Week In Review: State Budgets Get Reprieve From Feds; Health Reform Politics On The Homefront

“State budget crises averted” – that’s the headline supporters of a state aid package might have written this week. It included $16 billion in extra Medicaid assistance. But, in keeping with the current mood, Democrats and Republicans had very different views of this legislation.

On Tuesday, House lawmakers returned to Washington to vote on the legislation, The Wall Street Journal explained: “The session was set up by last week’s surprise Senate passage of the $26 billion measure after House members had already departed. Democratic leaders concluded it was worth returning to pass a bill they said would save hundreds of thousands of jobs overall. Democrats say states would have had to offset Medicaid payments by laying off police officers and firefighters, but now won’t have to” (Bendavid, 8/11). McClatchy Newspapers provided more detail regarding states’ budgetary circumstances. “At least half the states, hit hard by rising Medicaid caseloads and lower than expected revenue, had been counting on federal aid for the health program after Jan. 1. Washington had provided extra help through Dec. 31 under the 2009 federal stimulus” (Lightman, 8/10).

Los Angeles Times reported on the 247-161 “virtual party-line vote.” President Obama signed it into law that afternoon (Mascaro, 8/11). ABC News noted that Republicans “sharply criticized the package, calling it more misguided government spending” and charged Democrats with “political pandering in advance of the November elections” (Dwyer and Jaffe, 8/10). NPR’s Shots Blog sampled some of the back-and-forth as GOP lawmakers “claimed the measure was another example of excessive Democratic spending the nation can’t afford. ‘There is no emergency,’ said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. … Au contraire, said Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-CA), who chairs the Energy and Commerce panel. The money would help educate children and provide health care to vulnerable people. ‘What could be more important?’ he asked’” (Villegas, 8/11).

(For complete coverage of the Medicaid vote, read KHN’s Daily Report for August 9, August 10 and August 11. News summaries also detail how the funds are viewed from the state level.)

As lawmakers returned to their districts, the news outlets began to focus on how health reform could affect the fall elections.  A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Wednesday indicated a pessimistic mood “about the economy and the war in Afghanistan,” according to The Wall Street Journal, and that “Americans … are losing faith that Democrats have better solutions than Republicans.” The poll also concluded that “Democrats should expect little if any appreciation from voters for legislative achievements such as overhauling the health care and financial systems” (Wallsten and Gray, 8/11).

Confusion surrounding the specifics of the health law is causing could affect voter attitudes.  USA Today noted that, in three recent polls, large percentages of Americans believed that the health law would cut Medicare benefits, slash doctors pay and ration health care to patients, all false claims that remain pervasive despite reform supporters’ efforts to educate the public. “For example: The debunked idea raised by opponents during congressional debate that ‘death panels’ could make end-of-life decisions is seen as real by nearly half of those surveyed” (Wolf, 8/12).

Earlier in the week, Politico analyzed the challenges being faced by Democrats in convincing senior citizens to like the new law. “‘It’s going to be a really tough sell,’ said political analyst William Galston, who worked in the Clinton administration and is now at the Brookings Institution. ‘It’s difficult for them to see how this bill will make them better off, given that a substantial portion of the savings will come out of Medicare Advantage. ‘Speaking as a Democrat, I hope I’m wrong. But speaking as a political analyst, I don’t think I am’”(Kliff, 8/10).

 KHN’s Health on the Hill included a discussion with Mary Agnes Carey and Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn the political outlook as well as about the Medicaid vote (Judd, Carey and Haberkorn, 8/11)

(For more detailed coverage of health reform politics – including news about legal challenges filed against the the overhaul’s individual mandate and how health reform is playing during the congressional recess –read KHN’s Daily Report for August 9, August 10, August 13.)