Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 7:04 pm
Over the weekend, the state media scrambled around to try to piece together details of the universal health plan being offered by Wisconsin Senate DemocratsÂ in the state budget.Â This article from the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday caught my eye as being particularly interesting.
WhileÂ there are parts of the article thatÂ I would accuse of being too favorableÂ to the universal health care plan (like, the first six paragraphs, for instance), I do actually have some sympathy for how difficult it is to cover your typical “liberal versus conservative” types of topics.Â As a general rule, people who benefit from new government programs are pretty easy to track down.Â On the other hand, the people who pay for such a program, and therefore would be in strident opposition, are the taxpayers – who are spread out and largely disinterested.
For instance, let’s say the Senate was proposing a new $2 million program to benefitÂ the Wisconsin Society of People with No Lips.Â When the bill isÂ up on the floor, all the State Journal has to do is call someone with no lips to tellÂ them (as best as they can, at least) how great the bill is.Â The downside, of course, to passing the bill is that you couldn’t tell if it really made the lipless people all that happy – since they’d be smiling anyway.Â Although they wouldn’tÂ look quite as surprised as the Wisconsin Society of People With No Eyelids when their bill passed.
On the other hand, it would be harder to track down people who are anti-lipless and think the free market could better serve their needs.Â First, the cost of the program would be minimal when spread throughout all taxpayers, so nobody really gets all that upset.Â The problem is, when you stack program upon program upon program like that – each with a supposed “minimal” effect on taxpayers – you end up as the 8th highest taxed state in the nation, as Wisconsin is now.
Furthermore, plans to “help” specific groups are much easier to explain to people than market forces.Â Conservatives argue that on health care, we’re not really operating in a free market with all of the state mandates on health plans and other government regulations.Â If doctors and health plans had transparency in pricing, had to compete for patients, and had the flexibility to offer more specialized care, then health care costs would come down.Â But try to explain this to someone who thinks their health care bills are too high, and you’ll get a glazed stare.
So reporters find someone who wants free health care (look to your left, then to your right – there’s a 90% chance both of those people fit the bill).Â Then, as a counterpoint, they need someone who understands market economics.Â I imagine the exchange goes something like this:
Q:Â “Do you want free health care?”
Q:Â “Do you want your employer to provide you with a tax-free health savings account, which would allow you to choose your health care services, which would make health care more subject to the forces of market competition, which would eventually hold down the price of going to the doctor?”
A:Â “Can I have a sandwich?”
The immediate constituency for government funds will always be more politically active than any looseÂ arrangement of taxpayers who may dislike paying high taxes.Â Sure, there are business groups that oppose higher taxes, but at a high-scale public hearing, those groups are going to be outnumbered 10 to 1.
In the case of this health care plan, the people who want free health care are easy to find.Â The 8,100Â minimum wage workers who areÂ expected to lose their jobs (according to the Lewin Actuarial Analysis) are harder to trackÂ down, since none of them know if they’d be the ones on the chopping block – they’ll only know after it is too late.Â The 53%Â of Wisconsin residents who are going to end up paying more for health care than they do now are probably equally as difficult toÂ find – because everything is up in the air at this point.
In the end, it may end up that all this health care plan accomplished was to give Democrats a bargaining chip in the budget process.Â There’s very little chance that it will pass, and its hurried introduction and sham public hearing are evidence that it’s not a serious proposal.Â In that case,Â Senate DemocratsÂ may have ended up giving false hope toÂ their people who really need cheaper health care.Â And that would be a cruel irony.
Today, the U.S Supreme Court released its opinion inÂ FEC vs. Wisconsin Right to Life,Â a case which challenged the portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law which limited the issue advocacy in which organizations could engage near the time of an election.Â Justice Scalia joined with the majority in overturning a significant portion of the federal law, but also issued a concurring opinion that argues the Court didn’t go far enough.
