Newspaper editorials from around Oregon
The Albany Democrat-Herald, Nov. 13, on the U.S. Supreme Court, Affordable Care Act, and Oregon
So you thought that the mess surrounding the failed Cover Oregon online health insurance exchange couldn't get any more convoluted?
The U.S. Supreme Court begs to differ.
Last week's decision by the court to hear a new challenge to President Barack Obama's health care law carries with it the potential to bounce back in unexpected ways to Oregonians.
The lawsuit the court agreed to hear is King v. Burwell, a Virginia case challenging the tax subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford health insurance.
The challengers in the case argue that those subsidies are being provided unlawfully in three dozen states that have decided not to run the public marketplaces known as exchanges for the sale of health insurance. They say that under a literal reading of the law, subsides are available only in states that established their own exchanges.
If the court sides with the challengers — and we know at least four justices thought the case was worthy of at least being heard — people receiving the tax subsidies in those states would become ineligible for them. It would be a devastating, and perhaps fatal, blow to the Affordable Care Act.
Here's part of the reason why: According to a story in The New York Times, people who received the subsidies through the exchanges enjoyed on average a 76 percent reduction in their premiums, from $346 a month to $82. If the court rules in favor of the challengers in this case, the ruling could eliminate subsidies for 4.5 million people. (It's unlikely, however, that anyone would have to pay back the subsidies.)
Without the subsidies, health insurance could well become unaffordable for many consumers, who would then be exempted from the requirement to have insurance. That requirement is at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.
Last week, a White House spokesman said the lawsuit was little more than "a partisan effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act," and that position seems to have some merit. But the fact remains that the high court will hear the case, regardless of the motivations of the challengers.
Here's where Cover Oregon fits into this: The state is in the process of switching over to a federal site after the online portion of Oregon's exchange never properly functioned. If the Supreme Court rules for the challengers, would Oregon be considered one of the states which has not run its own exchange and therefore is ineligible for the tax subsidies?
It's not clear. A state spokesman said last week that the 70,000 people who bought their insurance through Cover Oregon (using a cumbersome paper process) still will get their tax credit. After that, though, no one knows.
And if the court does rule in favor of the challengers, expect this latest Cover Oregon wrinkle to be a mere footnote to what could be the obituary for the Affordable Care Act.
The (Bend) Bulletin, Nov. 13, on what the Legislatures priorities should be
During this season's legislative campaign, talk focused on the economy, jobs, education and health reform. But now that Democrats have increased their majorities, the conversation is shifting to more controversial topics, such as fuel standards and gun background checks.
Oregon Democrats have gained two seats in the state Senate, giving them an 18-12 supermajority, which means they can pass any bill without a single Republican vote, even ones having to do with taxes. In the House, they picked up one seat for a 35-25 majority. The party also held onto the governorship.
That gives the leadership hope of passing bills that failed earlier, as well as advancing other agenda items that got less attention when candidates were courting voters just weeks ago. Many sound good until you dig into their complications and unintended consequences, as we've noted in past editorials and will revisit as they come before legislative committees in 2015. Think paid sick leave, minimum-wage increases, state-sponsored retirement plans, automatic voter registration, among others, and the aforementioned fuel standards, legal aid and gun issues.
If these and other liberal wish-list items dominate legislative action in 2015, work on jobs and the economy — our most critical problems — will suffer.
Democrats should beware of overreaching. A three-seat gain is not a mandate.
They should remember the result from 2009, when they held supermajorities in both chambers and gave us controversial tax measures 66 and 67. In 2010, voters responded with a 30-30 split in the House, and a reduced Democratic majority in the Senate.
Gov. John Kitzhaber was bruised by a difficult campaign but retains powerful influence to lead his party in the direction of meaningful tax reform and economic development that leads to job creation. He'll need legislative support to follow through on his initiatives in health care and education, and to fix the mess of Cover Oregon. Legislative leadership needs to focus on those core issues, not a litany of feel-good but damaging distractions.
