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Ronald Reagan

So what happens to all those Texas lawsuits against the feds?

It depends, but basically it’s up to the new Solicitor General, since he is the one defending the federal government’s actions.

Best mugshot ever

Since Paxton assumed office as AG in January 2015, Texas has sued the federal government more than a dozen times, raising questions about White House policy on such a wide range of topics as internet governance, overtime pay, transgender bathrooms, clean power, clean water and immigration.
Now that the Oval Office is awaiting a new Republican occupant, the question arises: What will happen to Paxton’s brand as a White House challenger and to all those lawsuits?

Paxton has not yet showed exactly how he will respond to the new administration, although he supported President-elect Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Marc Ryland, a spokesman for the Texas AG’s Office, emailed this statement in response to a request for comment for this story: “We have a host of cases pending against the federal government due to the Obama administration’s overreach. Some cases challenge statutes only Congress can change, some challenge agency rules that go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, and some challenge informal agency guidance. We will continue to pursue all of these cases and look forward to working with a new administration to seek to conform its actions to the Constitution.”

Neal Devins is among those who expects the federal government, under the new administration, to take steps to undercut the basis of the Texas AG’s legal challenges.

In instances in the past, when the party occupying the White House has changed, the federal government has changed its policies and asked courts as a result to moot lawsuits against it, according to Devins, a professor at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, who tracks state attorneys generals litigation.

“This has happened. The Solicitor General confesses error,” Devins said.

But that new-sheriff-in-town approach doesn’t always go smoothly.

Devins cites the 1981 federal lawsuit against Bob Jones University, whose tax-exempt status was being litigated over its discriminatory policies. (*) Ronald Reagan’s administration tried to moot the issue by changing federal policy, but there was a political backlash and the case continued, with SCOTUS eventually denying BJU its tax exemption. I suppose something like that could happen with one or more of the cases that the Trump Justice Department might seek to drop, but I wouldn’t count on it. Assume these will all be wins in some form for Paxton, and go from there.

(*) This, as the Slacktivist has reminded us, was the true genesis of the religious right as a political movement. Not abortion, but Bob Jones’ desire to maintain tax exempt status while remaining racially segregated. Molly Ivins once said “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point–race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.” This is what she was talking about.

Just a reminder: Medicaid expansion is still a great deal

But only if you do it.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

We learned late last week that the decision by 24 states to reject Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion comes as a startling cost — $423.6 billion in lost federal funds from 2013 to 2022, according to researchers at the Urban Institute.

So how are states justifying their decisions to leave that much federal money on the table? One of their main arguments is that the federal government will eventually renege on its generous funding commitment to the Medicaid expansion. But based on the 49-year history of the Medicaid program, that claim doesn’t hold up, according to Urban Institute researchers in a finding that hasn’t received as much attention.

Here’s how Medicaid funding works: The federal government on average pays 57 percent of the traditional Medicaid program’s costs, while the states finance the rest (though the federal reimbursement rate varies by state). The federal match just for the Medicaid expansion population, however, is significantly more generous. The feds pay 100 percent of those costs through 2016, and the federal match rate is gradually lowered to 90 percent by 2020 and is supposed to stay there.

States opposing the Affordable Care Act have expressed skepticism that the federal government will be able to maintain such a high funding level amid future budget pressures. But the Urban researchers found that of the 100-plus cuts the federal government has actually made to the Medicaid program since 1980, lawmakers just once reduced the federal share of Medicaid financing — and that was in 1981. Other federal cuts have been to services, payments to providers, or in program eligibility.

“More recent budget bills actually raised the federal Medicaid share, even while making other federal Medicaid cuts,” Urban researchers wrote in the study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Further, lawmakers won’t find much to cut if they looked to federal funding for the Medicaid expansion. Less than 7.4 percent of federal Medicaid spending over the next decade comes from the bonus federal match for the expansion population, according to Urban researchers’ calculations based on Congressional Budget Office projections.

Via Forbes, you can see that Urban Institute report here. Ed Kilgore adds a bit of extra context.

It should be mentioned that the 1981 match-rate cut (technically, a reduction in federal reimbursement for a limited period of time, not an actual change in the underlying match) was at the insistence not of deceptive liberals but of the sainted Ronald Reagan. Indeed, liberals, led by Henry Waxman, engineered a long series of “super-matches”–increases in the federal match rate for Medicaid coverage of specific services or populations–during the 1980s and 1990s.

The big thing to remember here is that liberals want expanded Medicaid coverage, and are willing to pay for it at the federal level. The whole bait-and-switch meme behind Republican resistance to the expansion at the state level lacks logical as well as historical support.

And that’s exactly why this isn’t a question of economics, where the answer is clear, but of politics, where it’s equally clear in the other direction. Like I said, just a reminder in case you still needed one.

How you gonna pay for those new cops?

The Chron asks a reasonable question about the promises being made by the Mayoral candidates to hire more police officers.

The deep fiscal slowdown facing the city will make it difficult to fund more police academy classes, a factor that has played an important role in Houston crime trends, said Tom Kennedy, a former Houston Post journalist who is co-writing a history of the Houston Police Department.

Financial considerations about policing are “unquestionably” as important as crime-fighting policy plans, he said, noting that police chiefs since the 1950s have been urging mayors and City Council members to increase the number of officers.

“They’ve all had the same reaction: ‘We agree with you, but where’s the money?’ ” said Kennedy, whose book was commissioned by the police union and is co-authored by Sam Houston State University Professor Mitchell Roth. “It has never been done, and it’s not just because of mixed priorities. It’s because you just can’t put together the funding.”

