It’s deja vu all over again. Just two months after the end of the last federal budget shutdown, the state Department of Health and Human Services is about to start preparing for another impasse. The deal that ended the October shutdown extended the federal government’s spending authority through Jan. 15. If another deal isn’t in place by then, North Carolina could see a repeat of October’s scenario, including furloughed workers and service shutdowns, from food aid programs to occupational therapy programs for disabled adults. Reports coming out of Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon indicate congressional negotiators may be nearing a deal. But If there’s no agreement by Friday, the state will start planning for another shutdown.
The technology chief at the state Department of Health and Services told legislators Tuesday the agency’s new computer system for processing Medicaid claims is working well, despite a critical audit and complaints from medical professionals. Chief Information Officer Joe Cooper said the state staffers overseeing the NCTracks system should be "congratulated on seeing this project through a successful launch." Cooper said the agency is constantly making improvements to the system, but that on the whole, it is performing well. That assessment is in sharp contrast to an audit of the NCTracks system released Monday by State Auditor Beth Wood. The audit said the system continues to fall short on addressing defects months after coming online in July and on completing government-mandated changes on time.
A new audit of the state’s new Medicaid payment program released Monday takes the Department of Health and Human Services to task. It says the agency could have done more to get Medicaid providers paid more quickly. The program, rolled out this summer, has been plagued with troubles including software glitches and hardware problems. More than 3,000 issues have had to be addressed and some Medicaid providers still aren’t getting paid. The audit says DHHS could have done more to make things right. Since mid-summer, many businesses that cater to people on Medicaid have had trouble getting reimbursed by the state.
The technology chief at the state Department of Health and Services told legislators Tuesday the agency’s new computer system for processing Medicaid claims is working well, despite a critical audit and complaints from medical professionals. Chief Information Officer Joe Cooper said the state staffers overseeing the NCTracks system should be “congratulated on seeing this project through a successful launch.” Cooper said the agency is constantly making improvements to the system, but that on the whole, it is performing well. That assessment is in sharp contrast to an audit of the NCTracks system released Monday by State Auditor Beth Wood.
North Carolina residents soon will learn more about the tax cuts enacted this year by the state legislature. For many, the initial lesson will come when they pay new or higher taxes.Some people go to the movies on New Year’s Day. For the first time, the ticket will be subject to a sales tax – 6.75 percent in Guilford County. The theater will decide whether to absorb the tax or charge customers. New sales taxes will apply to tickets for college or professional sporting events, concerts, plays and museums. Taxes will increase on manufactured homes and modular homes. New taxes will be put on service contracts, newspapers and meals purchased at college dining halls. Some deductions will be eliminated. One is for money put into the state’s college savings plan. Other changes won’t take effect until July 1. On that date, breads, rolls and buns sold at bakery thrift stores no longer will escape the standard 2 percent sales tax on food. Also, the sales-tax holiday weekend held for years before school starts in August has been eliminated.
North Carolina could rejoin the ranks of states that offer long-term unemployment benefits under legislative language pushed by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Hagan, a Democrat facing re-election in 2014, recently wrote to top Senate leaders asking that they change federal law to allow the U.S. Labor Department to renegotiate its long-term unemployment agreement with the state. Changes to state law triggered an end to long-term benefits for North Carolina workers effective July 1. "This has been devastating for the individuals and families who are already struggling to make ends meet in tough economic times," Hagan wrote earlier this month to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
1. The total deal is $85 billion. About $45 billion of that replaces sequestration cuts in 2014. About $20 billion replaces sequestration cuts in 2015. About $20 billion is deficit reduction atop sequestration. 2. The sequestration relief is evenly divided between defense spending and non-defense discretionary spending. The sequester’s cuts to mandatory spending are unaffected.
In the second decade of the 21st century, the American right has only two economic ideas. When it comes to revenues, conservatives want further tax cuts for the rich. When it comes to spending, conservatives want to replace public programs with vouchers “Vouchermania” may be the term used by future historians to describe the puzzling rage for vouchers that has swept the right wing in the last few decades. You got a problem? I got a voucher. Education? The right wants to give people vouchers to buy K-12 schooling from private schools, or, failing complete privatization, from charter schools. Healthcare? The right wants to replace Medicare and Medicaid with vouchers to let people shop for health insurance or healthcare in a deregulated healthcare marketplace. Retirement? The right wants to privatize Social Security, replacing it with tax-favored individual contributions to private retirement savings accounts — a de facto voucher system. The environment? Cap-and-trade, now demonized by conservatives, originated as a pro-market alternative to direct regulation of greenhouse gases. So far conservatives haven’t proposed voucherizing the Pentagon, but it is probably only a matter of time before some ambitious young right-wing intellectual devises a scheme of personal defense vouchers, which individuals could choose to spend on U.S. military services, foreign armies and navies, mercenary gangs or, perhaps, to bribe the enemy into sparing him or her.
