After the passage of federal health-care reform, Arizona Sen. John McCain started off last week with a promise to stop working with Democrats for the rest of the year, even if he thought proposed legislation was worthy.
Way to put country first, John.
He ended the week by reuniting with former running mate Sarah Palin, the gal he plucked from obscurity and transformed into a GOP superstar. It was the first time they'd hung out since McCain's staff told her she couldn't do her own concession speech on Election Day 2008.
Dressed in a sassy leather jacket, Palin attracted thousands of Republicans to the Pima County Fairgrounds.
McCain got to bask in her glow, but the coverage underscored our senior senator's central problem as he campaigns against former congressman J.D. Hayworth leading up to the August GOP primary.
The New York Times noted that five out of six attendees interviewed at the fairgrounds loved Sarah—but they weren't so sure about McCain.
If facts mattered, McCain's history would make him the kind of Republican that Palin would normally campaign against—and in order to build him up, she had to present an image of him that was in stark opposition to reality. (But then again, Palin's a specialist at that sort of thing.)
Myth One: Palin told the crowd they needed to "send the maverick back to the United States Senate." But the maverick John McCain—the guy who used to support cap-and-trade policies to fight global warming and who opposed the Bush administration's tax cuts on the basis that they would bust the budget—has given way to an ill-tempered old-timer who just wants to find a comfy stall inside today's GOP stable.
Myth Two: Palin joked that McCain's maverick ways "haven't always won him friends in the Washington, D.C., elite machine." But if anyone was friendly with the media elite and Democrats in Washington, it was McCain, who used to refer to the press as "my base." How many Sundays go by when he's not making the rounds on the talk shows? McCain has mostly been lacking friends among hard-right Republicans, not among fantastical "elites."
Myth Three: Palin credited McCain with putting Republican Scott Brown over the top in the Massachusetts Senate race, saying the pickup-driving pin-up was "a critical vote against big government." But the pro-choice Brown was one of only four Senate Republicans to vote for a big-spending Democratic jobs bill last month, and as a state senator, he supported a health-care reform bill that's remarkably similar to the national one just passed by Democrats. That sounds like a RINO to us!
Myth Four: Palin said that McCain has "spent his entire career fighting for common-sense, conservative solutions that Arizona needs." But that spin will come as a surprise to Arizona conservatives who have watched McCain work with libs to push for campaign-finance reform that recently got tossed by the courts and support an immigration-reform proposal that provided a path to citizenship for people who have entered the country illegally.
Whatever happened to that guy?
WE GET HEADACHES THINKING ABOUT IT
With the passage of federal health-care reform came bad news for Arizona Republicans: Gov. Jan Brewer and GOP lawmakers were not going to be able to strip 310,000 adults below the federal poverty level of their health-care insurance, nor could they take away the KidsCare coverage of more than 38,000 children.
The move to dump health-insurance coverage was one of the most boneheaded budget moves made by lawmakers when they closed a multi-billion-dollar budget hole during a March special session.
As we've reported, everyone from the hospitals to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce said that the state would lose out on more than $1.5 billion in federal matching funds, drive up insurance rates and kill jobs in the health-care industry, one of the few growing sectors of the economy.
And during the very brief debate on the budget in the House of Represen-tatives, Democrats such as Rep. Kyrsten Sinema warned Republicans that stripping the funding would put the state at risk of losing future federal stimulus dollars that would pay for the programs if they just left them in place.
Sure enough, the feds have let the Brewer administration know that any cuts to KidsCare or AHCCCS will mean Arizona is disqualified from future Medicaid matches, which means that lawmakers will have to restore the funding—or miss out on as much as $7 billion a year.
But rather than move to fix the funding, Brewer called GOP lawmakers to the Capitol to give her the authority to sue the federal government on constitutional grounds. Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who is running for governor, says the state doesn't have a case, so Brewer and the lawmakers may have to dig deep for their own lawyers.
Brewer made a big deal out of numbers from AHCCCS Director Thomas Betlach, who released a report estimating that the new health-care reform package for the state of Arizona would cost Arizona $11.6 billion between fiscal years 2011 and 2020.
Those numbers may be a good estimate of what the state has to spend—but a big chunk of that includes the funding that lawmakers recently cut. And the Legislature may have had to spend what they cut even without the federal plan, because voters approved that expansion of AHCCCS in 2000. Lawmakers—who are prohibited from tinkering with voter-approved mandates—were reducing eligibility based on a very weak legal argument of "we just don't have the money."
We're going to dig into these numbers a little deeper once they shake out, but we need to note that Arizona's congressional delegation, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Raúl Grijlava, worked out a deal so that beginning in 2014, the federal government will be picking up between 83 and 94 percent of the cost of providing coverage. And both are supporting federal legislation to use that no-good stimulus money to provide the state with enough cash to fund the state's share of health-care coverage for AHCCCS through June 2011—a request that's supported by the Brewer administration.
LIZ, WE BARELY KNEW YOU
After seeing budget overrides fail at the polls two years in a row, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen is on her way out as superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District.
Although she has yet to turn in her resignation, she's the sole candidate for the top post at a Colorado school district.
Once Celania-Fagen formally lets the district know she's quitting, the TUSD board can start the search for a new superintendent. Given what's happening with Arizona's school funding, it won't be considered a plum gig.
Will they go with a local pick who knows the district's problems, or will they look at outsiders who think they have what it takes to turn TUSD around? Wait and see.
In other TUSD news: Miguel Ortega, an aide to Tucson City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, announced on Facebook that he is seeking a seat on the TUSD this November.
Current TUSD board member Bruce Burke has said he won't seek re-election. Current board member Adelita Grijalva, daughter of Congressman Raul Grijalva, is also up for re-election.
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