Can Alaska’s Governor Implement ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion without the Legislature?

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) initially asked the legislature to approve the state’s participation in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. The legislature has thus far declined. Now, Walker is trying to implement it anyway, and the legislature appears to be taking him to court. According to Alaska Dispatch News:

The Alaska Legislature on Tuesday said it will sue Gov. Bill Walker to block his move last month to expand the public Medicaid health care program without lawmakers’ approval.

Following a private discussion Tuesday morning, a Republican-controlled House-Senate committee voted 10-1 to spend up to $450,000 on two law firms to represent the Legislature in a suit against the governor.

One, Bancroft PLLC, is based in Washington, D.C., and represented more than two dozen states in their U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The second, Holmes, Weddle & Barcott, is based in Anchorage.

In a news conference after the committee vote, Republican leaders framed their decision to challenge the governor as a constitutional one. They’re seeking an injunction to stop Medicaid expansion from going into effect Sept. 1.

“This is not a policy issue — we’re not discussing whether we should or shouldn’t expand Medicaid,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. “This is a question of authority and process and our constitution.”

[…]

The Legislature is challenging Walker’s move based on a provision in Alaska statute that requires legislative approval before Medicaid coverage can be offered to people whose care is not required under federal law.

The version of “Obamacare” passed by Congress required states to expand Medicaid to cover low-income Americans, who can otherwise face steep health care costs without the subsidies that the legislation offers to individuals with higher incomes.

As written, the law would have revoked all federal Medicaid funding for states that didn’t go through with the expansion. But the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2012 that the threat of revoking the money was unconstitutional and coercive.

The ruling created ambiguity for Alaskan policymakers and legal experts: If Medicaid expansion is technically required under the ACA, but the Supreme Court has ruled the federal government can’t enforce the requirement by revoking money from states that don’t comply, does that make the newly eligible people under Walker’s proposed expansion an optional group that requires legislative approval?

Walker, citing a memorandum from Attorney General Craig Richards, says no. The Republican lawmakers that support the lawsuit say yes and argue the governor is circumventing their authority.

An initial filing in the Legislature’s lawsuit is expected next week.

Read the whole thing here. For more, see these posts from the Foundation for Government Accountability.

The IMF’s Little Greek Secret

Landon Thomas, Jr. of The New York Times reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) might not pony up any cash for the third Greek bailout. To calculate the odds on whether the IMF will, or will not, contribute bailout funds requires knowledge of the IMF’s little Greek secret.

By late 2009, Greece was clearly in big trouble. The European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) did not trust the Greek government. So, the IMF was called in to negotiate loan conditions for new Greek financing. Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was the IMF’s managing director and was preparing to run for the French presidency as the Socialist candidate. DSK was more than willing to give his socialist brothers in Athens a helping hand. As a result, in 2010, Greece received a massive bailout.

Just how massive? Normally, the IMF is limited to lending up to six times a country’s IMF quota subscription to that country. However, if the IMF judges a country’s debt to be sustainable, then that country can qualify for “exceptional access,” and the IMF credit extended to such a country can exceed the 600% limit. Thanks to DSK and the IMF experts, the debt sustainability reports were rosy, until recently. The IMF extended credit to Greece, and did so generously.

The following table tells the tale. Greece holds the record for the highest IMF credit level relative to a country’s quota.

What about the little secret? Well, the IMF has been caught out. It’s massively overextended to Greece. And that explains the cat and mouse game over whether the IMF will, or will not, deliver a present at the third Greek bailout party.

Lone Star Rail Insanity

Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin is congested, so obviously (to some people, at least) the solution is to run passenger trains between the two cities. Existing tracks are crowded with freight trains, so the Lone Star Rail District proposes to build a brand-new line for the freight trains and run passenger trains on the existing tracks. The total capital cost would be about $3 billion, up from just $0.6 billion in 2004 (which probably didn’t include the freight re-route).

Click image to download a PDF version of this map.