Klamath Falls Herald & News, Nov. 13, on the Legislature's priorities
Oregon's conservative Republican legislators became a little more isolated last week after the votes were counted. That's pretty important for the local area.
Democrats strengthened control of both houses of the Legislature, which will be 35 to 25 in the Oregon House and 18 to 12 in the State Senate. The one-vote gain in the Senate gives Democrats the 60-percent majority needed to pass tax increases without Republican crossovers.
The House, though, with its 35-25 Democratic majority, is one vote shy of reaching that same plateau. Legislation for tax increases has to start in the House.
The one-seat gain in each house is a signal to local legislators — all of them conservative Republicans — that they have to work even harder on their relations with Willamette Valley Democrats to have an impact.
Something the election didn't signify, was any desire in how the majority of local voters feel.
Re-elected were Republicans Rep. Gail Whitsett, District 56, which includes southern Klamath and Lake counties, including Klamath Falls and Lakeview; and Rep. Mike McLane, District 55, the House Republican leader, whose district includes parts of Klamath, Lake, Crook and Jackson counties.
Whitsett had no opposition in the election and McLane won easily. State Sen. Doug Whitsett's four-year term has two more years to go.
Politics is often a process of give and take — of giving something to get something. There's less need of that to a party that controls both houses as Democrats do, along with the governor's chair, but for the minority party there is even a greater need to build relationships.
Much as local voters might not like to admit it, state government plays a major role at the local level. Oregon Institute of Technology is probably the biggest example but there are other state organizations such as the Oregon Department of Transportation that are also vitally important.
Projects and services deeply important to the local area sometimes require legislative attention, along with a push from not just local legislators but from those outside the district. Getting that kind of support depends on how influential local legislators have made themselves and grows in importance the more in the minority they become.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Nov. 17, on Wyden's forest bill
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is trying for a bit of late-session congressional magic to finally get some movement on proposals to increase federal timber harvests in western Oregon.
The Oregon Democrat has pulled off some last-minute feats of legislative legerdemain in the past, so it's not at all out of the question that he can do it again with his bill involving the state's Oregon & California Railroad lands.
But even as Wyden this week pushed his bill through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and onto the floor of the Senate, it was unclear how much support his proposal truly enjoys. And the clock is ticking to the end of the year, when this session of Congress closes up shop.
Wyden's bill involves the federal forest lands in western Oregon once owned by the Oregon & California Railroad. The lands now are owned by the federal government, and stretch over 18 Oregon counties. Those counties — which include Linn and Benton — generally have been hit hard by declining timber harvests.
The latest version of Wyden's bill covers about 2.8 million acres generally under the oversight of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The bill protects about 1.6 million acres. Logging likely would increase on the other 1.2 million acres. Wyden said this week that his bill could produce more than 400 million board feet of lumber a year, which would double the current harvest.
Plenty of stakeholders in the debate — including the Association of O&C Counties and a number of timber-industry groups — expressed doubts about the Wyden bill. Some conservation groups aren't thrilled by it, either — although other natural-resource organizations (possibly worried about the Republican-led Congress that will take office in 2015) have signed on as supporters.
Another proposal to manage the O&C lands, largely crafted by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, already has passed the House of Representatives. That proposal, however, is widely considered to be a nonstarter in the Senate, thanks to worries that it skimps on environmental protections and would harvest too much timber. President Obama, who presumably is blowing the dust off his rarely used veto pen, has threatened to reject the House bill.
In an interview Thursday with The Oregonian, Wyden wouldn't reveal his strategy for getting the full Senate to approve his bill. Observers speculated he would try to attach the bill to other legislation, a time-honored legislative maneuver.
And, presumably, if Wyden's bill passes, a conference committee would be summoned to pound out the differences between the House and Senate bills. But that's work that would have to move quickly to beat the end-of-session clock.
In any event, this newfound urgency likely offers little in the way of comfort to people in those 18 counties who are desperate to get back to work in the nation's forests. Wyden's actions this week offer a sliver of hope, but time is of the essence.