Oct. 1 : Obamacare

The broader problem of Congressional dysfunction

Paul Zagorski | guest writer

As we’re approaching the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the nation is confronted with even bigger issues: Why is the act so complicated, and why does Congress, which passed it, remain so unpopular in all its doings?
Every time the approval rating of Congress plummets – and it has lived in the nether regions of public approval for decades – proposals to reform the institution emerge and metastasize across the Internet.
One of the most frequently suggested “fixes” is term limits – limiting the number of terms a representative could spend in Congress.
The problem with this proposed solution is that it mistakes the symptom for the cause.
Congress does not malfunction because members of the House and Senate are consistently re-elected. They are consistently re-elected because the way campaigns are conducted has been corrupted.
The Constitution’s framers considered and rejected term limits, preferring instead relatively long and renewable terms because they believed that experience and proven competence mattered.
They thought two-year terms for the House of Representatives provided ample opportunity to register a change in the public mood quickly.
But even the framers would probably be surprised to discover how low the normal turnover in the House of Representatives currently is.
What’s the cause? And more critically, is it important? The answer to the first question is money politics, and, yes, it is important.
In 2012 successful candidates for the House of Representatives (mainly incumbents) spent, on average, nearly $1.6 million in their election campaigns, much of it raised from special interests.
This makes successful candidates beholden to the special interests, political cronies, and lobbyists who raised and donated the money.
This influence is insidious because many special interest provisions are buried in the detail of bills that are often hundreds of pages long. In short, special interest influence frequently flies “under the radar.”
Today the problem is compounded by the fact that supposedly “independent” advocacy groups—often started by candidates themselves—have no limits on how much money they can spend and few limits on whom they can raise it from.
So, the real problem is special interest influence, not how long members serve.
What should be done about it? Term limits might simply increase the army of lobbyists and promote well-connected candidates.
Today, in fact, we already have a revolving door between Congress and influential lobbying firms. When members finally do retire or are defeated, they are likely to remain in Washington and lobby their old colleagues on behalf of their new employers.
More frequent retirements would do nothing to solve and might even worsen the problem.
What should we really do?
Lessen the cost of campaigning by providing free airtime to candidates.
Provide for public financing of campaigns so candidates would be less beholden to special interests. Curtail the ability of special interests to spend money on campaigns.
Unfortunately, the special interests that would be harmed by such measures have plenty of money and lobbyists to keep these proposals from ever being effectively considered.

Paul Zagorski is a professor of political science.

Saying ‘no’ to free cash, Brownback, Legislature reject key Obamacare benefit

Staff Editorial

On Saturday, Sept. 21, the last effective and popular elected leader of Kansas had a simple message for the state government: Stop saying, “Show me the money” when it’s already in your pocket.
In an address from the Westin Crown Center hotel in Kansas City, Mo., Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of Kansas, said she would have jumped at the funds the Affordable Care Act mandates for state Medicaid expansion.
That’s because declining to do so, even if one disagrees with every other plank of the law commonly known as “Obamacare,” is a flatly irresponsible act, one that could hurt poor college students in particular.
Big shock, Gov. Sam Brownback made this call.
Brownback’s stated reason for doing this is so flatly invalid it is almost a disservice to our readers to mention it.
It is a disingenuous, contrived and baseless belief that the money is a figment of Sebelius’ imagination.
For the last year or so, Sebelius’ primary duty has been traveling about the country to combat a deliberate and calculated lie.
That lie is that something the government promises to do is something that won’t happen.
To live in the batty fantasy land of Topeka, one must believe that Obamacare’s key mandates to fund the expansion just don’t exist.
They do. Under the law, the federal government pays for the expansion entirely for three years, and 90 percent of the bill thereafter.
If this important reform took effect in Kansas, about 144,000 Kansans, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal, would become eligible for Medicaid.
In real-money terms, for a single individual, that’s anyone with an annual income of less than $15,282. This would help about half of the state’s currently uninsured, for virtually no cost to the state.
How many Pittsburg State students net less than 15 grand a year? How many might be helped with free health care beyond what Bryant Student Health Center is able to provide? These are questions to think about.
Meanwhile, Brownback has no argument against this program.
He’s playing national politics and defying simple financial sense.
He is sacrificing the welfare of thousands who are currently denied Medicaid eligibility in the process, and hiding behind a claim he knows isn’t true.
Obamacare may be unpopular and proper understanding of it is something the country as a whole will take time to learn, but money to help people is not a political matter.
What this is really about is Brownback’s deep fear that even flirting with any part of the new law will prompt the state’s extremist right wing to demand his head on a pike.
At least in that fear he may be justified. Other Republican leaders who have worked with Sebelius nationwide are in the Tea Party’s crosshairs come primary-election season next year.
Brownback is looking at a tough re-election battle against a given Democrat; a challenge from the right is something he cannot afford.
What the students of Pittsburg State, and all Kansans, need to decide is whether they care about any of that, given that money for their health and well-being is what’s at stake.

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