Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Money Doesn't Talk, It Screams

By Tom Frazier

As a registered lobbyist for almost 27 years and an unpaid, volunteer lobbyist for the last seven years, I have witnessed some major political changes, most of them not good.

One such change is obvious and that is the ever increasing influence of money in political decision-making. This influence was growing already when I retired at the end of 2009, but then the Supreme Court ruling in January 2010 in the Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for that influence. This 5-4 decision said that money was free speech and allowed for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, including ads favoring one candidate over another.

The recent attempt by Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump to pass the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is an example of how bad the influence of money has become. The replacement, the American Health Care Act, contained a $1 trillion tax cut, primarily for the benefit of the wealthy, funded largely by a cut of $880 billion in Medicaid funding. This was an intentional strategy on the part of Ryan to make it easier to provide even larger tax cuts to businesses when Congress and the President moved on to tax reform. In an interview with Fox Business News on March 15, 2017, Ryan said:
“A trillion dollars…that’s 10 percentage points on rates for businesses. It takes the corporate rate from 35 to 20 [%]. That’s why doing this [health care] first makes tax reform that much easier to accomplish.”
Providing large tax cuts to those who don’t need them at the expense of huge cuts in health care for the most vulnerable (elderly, disabled, and children) is, I believe, cynical bordering on unconscionable.

The second big change that I have observed over the last seven years may be a little less obvious, and that is the trend of politicians making decisions based on their personal opinions and beliefs which, more often than not, are contradicted by facts. For example, at the state level, Governor Walker and politicians who wanted to give Medicaid long-term care money to private, for-profit insurance companies (in the 2015-17 state budget) kept insisting that Medicaid long-term care costs were out of control and would bankrupt the state Medicaid program. The facts from the Department of Health Services showed that increases in Medicaid spending were due to acute and primary care spending, not long-term care spending. The belief persisted long after the facts were presented.

At the federal level, you may recall that President Trump promised not only to repeal and replace Obamacare, but that the replacement would provide better health care, cover everyone, and cost less. But when Ryan’s replacement -- which was a lot worse, not better -- was in trouble, Trump jumped in, attempting, in my opinion, to show that he could “close the deal” completely ignoring his promise to make it better, and causing the most harm to the people he promised not to leave behind—the people who voted for him. Our President has elevated making decisions on opinions to an art form.

We must dilute the undue influence of money in politics, starting with full and public disclosure of political contributions and spending—even the Citizens United decision didn’t prohibit that and if people’s intentions were good they would not feel it necessary to hide their “free speech.”

I doubt that we can stop the fact that "money talks" but, by eventually overturning Citizens United, we can lower the volume back to talking instead of screaming.

Tom Frazier is a member of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board, and was the executive director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups from 1983 to 2010.

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