GEORGE KENNEDY: It's hard to find optimism when politicians make poor choices

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | 6:05 p.m. CST; updated 6:48 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 28, 2013

It’s time, I’m afraid, to check in on the doings of our elected rulers in Jefferson City.

Fair warning: It’s not a pretty picture.

You’ll recall that the legislative session began with several unusually glittering possibilities. Gov. Nixon presented a budget proposal that emphasized taking advantage of the new national health care law to expand coverage to 300,000 uninsured Missourians and use the new revenue — some directly from the feds and some freed up by shifting costs to Washington — to increase spending on education, higher and lower.

Then there were the proposals to take advantage of historically low interest rates and float big bond issues, one to fix Interstate 70 and our other crumbling roads, and another to tackle the backlog of building repairs and replacements at the university and elsewhere.

In a burst of enthusiasm a month ago, I suggested the possibility of a productive General Assembly. I guess I forgot who’s in charge.

Rep. Stephen Webber set me straight this week. “Some Republicans are so ideologically opposed to anything President Obama has touched that they’re willing to hurt our state,” he said.

Indeed. The Republican response to Medicaid expansion is a bill that would actually cut 44,000 children who are currently covered. The bill introduced this week is intended, according to its sponsor, to shift toward “market-based” health care. The problem with that, along with its absence of compassion, is that there is no free market in health care.

As Steven Brill has just demonstrated in Time magazine, the health care market is rigged in favor of the suppliers.

At least I wasn’t alone in being unduly optimistic. Chris Kelly, dean of Boone County’s legislative delegation, wrote in the latest Democratic newsletter, “If reason prevails, we will expand health care coverage in Missouri.” He quoted an anonymous Republican colleague as saying, “If facts matter, we will expand Medicaid.”

Facts? Reason? Ideology trumps them both.

It’s not only the poor and uninsured who’ll pay. As Chris pointed out, the cost to Boone County alone is likely to be $45 million – a $25 million loss from not participating and the $20 million in new revenue that we won’t be seeing. Also lost will be the budget boost the governor planned for the university.

A couple of weeks ago, when House Republicans rammed through a voter-suppression bill requiring photo identification that many elderly and minority citizens don’t have, Chris termed it “the single most immoral act I’ve ever seen in my time in the General Assembly.”

I’d submit that the refusal to expand Medicaid is in the running for that honor.

"But surely the bond issues are still likely," you say. It’s true that the bond issue for roads has won first-round approval in the House. And the bond for buildings has the House speaker as co-sponsor.

However, Stephen Webber reminded me that both will require Senate approval. Given the Senate rules that permit a handful of nay sayers to stymie legislation, and given the ideology-driven refusal of many Republicans to support anything that even looks like a tax increase, there’s no certainty that either bond issue will make it to the ballot this year.

Meanwhile, one of Stephen and Chris’s Republican colleagues has introduced a bill that would require that textbooks “covering any scientific theory of biological origin must devote equal treatment to evolution and intelligent design.” (That’s HB 291.)

Another would make it a crime for any legislator to introduce a gun control bill. That sponsor, Rep. Mike Leara, said he considers his bill a statement of principle. I hadn’t realized stupidity was a principle.

In fact, the gun toters’ reaction to even the mildest proposal for control has been so extreme that Chris wrote, “It would be best to do nothing with gun laws this session.”

No wonder that when I asked Stephen what it’s like to be in such a powerless minority, he replied, “It’s incredibly frustrating.”

So it is.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Michael Williams February 28, 2013 | 7:46 p.m.

"I hadn’t realized stupidity was a principle."

In your list of "stupid" legislation based upon "principle", I'd like to know why you left out State Reps. Rory Ellinger (D-86) and Jill Schupp (D-88), who introduced House Bill 545?

Perhaps you would prefer an addendum to that bill, one that says sheriffs have the right to inspect your home for safe storage of "assault weapons" ala the State of Washington's proposal.

