Sunday, February 28, 2010
(Updated) Draft Budget Bill Agreed On by Members of NM House Appropriations Committee
Update 3.1.10: More info has been revealed about budget plans. I'm told nothing was approved at yesterday's informal meeting of HAFC, but that members were briefed on some of the details of the deal tentatively worked out by Dem leaders in the House and Senate.
The Albuquerque Journal reports this morning that the leadership proposal includes a permanent increase of a quarter precent in the state's gross receipts tax (from 5% to 5.25%), projected to bring in $119 million per year. There would be a 50 cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes (from 91 cents to $1.41), projected to bring in $24 million per year. New Mexico cities would reinstate a portion of the gross receipts tax on food items that was repealed six years ago. It was estimated the new taxes would bring in $233 million of the $500 to $600 million budget deficit next year.
Most state agencies would see a 2% cut in funding next year, although public education would have its total funding reduced by about 1% compared with this year's spending level. Department of Public Safety funding would increase.
I'm hearing that members of the New Mexico House Appropriations and Finance Committee informally agreed to approve a new draft of budget bill HB 2 at a meeting today in Santa Fe. The draft reportedly reflects the crappy new budget deal leaked over the weekend. The bill will have to be voted on again by HAFC in its official capacity when it meets during a special session of the legislature that Governor Bill Richardson intends to call tomorrow, with a noon start time.
If I learn more, I'll let you know. The question is whether or not real Democrats will fight the regressive tax measures in the leaked deal and push publicly for rolling back the tax cuts for New Mexico's wealthiest and making big-box corporations pay the same taxes paid by small businesses. We need these kinds of taxes to minimize proposed budget cuts to essential services, our safety net, education and more. If they don't come out swinging against this bogus backroom deal, I think they'll be in for a world of pain from the base and beyond. You have to wonder if the ConservaDem-Republican cabal that runs the Senate is purposefully trying to make Dem House members look bad so they lose in November. The entire House of Representatives is up for election this year. Senators have two more years before they must face the electorate.
Why Progressive Activism Matters Now: The Albuquerque Tea Party GOP Gubernatorial Forum
This is a guest blog by Cheryl Harris, an Albuquerque Democrat.
If Democrats and other progressives needed any motivation to get involved this campaign cycle, the Albuquerque Tea Party forum Saturday night (February 27) provided that motivation. The ATP hosted a forum for GOP Governor candidates at CNM’s Smith-Brasher Hall that would put your hair on end, and leave you with a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. At least, that’s how I felt after I sat in on an hour or so of this bad theatre.
Looking around as I took my seat, I saw a sea of white, mostly older, faces. I saw no person of color in the room, and few people who looked Hispanic. Fortunately, the standing-room-only promise did not materialize, and there were empty seats scattered throughout the auditorium.
The Pledge of Allegiance was followed by a long Christian prayer, closing in the name of Jesus Christ, and a loud group AMEN! I have nothing against Christians. I was raised Christian, and Christian values as described by Christ are pretty progressive -- taking care of the poor, not killing people, loving your neighbor -- lots of good stuff like that. But that sure excludes a lot of potential voters from your party who may be something other than white Christians! And separation of church and state seemed somewhat compromised by this prayer.
The Tea Party host decried the fact that New Mexico Republicans were outnumbered by registered Democrats, but they certainly did nothing Saturday night to indicate they cared about any other group, or were seeking their support and involvement in the Republican party.
The candidates were given four questions by the ATP to answer in turn, and I would like to share their philosophies with you. (Susana Martinez was not present; Allen Weh, Doug Turner, Pete Domenici Jr. and Janice Arnold-Jones were there.)
The 10th Amendment -- reserving rights to the states -- really got them going, and all four decried the power of the federal government, particularly in regard to health care reform, which they do not want “rammed down our throats” according to Doug Turner. Their solution is to “stick together” as Republican Governors, and to take legal action and go to court to fight the federal government, as promised by Allen Weh and Pete Domenici Jr. Now, as fiscal conservatives, they spent much of the time talking about unnecessary spending, but going to court against the U.S. Government apparently does not qualify as unnecessary spending. Anybody see a sense of limited reality and confusion here?
