JUNEAU: Things That Caught My Eye Last Week

Add $239 million more to the budget hole: If things weren’t bleak enough for the state’s fiscal outlook, more bad news came this week in the form of a $239 million federal court judgment against Louisiana. The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sued the state to force repayment of Medicaid funds. The over-payments were sent to our charity hospitals between 1996 and 2006. HHS filed suit to get the funds after the state didn’t respond to demands for reimbursement. If the federal government executes that judgment during the course of Fiscal Year 2013-2014, the billion-dollar budget hole will get even larger.

Bleak budget figures cast an uncertain backdrop on tax reform: Trying to balance a budget that could be over a billion dollars short of revenues to match current expenditure levels is going to be quite a challenge for legislators. The fact that Governor Jindal’s executive budget relies heavily once again on one-time revenues and contingencies such as the sale of assets gives little comfort to many in the Legislature. Putting those challenges against the backdrop of a $3 billion tax swap under the administration’s yet-to-be-released tax reform proposal is going to have legislators straining to give proper focus to both of those complicated issues.

A night of irony in the U.S. Senate: It was almost surreal. Unhappy with Attorney General Eric Holder’s answers last Wednesday morning regarding the constitutionality of any future drone strikes in the U.S. against American citizens, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) went to the Senate floor and initiated a true filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan, President Obama’s choice for CIA Director. Paul made it clear that the purpose of the filibuster was not to deny Brennan the job but to force the administration to answer whether they thought the president had the power to approve such a strike against a U.S. citizen without due process. Senator Paul set Twitter and social media outlets on fire with his action, drawing support from all ends of the political spectrum. After his 12-hour marathon ended, Holder sent a short, terse letter to him the next morning confirming that the Obama administration did not believe they had the power to authorize such a strike.

What planet are they on?: The next morning, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, dripping with sarcasm, chastised Sen. Paul for his actions. While the filibuster was unfolding, those two senators had joined 10 other GOP senate members for a ritzy dinner with President Obama at a posh Washington hotel. To attack Sen. Paul while the nation was still buzzing about his filibuster means that they either were insanely jealous of the attention he was getting or they totally didn’t understand the populist reaction that was developing in support of challenging unbridled government power. Liberal entities like Code Pink and the Hollywood crowd were joining constitutional conservatives in praising his stand while McCain and Graham pouted.

Populism fires are burning: Sen. Paul’s filibuster is just one symptom of the populist wave that is swelling around the nation. Politicos would be wise to focus on it. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, from opposite ends of the spectrum, railed against a government with too much power in the service of elites. Populist uprisings don’t always end well (#Chavez #Peron #FrenchRevolution), but they generate a lot of energy. The mid-term election in 2010 was a wave election fed by voters who thought the federal government just didn’t get it any more. President Obama’s personal popularity paused that wave in 2012. He won’t be on the ballot to turn out that same vote in 2014, and the wave may be starting to swell again.



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