Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 207]: Gaffney makes offer Worcester can’t refuse

Michael Gaffney, one-time (self-proclaimed) People’s Councilor®, is getting out of Worcester politics — and nobody seems to be lining up to pull him back in.

The at-large right-wing rabble-rouser, who gave Mayor Joe Petty a legit run for his money in the 2015 election, suddenly and cryptically announced on his blog that he and his wife are abandoning their bids for City Council seats.

With Gaffney it always seemed to get personal, but now it appears city leaders might just return to strictly business.

Hitch checks in with the guy who’s really pulling the strings for a definitive answer.

On Beacon Hill: Cost sharing … and caring

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — So, how many days a week do you suppose Charlie Baker wakes up and thinks, “GOD, I wish Hillary had won!”?

“Seven” may be a valid guess. Because an inconvenient truth has stalked Baker’s political life since the election of Donald Trump: his job would have been enormously easier this year, and his job security greater, had Hillary Clinton been elected. That truth came into starker-than-ever relief last week.

Baker was getting ready to leave for Las Vegas to talk clean energy as news broke that his party’s leader was hoping to demolish Obamacare by allowing the sale of low-cost, low-benefit plans aimed at the young and healthy, and withholding subsidies for insurance copays to the poor at the state level.

It was easy to anticipate Baker’s reaction: walking through a well-worn script that boils down to the message: “Don’t Blame Me, I’m From Massachusetts.” And pretty much, the people of Massachusetts haven’t.

Guns. Gays. Coal. Immigration. Contraceptives. Climate change. On almost every eye-catching Trump maneuver this year, the governor’s instinct for pragmatism in rhetoric and decision-making has seen him through. But now, the veteran number-cruncher and former health insurance executive faces more daunting budget and policy challenges, caused by Republicans.

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

President Trump

The president signed a short executive order Thursday fostering the creation of new bare-bones plans with low premiums, aimed at people whose health needs are few. He said the move addresses one of the main complaints about Obamacare — not enough choice for consumers.

Then came the blockbuster: The president announced he plans to end $9 billion in “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that enable the functioning of Obamacare on the state level. The president pointed out that the payments were never funded by Congress, but rather paid through administrative accounts controlled by the Executive Branch.

U.S. House Republicans sued over the matter three years ago, arguing the administration has no right to fund a major program like this without congressional appropriation. They won. Even so, officials from both parties had urged Trump to continue the payments, and Baker was out in front.

As with most everything except, perhaps, the national Marine Monument off Cape Cod, the governor disagrees with his president on the dismantling of Obamacare. That frequent disavowal has made his most potent political rival, state Attorney General Maura Healey, arguably his most potent policy ally.

As she’s done many a time this year, Healey said she’d go to court against the federal administration, aligned with Baker’s point of view, joining other state AGs in a lawsuit to block termination of the CSR’s.

For his part, Baker issued a statement that “the Trump Administration is making the wrong decision to eliminate cost-sharing reductions for all 50 states, as it will destabilize insurance markets and jeopardize coverage for thousands of Massachusetts residents.” [See more on Baker’s and Healey’s reactions below.]

Health coverage and its provision to the poor had already made the administration’s life complicated last week, as the Massachusetts Health Connector that administers public insurance for low-income residents tried to set rates for MassHealth for the coming year.

The Connector was expected to announce 2018 MassHealth rates early in the week, but delayed its announcement to make a last-second decision as to whether premiums should rise an average of 10.5 percent or 26.1 percent. The lower rate was announced as official Thursday, but it was contingent on … continuance of the CSR’s, which the president announced at 10 p.m. that evening would be ending. The Connector said it would explore “alternative pathways.”

The flurry of healthcare developments came at the end of a short week that was long on news even before the Grand Finale.

