27 March 2010

Wielding Line-Item Vetoes, Manchin Signs Budget

Gov. Joe Manchin has approved a new, $11.6 billion spending plan for West Virginia state government after cutting out $17.2 million, The Associated Press reports.

Armed with a line-item veto, Manchin raised 55 objections to the budget bill passed last weekend by the Legislature.

While several of these objections reduced or even zeroed out funding items within programs and agencies, several others "erased language earmarking spending lines for specific purposes," the article said. "Lawmakers had, for instance, spelled out amounts for 361 different fair- or festival-type events."

A number of the vetoes "returned agency or program spending to current levels and then reduced them by 5 percent," AP also reports. "Manchin had proposed cuts of that amount in the budget plan he presented in January, citing the recession-weakened economy."

Lawmakers blasted several of Manchin's line-items, particularly one cutting funding for a senior in-home care program and another removing a legislative directive involving substance abuse funding.

They Voted for You: Health Care Fix-Its

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., helped pass a slightly altered Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 back to the U.S. House.

The 56-43 vote had all Republicans present and three Democrats opposing the measure. Reporting on this stage of the bill's fortunes, The Associated Press said it "would change the new health care law by making drug benefits for Medicare recipients more generous by gradually closing a gap in coverage, increasing tax subsidies to help low-income people afford health care, and boosting federal Medicaid payments to states."

The House later gave final approval to the measure, 220-207. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the final bill. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, joined all of her fellow Republicans present and 32 Democrats to vote against it.

AP reports separately on that final step.

25 March 2010

Quote of the Day

"All of us are going to have to look at that ... What we've got to do is make (insurance companies) compete — and a public option is probably the only way."

-- Gov. Joe Manchin to Time magazine on how states might operate the insurance exchanges allowed under the new federal health care law.

The article said that Oregon is "already studying the feasibility of including a public option as part of its state exchange." Time also quotes Manchin suggesting that West Virginia may join with neighboring states to operate a regional exchange.

Election 2010: Congress

  • Former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP presidential running mate Sarah Palin has included U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, W.Va.-1st, and Nick Rahall, W.Va.-3rd, among 20 House Democrats she has vowed to target for defeat through her political action committee, The Charleston Gazette reports.
  • The Daily Mail reports separately that West Virginians for Life has ruled out endorsing either Democratic incumbent this year, because of their votes for what the group's leader calls "the greatest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade." (Politifact.com has analyzed several abortion-related claims regarding the bill, recently rating as "True" the statement that "there will be no public funding for abortion in this legislation.")
  • The six Republicans seeking to challenge Mollohan in November each would have voted against the health care bill, The Intelligencer reports. His primary challenger, state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, told the Wheeling newspaper "he isn't certain what his vote would have been," as "he doesn't yet know the intricacies negotiated in the bill or how it might affect West Virginia."

They Voted for You: Infrastructure & Tax Cuts

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the "Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, joined all but four of the House's GOP members in opposing the measure, which passed 246-178.

The Associated Press reports that the bill "combines $13.2 billion in interest subsidies for local construction bonds with $3.6 billion in tax cuts for small businesses and $2.5 billion in aid to states to pay for expanded welfare programs through September 2011."

The bonds are meant to help local governments fund projects. "Republicans said the bills were evidence that last year’s massive economic recovery package was ineffective," and that the tax cuts "were too small to make a significant dent in joblessness," the article said.

The House also passed a separate measure by 239-175 that the AP report said "would provide $5.1 billion to fund local disaster relief projects, including some that date back to Hurricane Katrina, and $600 million for summer jobs programs."

Mollohan and Rahall voted for that bill, while Capito and all but five Republicans present opposed it.

24 March 2010

Post-Session Roundup (Updated)

Gov. Joe Manchin has so far signed 61 bills from the just-completed regular session.

The Journal of Martinburg notes his approval of a House-sponsored Caregivers Consent Act. "As a result of serious drug and alcohol issues that some parents may have, the lack of consent medical centers are given to treat children had become a major problem," one health official told the newspaper.

The Charleston Gazette reports that some Lottery Commission members want Manchin "to veto a bill that would change the way that 10-year limited video lottery licenses will be re-bid next year." The measure's sole sponsor defends it to MetroNews (with audio).

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg hears from area educators about the school-related measures that did and did not emerge from the session.

The Associated Press
noted earlier that before adjourning over the weekend, the Legislature had passed corrected versions of all five bills that Manchin had vetoed because of technical flaws.

Update: Manchin has vetoed a sixth bill, which aimed to add 120 or so troopers to the State Police by mid-2016. The governor objected to the time frame and to the bill's overall approach to increasing their ranks. The Gazette has details.

