Little Love Between Governors and Obama; Americans Headed Out of Libya at Last; Chaos Spreads to Iraq; Senate Readies Answer on Spending; Romney Responds to Huck’s Health Care Jabs
Governors Arrive in Washington at Low Point For State-Federal Relations
“It's been indispensable not only in balancing the books of the state, but in transforming state government so it performs better.”
-- Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., to FOX News explaining his move to end the power of collective bargaining for state worker unions when he took office in 2005.
It was just a couple of years ago that President Obama toured the country handing out juicy stimulus checks and getting man hugs from Republican governors.
Now, as the National Governors Association convenes in Washington, state and federal relations have reached what may be a low point since the states-rights battles of 60 years ago. With the president’s stimulus long ago spent and state lawmakers getting crushed by new demands by the federal government to fund entitlement programs, things are getting pretty ugly.
The annual gathering comes also as Obama and many governors find themselves at odds in the ongoing battle over the power of government employee unions. Obama and his campaign apparatus have swung in behind government workers while a new crop of conservative Republican governors are determined to bust the unions they say are bankrupting their states.
Obama has tried to back off his initial support for government workers as pressure grows on Democratic state lawmakers from Wisconsin and Indiana who have gone into hiding in order to prevent action on legislation opposed by government unions.
In Wisconsin, it’s a plan from Gov. Scott Walker to curb unions’ power to negotiate for better pay and benefits and to contribute to their own benefits at rates far higher than the currently nominal levels. In Indiana, the central issue for the walkout is a proposal from Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels that would impose pay-for-performance rules on teachers and institute a school voucher system.
State Democratic lawmakers are hugely dependent on government worker unions for financial support and reliable votes. Obama is right there with them and must have the financial backing and foot soldiers government unions provide in order to prevail in must-win states like Ohio, Pennsylvaia, Michigan, and Wisconsin next year.
But Obama also needs the support of independent and moderate voters in other must-win states like Florida to capture a second term. As voters become increasingly disenchanted by the lavish pay and benefits afforded to government workers even as taxes rise and services are cut, Obama would pay a heavy price for too public an association with public unions.
And as gilded public pensions eat up increasingly large portions of state budgets during the retirement boom of the next decade, the situation will only get worse.
Meanwhile, with a collective projected budget shortfall of more than $120 billion for the next fiscal year, states are desperate to get out of the rising costs of state-federal initiatives.
Governors in New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin and elsewhere have rejected Obama-backed infrastructure projects because they fear endless cost escalations over time for their shares of the work.
But the big issue is Medicaid, oftentimes the largest single program in states’ budgets. The president has overseen an expansion of the program for poor Americans as part of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other more lenient standards for enrollment. Plus, the ongoing unemployment crisis and weak growth in wages has pushed massive increases in Medicaid rolls.
In New York and other Democratic states, governors are looking for ways to slash state obligations under the program and are pressuring the Obama administration for exemptions to more liberal benefit standards.
The backdrop for this discussion is the looming fight over the president’s national health-care law. There are 27 states seeking to overturn the controversial 2010 measure that requires all Americans to either purchase private insurance or be enrolled in a government program, likely Medicaid.
Republican governors in Alaska, Texas, Arizona, Idaho and elsewhere are weighing ways to hold off on implementing the Obama law now that a federal judge in Florida has struck down the legislation on the grounds that the federal government lacks constitutional authority to force individuals to buy any product as a condition of their citizenship.
Governors of both parties have complained about huge new Medicaid costs heading their way when the Obama law goes into full effect over the next two years.
Democratic governors will huddle with the president today, and will likely again join him in his call for another round of stimulus spending, this time on environmental initiatives and public transportation. But the larger truth for Obama as he heads into 2012 is that he is deeply at odds with most of the chief executives in the land.
Europe Abuzz With Meetings as Libyan Civil War Continues
"We actually think that we'll be able to ride out the Libya situation and it will stabilize."
-- President Obama discussing rising energy prices with members of his jobs council.
The desperate struggle to get American citizens out of Libya continues today as a ferry trapped in Tripoli harbor by bad weather tries to make for Malta.
While other nations, especially China, have been able to rapidly extricate thousands their citizens, some 285 Americans have been sitting on the chartered ferryboat since Wednesday. We got frigates full of Marines in and out of Tripoli in 1805, but not now.
