Mike Konczal has an excellent post up on the three-pronged approach Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is taking in his stealth budget. In fact, he’s charted the whole thing out:
The assault on unions is currently the most obvious and contested part of this plan (despite the health of the public pension system in Wisconsin) but other aspects – like the no-bid contracts and privatization scheme – are now coming to light. The last, and perhaps most significant, is the attack on public services and particularly healthcare for the poor. Mike writes:
This is the most important thing that has gotten the least coverage. The administration of Medicaid would be moved away from the state legislation to be more directly under the control of the Governor’s office. People may be dropped right away and there could be extreme games of chicken with the Federal government over medicaid spending.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is currently being run by Heritage Senior Fellow Dennis Smith, who has been making his right-wing think tanker bones arguing that states should drop out of Medicaid, the long-time dream of the extreme right. It is telling that “Smith wouldn’t discuss Medicaid provisions in the upcoming budget bill” even though it’s all he’s been writing about for years.
Specifically, one of the last things he wrote had this talking point: “Congress and the Administration have enacted a sweeping overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, dramatically expanding the scope of federal power….When governors and state legislators realize that they have been reduced to mere agents of and tax collectors for the federal government, bipartisan opposition from the states will be inevitable.”
This power grab by the Governor will be the beachhead for slashing medicaid rolls to record lows and planning the conservative opposition against health care reform more broadly. The people who elected the Governor deserve more information about what his ultimate goals are.
Similar efforts to slash the Medicaid rolls are happening in Arizona, and across the country.
This is blatant overreach on the part of conservatives who are coming at state budgets with all the drunken gusto of Tea Party fever. Walker wants to make any tax increase subject to a 2/3 majority in the legislature. And if you’re not willing to consider tax hikes to help balance the budget you’re just not serious about deficits, period. It’s just not possible to cut your way to a balanced budget while simultaneously slashing taxes for businesses and the wealthy. The myth that low taxes (when taxes are already historically low) will lead to business investment and job creation is just that – a myth. These myths have wormed their way into the conservative psyche, just like the myth that lower taxes will generate higher revenue.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that all these austerity measures and privatization schemes and slashing of state budgets are completely wrong-headed to begin with. A recession is simply not the right time to make deep cuts (and yes, I realize states can’t borrow money but they do have the ability to raise tax revenue). Austerity measures in Germany – once touted by conservatives as a model for economic recovery – have led to a slowdown in the German economy.
The only silver lining is that I think this overreach will lead to a backlash. Most Americans side with the unions in the Wisconsin fight. And I imagine even more would be up in arms about the no-bid contracts. Top that with severe cutbacks in Medicaid coverage, and you’ve done what the Democrats couldn’t do in 2010: mobilize the Democratic base.