I’ve been wondering the same thing, as you know. And I’ll say again, I don’t think you can really approach this without having an honest conversation about revenues and what the appropriate level of taxation needs to be to pay for these needed services, now and in the future. And we’re getting that from any of the candidates right now.

Morales, who has promised to cut property taxes, said he will find inefficiencies in every city department through audits and will be able to put some of the savings toward the police budget.

Parker, who has promised not to cut the police budget or overtime, also said she would try to find inefficiencies. She singled out the city’s purchase of a new helicopter fleet for HPD, saying the number of helicopters could be reduced from 16 to eight.

Locke said the department could use money saved by combining its jailing operations with Harris County’s, an idea Parker shares. He said he may roll out other ideas when he unveils his overall plan for fighting crime.

Brown said he is committed to adding a police academy class in his first year, which would make three — still fewer than the average of five a year during Mayor Bill White’s administration. To pay for it, he suggested using money from the city’s projected $230 million surplus.

Kennedy said many mayors have come and gone in Houston’s history without finding a solution to the problem of police staffing.

“If I had a nickel for every time” a politician said they would pay for more police with “efficiencies, I’d be a rich man,” Kennedy said. “History shows the money has been there, but it’s never enough.”

Remember the Grace Commission, Ronald Reagan’s grand plan to eliminate “waste, fraud, and abuse” from the federal budget? It was one part real findings of actual inefficiencies, one part highlighting politically popular things that could be targeted if one was willing to put up a huge fight (military base closings were a prime example), and one part a laundry list of government programs that the authors (and the president who commissioned them) didn’t like and thus classified as “waste” as a means of generating political pressure on their supporters. It ultimately amounted to very little, but it did spawn a movement and a mantra that plagues us to this day. I’m sorry, but eliminating waste isn’t a revenue stream. We’re not going to pay for a police academy class by finding inefficiencies; even if we could, we wouldn’t be able to pay for that class’ graduates going forward. Maybe once we accept that, we can figure out a workable solution. Greg has more.

The most important issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary

Apparently, it’s fealty to Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan isn’t on Mount Rushmore. But lots of Republicans think he should be. Thus, it is no small matter for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison when doubts are raised about her commitment to the party’s hero.

Dust off those clippings from 1976, a seminal year for Texas Republicans. Reagan’s challenge brought legions of enthusiastic newcomers to the party – and some friction between them and the traditionalists who had labored years to break the Democrats’ grip on Texas.

President Gerald Ford had named Hutchison vice chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and she sided with him against the insurgent, naturally.

“But after that, certainly I was very pro-Reagan,” Hutchison said last week. “Loved Ronald Reagan. Supported him, was chairman of his Women for Reagan committee in Texas [in 1980]. I’ve got a lot of Reagan supporters supporting me for governor right now.”

Because nothing says “We are a modern-day, forward-looking political party” like using a campaign from 1976 as a litmus test of candidate purity. Greg, from whom I got the link, gives us a preview of the next nine months.

By the end of any primary food-fight, Kay Bailey Hutchison will be in full agreement with the top five priorities of today’s Republican Party: 1) too many people today vote and this needs to be put to a stop; 2) illegal immigrants are the worst thing in the world and there’s really nothing we’re going to do about it; 3) all government properties should bear the name of Ronald Reagan; 4) abortion is the worst thing in the world and there’s really nothing we’re going to do about it; 5) poor kids + health care = straight from the pit of hell.

She won’t look a thing like the Kay Bailey Hutchison of today.

I’ve commented several times about how KBH seems to have snoozed through the campaign so far, leaving much of the initiative to Rick Perry. Maybe that’s been for the better.

Which Republicans do you have in mind for that?

Republican attorney Jacob Monty calls on his party to tackle the problem of immigration reform in a serious and rational way. I think he makes some good points about the toxic relations the GOP currently has with Hispanics nationally, and about the fact that the Democrats haven’t exactly trampled over anyone to get a handle on this. None of that stopped me from having a belly laugh over this:

Republicans have a long-standing record of courageous support for realistic immigration reform that goes back more than 20 years. It was Republican icon President Reagan who successfully battled organized labor and the GOP’s own right wing to normalize 3 million undocumented immigrants. By building on that record, Republicans will begin the process of taking back the harsh words of some of the extremists on the right — and begin putting a critical wedge into the Democratic coalition in the process. By forcing the issue, Republicans will force Democrats to take sides, exposing serious fractures in the Democratic coalition. Equally important, for the first time since the November elections, they’ll show America they are still a party with positive, practical ideas to solve real and long-standing problems — and the courage to move them forward.

Um, Jacob? Which Republicans do you have in mind to propose these serious, sober, non-xenophobic reforms? John Boehner, maybe? How about any member of the Texas delegation – Ted Poe, John Culberson, Pete Olson? Yeah, I don’t think so, either. When you find a single Republican member of Congress to sponsor and introduce a bill that does what you want, let me know. I won’t be holding my breath waiting.

Oh, and since we’re invoking St. Ronald Reagan, the Republican they don’t make ’em like any more, I’ll note that he also embraced serious, realistic solutions to budget problems (which were of his own making, mind you, but still), including tax increases. Today’s Republicans? Not so much.

And even if you could find such a Republican to push for serious comprehensive immigration reform, how are you going to keep the screaming banshees of ideological purity from ripping him apart? To his credit, Monty recognizes this problem. But if he has a solution for it, he keeps it to himself.

Bottom line, this is indeed an issue that needs leadership and serious, comprehensive thinking. All I can say is good luck finding those things in today’s Republican Party.