By coincidence, that was the projected capital cost for the proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando (cancelled by Florida Governor Rick Scott), which are about the same 80-miles apart as Austin and San Antonio. But, despite the cost, Lone Star wouldn’t be a high-speed rail line. According to a 2004 feasibility study, trains would take about 90 minutes between the two cities, with two stops in between. While express trains with no stops would be a bit faster, cars driving at Texas speeds could still be faster.

Lone Star is asking the San Antonio city council for $500,000 to help pay for an environmental impact statement and other studies. Austin has supposedly already agreed to fund its share, though it isn’t in the city’s budget.

Lone Star is promising 32 trains (16 each way) carrying 20,000 riders (10,000 round trips) per day at fares of up to $12. That’s more than 600 riders per train; though some may not go the entire distance, it still seems high. Megabus currently operates three buses a day that take 85 minutes between the two cities at fares of $1.50 to $7.50. It seems likely that if there were 20,000 people per day wanting to pay $12 to take the trip at the same speed, Megabus would find them.

If the goal is to relieve congestion on I-35, two new lanes would probably cost less than a billion dollars and would be capable of moving far more vehicles per day than Lone Star would take off the road. Of course, the highway is probably not congested over the entire route, so two new lanes for the full length probably aren’t necessary. Besides, self-driving cars will probably go on sale and eliminate any need for passenger trains before the first Lone Star train would turn a wheel.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who famously cancelled the city’s even more backwards streetcar project, says that Lone Star isn’t one of her priorities. “There will be benefits from this alternative transit option, but we have to be good fiscal stewards,” she added. Local taxpayers should hope that she and the San Antonio city council can resist the starry-eyed Lone Star plan.

The Reigning School Choice Champion

On Monday, Education Next released the results of its 2015 survey on education policy. Neal McCluskey already summarized the key findings, but I want to highlight one finding in particular: scholarship tax credits (STCs) are the most popular form of private educational choice. 

STCs received the support of 55 percent of respondents compared to somewhere between 47 percent and 51 percent for charter schools (depending on whether the survey first explained what charter schools are), 27 percent to 46 percent for universal school vouchers (again, depending on the wording of the question), and 34 percent to 41 percent for low-income vouchers. Unfortunately, the survey did not ask about education savings accounts.

2015 Education Next survey: types of choice

Support for STCs was even higher among parents (57 percent), African-Americans (60 percent), and Hispanics (62 percent). This is not surprising since minorities are more likely to be low-income and therefore choice deprived. Those voicing support for STCs more than doubled those opposed in the general public (26 percent) and more than tripled the opposition among African-Americans (16 percent) and Hispanics (18 percent).

Previous Education Next surveys–as well as the Friedman Foundation’s survey last year–also found the most support for STCs among school choice policies. 

"A proposal has been made to offer a tax credit for individual and corporate donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools. Would you favor or oppose such a proposal?"

Support for STCs dipped slightly from a high of 60 percent last year, but it is still higher than any other year since Education Next first started asking the question in 2009. (They did not ask about STCs in 2013.) However, the poll also revealed the second highest level of opposition since 2009.

In the Friedman Foundation’s 2015 survey, released in July, scholarship tax credits, school vouchers, and education savings accounts all received high levels of support that were within the margin of error of each other when the question was prefaced with an explanation of how the policy worked:

  • Scholarship tax credits: 60 percent support, 29 percent opposition;
  • Education savings accounts: 62 percent support, 28 percent opposition;
  • School vouchers: 61 percent support, 33 percent opposition.

However, when not preceded by a prompt, only 39 percent of respondents supported school vouchers while 26 percent were opposed. (The other questions were only asked with an explanatory prompt because few Americans are familiar with STCs or ESAs.) Charter schools were the least popular with 53 percent in support and 27 percent opposed.

Encouragingly, support for STCs and ESAs in the Friedman poll was highest among Americans aged 18-34 with 72 percent and 75 percent support respectively. These results may well indicate a coming school choice tidal wave.