By the way, the Utah State Legislature has been engaging in a similar effort in their legislative session, passing “discussion” bills against the federal government. The people of Utah are quite disgusted over the time and effort spent on this by their legislature, rather than dealing with pressing budget and education bills.
What Constitutional Amendment would they each support? The anti-immigrant/anti-poor sentiment really came out here, with Turner and Weh dredging up the driver’s license requirement for voting to prevent voter fraud, and also not issuing licenses to undocumented aliens. Arnold-Jones is against low-income housing, claiming it goes against the anti-donation clause, even though it is clearly spelled out in the state constitution, and Domenici wants to restore the death penalty. Weh and Domenici had also spoken in their opening remarks about restoring the death penalty, to great applause. So much for Christian values....
Regarding fiscal policy and budget, all four spoke platitudes and generalities about tightening our belt, living within our means, funding only “important stuff,” as Weh called it, and not spending more than we have -- all issues the current legislative session is struggling to answer as well, with specific solutions.
There were few definitive ideas put forth, but one of them was relate to the Rail Runner, which seemed to be the favorite Republican whipping boy -- “mothball it”, “there's no plan and analysis for it,” “privatize it and remove it from the backs of the public.” Sorry, Lawrence. You really screwed it up, according to these folks. No comments from the candidates on the steady ridership and public popularity of the Rail Runner.
Domenici promised to “force our state workers to work,” but also complimented them on having the ability to do quality work. I couldn’t tell if he was pleased or displeased with our state workforce. Turner promised to terminate all political appointments. Well, of course he would -- they would all be previous administration appointments! But he also promised to “slash” the size of state government. So don’t fill any of those exempt positions, Doug. We’ll be watching!
Arnold-Jones wants the money earned by people to stay with them, and not go to others, a thinly veiled reference to lowered taxes on the wealthy and elimination of social and public programs.
The audience loved the emphasis on lower taxes and getting government “off of our backs.” Of course, we were meeting in a lovely public building that was built with tax dollars, and probably would not ever have been built under their definition of necessary spending.
But the really scary part came as the candidates discussed their philosophies of individual rights. Here the anti-government sentiment really emerged.
Water rights -- they belong to individuals, not to government. Government should have no right of eminent domain. It’s your home to defend, and if you kill someone, that’s your right. Government exists “to protect rights, and not create rights.” (So progressive legislation like civil rights is not protecting a minority citizen’s right, but apparently is creating a right, in their eyes?)
And government “intrusion” into privacy, freedom of speech, and other constitutional rights, which they defended Saturday night, was apparently not an issue with the Bush administration Patriot Act? Oh, the hypocrisy!
The discussion gave the audience what they came to hear -- that they were abused and disadvantaged by the current federal and state governments, that the world is a scary place, and that people are out to get them.
I left before the audience questions were collected and asked, but I have a feeling it just got more desperate and angry after that.
Brace yourselves, Democrats, for a nasty fight. They don’t tolerate anybody that isn’t like them. They have a very small tent and a narrow vision of America. Like the Grinch, their hearts are two sizes too small. Stay true to our broader, more humane hopes and vision of the world, and get involved!!
BW Note: According to reports on Twitter, the results of the straw poll taken at the end of this forum are being kept secret from the public and were only distributed to the campaigns.
Also see Peter St. Cyr's report on this forum at NMI, with audio and video clips.
This is a guest blog by Albuquerque Democrat Cheryl Harris. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page. To see a collection of past guest blogs, visit our archive.
Stephen Jones Reports: Doña Ana County Democrats Host Rousing Convention
Click for album
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico. He IS our Southern NM Bureau.