Or perhaps it did not satisfy your agenda.

At least one inquiring mind wishes to know these things.......

Yes, I bet it is frustrating to be in such a minority. However, following the words of few liberal pundits and politicians on a national level as they reflect upon last federal election, you should remain silent, endure it, and surely quit griping.

As for "[things are] not a pretty picture", I guess the eye is in the beholder. I'm quite happy, not so much at what they are doing in Jeff City but at what they WON'T do. I kinda like that.......

PS: Did the Vice-President REALLY say "just shoot [your shotgun] through the door?" Did the White House staff REALLY "threaten" a couple of newsfolks?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 28, 2013 | 7:55 p.m.

Before you say "Those were not threats", just ask yourself this question:

If I had responded to your column above with the statement "I think you will regret your words", what do you think will happen?

I'll tell you what will happen: It will be read as a threat because it CAN be interpreted as a threat even if it is not so, the comment will be stricken from view, and I might even be banned or given a warning.

I've seen similar interpretations happen......right here.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield March 1, 2013 | 11:32 a.m.

"As Steven Brill has just demonstrated in Time magazine, the health care market is rigged in favor of the suppliers."

And how does the ACA change that?

It doesn't.

Until physician and admin salaries are capped, health care costs won't come down.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 1, 2013 | 12:54 p.m.

"'The doctor say he's comin', but you gotta pay him cash.'" - Eagles ("Life in the Fast Lane")

Be careful if capping things, due to possible consequences. At the end of the Soviet Union health care was a disaster: physicians could make better money by moonlighting or by quitting altogether.

Of course the party elite was well served. "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield March 1, 2013 | 2:18 p.m.

Oh, caps are coming. No doubt about it. The feds know they have the leverage because 1) of Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA debacle leading to single payer and 2) they can use special visas to bring in hordes of foreign physicians for whom $50K or $100K is a king's ransom compared to the what they would make in their native country.

The days of making $200K+ as a urologist, for example, are about to end.

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy March 1, 2013 | 2:36 p.m.

Mr. Williams --

I left HB 545 off my list for the very good reason that it strikes me as a highly desirable piece of legislation. That, of course, means that it stands no chance of passage in the current General Assembly.

And as to the exchange between Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling, I certainly see no threat. Nor did Woodward in his reply. Similar words from you wouldn't cause me to lose much sleep.

Have you thought of running for the legislature?

Thanks for reading.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 1, 2013 | 3:20 p.m.

Not long ago someone posted that if you [you being a government] want MORE of something then you subsidize it. So what do you get if you cap it or reduce it?

Again, I'd refer everyone to the late but not much lamented Soviet Union.

I have no problem with your analysis.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 1, 2013 | 4:10 p.m.

GeorgeK: Indeed, stupidity of principle is in the eye of the beholder. It was classy of you to introduce "stupidity" into your article, especially pertaining to a single individual. I thought such a thing was verboten in this newspaper; it certainly is to us posters.

BLITZER: What was said? Yes.

WOODWARD: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.

BLITZER: Who sent that e-mail to you?

WOODWARD: Well, I'm not going to say.

BLITZER: Was it a senior person at the White House?

WOODWARD: A very senior person. And just as a matter - I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in.

and his subsequent weasel words:

Woodward: "But, ahhh, and people have said that well, this was a threat, or I was saying it was a threat. I haven't used that language, but it's not the way to operate in a White House. As you know, when somebody says you're going to regret something, particularly somebody of power like Gene Sperling, he's not just a guy in the White House, he's the economic czar for the president."

I liked the "I haven't used that language" part. lol.

As for me running for the legislature, I'm honored that you would ask me. I'd certainly be a good one. However, that won't happen. I would have to talk to too many politicians and former managing editors and I'm picky about such things. You'll have to find someone else to back. I'm sorry to disappoint.

(Report Comment)

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