by Max Brantley
Is the Democratic Party finally coalescing around a message?
It wouldn't be hard. One party is of, by and for the rich. Another one has broader interests at heart. Specifics:
Republicans hate Medicaid and want to kill it. They'll let the feds take over as much responsibility as possible for insuring poor people in Arkansas, particularly if the private insurance industry and doctors can be enriched by the change. They'll kill Medicaid when they can, but in the meanwhile this big change will free up state money for tax cuts for the rich. (Not for services to Arkansas people.)
Republicans have already fast-tracked Charlie Collins' income tax bill that gives the majority of its benefits to the wealthy. They did a sneaky hurryup of Speaker Davy Carter's capital gains tax cut that, in the first year, benefits ONLY the ultrawealthy with $5 million and up in profits on property sales. The Republicans killed Democratic Rep. Fred Love's bill to give tax relief to low income workers. Still to be killed by Republicans is Rep. Warwick Sabin's bill to grant income tax relief to nearly all taxpayers in the form of increased standard deduction, while broadening the tax brackets to make them more in tune with inflationary changes since the income tax was first adopted in the 1970s.
Democrats, though still in the minority, can be expected now to unite around a simple message — no tax cuts until the legislature deals with health care coverage for more Arkansans, even if it be through the now favored "private option" that Barack Obama first proposed back in 2007 as a way to expand the benefits of Medicaid health coverage for the poor, disabled, elderly and children. (What? You thought Republicans invented the private option? See Ernie Dumas.)
Gov. Mike Beebe is now stepping out in this direction. Asked about reports that he'd expressed a preference for Sabin's bill over the Republican tax cuts floated so far, his spokesman Matt DeCample said:
The governor told the caucus that he does favor Representative Sabin’s approach to an income-tax cut over others that have been proposed. However, all income-tax proposals are still part of ongoing discussions with the General Assembly, and the governor has not drawn any lines about what he will or won’t sign at this point. His emphasis continues to be that without the approval of private-option insurance expansion, these cuts will have painful effects on existing state services and create some tough choices for legislators.
Speaking of the private option: Republicans are caterwauling today about a national actuarial study that says medical insurance claims are going to rise because of Obamacare. Well, yeah. Obamacare covers sick people who previously didn't have insurance. Sick people are going to make insurance claims. But there's been some sharp followup to continued Republican posturing on this topic. Boston economist Austin Frakt has noted, along with others, the contradiction in current Republican talking points. His points from a series of Tweets:
1. Either the requirements of Obamacare will drive premiums way up in the individual market, as some predict. Or ...
2. Competition in the new health exchanges will drive costs down toward Medicaid-like levels (as Republicans in Arkansas are now saying).
3. "If there's a way to have it both ways, I don't see it. Sniff test: failed."