Nearly three hundred Democrats gathered at Dickerson’s Event Center in Las Cruces for the Doña Ana County Democratic Convention on Saturday, February 27. County delegates from New Mexico’s second largest county gathered to hear and meet candidates for State, County and District Offices and to cheer on Democrats in New Mexico’s upcoming primary and general election contests. The convention also elected 136 delegates and 20 alternates to the State Democratic Pre-Primary Convention to be held at Buffalo Thunder Resort at Pojoaque on March 13.
Highlighting the event was an address by Lt. Governor Diane Denish, who will be the Party’s candidate for Governor in November. Denish promised “openness, transparency and responsiveness” in a Denish administration and told the delegates that she would remind New Mexicans that “we are on your side.” She promised the assembly that in her upcoming contest with the eventual Republican nominee she would be a candidate for all of the citizens of the State, unlike her eventual opponent. “I am not going to cede one inch of New Mexico,” Denish vowed.
Each of the five candidates vying for Lt. Governor addressed the gathering with brief but upbeat statements. Joe Campos highlighted his record of accomplishment in the State House of Representatives, including sponsorship of pay equity and RETA (Renewable Energy Transmission Authority) bills. Brian Colón, past State Chair of the Democratic Party, promised to take his campaign of “education, ethics and equality” to each of New Mexico’s 33 counties. Colón noted that he is the only candidate who has received endorsements from labor. Linda López highlighted her background in ethics and legislative leadership in the State Senate, adding, “There ain’t nothing wrong with two women at the top” of the ticket. Jerry Ortiz y Pino pointed to his record of accomplishment in the State Senate and promised to work for ethics, education, and jobs. Rounding out the strong field of contenders for the Lt. Governor slot, Lawrence Rael, a former aide to Senator Bingaman who also worked as administrator for the City of Albuquerque, promised to build on the past eight years and, “Make the office of Lt. Governor a stronger position.”
Congressman Harry Teague, who is seeking re-election to New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, told the delegates that, “This past fourteen months I’ve been honored and humbled to represent you.” He warned his fellow Democrats that the Republican National Committee (RNC) “thinks they own” southern New Mexico, “because they had it for twenty-eight years.” Highlighting his record of service, Teague urged the crowd to get out and rally their neighbors to get out and vote.
Most of the candidates for State, County and regional offices in attendance also addressed the crowd. Summing up the convention’s promise of openness and inclusion, Stephanie DuBois, running for Public Regulation Commissioner in District 2, said, “I can’t promise you everything, but I can promise you I will always be willing to listen and learn!”
The delegates from Doña Ana County will join delegates from the rest of New Mexico at the State Democratic Pre-Primary Convention. The delegates will vote for primary candidates. New Mexico rules state that to get on the primary ballot without having to obtain additional petition signatures, candidates much receive at least 20% of the votes cast in their races at the convention. The position of candidate names on the primary ballot will be determined by how many votes they receive at the convention.
To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Rep. Ben Rodefer Calls for Immediate Joint NM House & Senate Democratic Caucus
New Mexico State Representative Benjamin Rodefer (D-Corrales) today called for an immediate joint caucus of the State’s House and Senate Democrats.
“We are all part of the same team.” Rodefer said in a statement he released early this evening. “Now is precisely the time we need to start acting that way, working together to address the very serious challenges facing New Mexico.”
The Democrats hold a significant majority in both New Mexico’s legislative houses, but a joint caucus like the one Representative Rodefer is calling for is extremely unusual, having not been called for in years.
Rodefer explained further: “Monday we will begin considering a budget deal orchestrated in private by Governor Bill Richardson and a small handful of legislative leaders. The deal calls for cuts to schools and all state agencies and includes several regressive taxes, including an increase to the GRT and a partial reinstatement of the food tax.”
“Yet it gives the rich, to whom the Governor gave huge tax breaks in 2003, and large out-of-state corporations like Walmart, a complete pass -- instead balancing the budget once again on the backs of New Mexico’s middle-class & working families.”