The question is whether WRTL meets the standard for prevailing in an as-applied challenge to BCRA Â§203. Answering that question obviously requires the Court to articulate the standard. The most obvious one, and the one suggested by the Federal Election Commission (FEC)and intervenors, is the standard set forth in McConnell itself: whether the advertisement is the “functional equivalent of express advocacy.” McConnell, supra, at 206. See also Brief for Appellant FEC 18 (arguing that WRTLâ€™s “advertisements are the functional equivalent of the sort of express advocacy that this Court has long recognized may be constitutionally regulated”); Reply Brief for Appellant Sen. John McCain et al. in No. 06â€“970,Â p. 14 (“[C]ourts should apply the standard articulated in McConnell; Congress may constitutionally restrict corporate funding of ads that are the â€˜functional equivalent of express advocacyâ€™ for or against a candidate”). Intervenors flesh out the standard somewhat further: “[C]ourts should ask whether the adâ€™s audience would reasonably understand the ad, in the context of the campaign, to promote or attack the candidate. Id, at 15.
The District Court instead articulated a five-factor test that looks to whether the ad under review “(1) describes a legislative issue that is either currently the subject of legislative scrutiny orlikely to be the subject of such scrutiny in the near future; (2) refers to the prior voting record or current position of the named candidate on the issue described; (3) exhorts the listener to do anything other than contact the candidate about the described issue; (4) promotes, attacks, supports, or opposes the named candidate; and (5) refers to the upcoming election, candidacy, and/or political partyof the candidate.” 466 F. Supp. 2d 195, 207 (DC 2006). The backup definition of “electioneering communications”contained in BCRA itself, see n. 2, supra, offers another possibility. It covers any communication that “promotes or supports a candidate for that office . . . (regardless of whether the communication expressly advocates a vote for or against a candidate) and which also is suggestive of no plausible meaning other than an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate.” And the principal opinion inthis case offers a variation of its own (one bearing a strong likeness to BCRAâ€™s backup definition): whether “the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” Ante, at 16.
There is a fundamental and inescapable problem withall of these various tests. Each of them (and every other test that is tied to the public perception, or a courtâ€™s perception, of the import, the intent, or the effect of the ad) is impermissibly vague and thus ineffective to vindicate the fundamental First Amendment rights of the large segmentof society to which Â§203 applies. Consider the applicationof these tests to WRTLâ€™s ads: There is not the slightestdoubt that these ads had an issue-advocacy component.They explicitly urged lobbying on the pending legislative issue of appellate-judge filibusters. The question before usis whether something about them caused them to be the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy, and thus constitutionally subject to BCRAâ€™s criminal penalty. Does any of the tests suggested above answer this question withthe degree of clarity necessary to avoid the chilling of fundamental political discourse? I think not.
The “functional equivalent” test does nothing more than restate the question (and make clear that the electoral advocacy need not be express). The test which asks how the adâ€™s audience “would reasonably understand the ad” provides ample room for debate and uncertainty. The District Courtâ€™s five-factor test does not (and could not possibly) specify how much weight is to be given to eachfactorâ€”and includes the inherently vague factor of whether the ad “promotes, attacks, supports, or opposes the named candidate.” (Does attacking the kingâ€™s position attack the king?) The tests which look to whether the ad is “susceptible of no plausible meaning” or “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation” other than an exhortation to vote for or against a specific candidate seem tighter. They ultimately depend, however, upon a judicial judgment (or is itâ€”worse stillâ€”a jury judgment?) concerning “reasonable” or “plausible” import that is far from certain, that rests upon consideration of innumerable surrounding circumstances which the speaker may not even be aware of, and that lends itself to distortion by reason of the decision makerâ€™s subjective evaluation of the importance or unimportance of the challenged speech. In this critical area of political discourse, the speaker cannot be compelled to risk felony prosecution with no more assurance of impunity than his prediction that what he says will be found susceptible of some “reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” Under these circumstances, “[m]any persons, rather than undertake the considerable burden (and sometimes risk) of vindicating their rights through case-by-caselitigation, will choose simply to abstain from protected speechâ€”harming not only themselves but society as a whole, which is deprived of an uninhibited marketplace of ideas.”
The opinion released today overturns portions of the law upheld only three terms ago inÂ McConnell v. Federal Election Commâ€™n, 540 U. S. 93 (2003), in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sided with the 5-4 majority to uphold the McCain-Feingold issue advocacy provisions. Justices Alito and Roberts both sided with the majority in today’s decision.
