| Obamacare is dead, Long live Robertscare|
Posted 6/28/2015 by Christopher
Obamacare is Dead. Long live Robertscare.
With Thursday's US Supreme Court decision in King v Burwell, Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority cemented the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. Oh there will still be plenty of legal challenges to it, and there will be an attempt to replace it should a Republican occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2017; but for all intents and purposes, the individual and employer mandates, and now the subsidized federal health insurance exchange are now in concrete.
Frankly it should be called Robertscare as the Chief Justice has done more to enshrine the law than anyone else. In fact, the Supreme Court Justices may be the only ones who actually read the law. After all, we know from former Speaker Pelosi that congress had to “pass the bill to find out what's in it.”
Given that members of congress didn't actually write the bill, it is impossible to know what congresses actually intended. We only have the words that were put on paper. In the case of King v Burwell, the words at issue are “established by the state” exchanges are eligible for the federal subsidy. That means health insurance purchased on healthcare.gov, the federal exchange would not be eligible for a subsidy, only those policies sold by a state run exchange would receive the subsidy. Those words seem pretty clear to me. A state exchange is an exchange established by a state. The federal healthcare exchange was established by the federal government. Yet the Roberts Court decided, no, state and federal meant the same thing. At least in this case.
In legislative parlance, there are no two more powerful words than “shall” and “may”. One is directive and one is permissible. Polar opposites. But perhaps the Court would find them to be synonyms now.
It's hard for me to imagine the court construing, or confusing state and federal governments in any other instance. But who knows. Roberts wrote in his opinion that the law had, “more than a few examples of inartful drafting.” I dunno, when there is poor drafting in your Iowa legislature they offer amendments or bills to fix it – because the words in the bill are the law, not the intentions of the drafters. Whoever those drafters may be…
Sorry, but a side bar here. I am harping on who drafted this bill because it clearly was not actual elected officials, but consultants, and staffers and people like Jonathan Gruber who proclaimed that passage of Obamacare relied upon the “stupidity” of the American people. Members of congress, even the President, thought they knew what was in the law, but as we know from experience they did not. No keeping your existing plans. No keeping your doctor. So what the crafters intentions were, and what words were put in the bill may have no resemblance to one another.
But Justice Roberts and the Court have devined the intention. “It is implausible that Congress meant the act to operate in this manner,” they wrote. Well, uh, they meant for you to be able to keep your health insurance and doctor if you like them…. But that's not what they wrote.
Justice Scalia hit the nail on the head when he wrote in his dissent “words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is established by a State.”
I know my liberal friends are pleased by the ruling, but they ought to be concerned – we all ought to be concerned – by a Court that interprets what Congress intended rather than what it wrote into law. I know there are many who believe the Constitution is a living breathing documents and changes over time. But we aren't talking about that. This is a law written just a few years ago. Congress could write and make changes to it on a daily basis. If you accept that the Court can interpret the intention of congress, regardless of what they wrote, than don't be too shocked or appalled when the Court interprets something in a way that does not benefit your viewpoint. The ends do not justify the means.
This is what troubles me the most - we depend on a politically impartial court in our system of governance. It should not matter if one person, or six million people lost their federal subsidy. If that is not what the law says, that is not what the law says. It is up to congress to then fix the law. In an ironic twist, that is exactly what the leading proposal from the GOP Senate would do – reinstate the subsidies for those who purchased their insurance on a federal exchange for a period of time.
There are plenty of times I've disagreed with a court’s opinion, but understood the reasoning because that they were bound by the words of law (I've recently gone through that here in Iowa) but in this case I’m disappointed and concerned about a court that decides it knows what the writers intended, even if it isn't what they wrote.
Add the Roberts Court and the enshrinement of Obamacare, err Robertscare to the list of unintended Bush legacies.
| Not All That Bad|
Posted 6/13/2015 by Christopher
“Hot air” and “lawmakers were left to fritter away their time on non-sense bills” is how the editorial board of this paper saw the just adjourned session of the Iowa legislature. No doubt because this newspaper’s priorities were not addressed. But one tax hike a year is probably all this legislature, let alone the taxpayer, can stomach.
