Scott Walker's anti-Obamacare snark, and the Catch-22 that may turn him out of office | WisCommunity

Scott Walker's anti-Obamacare snark, and the Catch-22 that may turn him out of office

#000000;">Gov. Scott Walker looks more and more like Milo Minderbinder, the war-profiteering rapscallion in Joseph Heller's famous satirical novel, “Catch-22.” Minderbinder is an Army Air Force officer in World War II who believes “the business of government is business” and who trades frontline military equipment on the black market for profit through his M&M Enterprises “firm.” At one point, he secretly sells the inflation cartridges in the emergency life vests of American bomber crews, leaving printed IOUs saying that what's good for M&M is good for the country. According to Milo's entry on Wikipedia, #000000;">“his most interesting attributes are his complete amorality without self-awareness, and his circular logicality in running his Syndicate.” 

#000000;">Likewise, Walker – who manages a syndicate known as the Wisconsin Republican Party – has been busy profiteering politically from his war on Wisconsin workers. He believes government should be run like a business, albeit a badly managed, even corrupt business. Akin to Minderbinder's method, Walker has schemed to grab funds from well-designed social programs with his own equivalent of IOUs, redeploying wherever possible the proceeds to further his own political ambitions. Then, with circular logic, Walker claims the programs he's newly made dysfunctional had to be reformed if not ended, since they were so dysfunctional, yet he continues at times to claim credit for how well they have run, even when he has had little real control over them.

#000000;">But now, with respect to one of Walker's biggest such transactions, Democratic strategists looking to unseat him this fall could be missing a bet if they don't steer their party's gubernatorial candidate – probably Mary Burke – toward a vigorous endorsement of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

That may, at first glance, sound nuts. After all, Wisconsin is for the moment a politically reddish state with a red-wing governor and legislature who did everything in their power to wreck if not halt the ACA's implementation, to some small success. But judging from the populism building around the country, a shout-out for what Republicans have snidely called “Obamacare” may now be just the ticket for Democratic office seekers. That's because Walker and other Republicans who have spent so much time bad-mouthing the law are now stuck in a Catch-22 situation where, increasingly, the law is turning out to be not only effective but also popular among voters. They'd have to be crazy to maintain an anti-ACA stance, yet at this point they've done so much bad-mouthing they'd also be crazy to embrace it.

Democrats have no such limitations. But Wisconsin Democrats in particular should not dismiss the subject, since Walker is clearly intent on grabbing credit anyway he can for anything good that's happened to health care in Wisconsin during his first term. Luckily, the way to neutralize Walker's rhetoric or even regain control over the issue is already being demonstrated by Democrats elsewhere.

Consider equally reddish North Carolina, where Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is facing a tough fight against a well-financed, vociferously anti-Obamacare Republican in an election that could help determine whether the US Senate falls to tea party control. Surprisingly, Hagan has deployed the ACA in her favor. As in North Carolina, the act increasingly is becoming a rhetorical weapon for Democrats in state and national races around the country. That might seem suicidal, but so far the tactic seems to be working, in part because Democrats elsewhere have deployed their defense of the act like a targeted smart bomb. And polls seem to reflect positively on that deployment.

Hagan made the act a key plus when in recent Senate hearings she promoted the president's nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to run health and human services and oversee health care reform. Meanwhile, some heavy-hitting progressive groups are trying to promote the ACA by focusing on the law's most popular components:

#000000;">The Washington Post reported on Friday that Planned Parenthood, SEIU [a national labor union] and have all launched campaigns “aimed at mobilizing support for the law and the officials who back it.#000000;"> By focusing on more popular parts of the law — including Medicaid expansion, free birth-control coverage and a bar on denying coverage for preexisting conditions — the groups hope to coax individuals who often skip voting in midterm elections to make it to the polls.”

The Medicaid expansion is emerging as the key issue for Democrats when politicking on the ACA. It’s what Hagan hung her ACA defense on during Burwell’s hearing, and she’s using it to attack her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis, who led the South Carolina Legislature in rejecting expanded Medicaid within the state.