“That is not even close to the will and intent of either Democratic Caucus. It is high time that we all get together, sit in the same room, talk this through, and work as a team to create a better future for New Mexico,” said Rodefer.
Such an official joint caucus requires the support of both House and Senate leadership.
Legislative "Leaders" Reportedly Refuse to Tax Wealthy, Big-Box Corporations in "Budget Deal"
New Mexico lawmakers who haven't been in the secretive "leadership" scrum working on a budget "compromise" have been just as much in the dark as we have about what's going on behind closed doors. But now word is beingleaked that the "deal" executed by Dem "leaders" in the NM House and Senate is just more of the same -- a refusal to do what most rank and file Dems support. It's another bow to the right wing.
What we have is a broken record playing over and over again. The weak "solutions" being proposed AGAIN are just as out of touch and out of date as vinyl record albums. The underlying premise seems to be to tax those who are already suffering in order to avoid -- at almost any cost -- taxing those who have profited exorbitantly over the past decade or more because they haven't been paying their fair share of taxes. In tandem, the plan to make more cuts in education, Medicaid and just about every other state operation across the board seems alive and well, despite the fact that significant cuts like this were already enacted last time.
Same As It Ever Was
The proposals being leaked are retreads from the regular session -- a hike in the general gross receipts tax and cigarette tax, some kind of gross receipts tax on food that's "non-nutritional" (a form of the tortilla tax) and some kind of vague tightening up on individuals who live out of state and owe New Mexico taxes. This would apparently raise about $233 million in additional revenue, to address a shortfall that appears to be in the $500 million to $600 million range, or more. The rest would reportedly be cut from the state budget across the board.
Once again, we have Democratic "leaders" failing to represent their constituents and, instead, depending on regressive taxes, as well as politically correct "sin" taxes, to fill a void created in part by revenues lost when they gave our richest citizens a tax cut in 2003. In addition, they refuse to require that big-box stores run by national chains like Walmart and Home Depot pay the same taxes to the state that all small businesses pay (combined reporting).
A majority of states -- including Colorado and even Texas -- have now passed laws to stop the multi-state corporations from evading state taxes. However, I guess Governor Richardson and the "leaders" in the Legislature would rather tax anybody and cut anything than make those with the cash pay what they should. I find it appalling -- making small businesses pay a tax that's evaded by corporations using top-dollar law firms. And not only do Democrats support this travesty, so do Republicans -- who have long claimed to be the party of small business.
Re-Enact a Progressive Tax System
This fear and loathing of the kind of graduated, progressive taxation that once helped to create and maintain a strong and large middle class in America is rampant these days. Clearly, too many Democrats have bought into the right-wing frame on taxes, apparently unable or unwilling to defend the very thing that made for a nation characterized by upward mobility and secure working and middle classes.
Instead, way too many Dems join the right-wing whine that if we tax the wealthy and corporations what they should be taxed, Santa Fe millionaires will depart for parts unknown and all the big-box stores in New Mexico will close up shop. Spare me. Even if this were true (which is highly doubtful), would we really want our state populated with people and businesses so selfish and venal that they don't want to be here if they have to pay taxes according to their income and profits -- like everyone else?
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) had this to say about taxes in an email sent to supporers today:
The key is to find something that works for the state that won’t slow down economic recovery and won’t burden businesses. To me this "ideal" solution involves restoring progressivity to our higher income tax brackets. We destroyed progressivity ... when we flattened all those upper brackets into one single rate (4.9%). That’s what everyone now pays: millionaires and multi-millionaires as well as all those married couples earning as little as $26,000 a year of taxable income."
I hope Sen. Ortiz y Pino and other progressive lawmakers are prepared to fight for this, not just pay it lip service. We know what they would prefer, but are they willing to raise a ruckus about it?
Not only did Gov. Bill Richardson push through an income tax cut that lowered the top bracket from 8.2% to 4.9%, he slashed the taxes on capital gains in New Mexico by a whopping 50%. In a press release, he called these cuts the "" of any state. This might have been palatable when oil and gas revenues were rolling in like crazy, but does it make sense now?
