Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2019

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Jon Ralston:

In wake of ruling, politicians display The Pivot Reflex

As unpredictable as many observers found the Supreme Court’s health care reform decision, the reaction from the political class was depressingly predictable.

Call it The Pivot Reflex.

Many Democrats, who have run from the Affordable Care Act like it was political kryptonite, gave tepid embraces to the high court and then pivoted back to jobs or something else. Many Republicans, who had proclaimed the law was unconstitutional or cockily assumed the conservative court would agree, pivoted to talk about repealing the ACA or froth about it being, as the court decided, a tax increase.

And then, in a great show of bipartisanship, both sides immediately tried to raise money off the ruling.

Once again, proving Winston Churchill correct, democracy shows itself to be the worst form of government, except for all of the others. And politicians, including those on the ballot in Nevada, show themselves to be the worst form, except for the ones we have seen before and will see next cycle.

Perhaps the most striking example came from Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who a few weeks ago on “Face to Face” could not be tortured into taking a position on President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement: “Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, it’s time that those in Washington moved on from trying to score political points instead of finding solutions. This decision doesn’t change the reality that too many Nevada families and small businesses are struggling to pay for the rising costs of health care.”


Oceguera, echoing a theme also used by Republican Sen. Dean Heller, then assailed “Washington politicians” for gridlock, bickering, etc. I’m sure he was not talking about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

A few hours later, Oceguera tried to raise money off the decision, despite his lack of an opinion on what the court did.

Oceguera was far from alone. Mitt Romney’s campaign was bragging on Twitter about how many people were donating and how much money it had raised off the decision. National Republicans had a “#full repeal” Twitter hashtag up and running soon after the decision and were circulating the president’s unequivocal assertion when it was before Congress that the individual mandate was not a tax.

Closer to home, congressional hopeful Steven Horsford was “happy with the news,” once again labeled opponent Danny Tarkanian his “Tea Party opponent” and asked for money. Oceguera’s opponent, Rep. Joe Heck, was out with a “We deserve better” money pitch, reminding everyone the law is “extremely unpopular.” In the critical Senate race, Rep. Shelley Berkley took pains to not praise the law while pivoting to a “move on” strategy and Heller was out with familiar talking points and pivoted to a new one, labeling it “a colossal tax increase on the middle class.”

I don’t know whether to yawn or cry.

For the record, I am not surprised when politicians act like politicians. I also have no idea what the long-term political implications are — instapunditry can be hazardous to your reputation. But what I do lament is that an important state policy issue encased in this ruling and one that will have a huge impact on Nevada is being ignored — or worse.

That is the less sexy part of the high court ruling that states do not have to expand Medicaid benefits, which was one way that universal coverage would be attained through the act. Gov. Brian Sandoval said shortly after the ruling in an interview with Northern Nevada’s Sam Shad that he would be unlikely to opt into the Medicaid expansion. You see, it would bust the budget, force him to cut education and so on.

This is the part we have heard before, folks. Nevada has purposely maintained a very low level of Medicaid benefits, with few legislative voices ever rising in protest.

Why? It’s much better for elected officials to rail about education funding — there’s a real constituency there. That is, they can get votes advocating for education; there aren’t too many arguing that poor folks need better health care.

Fine. Politicians being politicians. Pivot to something that can help you. I get it.

The court decision explained this phenomenon quite succinctly: “There is no doubt that the act dramatically increases state obligations under Medicaid. The current Medicaid program requires states to cover only certain discrete categories of needy individuals — pregnant women, children, needy families, the blind, the elderly and the disabled.”

I know it’s oranges and Apple, but the state is always willing to give away tens of millions to businesses but rarely will even talk about the social safety net. Lest you think my heart is bleeding into my word processor, I’m only suggesting this court decision should cause a pivot to have the discussion rather than a reason to pander and fundraise.

And now, I shall pivot back to reality ...

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