Haley, Healthcare and Hard Questions for Sotomayor

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour joined the health care battle with House Republican Leaders John Boehner (Oh) and Mike Pence (Ind) bringing a governor’s perspective to the mix.  Barbour spoke of grave concerns about the mandates, unfunded or otherwise, this massive federal government takeover of health care would impose on state governments.

“As a governor I can tell you that states are worried about the idea of a great expansion of Medicaid,” Barbour said.  “Even though the House bill says it will all be paid for by the federal government, they also say they’re going to make $300 billion of unspecified cuts in order to make that happen.  As somebody who deals with Medicaid every day, in fact every governor has to deal with Medicaid very often because it is such a difficult issue, it has become such an expensive program, for many states up to 20% of their state budget, in my state almost 15% of our state budget, and the savings are not easy to come by.”

“My state legislature has not achieved a budget yet.  The two outstanding issues are both Medicaid issues,” Barbour continued.  “So, we governors understand that fooling around with Medicaid is a touchy subject.  But when you see what is being proposed, my people tell me in Mississippi, my Medicaid people, that the House bill would result in adding 300,000 Mississippians to the Medicare rolls.  That essentially is a 50% increase in the Medicaid rolls.  We haven’t got $350 million more to put into Medicaid which is what a 50% increase would cost us.”

“We also don’t have any idea how you’re going to make the savings that would reduce the cost of the program where we could add 300,000 people and it not cost anything,” Barbour added.  “We’re very concerned about it.  I think a lot of governors — Democrats as well as Republicans — know that this is a very difficult, very hard subject, that it shouldn’t be leapt into.  There needs to be a lot of information to the American people, information to state governments — 852 pages is hard to swallow in a very short period of time.”

Sessions Raises Serious Concerns about Sotomayor

Speaking from the Senate floor yesterday, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised concerns over Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy.  Highlighting time the nominee spent as a member of the board of the controversial Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, Sessions put forth the most specific critique of her judicial record to date.

As the continuing review of Sotomayor’s speeches, judicial opinions, and academic writings, moves forward, issues of concern surfaced prompting Sessions to speak on these issues from the Senate floor yesterday.  Among the issues Sessions raised were the New Haven Firefighters case, the weight given to foreign law in Sotomayor’s rulings, and the extent to which these and other decisions and writings signify that Sotomayor fulfills the President’s judicial “empathy standard.”

Sessions has at every possible occasion stressed that Sotomayor will be given ample opportunity to respond to allegations during her confirmation hearings.

“[President Obama] says he wants someone who will use empathy to certain groups to decide cases,” Sessions said.  “That perhaps sounds nice, but when there is empathy towards one, is it not prejudice towards the other? There are always litigants on the other side, and they deserve to have their cases decided on the law.

“What I’ve seen thus far in Judge Sotomayor’s record — and presumably some of her views are the reason President Obama selected her — cause me concern that the nominee will look outside the law and the evidence in judging and that her policy preferences could influence her decision making…”

“Looking at the long association the nominee has with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund — an organization that is . . . I believe, clearly outside the mainstream of [an] American approach to matters — this is a group that has taken some very shocking positions with respect to terrorism.”  

“The New York Mayor, David Dinkins, criticized members of the radical Puerto Rican nationalist group and called them ‘assassins’ because they shot at members of Congress and have been involved in . . . other violence. The Fund, of which Judge Sotomayor was a part, criticized the mayor, [saying] they were not assassins, and said that the mayor’s comments were insensitive. The president of the organization continued explaining, that for many people in Puerto Rico, these men were fighters for freedom and justice. So, I wonder if she agreed with that statement and if she agreed that the mayor of New York’s comments were insensitive?”

“… the Fund criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in two cases that both the State and Federal government should restrict the use of public funds for abortion. . . . Incredibly the Fund joined other groups in comparing these types of funding restrictions to slavery, stating that, ‘Just as Dred Scott v. Sanford refused citizenship to black people, these stripped citizenship under fundamental law.’  In their view, the Equal Protection Clause prohibited restrictions on either Federal or State government provisions of funding abortions.  I think this is an indefensible position.”

AMA Endorses Kyl-McConnell Bill

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona recently introduced the PATIENTS Act of 2009, legislation that would bar the use of comparative effectiveness research that was recently funded by the so-called stimulus bill to deny coverage of a health-care treatment or micromanage the practice of medicine.

Yesterday, the American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed the bill.  

In its letter, that AMA writes it “strongly supports government funding that will increase quality comparative clinical effectiveness research…and welcome[s] the provisions in S. 1259 that ensure CER findings will guide physician and patient decision-making, not dictate it.”
The AMA, an organization comprised of physicians and medical students, further states in its letter that “physicians must not be constrained when they are developing individualized treatment plans and differentiating, when necessary, between patients for whom the study findings apply and those for whom the study is not representative.  Thus, CER findings should not be used as a blunt tool to foreclose diagnostic and treatment options and strategies that could be necessary and effective for a minority or subset of patients.”
The bill awaits consideration before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.