Does anyone recall New Mexico's most well off suffering under the taxes in effect before the cuts? No. Me either. Yet, Dem leaders in the Legislature still refuse to confront the Governor on his repeated threats to veto any reversal on his generous gifts to the wealthy and corporations. Sadly, even Hispanic leaders in the legislature apparently would prefer to shackle their constituents with taxes on the things they need to live than upset Governor Richardson on taxation.
Real Dems: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
I understand that Democrats who are really Democrats are between a rock and a hard place given the current legislative power structure, particularly in the Senate. We've got right-wingers like Senate Pro Tem Tim Jennings and Sen. John Arthur Smith calling most of the shots, while pretending to be Democrats. They retain their power by colluding with Republicans, not by representing Democratic values. The unholy coalition of bought-off "Conserva-Dems" and Republicans makes it hard for real Democrats and progressives to get anything through a committee structure specifically created by the coalition to be obstructionist and anti-Democratic.
For instance, take the makeup of the Senate Corporations Committee, through which most tax measures must initially flow. Of the six on the committee who call themselves Democrats, only Sen. Tim Keller voted for progressive tax measures in the regular session -- and he was no doubt chastised for doing so by all the wrong people. Dem Senators Phil Griego, Lynda Lovejoy, George Munoz, John Sapien and David Ulibarri consistently vote with Republicans on SCORC and/or protect the Governor's positions on taxation, not those of their constituents.
The Senate Finance Committee isn't much better, led by Sen. John Arthur Smith -- who apparently gets a bigger rush out of cutting funding for services and protecting tax breaks for the wealthy than anything he can find to do in lonely Deming. When the legislature is in session, it's his time in the spotlight, and boy does he love it. They call him "Dr. No," but I prefer to call him "Sen. Me Myself I."
The SFC also is home to the anti-domestic partnership duo of Sen. Carlos Cisneros and Sen. Pete Campos. They vote according to what the Catholic Bishops order on that bill, but feel entirely free to vote for a "tortilla" tax that's opposed by those same Catholic Bishops. Think about it. These two represent districts populated by many who are suffering the worst consequences of the economic emergency, yet they'd rather make those people suffer more than pass any kind of progressive tax measure. Why do they keep getting re-elected? You'd have to ask the voters in their districts.
Don't Cave -- Fight and Advocate Publicly
So, anyway, where does this leave us as we head into a special session that the Governor says is coming Monday? I know what I'd do if I were a State Rep. or Senator -- I'd vote NO on every cut and tax until the most productive taxes on the wealthy and corporations were in place. Instead of caving to the status quo protectors, I'd say, "go ahead, pass this horrible budget bill and the cuts to services and regressive gross receipts and "sin" taxes, but not with my vote. You can do it over my dead body and I'll be happy to loudly and directly point out to the media and voters over and over again that it was YOU who did it, in collusion with right-wing Republicans."
Of course, in order to take a strong, activist stand like that, legislators would have to put the public before their own ambitions within the legislature. They might well face a nasty backlash from the GOP-Bought-Off-Conserva-Dem coalition, as well as from the Governor if they dared to draw a principled line in the sand, come what may. Are they up to the task? We'll soon find out.
These are not ordinary times. The economy is not in an ordinary recession. The working class, the middle class and the poor are all being ravaged by forces set into play by the investor class and immoral ponzi scheme operators who run our major Wall Street firms and banks. This will only change if we demand that elected officials who call themselves Democrats ACT like Democrats. We no longer have the luxury of tolerating Dems who go along to get along.
If need be, our Democrats in office need to be just as outspoken, tough and obstructionist as the dark forces on the other side. Otherwise, the bad guys will just keep on winning and paying no penalty for abandoning the urgent needs of their constituents and communities.