#000000;">Scott Walker, of course, is our state's poster child for anti-ACA, Republican posturing. He was The Decider in rejecting the ACA's provision for almost total federal underwriting to expand Medicaid to a wider pool of low-income Wisconsin workers. Before that, Walker went to court to try to stop the act's overall implementation and refused to set up a state insurance marketplace to enroll residents in private plans under the Care Act, all designed to depress enrollments if not quash them altogether.

In his most recent budget, the state's gamester-in-chief also cut 77,000 low-income Wisconsin adults from eligibility for the state's BadgerCare version of Medicaid, directing those newly uninsured citizens to plans offered through the very federal health care reform law he hates, using a loophole created by the US Supreme Court to ignore the fact that the law intended that those low-income people should be eligible for Medicaid coverage. Still worse, Walker also zeroed out state government's separate, high-risk insurance plan, kicking even more citizens off affordable health care. That, too, was billed by some anti-ACA forces as a negative outcome of the ACA, although there is no provision in the law mandating that such high-risk plans be closed.

To be sure, while cutting loose those 77,000 low-income adults, Walker did extend BadgerCare eligibility to an additional 83,000 childless adults. That addition, however, amounted to no more than a political shell game, designed to let Walker proclaim he'd “expanded” coverage without accepting "uncertain" federal funding. What is truly certain is that Walker's rejection of the Care Act's Medicaid expansion will cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. Moreover, it's statistically probable, according to third-party analysis, that this same Walker decision will cost hundreds of Wisconsin residents their early deaths for lack of affordable care.

What's more, in many states, even other red states where governors like Walker rejected federal aid to expand Medicaid rolls, the rolls are expanding anyway, thanks to an "out of the woodwork" effect, as McClatchy News Service reports:

Seventeen states that chose not to expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act ended up with more program beneficiaries - partly because of all the hoopla surrounding the health law, according to a new analysis by Avalere Health.

More than 550,000 people in these 17 states signed up for Medicaid coverage between October and March, even though they were already eligible for the program but were not previously enrolled.

Wisconsin is not as of yet among those 17 states, but as more residents find out they have been eligible for BadgerCare all along, they may follow suit and sign up -- costing state taxpayers even more, thanks to Walker's decision to decline greater federal aid.

Yet when he recently announced he would run for a second term, Walker had the gall to claim his “leadership” has increased the number of people in Wisconsin who “have access to health care,.” Read that more carefully. “Access” is a loaded term. It's like saying you have “access” to an expressway toll lane when you don't have enough money to actually pay the tolls. 

Those whom Walker dumped from BadgerCare and the state's high-risk insurance pool might still have “access” to health care coverage, but many will discover it is access they cannot afford. Walker hardly could have been blind to that outcome, since his advisors know very well how the ACA is structured. Thus, it seems obvious that Walker and his team mindfully subverted the Care Act's intended purposes and goals. In any event, there's no legitimate way Walker can take credit for the 140,000 people in Wisconsin who in the first open enrollment period signed up for health plans offered in the federal health insurance marketplace. Now they can be expected to continue their game, in which the governor can continue to sniff about the “failure” of big-government ACA when that's convenient while taking personal credit for ACA's positive impact in Wisconsin whenever that's convenient. 

It's not just mind-bending politics, it's Minderbindering politics. Every dollar not spent on social safety net programs like BadgerCare is another dollar Walker can spend on something else more to his liking, such as tax giveaways to business or freeway construction. Under Walker, it's not just government that's run like a business, but government that's run like a black market.

The bottom line is that Walker's fingerprints are all over continuing health care problems in Wisconsin; nevertheless, the governor clearly intends to paint himself as the real health-care reformer. Democrats would be foolish to let him do it. If national examples are to be believed, there is active and also latent support for Medicaid in particular and other provisions within the Care Act.

#000000;">NBC asked Kentuckians their opinions both of “Obamacare” and of Kynect, the state-based health exchange. They overwhelmingly dislike “Obamacare,” with 57 percent saying they view it unfavorably. However, more people said they like Kynect (29 percent) than dislike it (22 percent). It’s amazing what happens when you take the “Obama” out of Obamacare.

Likewise, it would be amazing to see what happens when you take the Walker out of BadgerCare.


May 14, 2014 - 3:01pm