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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The “Flexibility” To Abandon the Poor

Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal articulates a reasonable-sounding but completely erroneous notion of the relationship between federal and state governments in a piece today glamorizing governors for wanting to turn down or turn back federal assistance:

For decades, the implicit deal between Washington and state capitals has been that the feds would offer chunks of cash, and in return would get commensurate influence over the states’ social policies. Now that flow of federal goodies has begun what figures to be a long-term decline, as the money Washington has available to pass around to the states is squeezed. Already the funds the federal government offered states as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package have nearly run out, and the budget-cutting that has begun in Washington is curtailing the other money available to dole out.
A loss of federal largess means a loss of influence in state capitals–particularly if states succeed in winning more autonomy in running the Medicaid health program for the poor, one area where money from Washington continues to grow.

Uh, no. In areas like health care the feds aren’t just handing out cash to “influence” what state governments do. Medicaid represents a collective decision that states will deal with the health care and (to a lesser extent) income maintenance needs of low-income families (plus some other categories of the needy like seniors seeking long-term care) with financial help from the federal government, just as the feds deal with the health care and income-maintenance needs of non-impoverished, non-disabled seniors through Medicare and Social Security.
Most recent federal administrations (including the current one) have exhibited great flexibility in allowing states to choose the precise means whereby the program’s goals are met. But that’s not the flexibiity some Republican governors want: they want the flexibility to reduce eligibility and coverage–i.e., to abandon some of the program’s goals.
And that’s not some sort of noble or interesting “experiment” conducted by “laboratories of democracy.” We already know how experimenting with letting the needy take care of themselves will turn out.

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