February 27, 2010 at 12:56 PM in Children and Families, Corporatism, Democratic Party, Economy, Populism, Gov. Bill Richardson, Healthcare, NM Legislature Special Session 2010, Poverty, Taxes | Permalink | Comments (7)
Friday, February 26, 2010
Governor Bill Richardson and Robert Redford Announce “Milagro at Los Luceros” Initiative
Mr. Redford has written an open letter to the people of New Mexico. Click to read it (pdf).
Click for a description of Milagro at Los Luceros 2010-2011 Programming (pdf).
This is fabulous news for Native American and Hispanic filmmakers, writers and actors, as well as New Mexico's artistic community generally, and all New Mexicans. Governor Bill Richardson and acclaimed filmmaker and environmental advocate Robert Redford today announced the details of a unique collaboration called “Milagro at Los Luceros.” Programs will begin this spring and will include a series of labs, workshops, and discussions. The focus will be on creating and expanding training programs in film, arts, and the environment.
“It’s extraordinary for a person the caliber of Robert Redford to collaborate with state government to create a new kind of initiative that will address film and film arts as they relate to jobs and jobs training,” said Governor Richardson in a statement released today. “It’s a great gift from Robert Redford to the state of New Mexico.”
“I have always wanted to explore new ways to enable underrepresented voices -- Native American and Hispanic in particular -- to tell their own stories in their own ways on their own turf,” said Mr. Redford. “I also believe in arts as an economic driver, and I look forward to helping a new generation of storytellers prove that with me and with the state of New Mexico.”
Today’s announcement is the next step in a process which began last May, when the Governor and Mr. Redford first announced the project which will be headquartered at historic Los Luceros in Northern New Mexico.
The collaboration includes Mr. Redford, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New Mexico Film Office, which is part of the state’s Economic Development Department.
The name “Milagro at Los Luceros” refers to “The Milagro Beanfield War,” the 1988 film directed by Mr. Redford and shot on location in Truchas, New Mexico.
Los Luceros lies northeast of the town of Alcalde, New Mexico, and was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983. The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs purchased and operates the 148-acre property and is preserving its historic nature and integrity for the purpose of cultural, artistic, environmental, and educational activities.
Pat Davis for Bernalillo County Sheriff Announces Key Endorsements
Pat Davis, candidate for Bernalillo County Sheriff, announced the following endorsements in the Democratic primary race:
Retired Deputy Chief,
Albuquerque Police Department
Former Commander, UNM Police Department
Former Assistant to
Albuquerque Mayor, Marty Chavez
Vice-President of La Mesa Neighborhood Association
Retired Chief Deputy District Attorney,
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department
Founder, County’s 1st DWI Unit
In response to what he called "key endorsements," Pat Davis issued this statement:
“These great New Mexicans understand that Bernalillo County needs the right sheriff for right now. I am humbled to have their support, and honored to work with them over the coming months and years.”
The endorsers in their own words:
“In my 30 years as an officer and supervisor, I never encountered an individual more passionate, devoted and qualified for law enforcement than Pat Davis. As a police officer in Washington DC during September 11, 2001, Pat Davis truly understands what it means to protect in a world full of threats and danger. As the only candidate to have been selected to train in the prestigious FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Pat Davis has unmatched expertise in the use of new technologies to fight and prevent crime. And as a proven leader and supervisor, Pat Davis knows the law, understands policy, and takes responsibility. Pat Davis is the right leader for right now, and I am honored to support him for Bernalillo County Sheriff.”
Retired Deputy Chief, Albuquerque Police Department
Former Commander, UNM Police Department
"The policies we make in government affect real people. Putting people first matters in public service, and I'm supporting Pat because he is committed to putting people before politics when it comes to public safety."
Former Assistant to the Albuquerque Mayor, Marty Chavez
Vice-President of La Mesa Neighborhood Association
"As a career prosecutor, I know the importance of having prosecutors and law enforcement work together with victims and our community to keep us all safe. I'm supporting Pat because he knows that there is more than one way to look at these issues, and more importantly, Pat Davis knows how to bring about real solutions that make a difference."