Democrats successfully utilized new Senate rules Tuesday to confirm one of President Obama’s picks to serve on a key federal court and another to lead a federal housing agency. Several more votes to confirm new federal judges and agency leaders are expected in the coming days, further cementing an historic change in Senate rules enacted in recent weeks. Under new rules requiring just a majority of senators to agree to proceed to final debate on most confirmation votes, senators voted Tuesday morning 56 to 38 to confirm Patricia A. Millett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Later, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) 57 to 41 to serve as the next head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency,which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and federal home loan banks.
The Obama administration’s all-out public relations push to sell its health care reform law increasingly is targeting individual governors, who will bear much of the blame, the White House says, if millions of poor Americans remain uninsured. Administration officials Monday joined with state and local Democratic leaders in North Carolina to put pressure on Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, to expand Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare. Under Mr. McCrory, North Carolina is one of two dozen states that so far have opted out of that expansion, a crucial building block of the Affordable Care Act but one that became voluntary as a result of a Supreme Court decision last year. “The only explanation is political,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, speaking of Mr. McCrory’s and other governors’ reluctance to expand Medicaid. Mr. Earnest was joined by Durham, N.C., Mayor Bill Bell and state Sen. Floyd McKissick, both Democrats, on a Monday afternoon conference call.
Democrats elevated three first-term governors into national leadership roles Monday and reelected Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin to helm the Democratic Governors Association, party strategists told POLITICO. At the DGA’s annual meeting in Washington, the party’s state executives elected New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan – the country’s only female Democratic governor – as their vice chair. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will serve as the DGA’s finance chair and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will chair the group’s major donor program. All three Democrats won competitive elections in 2012 with heavy backing from the DGA. Up to this point, they have largely avoided the national spotlight during their first year in office.
A business-backed, limited-government group that counts House Speaker Thom Tillis as a leader is exerting increasing influence in North Carolina, according to newly disclosed records. The American Legislative Exchange Council counted 54 out of 170 North Carolina lawmakers as members through June, or roughly one-third of the General Assembly. The state is one of only seven to increase membership more than 40 percent. The numbers are highlighted in new internal ALEC documents, obtained and published by the British newspaper The Guardian, that shed new light on the organization’s presence in the state. About 10 state lawmakers are attending the group’s conference in Washington this week.
Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. will hold a fundraiser this month headlined by a powerful legislative leaders with statewide clout: his father. State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. occupies a position on par with the governor in terms of political clout, and he appears to be putting that standing to work by headlining a fundraiser that will be hosted by several lobbyistswho practice before the General Assembly. The younger Berger is running for the 6th Congressional District, a seat currently occupied by Congressman Howard Coble, who has said he is retiring next year. Berger, thanks to his own elected position and his father’s well-known political brand, might rightly be considered the frontrunner in what is sure to be a crowded primary field.
Katherine Clark (D) handily defeated Frank Addivinola (R) in Massachusetts’ 5th District special election to fill the seat left vacant by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Roll Call reports.
Smart Politics notes it’s the 92nd consecutive House loss for Republicans in the state.
Democratic state Sen. Katherine Clark won Tuesday’s special election for a Massachusetts congressional seat, easily defeating Republican attorney Frank Addivinola. She will succeed Democrat Ed Markey, who vacated the suburban Boston-area 5th District seat earlier this year after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Markey had held the seat since 1976. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Clark defeated Addivinola, 65.9 percent to 31.7 percent. She will become the fifth woman to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The year’s not over, but it’s not too early to declare the hands-down winner of this year’s Scrooge award: Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky Republican wants to cut off people’s unemployment benefits — not to save taxpayers’ money from being frittered away by loafers unwilling to haul themselves out of their comfy hammocks to look for work. No, Sen. Scrooge wants to cut out of solicitude for the long-term unemployed. Because, as the kindly doctor explained (correctly) on "Fox News Sunday," it is clear that the longer people are unemployed the more difficulty they have finding work. Ergo, says Paul, the obvious solution: Limit the length of unemployment benefits — even if there are not jobs available.
Politico: Tea partiers line up to tackle GOP senators
GOP senators have aggressively tried to keep their conservative base at bay to ensure there’s virtually no space on their right for a primary foe to emerge. That didn’t work so well. Republican primary challengers are lining up to take on sitting senators next year in eight of the 12 races involving sitting GOP senators, gunning for party leaders like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, veterans like Thad Cochran in Mississippi and Pat Roberts in Kansas and deal-makers like Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Texas Sen. John Cornyn became the latest target this week, when a fiercely conservative congressman, Steve Stockman, suddenly announced plans to challenge the Senate’s second-ranking Republican in next March’s primary.
