. Frist appeared 4/24/05 via a taped statement during a satellite broadcast to churches nationwide that the Family Research Council organized to build support for the Bush nominees.
HYDE ADMITS CLINTON IMPEACHMENT 'PAYBACK': US Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told a TV reporter that Republicans may have impeached Bill Clinton to retaliate for the Watergate investigation that drove Richard Nixon from power. Asked if the Clinton proceedings were payback for Nixon's near-impeachment in 1974, Hyde told the reporter for ABC's Chicago TV station on 4/21/05, "I can't say it wasn't, but I also thought that the Republican Party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty, our responsibility." (Clinton was cleared in the Senate, in bipartisan votes.)
CHARGE FOR WEATHER EYED: Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., wants the National Weather Service to stop providing free weather reports to the public. His bill would prohibit federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported websites, the Palm Beach Post reported 4/21/05. Supporters say the agency could still warn the public of hazards such as hurricanes, but critics say the bill's wording is so vague they can't tell exactly what it would ban. "I believe I've paid for that data once. ... I don't want to have to pay for it again," said Scott Bradner, a technical consultant at Harvard University. Last year, the weather service began offering much of its raw data on the Internet in an easily digestible format, allowing entrepreneurs and hobbyists to write simple programs to retrieve the information. That threatens AccuWeather's business of providing detailed weather reports based on an array of government and private data to 15,000 customers.