- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 23

Court should settle Minnesota Legislature’s pay issue

Minnesota’s new constitutionally created Legislative Salary Council has struggled to win respect from some of the people whose pay it seeks to raise - House Republican legislators.

That’s why this bit of national recognition caught our eye: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) this month presented its Notable Documents Award to the council’s final report. It explained well its decision to set legislators’ salaries at $45,000 per year, up from $31,140, the level the Legislature set for itself in 1997 and imposed in 1999. The report also argued for elimination of per diem, a move the council said it lacked the authority to impose on its own.

That report may have been a winner with NCSL, but it hasn’t won over the GOP majority in the Minnesota House. A spokeswoman for Speaker Kurt Daudt said last week that the House does not intend to do the council’s bidding. The GOP-controlled Senate has not followed the House’s lead; its leaders have said that the voters’ transfer of salary-setting power to the council should not be blocked.

We consider the House’s decision constitutionally dubious. But a larger constitutional crisis has overtaken it. At 10 a.m. Monday in Ramsey County District Court, a judge will hear arguments on the Legislature’s lawsuit challenging Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the entire legislative budget.

Those arguments lost some of their urgency late Friday, when Dayton and GOP legislators announced that they had jointly asked the court to continue funding for the Legislature for 90 days while their legal argument proceeds. Presuming the court agrees, that would lift for now the threat of a disruptive shutdown of all but the nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission within a few weeks.

That would be a welcome reprieve. But it would not settle the larger constitutional dispute that Dayton’s veto triggered. We hope the pay raise question isn’t lost in that fight - and thanks to a separate suit by a watchdog group, it likely won’t be. Taken together, the suits call on the judicial branch of state government to order the executive and legislative branches to operate within the guardrails set by the state Constitution. That’s a call we think many Minnesotans would join.


St. Cloud Times, June 24

Senate Republicans embrace secrecy; why?

Congratulations, Senate Republicans!

Just when America thought congressional behavior on health care reform could not get much worse, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow leaders proved the nation wrong by drafting their reforms in private.

Heck, its unveiling Thursday marked the first time many Republican senators had even had a chance to see it.

Now the question is simple: Will McConnell and company follow their lack of transparency by rushing the 142-page plan to a vote?

Don’t be surprised if they do. After all, Democrats used a similar strategy in passing the Affordable Care Act.

The stark difference, though, is the ACA was pushed toward a vote after months of public hearings and ample opportunities for debate.

This Senate Republican plan was drafted in secrecy - and rushing it to a vote perhaps as early as next week really gives little to no chance for anyone to study it thoroughly, much less offer potential amendments.

Terrible approach

Regardless of what you think about the little-known details of the bill, please realize what a horrific way this is to make public policy.

This is a bill that will impact about one-sixth of the U.S. economy, to say nothing of the tens of millions of Americans either receiving coverage or contributing to the costs of coverage.

It’s unconscionable that elected officials can craft language with such sweeping impacts yet not have to disclose the specific special interests they clearly catered to in writing the plan.

Early examinations show those interests run toward cutting public insurance programs and coverage, with the primary benefit being cutting the taxes that pay for them.

Rushed vote?

To make matters worse, news reports from Washington indicate Republican leaders plan to take the measure straight to the Senate floor through “reconciliation,” a process that allows passage with 51 votes and avoids potential filibusters.

Democrats used the same approach for the ACA, but again their plan had been publicly debated and vetted for months. Through that transparent process it was no secret which parties would benefit and which would pay more.

According to several media reports, this plan could be voted on before July 4 through reconciliation. Such a quick vote not only limits how much analysis can be done, but it creates challenges for drafting changes and assessing those impacts.

And finally, as Politifact noted last week, this minimal time for debate could be shortened even more if McConnell and company use a loophole to force a vote even sooner.

And we thought the drafting and voting process for Obamacare was bad.


The Free Press of Mankato, June 24

Health care: The complications mount for GOP

Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.

Many Republicans in Congress ran on repealing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

For years, the House regularly took symbolic repeal votes, knowing the legislation was unlikely to get through the Senate and knowing that if it did would be vetoed by then-President Barack Obama. And while many Republicans wanted the government completely out of health care - a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act - others wanted to keep some of the more popular aspects.

Now the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency. And repeal is proving more difficult than they claimed it would be.

When the House passed its version of a new health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that up to 23 million Americans would lose health insurance. Insurers would be able to charge older customers up to five times more than they charge younger customers. States could change this ratio if they wanted, allowing them to charge more, or less. States could allow insurers to increase someone’s premiums based on their pre-existing conditions if they had a break in coverage, and states would run high-risk pools to cover the sickest residents. The federal government would have its own $8 billion fund to help cover sick people’s high premiums within the individual market.

When the House passed the bill, the House GOP and President Donald Trump held a Rose Garden celebration. A few weeks later, when talking with the Senate Republicans, Trump called the House bill he had celebrated “mean.”

The Senate Republican leadership decided that 13 senators would negotiate its version of bill in secret before revealing it to the full Senate. Their product, revealed Thursday, tries to walk a fine line between Obamacare and the House’s American Health Care Act. It does address some of the most controversial parts of the House bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to bring the bill to a vote before the July 4 recess. But it is uncertain that there are enough votes to pass the bill, and McConnell has suggested that it’s open to change - but not from Democrats.

Who knows where the Senate bill will end up. As of this writing, the CBO has not weighed in on the costs of the bill or how many people will lose health coverage. And polling indicates that the Republican approach to health care is even more unpopular than Obamacare, which was blamed (or credited) for the 2010 “wave” election that knocked the Democrats out of the House majority.

It is clear however, that the GOP Congress and the president are determined to pass something. The way millions of people get health care is soon going to change.

Congressional Republicans have discovered that health care is complicated, but they have also discovered that keeping the Affordable Care Act after railing against it for seven years would make it complicated for them to keep their base voters in the upcoming election. At this point it isn’t about better health care. It’s about keeping potential primary challengers at bay.

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