Retired Chief Deputy District Attorney, Bernalillo County
“In 2009, I retired from the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department after 20 proud years of service and in 2005, I started the county's first DWI Unit. After more than a thousand DWI arrests in my career, I know first hand the devastation that DWI can bring to families, and I strongly believe we deserve a Sheriff who is committed to combating DWI with full force. That’s why I’m supporting Pat Davis for Sheriff.”
Retired Sergeant, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department
Sen. Jeff Bingaman Helps Create NM Green Chile Month on Capitol Hill
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) released a statement yesterday announcing that New Mexico green chile will make its Capitol Hill debut on Monday, March 1st.
The entire month of March has been designated as “Green Chile Month” in the Senate cafeteria and will be celebrated by featuring green chile on the menu and educating customers about the New Mexico pepper. As a result, the Senate cafeteria will begin a month-long promotion to introduce New Mexico green chile to the menu.
Bingaman worked with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the Senate cafeteria to help bring the New Mexico staple to the Senate community.
“For too long New Mexico green chile has been a well kept secret,” Bingaman said. “Green Chile Month will help introduce this unique flavor to the thousands of people who work in the Senate and the hundreds of visitors who eat in the cafeteria every day. It is my hope that this month-long event will help create a new market for this important New Mexico crop.”
I'd love to see some videos of people's initial reactions to a taste of the green!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Interview: Rep. Martin Heinrich Discusses House Victory on Anti-Trust Exemption Bill
Big victory for the forces of change. H.R. 4626, the Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 406-19, with eight abstentions. All three of New Mexico's House members were cosponsors and voted aye. The bill amends the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 by repealing the blanket antitrust exemption afforded to health insurance companies.
After the vote, I got a chance to speak with Rep. Martin Heinrich by phone, and he was pumped about the victory -- and the strategy employed to get there.
Rep. Heinrich started the call with an enthusiastic, "It's a good day here!" He said he hadn't been sure what was going to happen on the other side, but in the end the Republicans, for the most part, came over and voted to end the anti-trust exemption.
How Do You Eat an Elephant? One Bite at a Time
"If we apply this kind of light of day to a lot of different issues, we'll start seeing a little bit more bipartisanship," he said.
"It was amazing -- the Republican ranking members still argued against the bill on the floor but, at the end of the day, their members knew that this was something the American people understood," the Congressman said.
Heinrich said he was really glad to see the big margin of victory, and added, "I think we should apply that same kind of approach to other issues. Let's do the same thing with negotiating drug prices, for example. There are a lot of different things we can run through as independent pieces of this."
Rep. Heinrich explained, "If you make it simple and you put it out in the light of day, people are not going to be able to hide behind a big proposal that's really thick, and claim something bad is in there. They'll have to choose -- on that individual measure -- whether they're with the insurance companies or with their constituents."
Corporate Money in Politics
I asked Rep. Heinrich what other kinds of legislation might be handled piecemeal like this. He mentioned that a suite of issues related to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which allows corporations to spend unlimited funds to support candidates, would be dealt with soon.
"The way that decision happened, if you're a foreign corporation, technically you can't get involved in American elections. But if you're an American subsidiary of a foreign corporation, you can -- which is ridiculous," Heinrich said. "One of the bills would be designed to get rid of that. Another would say, if you're a government contractor, you can't get yourself involved in elections. Another one would say, if you took TARP money, you can't get involved in elections, and so on."
Each issue would be covered by a short and simple piece of legislation. Sweet -- and effective.
Pinning Down Republicans
"So I think we'll start to see more of these kinds of bills that are very clean and skinny," Heinrich continued. "There's no place to hide with legislation like this. You're either with the people or for the problem, so I'm hopeful we'll be seeing a lot more bills presented like this."
A very good way to force the Republicans out into the open, no?