This being the case, special recognition for today’s decision goes to Ohio and Florida, and their electoral votes.
You may recall the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s ridiculous report last month that purported to show that “big business” contributed 12 times as much as unions to Wisconsin candidates. Naturally, the “study” was reported as if it were the Ten Commandments.
I examined the flaws in the report in this post. In fact, you don’t even need to take my word for it – opensecrets.org has a listing of the largest contributors to federal candidates since 1989-90. Here’s the top 10:
Amer Fedn of State/Cnty/Munic Employees
National Education Assn
National Assn of Realtors
Assn of Trial Lawyers of America
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
American Medical Assn
Service Employees International Union
Communications Workers of America
While these are federal candidates, and the WDC report deals with state candidates, does anyone actually believe somehow unions ignore Wisconsin politicians? Of course not.
The controversy in Madison surrounding the naming of a new school after Hmong leader General Vang Pao has been beaten to death locally, but it can provide some important lessons for the future for the rest of the state.
First of all, there really isn’t anyone in this whole charade to root for.Sure, the gutless Madison school board was unwilling to stand up to the Hmong community when they were pushing for a school to be named after a questionable (and living) general. However, some citizens opposed naming the school after Vang because he had been involved in (gasp!) a military conflict. One parent went so far as to say that if you named the school after a military leader, then you couldn’t teach children not to fight in school (As has been the case, apparently, with kids who attend schools named “Washington,” “Lincoln,” “Kennedy,” etc.)
The facts are well known: Madison is building a new elementary school on the far west side. When soliciting names for the school, the school district received 41 suggestions, ranging from Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson to Gaylord Nelson to Ronald Reagan. Amid much lobbying from the Hmong community in Madison, including Hmong board member Shwaw Vang, the Madison School Board unanimously approved naming the school after General Vang Pao, who led Hmong soldiers in defense of the United States in the Vietnam War.
There’s a problem, however. Vang Pao had been accused of some questionable activities in his past, including allegations of drug running. And since he is still living, it opened up the door for him to do something else to embarrass the school district – which is exactly what happened, when he was arrested in California on charges of building a militia to violently overthrow the government of Laos.
The lesson here is clear: Don’t name buildings after living people. They screw up. Sometimes spectacularly.
There are ways of getting around this that may be acceptable. In recent years, the state opened the Risser Justice Building in Madison. In that case, the building is named after the Risser Family, who have had a father and son both serve in the Legislature. (Fred Risser was first elected in 1956, and still serves in the Senate. There’s a decent chance that the 26th Senate District will be represented by Fred Risser’s cryogenically frozen brain for the next 200 years).
By naming it after a family, you can deflect the actions of a bad actor – such as if Fred Risser were caught in bed with a giraffe (which, incidentally, would only be slightly less embarrassing than Tommy Thompson’s presidential campaign – and Thompson has had state buildings named after him).
It takes a person’s death for us to properly put them in the context of our history. That should be the standard by which we hand out building names.
Furthermore, for new schools, it makes sense to name them after the neighborhood in which they are built. That way, something as simple as naming a school doesn’t turn into the “racial grievance Olympics” every time one is built. If the school board is compelled to honor a minority when naming a school, there are some civil rights titans that remain underappreciated (Thurgood Marshall, for instance).
The Madison School Board has made the right decision to rename the west side school. Let’s hope they get it right this time.
Despite their supposed “nonpartisan” affiliation, the League of Women Voters has traditionally been a solid supporter of liberal causes. A trip to their own website reveals their positions supporting universal health care and gun control, opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, and on and on.
This week, the Wisconsin State Senate held a hearing on the so-called “Frankenstein Veto,” which would prohibit governors from abusing their veto power by stitching together two or more sentences to make an entirely new law that the legislature never intended. In the previous budget, 750 individual words were vetoed out of the bill to come up with a single sentence that transferred $427 million out of the transportation fund and into the general fund – something the legislature never considered in their deliberation of the budget.