Trump and the GOP: Quién Es el Más Militarista?

I’d have figured that the category of “Trump supporters who are aware of the Atlantic Monthly” would be an empty set, but it turns out there are at least 30 of them. Last week, in an open letter to Trump fans, the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf asked  “why him?”, and yesterday, he published the results: “What Do Donald Trump Voters Actually Want?”

The funniest responses tend toward the nihilistic: “I really am at the point of letting the whole thing burn down and explode…. Like the joker from The Dark Knight, I just want to see the world burn”; or, “I just want to watch the chaos unfold …. I’m a young guy who is immature, a bit antisocial, and with no plans for kids or a wife ever. At some level, I don’t really care how things go with America as long as it’s fun to watch.” (Say what you want about the tenets of Trumpism: at least it’s not an ethos!)

But if watching things burn down and blow up is what you want out of politics, the other candidates may have a lot more to offer you—or so I argue in a column for the Federalist this week, “Trump’s Biggest Lie: ‘I’m The Most Militaristic Person’ In This Race.” That’s what Trump said upon his return to Fox News last week, and, even for the Donald, it’s a boast too far. The fact is, “in the 2016 election cycle, the ‘serious and responsible’ candidates for the presidency are so bellicose they make Trump look like Cindy Sheehan.”

To take just a couple of examples from the piece, there’s:

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who in June, refused a reporter’s invitation to rule out “a full-blown re-invasion of Iraq,” and in July, announced that he’d “very possibly” need to start bombing Iran on his first day in office.

And there’s Florida senator Marco Rubio, who

stands out among his competitors as the sole Republican to argue that Obama’s real mistake in Libya was that he didn’t start bombing even sooner. Rubio wants to double down on the profligate interventionism of the George W. Bush era so badly that he’s built his campaign on B-movie slogans and neocon buzzwords. A Liam-Neeson-style “we will find you; and we will kill you” [is his] message to ISIS… and his website promises “A New American Century,” – a pledge that ought to give pause to anybody old enough to remember how that worked out in the last decade.

Even candidates with residual sympathy toward an earlier tradition of Republican realism have begun to toe the party line. Rand Paul has begun to sound distinctly hawkish lately, and Jeb Bush has decided it just “wouldn’t be prudent” to hire a foreign policy director who’s skeptical about bombing Iran.

Trump, on the other hand, seems determined to demonstrate his unseriousness by denouncing the Iraq War, saying he wouldn’t “rip up” the Iran deal, and complaining that America has become “the policeman of the world.”

Meanwhile, no one in this crowd can out-hawk Hillary Clinton, whose long, ghoulish career can be summed up in her own words, “I urged him to bomb.” “We came, we saw, he died,” is how HRC greeted the news that Colonel Qaddafi had been killed by a rebel mob. The best the Donald could do was brag about how this one time, he really “screwed” Qaddafi in a real estate deal. Wimp!

Look, don’t get me wrong: Trump is a boorish self-promoter—and worse, a literal “robber baron,”—the sort of guy who’d invoke eminent domain to try steal a retired widow’s house so he can use it for a limousine waiting area. The GOP should be embarrassed to have him leading the pack. But, “most militaristic”? Not by a long shot. As I argued in the Federalist, “on this issue, in this field, he’s not quite the embarrassment he should be.” Read the whole thing there.

Latest Poll: Common Core Crashing, People Want Everything, and More

The annual Education Next poll on school reform is out, and as always it’s boiling over with hot, tasty results. I won’t hit nearly everything in it, and even the topics I do cover can be dissected much further, but I have a few parts I want to highlight.