Side note – I cannot understand how this paper can editorialize about Americans living on the edge financially, and on the exact same day advocate for a sales tax increase to fund a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. But maybe I'm alone believing low income folks paying more in sales tax to support fish and fowl would have less in their pockets to pay for doctors visits or fixing a broken furnace. But I digress....
One of the things that frustrated me during my time in the legislature was the filter by which Iowans learned about what was happening in their state house. The ratio between actual activity and words in the paper never does either the legislators credit or the public justice. Days could be spent working on an issue without so much as a mention in a blog, but five minutes of discussion might unleash a series of editorial comments. Like beauty, good legislation is in the eye of the beholder. And every Iowan is a beholder for whom something is of interest. There is a reason bills are introduced by legislators – because someone asked them to. That is often forgotten by the press. Oh sure, if there is a tearful story, or a response to a tragedy that results in “Johnny’s Law” or “Susie's Bill” the paper will elucidate on how citizen input can turn the gears of government. But if a citizen contacts their legislator about something not in favor among the press; well then legislators were just frittering away their time.
One of my most vivid examples, and I suppose biggest mistakes, was my decision to bring to a vote a bill legalizing dove hunting as one of the first bills of the session. As majority leader I was embroiled in working out the details on an education issue, but it wasn't ready to go. In the meantime, my phone and other legislators phones were ringing off the hook (no ubiquitous cell phone ringtones then) from Iowa hunters. Why not, I figured. It's a relatively simple bill. One of those gut issues people either favor or oppose, without a lot of nuance and technical challenges. Let's vote on it. It had the votes to pass, and didn't require me spending any political capital. Little did I know I was about to be characterized as being more interested in satiating my lust for blood than I was about the well being of school children, of which I had two at home at the time. It made headlines. None of them good. While it was not this paper’s, or frankly even my priority, it was the priority of a lot of folks in this state.
Great irony here – some, but not all, of the advocates for the above sales tax are the same people who asked for dove hunting.
What didn't make headlines this year, that was just frittering away time? (That was sarcasm for those readers who haven't understood my sense of humor yet.) In his session closing speech, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal talked about passing the “Safe At Home” program to protect the identities of victims of domestic violence. It was bi-partisan, so not terribly interesting (again, sarcasm) and probably didn't merit more than five paragraphs of ink. But maybe it saves a life, so headline grabbing or not, probably not a waste of time.
Across the rotunda just before the gavel dropped House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer was bringing her chamber’s attention to their bi-partisan work on Medicaid asset verification. As Upmeyer explained “Medicaid is in a collision course with other priorities” like education because it's annual growth rate is over 11% while general fund revenues have grown at less than half that rate. This year in a bi-partisan bi-cameral fashion legislators worked to ensure those scarce dollars go to those truly deserving.
In both chambers there were attaboys and attagirls, as the President of the Senate and House Majority Leader are both women, for a tuition freeze at the regents universities. That's something any parent of a college bound student would gratefully call a major accomplishment.
Now none of this is to say that the legislative session was perfect. I have my own list of grievances long enough to fill a Festivus celebration. But where I saw things not go my way I'd like to believe it was because of an honest disagreement of opinion or philosophy. I'd bet they'd heard from a constituent. The press likes to bemoan that lawmakers shouldn't be beholden to special interests, but the press forgets that back home in their districts, every legislator’s constituent is a special interest. Their interest may just not be the same as yours, mine, or even the Register’s.
| To Early to Proclaim a Front Runner|
Posted 3/8/2015 by Christopher
Last weekend CPAC; the annual Conservative Political Action Conference gathering of conservative activists, consultants, and politico fan boys, came and went with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finishing a close second to perennial CPAC straw poll winner Rand Paul. Walker is receiving heightened scrutiny as the Governor has surged to “front runner” status in Iowa, at least two out of three polling firms tell us so.