Supporters of the bill tend to be the good-government types. Testifying in opposition were groups like WEAC, the state teachers’ union, who benefited the most from the aforementioned use of the Frankenstein Veto. (One wonders how they would have been testifying had the creative veto authority been used to cut their funding, rather than increasing it.)
The League of Women Voters testified “for information only,” in language that can best be described as confusing.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is committed to representative government as established by the constitutions of the United States and the State of Wisconsin. For this reason, we register our concern with AJR1 and SJR5. While the proposed amendment purports to ban the partial veto of an appropriations bill, it fails to solve the basic problem of whether or not the Governor has the ability to change the intent of appropriations passed by the Legislature.
The current amendment continues to allow for deleting parts of a single sentence. Furthermore, it would permit governors to delete larger portions of an enrolled bill as long as they do not “create a new sentence by combining parts of 2 or more sentences of the enrolled bill.”
Our concern about the partial veto is not a partisan one. Governors of both parties have used the partial veto extensively. The laws that result from the exercise of the partial veto frequently contain new taxation or new programs that have not been considered or enacted by the Legislature. Whether or not we agree with the results of these vetoes, the fact remains that the people of the State of Wisconsin, represented in the Senate and Assembly, are denied participation in the process.This particular amendment attempts to address that failing. However, as written it would not eliminate the Governor’s ability to create new taxation or programs through a partial veto in the final step of the budget process.
So they are for representative government, and think the governor’s current veto authority violates that principle. But they oppose any action to rein it in, because it doesn’t go far enough? They say that the proposed amendment would allow governors to veto large sections of the bill – is this something they oppose? This is similar to the item veto virtually every other state has. Do they think the governor should only be able to veto the whole budget?
The more likely scenario is that they wanted to oppose the bill to side with the governor, but they couldn’t be on the wrong side of a good government issue. So they used the tactic of saying the bill doesn’t go far enough – which puts them in the strange position of having to argue how Wisconsin is better off if the legislature doesn’t pass an amendment that gets closer to their stated goal of “representative government.”
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 9:39 am
Bill Christofferson misses a big point in his criticism of Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch for today’s announcement that agreement on the state budget may take some time.Â However, Christofferson almost unknowingly backs into a decent point in his skepticism of delayed budgets.
Â Xoff compares the prospect of a delayed budget to the federal government shutdown of 1995, saying:
Before he leads his party too far down that path, Huebsch might want to touch bases with Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich, you may recall, was the architect of the 1995 shutdown of the federal government, in a showdown with President Bill Clinton…
But Gingrich and Co. overplayed their hand, and, while achieving some of their budget objectives, paid a huge political price for losing the public relations war. Gingrich left government not too long after that disaster.
Of course, the federal and state ways of dealing with budget impasses are entirely different.Â When the federal government “shuts down,” as it did in 1996, it actually stops in its tracks.Â People stop working, and backlogs pile up.Â In fact, Congress actually had to pass legislation ordering federal employees back to work, whether they were paid or not.
In state government, programs continue to be funded at the previous levels – nothing shuts down, but cost-to-continue increases aren’t granted until the budget is complete.
For state government operations, this is a minor problem, since departments roll along until the budgets pass.Â The big problem with this strategy is the effect it has on local governments, which have to write their budgets without knowing how much funding they will receive from the state.Â Since 60% of the state budget is comprised of aids to locals, this causes a great deal of uncertainty for municipalities and school districts.
Furthermore, the modest property tax caps signed into law in the last budget are now due to expire.Â As a result, local governments may increase property taxes to make up for the revenue lost by a delayed budget.Â This effect was described in a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, which predicted that property taxes would increase by $400 million over Doyle’s proposed budget in the next biennium if no budget were passed ($179 million of that would be attributable to flat aids to school districts alone).
Thus, while citizens wouldn’t see an outright shutdown of government, they could see increased property taxes as a result – which could make a delayed budget an unpopular strategy.
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 9:50 am
Last week, the University of Wisconsin Digital Library posted the content of all the state’s Blue Books, dating back to 1853. As you may know, the Blue Book is the official Wisconsin Almanac of all things political, industrial, agricultural, and social. Needless to say, they are a gold mine of information about our history.
