The Democratic Strategist’s first Roundtable Discussion for 2008 was on the perennial controversy over “swing” versus “base” voter strategies. Who are these voters? How valuable are they? Do swing voter appeals sacrifice principle or “base” support? These are among the questions we posed to a distinguished group of commentators, including practitioners, political scientists, activists and journalists. They included Robert Creamer, Bill Galston, Chris Bowers, Al From, Joan McCarter, and Ed Kilgore (who introduced and concluded the Roundtable). (Click here for a PDF version of the roundtable in its entirety).
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By Ed Kilgore
March 24: The Republican Case Against Medicaid Expansion Continues to Crumble
There’s another turn in a story we’ve all been following for over a decade, so I wrote it up at New York:
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law 13 years ago, and the Medicaid expansion that was central to the law still hasn’t been implemented in all 50 states. But we are seeing steady, if extremely slow, progress in the effort to give people who can’t afford private insurance but don’t qualify for traditional Medicaid access to crucial health services. The U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the ACA also made Medicaid expansion optional for states. Twenty-four states accepted the expansion when it became fully available at the beginning of 2014, and that number has steadily expanded, with the most recent burst of forward momentum coming from ballot initiatives in red states like Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. Now a 40th state is in the process of climbing on board: North Carolina. As the Associated Press reports, legislation is finally headed toward the desk of Governor Roy Cooper:
“A Medicaid expansion deal in North Carolina received final legislative approval on Thursday, capping a decade of debate over whether the closely politically divided state should accept the federal government’s coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults. …
“When Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a longtime expansion advocate, signs the bill, it should leave 10 states in the U.S. that haven’t adopted expansion. North Carolina has 2.9 million enrollees in traditional Medicaid coverage. Advocates have estimated that expansion could help 600,000 adults.”
So what changed? Basically, over time the fiscal arguments North Carolina Republicans used to oppose the expansion began sounding increasingly ridiculous, AP suggests:
“GOP legislators passed a law in 2013 specifically preventing a governor’s administration from seeking expansion without express approval by the General Assembly. But interest in expansion grew over the past year as lawmakers concluded that Congress was neither likely to repeal the law nor raise the low 10% state match that coverage requires.
“A financial sweetener contained in a COVID-19 recovery law means North Carolina also would get an estimated extra $1.75 billion in cash over two years if it expands Medicaid. Legislators hope to use much of that money on mental health services.”
In other words, the GOP Cassandras warning that the wily Democrats would cut funding for the expansion in Congress once states were hooked turned out to be absolutely wrong. Indeed, the very sweet deal offered in the original legislation got even sweeter thanks to the above-mentioned COVID legislation. States like North Carolina appeared to be leaving very good money on the table for no apparent reason other than partisanship, seasoned with some conservative hostility toward potential beneficiaries. In this case, GOP legislators finally reversed course without much excuse-making. The AP reports:
“A turning point came last May when Senate leader Phil Berger, a longtime expansion opponent, publicly explained his reversal, which was based largely on fiscal terms.
“In a news conference, Berger also described the situation faced by a single mother who didn’t make enough money to cover insurance for both her and her children, which he said meant that she would either end up in the emergency room or not get care. Expansion covers people who make too much money for conventional Medicaid but not enough to benefit from heavily subsidized private insurance.
“’We need coverage in North Carolina for the working poor,’ Berger said at the time.”
That, of course, has been true all along. Final legislative approval of the expansion was delayed for a while due to an unrelated dispute over health-facility regulations. And the expansion cannot proceed until a state budget is passed. But it’s finally looking good for Medicaid expansion in a place where Democrats and Republicans are bitterly at odds on a wide range of issues.
There remain ten states that have not yet expanded Medicaid; eight are Republican “trifecta” states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming) and two others have Republican-controlled legislatures (Kansas and Wisconsin). Perhaps the peculiar mix of stupidity and malice that keeps state lawmakers from using the money made available to them by Washington to help their own people will abate elsewhere soon.
The appeal to most middle class voters this time around arises from their common dramatic erosion of purchasing power. Worker annual pay increases are averaging 4% a year while the cost of living is increasing by over 11% a year — they are losing purchasing power at a rate of 7% a year (see http://www.shadowstats.com).
The middle class are walking up a down escalator where every time they get a pay increase they take a step up, but the escalator is moving downward by the rate of increase in the cost of living. Over 90% of the middle class are traveling downward. As they fall off the bottom, they lose financial control and self respect. Eric Hoffer has observed that people in this state will follow a leader blindly. The only requirement for such a leader is that they blame someone, they are consistent and they are macho(shades of GWB?).
We are fortunate that at this economically critical juncture, we have Barack Obama who is a dedicated creater of movements in the mold of Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King. Because of the economic stress being placed on the middle class, he will appeal to all persuasions and pull enough swing state senators to get close to that magic 60 votes needed to cut off debate. Republican swing senators will face the onslaught of Obama’s minions who will pressure them to come to Obama’s side.
We can only hope that Obama has the vision to utilize this power to pull us out of our military, health and energy crises before the middle class is decimated and our democracy is lost.