Special Session For Oklahoma Legislature?

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The OKPolicy Blog, which is part of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, is recommending the state be ready to call a special session of the legislature this fall as revenues continue to decline steeply.

The rationale beyond this argument is convincing. If the state budget will need large cuts, then the legislature could meet and mandate specific cuts. As it stands now, the governor and state treasurer can only make across-the-board cuts. Drastic cuts in education, health and social services could lead to more problems down the road.

State Treasurer Scott Meacham recently issued a report that show Oklahoma’s revenues continue to decline, opening up the likelihood for a revenue shortfall, which automatically forces across-the-board cuts. According to Meacham:

It appears very likely at this point that Fiscal Year 2010 revenues will be less than originally estimated by the tax commission. That means a revenue shortfall is probable. I will be meeting with state finance officials and Governor Henry to determine if it will be necessary to begin reducing allocations to state agencies to meet the anticipated revenue shortfall.

Oklahoma has fared better that many states during the recent national recession, but in the past few months revenues have taken a steep drop. One of the reasons is a decline of gross production tax collections on natural gas. Meanwhile, the federal stimulus plan helped stabilized this year’s budget, but collection projections appear to have been too optimistic.

The OKPolicy Blog also suggests using the Rainy Day Fund to prevent more drastic cuts, improving the Rainy Day Fund rules so the fund can be used “when we need it most” and adopting a five-year professional forecast of the state budget.

Oklahoma has been relatively fortunate during the national recession, but that could quickly change. Anyone who has endured some of the state’s financial slumps—for example, the oil bust in the early 1980s—knows that rational, long-term decisions are needed now to steer the state through a difficult time. The recommendations of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which generates the most thorough statistical information about the state budget and other issues, deserve careful consideration.


Profits Then People


It’s the right-wing ruse that’s been working for three decades. While the editorial page of The Oklahoman and other conservative media outlets hammer away at healthcare reform efforts with fear mongering, illogical slippery slope arguments and glaring omissions, one of the top health insurers is reporting huge profits.

This is from Bloomberg.com:

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the top U.S. insurer by sales, said second-quarter profit more than doubled on higher premiums and growing Medicare enrollment, beating analysts’ estimates.

Note the phrase "higher premiums."

Meanwhile, this is from a recent editorial (“Rising tide: Health care plan swimming in doubt,” July 21, 2009) in The Oklahoman:

… Others representing affluent districts are worried constituents could pay taxes at a higher rate than they do in Sweden. State governors are balking, sensing Washington might shift significant costs to them.

Meanwhile, small-business owners see a proposed insurance mandate as job-killing. A number of analysts warn the public health insurance option Democrats are proposing could squeeze out private insurance, forcing millions of Americans into a government-run plan.

Note the lack of direct evidence for the “Sweden” claim or the “forcing millions of Americans into a government-run plan.” How much do people in Sweden pay in taxes? The editorial doesn’t say. Where is the “millions” figure coming from? In the end, these are simply unsubstantiated arguments designed to scare people about something that will actually improve their lives.

Those companies who make massive profits off human suffering and their supporters in the conservative media have long held a symbiotic relationship. The conservative media normalizes our outrageous healthcare system through sheer propagandist audacity. The problem, see, is not the 46 million people without health insurance or the poor medical outcomes of those with health insurance or rising co-pays or pre-existing conditions. The problem is that health insurance companies might not be able to double their profits and rich people could see a slight increase in taxes if healthcare reform is passed.

The tragedy here is how the right-wing ruse continues to work in the country’s political debate, even in the Obama era. Big business and the corporate media—really, the same thing—have for so long framed major political arguments in terms of commoditization that many people have adopted political positions that directly hurt them personally. This is an old argument, to be sure, but it needs to be repeated as the debate over healthcare reform becomes about people as commodities rather than people as humans in need of basic medical care.

Here are some ways to combat the propaganda:

(1) Organizations and individuals need to continue their efforts to fight the big-business rhetorical framing despite disappointing setbacks. This is a long-term project that may take at least a decade or more before more people understand how big business and the corporate media work together against their basic interests. Don’t give up the fight.

(2) Progressives need to create more media outlets, blogs, community blogs, and media watchdog organizations. The new, preogressive electronic media has and should support healthcare reform, energy independence, basic sustainability, fairer taxation, and environmental progress. Here’s how it can work.

(3) Democrats should continue to reach out to America’s diverse communities and grow their numbers. The demographics favor the Democrats. It’s difficult to see how Hispanic, African-American and young voters will suddenly turn to the Republican Party, which continues to cling to anachronistic views about the nation’s diverse social and cultural framework.

If healthcare reform doesn’t pass this year, then there’s always next year or the year after that. President Barack Obama has warned that if reform doesn’t get passed, it may take a generation before it does. Maybe so. But it won’t even pass in a generation if we don’t keep fighting now.


Gang of Six Senators Against Reform?

New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman—you now, one of the few prominent commentators who was actually right about everything during the dark years of the George W. Bush era—is calling out the six so-called centrist U.S. Senators who seem intent on stopping healthcare reform.

Krugman is referring to Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, according to TPM, want to slow down reform efforts.

Krugman writes:

If the Gang of Six really does kill reform, remember their names; they will bear the responsibility for vast, unnecessary suffering over the years to come.

These centrists are really not centrists at all, but conservatives masquerading as moderates to win votes in their states. The problem is the definition of what many on the right and even left define as centrist has changed considerably over the last three decades to reflect dead, conservative ideologies. Liberals and real moderates need to continue to work to move the right/left definitions back to something resembling reality.

But is the Gang of Six fundamentally immoral as Krugman seems to argue? It may ultimately depend on how they vote, if there is even a vote, on healthcare reform. But even the gang’s obstructionist tactics could be considered inhumane and a sign it supports the interests of big health insurance companies over people’s health. Will Krugman be proven right once again as the right-wingers, posing as centrists because of political calculation, reject sensible healthcare reform efforts?

What do you think about the issue? Vote on this related poll and feel free to leave a comment.