Most noticably, Blue Books carry really interesting historical information about Wisconsin’s elected officials. Naturally, photos are included. Here are some photos from some notable and some not-so notable of Wisconsin’s past representatives:
In Wisconsin government, the early ’90s will best be known for school finance reform and horrific legislative hair – as evidenced by two neighboring Assembly representatives who went on to serve as Attorney General and Senate Majority leader, respectively:
The 1944-50 period saw the introduction to the Legislature of two future heavyweights in Wisconsin politics, Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson:
That time period also saw the introduction of a future Wisconsin Governor and a mother of a future Wisconsin Governor, who also happened to be the wife of a gubernatorial candidate. Patrick Lucey and Ruth Bachhuber Doyle represented adjacent Assembly districts in 1950:
“The Freshman Assembly Class of 1956 would like to welcome Fred Risser, who surely is well on his way to bigger and better things in the near future.”
Other photos of note:
Clement Zablocki isn’t voting for your damn bill, and there’s nothing you can say about it, hippie.
In 1944, Senator Taylor Brown perfected the “Gumby” style of hairdo, which would be passed down to his namesake Bobby Brown in 1989:
Progressive Representative William Foley wasn’t afraid to represent how they rolled in Superior in 1944:
In 1944, the Legislature was primarily a club for white men, as they had not started electing those pesky women and minorities. One notable exception was Margaret Varda from Iron County – it appears in this series of photos that her two neighboring Assemblymen are actually looking at her and expressing their disdain. Almost a “who brought the woman to our poker game?” type of look:
Filed under: History — Christian Schneider @ 6:55 am
A friend of mine in the Legislature dug up this little historical tidbit:
In 1945, the Wisconsin Legislature actually had an official mascot – Trooper was a male German Shepherd seeing-eye dog who was made the official legislative mascot by 1945 Joint Resolution 80. Trooper even got his own picture in the state’s “Blue Book,” which is the biennial almanac of state government. Here it is:
In 2003, whenÂ I was working in the Legislature on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), a co-worker of mine and I decided that TABOR really needed a mascot toÂ really give it the momentum it needed.Â We picked an alligator with sunglasses, which, of course, is the universal symbol of fiscal restraint.Â Sadly,Â the cartoon alligator wasn’t enough to convince the Legislature to pass the constitutional amendment.Â
Of course, this leads one to wonder what an appropriate mascot for the 2007 legislature should be.Â Feel free to comment with suggestions.Â Here’s my first crack at it:
Imagine my surprise today when I showed up in a Shepherd Express article about the Stewardship program. Apparently, there aren’t many conservatives willing to go on record in questioning the program – so I’m the go-to guy to be “The Grinch that Stole Earth Day.”
Anyway, I thought the article was well written, and lays out the typical arguments for the program. Supporting the program is Bud Jordahl, who forgets more about land conservation on a daily basis than I will learn in my lifetime – and whose son I consider to be a friend (as long as he sets good screens for me in basketball).
Anyway, it eventually gets around to me, and says:
Many conservatives balk at the price tag for the program.
“Despite the current dire economic straits of state government, Doyle continues to rack up the state’s credit card debt in order to pacify his environmental supporters,” wrote Christian Schneider in a commentary for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
Schneider also stated that, based on a study by the Legislative Audit Bureau, the DNR is paying more for the land than it’s really worth. And, what’s more, the concept of the program is flawed, Schneider argues, based on theoretical right-wing economic theory.
“According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 18% of Wisconsin’s total land is currently being held for public conservation by various levels of government – an irony completely missed by advocates of ‘affordable housing,’ who don’t realize that the more land the government takes off the market, the more expensive the land gets,” Schneider wrote.
Of course, my points are “theoretical right-wing economic theory.” The fact that if something becomes more scarce, it costs more is purely theoretical. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and market forces – all unproven theories.
I’m also fond of Democrats’ constant evocation of former Republican Governor Warren Knowles as this great moderate, since he supported Gaylord Nelson’s land buying program. This is the same Governor Knowles that referred to the Wisconsin Young Democrats as “homocrats” when they pushed for the repeal of sodomy laws in 1966.