Common Core

Questions about the Common Core national curriculum standards have been my main focus in past EdNext polls, and they remain so this time around. The news isn’t good for the Core. Among respondents asked whether they support the Core, defined as standards states chose to adopt that “will be used to hold public schools accountable” – a description heavily biased with the promise of wonderful-sounding accountability – support has dropped from 65 percent in 2013 to 49 percent in 2015. Among teachers, the Core has donned its barrel and plunged from 76 percent support to 40 percent, with 50 percent now opposing it. Finally, getting rid of the accountability promise in the description resulted in just 39 percent of the public supporting the Core and 37 percent opposing, essentially a tie when margin of error is considered.

Federal Role

Questions about the federal role in education reveal what appear to be some serious inconsistencies. Unfortunately, 41 percent of the public thinks Washington should be in charge of “setting educational standards for what children should know,” while 43 percent think the states should be and 15 percent local governments. That means roughly 4 out of 10 people are ignoring the Constitution, as well as the federal government’s very poor track record. More encouraging, lower percentages of parents and teachers would have the feds lead on standards, and only about 1 in 5 members of the public think Washington should decide if “a school is failing” or “how to fix failing schools.” But get this: The poll also finds that 67 percent of the public thinks DC should require that all students “in grades 3-8 and once in high school” take math and reading tests. Oh, and allowing parents to opt their kids out of such tests? Only 26 percent of the public, and 32 percent of parents, support that. If there is a unifying theme here it may be that the public likes the abstract idea of national benchmarks but not centralized ramifications for performance, which we likely see reflected in the Common Core debate and No Child Left Behind reauthorization.

You Ought to Have a Look: Clean Power Plan Comes Under Fire

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

We’ll start out with one of the best quotes we’ve come across in recent memory. It’s from the inimitable Matt Ridley in his piece, “The Green Scare Problem” from the Wall Street Journal last week:

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate.

Ridley goes on to describe a growingly familiar list of now-failed environmental apocalypses that had been, at one point in time, predicted to befall us—pesticides, ozone hole, acid rain, GMOs, etc. Climate change calamity, as is being pushed by President Obama and the EPA to justify their ever-expanding restrictions of our carbon dioxide emissions, is the latest addition to Ridley’s list. Ridley’s main point is that the “we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do” push “has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.” Ridley foresees more of the same from Obama’s Clean Power. We’re inclined to agree.

Be sure to check out Matt’s full column in which he backs up his opinions. It well worth the time spent reading.

When it comes to selling the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and his EPA go to such extreme lengths that they run up against (and often exceed) the bounds of sound science. We’ve addressed many of these transgressions. Climate impact of the Plan? Zilch. Health impacts from the Plan. Non-existent. Economic stimulus of the Plan? Negative. Validity of calling “carbon dioxide emissions” “carbon pollution”? None.

To expand a bit upon the latter, we tracked the historical usage of the phrases “carbon dioxide emissions” and “carbon pollution” in press releases issued by the EPA since 1994. “Carbon dioxide emissions” is the scientifically appropriate description of well, carbon dioxide emissions, while “carbon pollution” is grossly inaccurate and, well, deceptive. Our figure tracks how the EPA has moved away from science and towards propaganda in recent years, no doubt, in concert with the President and his push for limits to carbon dioxide emissions under his Climate Action Plan announced in 2013 (and telegraphed years earlier).

 

Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

Figure 1. Number of press releases each year since 1994 (through August 11, 2015) issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which contained either the phrase “carbon dioxide emissions” or “carbon pollution.”

When a straight up telling of the situation fails to impress, try dressing it up with something a bit scarier-sounding.

And finally, if the Obama Administration isn’t going to have its hands full dealing with challenges by states and industries who are opposed to the Clean Power Plan for myriad reasons, it’ll also have to defend itself against a lawsuit from a group of youths who think that the Clean Power Plan doesn’t go far enough:

They are asking for a court order to force Obama to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million – a level many scientists agree is the highest safe concentration permissible – by the end of this century. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already hit 400 parts per million.

“It’s really important that the court step in and do their jobs when there’s such intense violation of constitutional rights happening,” [Julia] Olson [lead council on the case] said.

Nothing like a lawsuit that is suing for the impossible!