At this early stage for the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s Hillary’s world, and everyone else just lives in it. Hillary Clinton dominates the potential field of candidates for the Democratic nomination by huge margins, with a more than 5-to-1 advantage over her nearest rival and more than doubling the support of everyone else combined, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll. The Republican race is wide open, with New JerseyGov. Chris Christie slightly ahead. And Clinton has an edge or outright lead over any of them. “It’s Hillary versus the pack for the nomination,” said Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the poll.
For over two decades, Democratic Rep. Mel Watt has been Charlotte’s reliably liberal, if sometimes lonely, voice in Washington. A former civil rights lawyer, he juggled the interests of his constituents and those of the financial industry that powered his hometown’s economy. Votes on war, spending and the rights of convicted sex offenders often left him in a distinct minority. He served under three presidents, led the Congressional Black Caucus and acted as a sounding board for a young senator named Barack Obama. Watt, 68, is expected to resign from Congress after being confirmed 57-41 Tuesday as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate as the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs. The final vote, requiring only a simple majority, was 57-41. Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr broke from his party to support Watt, joining Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in voting aye on confirmation. Watt is currently serving his 11th term representing the state’s 12th District, which winds along Interstate 85 from Greensboro to Charlotte. He could be officially appointed later this week.
The parties in the lawsuit challenging the state’s new election law are so fractured they can’t agree on when to hold the trial. The NAACP wants June. The League of Women Voters, another party in challenging the law, says mid-August. But the state and the Department of Justice – on opposite sides in this case – say not sooner than summer 2015. On Thursday, attorneys for the NAACP, League of Women Voters, the ACLU of North Carolina and other voter rights advocates will gather in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem to talk about one early point of contention – whether the trial will happen before or after the 2014 elections. Chris Brook, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union North Carolina Legal Foundation, one of the law groups representing the League of Women Voters: “We believe these voting restrictions that have been put in place need to be reviewed for their legality and their constitutionality before they go into effect.”
Wake County voters will be able to cast their ballots on at least one Sunday during the early voting period for the 2014 general election. The Wake County Board of Elections voted 2-1 Tuesday to keep Sunday voting for the 2014 cycle. At eight early voting locations, which the board will choose next year, polls will be open for four hours on Saturday and Sunday. The decision is subject to a possible appeal by the board’s dissenting member. The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a sweeping elections law this year that shortened the number of days over which early voting can take place. But the law also required counties keep polls open for the same number of total hours as in prior elections.
Just about 1.2 million people have gained health coverage through Obamacare, according to new federal data released Wednesday morning. Approximately 365,000 of those people have purchased private insurance and 803,000 have been determined to be eligible for the public Medicaid program. These numbers count data from both October and November, and show an especially quick growth in HealthCare.gov enrollment.
Nothing is quite as destructive, quite as paralyzing, to a writer (or anyone else for that matter), though knowing many of us corrode ourselves in the same acidity is a mild antidote. In what became one of her more famous Dear Sugar columns in 2011, Cheryl Strayed wrote to an author who echoed Vidal, “We are all savages inside. We all want to be the chosen, the beloved, the esteemed.” That goes for both men and women. Women make up nearly half the American work force and 40 percent of the country’s primary household breadwinners. It’s safe to say workplace rivalry is as much a female matter as a male one. Yet, when it comes to competition, the focus continues to be on men, even where women are involved. Science says that when ladies compete it’s to land a dude or to look beautiful (to the same ends), rather than to, say, land a bonus or look professional. Call it theCold War Fought By Women—The New York Times did.
Well, this week is good news for functioning government. It looks like the U. S. House and Senate have come to a budget agreement that will avoid another government shutdown and more sequester cuts. In addition, the Senate is now approving Obama’s judicial nominees and those to head government agencies, including North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt. And the Obamacare website seems to working well enough to keep itself off the front page and out of the cable news line up. Nobody is jumping for joy over the budget agreement but nobody ever does when government working. The grumbling from both sides that comes with compromise is a sign of healing. The continued screaming of the Tea Party and Heritage Foundation is a sign of the continued disfunction.
Judging from the women who fell for him, Woody Allen learned this early. Alas, he is the least likely role model for Republican males, who seem to have misinterpreted the meaning of the aphorism. To clarify: The idea is to make a girl laugh by engaging her wit, not to make her laugh at you. As Republican leaders recently began tutoring their male candidates on “How to Talk to a Lady” (my title), it was tempting to imagine what wisdom was being imparted. A few ideas:
Pope Francis has been announced as Time’s “Person of the Year,” beating out runner-up Edward Snowden for this year’s award. “For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs, and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is Time’s 2013 Person of the Year,’” wrote Time Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs on Francis’s selection. Pope Francis assumed the papacy in March after his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, resigned. In the months since becoming the Roman Catholic Church’s top leader, Francis has been widely credited with reshaping public perception of the Church after years of scandal, building a reputation as a humble reformer.
Micah Beasley, Press Secretary
North Carolina Democratic Party
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