Before elaborating on why it's far to early to proclaim Walker, or anyone else for that matter, a front runner, let me say I'm a big Scott Walker fan. Not necessarily a supporter yet, but certainly a fan. However, I started following the Wisconsin Governor when he had a throw down with the state employees unions, and his state Capitol building was almost paralyzed by protestors trying to stop the legislature from acting on his proposals. As someone who had just gone through my own bruising legislative battle with Governor Culver and the Democrats over their attempts to expand the scope of public employee collective bargaining here in Iowa, well, to paraphrase Renee Zellwanger’s character Dorthy in the movie Jery McGuire – he had me at ‘hello’. I've watched him closely ever since, from the attempts to recall him from office to his third statewide victory in just four years. I even had the opportunity to listen to him last summer while attending the Republican Lt. Governors annual meeting in Milwaukee, and I found him to be impressive, down to earth and relatable.
To read the rest of my first column in the DesMoines Register click the link above, or go here: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/2015/03/08/early-proclaim-front-runner/24570907/
| Caucus Snapshot|
Posted 2/22/2015 by Christopher
Less than eleven months remain before the first votes are cast selecting our next President. The Granite Staters like to say Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks presidents. The truth is Iowans decide who's left for New Hampshire to pick from. I wrote last month I'd be exploring the GOP field in my coming columns. But this column will be my last so I’m compelled to do a Cliff Notes version.
Ted Cruz: The Spoiler – The junior Senator from Texas has made as many, if not more, trips to Iowa than anyone in an effort to make things difficult for Huckabee. Not specifically Huckabee, but Cruz is going after the “values voter” and shows up every time Bob Vander Plaats has an open microphone. So, yeah, he and Huckabee are competing for the same votes. Bet on Huckabee.
To read the rest of my column that appeared in the February 22nd Sioux City Journal, click the link above
| 372 Days to the Iowa Caucuses|
Posted 1/10/2015 by Christopher
IIn 372 days Iowans will trudge through snow to vote in Iowa’s presidential caucuses. The campaigns have started in earnest and 2015 will be make or break for some candidates.
There are a more than a dozen Republicans (you aren’t reading this column for any insight on Democrats) running – or laying the ground work to run. Let’s check in on three of them.
Rand Paul: The Front Runner - At least he is in Iowa. His father’s previous finish, and built in apparatus is both a blessing and a curse. Paul the elder received 26,036 votes or 21.4% in what was essentially a three person race. Santorum and Romney, split by 34 votes, garnered 24.5% each. If Paul can hold those numbers in a field with half a dozen or more candidates he’ll be pretty formidable come January 18th. Paul’s built in advantage are the legions of libertarians who love his father. His challenge is to hold that coalition together and add some traditional GOPers to it. Iowa is an expectations game, and Paul will be expected to equal or beat his father’s results.
to read the full column that appeared in the Sioux City Journal clicked the link above.
| Finding Gratitude|
Posted 11/25/2014 by Christopher
Last week as I stared out the windows of the Minneapolis airport watching the snow fall and the ground crew struggle with luggage in the frigid temperatures, I thought about how thankful I should be for those outside helping me get to my destination. Thus began my weeklong experiment in finding gratitude in all things.
It's a fitting time as we celebrate Thanksgiving week. Yes, Thanksgiving WEEK. This uniquely American holiday is deserving of more than just a brief twenty-four hours before we head pell-mell into the Christmas shopping season (that's a column for another day). I'm not suggesting that anyone spend more than one afternoon a year watching the Detroit Lions, or adding gelatinous canned cranberry to their diet, but we can be thankful for a full week. For a humorous take on why Thanksgiving is a week worthy holiday, visit https://chroniclesofdad.wordpress.com , the creative writing outlet for a friend of mine.
Before going farther, I know what some of you are thinking... "Finding gratitude in everything" sounds like new age mumbo jumbo. I've been given this same challenge for the past year and often felt the same reaction. Hence the week long experiment. Could I do it? I promise, I felt better for it, and you will too.
To to read the full column that appeared in the Sioux City Journal click the link above