Rep. Heinrich said he thought the Republicans were pretty resigned to what was happening. "If you notice, there was a vote to try and water the bill down right before the final vote," he said. "There were many Republicans who voted for that, but they came over for the final vote, and it was an overwhelming bipartisan margin."
"The situation is similar to how the jobs bill passed in the Senate," Heinrich explained. "Many Republicans voted against cloture but, in the end, voted for the bill. At the end of the day we suddenly got more votes. That was encouraging -- to see how many Senators ended up voting for the bill, including significant Republican support."
Breaking the Gridlock
Addressing the recent stalemate in Congress, Heinrich said, "We've got to get past this. We can't play into this thing that we're gong to let everything grind to a halt. The American people need answers and they need solutions. I think this is a smart way to start breaking that gridlock."
I asked about support for getting rid of the anti-trust exemption in the Senate. "I hope support is strong," Rep. Heinrich said, "but I don't yet have a sense because I haven't had a chance to ask my Senate colleagues about it." He added, "I certainly hope they'll see it as an oportunity to do something good and right."
It is difficult to stand before the American public and vote to preserve an exception that allows heath insurance corporations to avoid meaningful competition in the marketplace. That's especially true when your party claims to be all about competition in the marketplace.
What H.R. 4626 Does
The bill ensures that insurance companies are no longer shielded from legal accountability for price fixing, dividing up territories among themselves, sabotaging their competitors in order to gain monopoly power and other such anti-competitive practices. Who would be against removing the exemption except those in the pockets of insurance industry lobbyists and donors? That's the point precisely.
By bringing this simple, uncomplicated bill to the floor of the House, Democrats forced Republicans to take a public stand without any opportunity to run or hide. They couldn't say they agreed with rescinding the exemption, but disagreed with another part of the bill. The repeal of the exemption was the bill, period.
“This bill puts the health of working families before the profits of health insurance companies,” said Rep. Heinrich. “Competition and transparency must be restored in the health insurance market -- by repealing the blanket antitrust exemption afforded to health insurance companies New Mexicans will receive a fair deal, as they should.”
Removing the antitrust exemption for health insurance will give antitrust enforcers, such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the authority to investigate any evidence of possible collusion within the health insurance industry. H.R. 4626 would put an end to the 65-year-old prohibition on the federal government’s ability to protect honest competition against bad actors in the health insurance industry.
H.R. 4626 is supported by numerous groups including the American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of Americ, and Center for Justice and Democracy.
NM Voices for Children Gets 3-Year, $1.4 M Grant From WK Kellogg Foundation
New Mexico Voices for Children today announced it has received a $1.4 million grant that will allow the nonprofit to work on improving the economic status of low-income families in New Mexico by implementing a statewide effort to enhance early care and education systems. The grant amount will be awarded over a three-year period.
"This is very exciting for us because it allows us to work on early care and education, which are key to eliminating child poverty," said Eric Griego, Executive Director of NM Voices for Children, in a statement released by the organization. "The grant will allow us to explore the external support systems that children -- especially those from low-income families -- need in order to succeed in school."
A big component of the grant will be to educate policymakers and the public about how aspects of child poverty impede a child's ability to learn. New Mexico has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, according to U.S. Census data.
"An investment of this magnitude is a real vote of confidence by Kellogg in our ability to create lasting change," said Anne Simpson, M.D., the organization's Board Chair. "We're both honored and excited to take on this work," she added.
The grant will also allow the child advocacy organization to bolster its internal capacity for other work. More than 80 percent of the non-profit's funding comes from grants by private foundations such as W.K. Kellogg, the Annie E Casey Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, McCune Charitable Foundation, and Brindle Foundation.
New Mexico Voices for Children was founded 22 years ago by a group of pediatricians to address environmental conditions inherent to poverty that negatively impact a child’s health and well-being.
Established in 1930, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa. For further information, please visit the Foundation’s website at www.wkkf.org.
New Mexico Voices for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico's children, families and communities.