Health Care and West Virginia (Updated)

The Charleston Gazette and Public Broadcasting are among those reporting on what the recently passed federal health care legislation will mean for the Mountain State.

The Associated Press covered President Barack Obama's signing of the "massive, nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul," meant to "for the first time cement insurance coverage as the right of every U.S. citizen and begin to reshape the way virtually all Americans receive and pay for treatment."

Among other relevant provisions, The Gazette says the bill will provide funding for "medical school residencies in rural areas," and to expand both "low-cost community health center care," and "the number of doctors who can work off their student loans by practicing in underserved rural areas." It also provides "free wellness screenings for West Virginia's 372,000 Medicare recipients" and allows more poor adults to seek coverage through Medicaid.

Public Broadcasting (audio here) cites the increased Medicaid eligibility as well as "tax credits for people who are buying insurance on the open market" and "a provision to require all restaurants with more than twenty locations to post calorie counts on their menus."

The legislation also included language proposed by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., regarding black lung benefits. Both The Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail report on that provision, with the latter relaying criticism from the state Chamber of Commerce and BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co.

AP also fact-checks some of the more prominent allegations, pro and con, surrounding the new law. FactCheck.org does the same, while Politifact chronicles the Top 5 Lies about the legislation and the Top 10 Facts to know now that it has passed.

AP also sets the stage for Senate action on the House-passed "fix-it bill" to the new law, while reporting separately on the prospects for the federal lawsuit filed by 13 state attorneys general seeking to overturn it.

reports on the statement from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., on the legislation.

Update: The president of Mountain State Blue Cross-Blue Shield, West Virginia's most prominent private insurer, assesses the signed bill for MetroNews. With audio.

22 March 2010

They Voted For You: Health Care

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for what The Associated Press describes as "a transformative health care bill" that would "extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the measure along with the House's other Republican members and 34 Democrats in the 219-212 roll call. "GOP lawmakers attacked the legislation as everything from a government takeover to the beginning of totalitarianism," the article said.

AP also offers a glance of the bill's highlights, and reports separately on Mollohan and Rahall's votes. Others with coverage include The Register-Herald of Beckley, The Intelligencer of Wheeling, and the Charleston Daily Mail. MetroNews has separate items for Mollohan and Rahall.

West Virginia's delegation voted the same way in a 220-211 roll call for a "companion package making a series of changes sought by House Democrats to the larger bill," AP reports. "The fix-it bill will now go to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as Tuesday."

Open Government in West Virginia

A number of "press, state universities and nonprofit groups" have banded together "to help residents and public officials better understand laws that allow access to public documents, information and government meetings," The Associated Press reports.

The new West Virginia Open Government Coalition is aided by "a $15,000 grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition," writes AP's Tom Breen. "The money will fund an office at Marshall University," the article said, while "members of the group also have plans for educational seminars for public officials and to provide answers to urgent questions by phone."

West Virginia "may be the last state in the country to get such a group," Corley Dennison, dean of Marshall's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, told AP.

Death by Committee

The Associated Press examined the work of the 14 Senate and 14 House committees that took up bills during the just-completed legislative session. Among the findings:

  • Just under one-third of the 2,080 bills introduced during the session earned a review from at least one committee during the 60 days.
  • About one in 10 bills made it through two committees in the chamber where it started.
  • A triple-reference proved too great a hurdle: none of the 20 House and Senate bills each assigned to three separate committees for review survived the session.
  • Of the 320 bills that crossed over between the Senate and House, more than 70 percent cleared at least one committee in the other chamber.
  • House committees got off to a quicker start, advancing bills almost immediately.
  • The House Judiciary Committee proved the busiest overall, considering nearly 200 bills.
The analysis also noted the dearth of bills voted down in committee. "Committee chairs say they tended to limit their meeting agendas to bills they deemed likely to advance," the article said.

But critics of that approach, and the current committee process, include the House's longest-serving sitting member.

21 March 2010

They Will Vote For You: Health Care (Updated)

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference that unveiled an "agreement with the White House and party leaders to make sure health care legislation does not permit the use of federal funds for elective abortions," The Associated Press reports.

The two were among six anti-abortion Democrats who joined Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who said the deal "means he can now support a health care bill headed for a vote on the House floor later Sunday."

C-SPAN carried live video of the announcement, with Mollohan standing just off Stupak's left shoulder. Mollohan also spoke to Politico.

The White House has posted the release that includes the executive order issued as part of the agreement.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposes the pending bill and has posted a video in which she outlines her position.

Update: A former staffer of Mollohan tells The Wall Street Journal that "she and her organization will work to defeat Rep. Mollohan in this year’s election if he votes for the health-care legislation."