Meanwhile, an alphabet soup of organizations is trying to decide what action to take on the deepening civil war in Libya at meetings in Europe. NATO, the UN and the EU are all in consultation with the U.S. about possible sanctions and stern letters to Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Qaddafi went on state television in an interview to rival the ramblings of Charlie Sheen to say that al Qaeda was slipping hallucinogenic drugs in the instant coffee of young Libyans in order to foment rebellion.
The colonel seems to have lost control of the eastern part of his country, in addition to his faculties, as rebels form military units and police forces of their own.
Remember, this is a different situation than the ongoing Middle Eastern uprising. This is more like the rebellion of a breakaway province than the generalized unrest of, say, Egypt.
The U.S. and Europeans mull sanctions and, bizarrely, debate by what parliamentary mechanism to expel Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council. Certainly Qaddafi has long-term concerns if there is an embargo on his oil, as it would surely topple him and his tyrannical seven sons.
But his immediate concern is solidifying his control over the provinces still under his domain. The immediate American concerns are many – first, the safety of our citizens and then the potential that Qaddafi will try to use chemical or biological weapons in an effort to retake the rebel province.
Unrest Deepens in Iraq
"The government of the Green Zone is terrified of the people's voice."
-- Iraqi Day of Rage protester Khalil Ibrahim talking to the Associated Press.
Another day of escalating protests in Iraq produced deadly clashes between the country’s military and protesters. Iraqi troops killed at least five rioters today and more protesters are planned for Saturday.
The protests turned violent in several cities as demonstrators, inspired by the same social media uprising that has swept through the Arab world, have taken to the streets to demand not democracy but a higher standard of living.
Iraq’s fledgling republic is arguably the freest government in the Arab world, but the same sectarian and tribal rifts that plagued the country during the 2006 and 2007 uprisings against U.S. forces constantly threaten the individual liberties provided at such great cost in American and Iraqi lives.
As with the ongoing unrest that threatens the U.S. Navy’s regional fleet headquarters in Bahrain, the mullahs of Iran are stoking the unrest in Iraq among their Shiite brethren. With tens of thousands of Americans in Iraq, including 50,000 American troops, increasing turmoil there is very much in Iran’s interest.
If Iraq follows the same trend as the rest of the region, the protests, once begun, will endure and intensify. In the capitals of other American allies in the region, protests have gone on for weeks and featured intensifying violence.
The protesters in Iraq say they only want more stuff, but the same malign forces of Islamism and sectarianism that have plagued the nation are no doubt at the core of the unrest.
If the Iraqi government continues to struggle with mobs of protesters, it could seriously complicate the American plan for military withdrawal this year. And if the Iraqi government is seriously threatened, it could put the U.S. in the unhappy position of defending the Baghdad government from a revolt movement so lavishly praised by the Obama administration.
Senate Readies Compromise Spending Plan
"This is about trade offs. This is about that we don't have the money. We just don't."
-- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., answering a question from a Harvard student who accused him of killing a million people by proposing a cut of $1.5 billion.
Despite the denunciations from Senate Majority Harry Reid of the $61 billion in spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, his caucus has started work on a counterproposal to meet the GOP halfway.
Multiple reports and Senate sources all confirm what Power Play had predicted before: Moderate Democrats will insist on a compromise package on cuts. Reid and President Obama want to maintain spending. Speaker John Boehner and his caucus want to slash it. The spirit of the Senate suggests that the body will suggest a cuts package half the size of what Boehner wants.
Reid has been condemning Boehner and the GOP and twice offered no concessions in response to Republican calls for cut to current levels. He certainly knows that his position is unsustainable with mounting worries over spending and debt. Plus, having been so intractable in public, Reid would get most of the blame if there were a government shutdown a week from today.
The Senate, being the Senate, will likely make its counter offer to keep the government running very shortly before the March 4 expiration of current spending legislation.
Then House Republicans will have to decide if half a loaf is enough.
From the 2012 Quote File
“Mitt Romney is proud of what he accomplished for Massachusetts in getting everyone covered. What's important now is to return to the states the power to determine their own health care solutions by repealing Obamacare. A one-size-fits-all plan for the entire nation just doesn't work.''
-- Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom in a statement responding to mounting criticism of the former governor’s health plan and its mandatory insurance model from 2008 rival Mike Huckabee.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“What Florida is doing is worse than unpopular. It's un-American. We cannot have this on Christmas. It has to be stopped.”
-- Charles Krauthammer joking (mostly) about the likelihood of holiday-season campaigning if Florida goes ahead with its plan to hold its 2012 primaries in January despite party rules that forbid them from voting before March 1.