— Craig Sandler

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Three finalists for Cannabis Commission director to be interviewed Tuesday
  • McGovern on Trump’s Iran move, Polito on domestic violence
  • Baker, Healey rail against Trump healthcare maneuver
  • Watch: Chang-Diaz, others weigh in on criminal justice reform
  • Senate gun bill restricting bump stocks set for House showdown

Worcester Weekly: Clark zombies, WPI football + more, Oct. 15-21

The most fun you’ll have with a calendar of events all week. And you just might learn something, too.

Monday, Oct. 16 — Hops & Harmony at the Hall, 6 p.m. [doors open at 5:30], Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St.  Sometimes all it takes is a little liquid courage to let your inner Bruno Mars or Lady Gaga out of the shower and into the eardrums of — gasp! — real, live other people. Disclaimer: the Worcester Sun and its affiliates do not recommend consuming alcohol in the shower (unless you’re in a 1980s baseball movie).

Still in its infancy, the Hops & Harmony series is intended to be “a fun night of live music with audience participation. Enjoy time with friends, meet new ones, and learn popular music in three parts for fun and YouTube stardom. This get-out-of-the-house experience is a great way to unwind and let loose after a long day.” Tickets are $5.

On Beacon Hill: Bowling for dollars

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Line ’em up and knock ’em down. That’s been the House’s approach to Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes since returning from summer recess.

But if Speaker Robert DeLeo was hoping to see the Senate quickly pick up the spare, he found that it might take them a few extra frames.

For the second straight week, House leaders put dozens of votes on the floor to override $9 million more in spending vetoes, bringing the amount of money Democrats are looking to pour back into the $39.4 billion state budget to $284 million.

Then it was the Senate’s turn.

But in their first session since late July, senators acted on only $25 million worth of overrides focused on statewide services and programs that help children [see story below]. It was less than half of what Sen. Karen Spilka said the Senate was prepared to consider restoring to the budget, and the voting came over the objection of Senate Republicans who urged just a little patience.

The release of September tax collection totals this week will color in a full quadrant of the fiscal year picture and give legislators a better idea of how their financial forecast is holding up — well, at least the revenue side of the equation.

“The current fiscal environment, specifically soft revenue collection reports to date, indicates there is no basis to support the legislature’s decision to increase spending by $284 million,” Baker scolded Thursday evening, powerless to stop the type of decisions that have exacerbated midyear budget cuts in each of the last two years.

Baker watched the override votes from Boston after continuing to wear out the shuttle flight path between Logan and Reagan National. The governor headed back to Washington – this time the White House – for a meeting of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

His path nearly crossed with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who was at the White House a day earlier as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Congressional leaders were there to discuss tax reform, but the bipartisan nature of the photo-op did not exactly buy the president or GOP leadership any rope with Democrats.

Flickr / Ben Wikler

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Neal, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others from their party, blasted the GOP tax reform framework as a trickle-down economic plan geared toward helping the wealthy, despite the White House casting it as middle-class tax relief.

In Massachusetts, leaders – Baker included – seized on the proposed elimination of state and local tax payment deductions as a particularly egregious simplification of the tax code.

That change would particularly hurt Bay State residents, they said, because they earn more than workers in many places around the country and pay higher income and property taxes that can be used to lower their federal tax burden.

Trump’s tax plan also proposed to eliminate the federal estate tax, a levy that got some attention at the state level as well last week. Rep. Shawn Dooley has proposed to raise the $1 million threshold for the Massachusetts estate tax at one of several hearings last week that put the State House in a morbid mood.

Despite the rejection by voters in 2012 of the concept of helping the terminally ill end their own lives, legislative proposals to revive the debate live on, even if their chances of resurrection seem remote.

Matters of life of death were also never far from mind for those with family in Puerto Rico, where water, food and medicine shortages continue to cause grave concern in a state with one of the top five populations of people from the Caribbean island in the country.

The devastation in Puerto Rico from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria continued to influence both policy and politics, as Baker took steps to assure the community and his critics that Massachusetts stood ready to assist in any way possible [see video below].

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • With another break looming, lawmakers about to buckle down?
  • McGovern on SNAP, Baker on WPD
  • Worcester awarded state recycling grant
  • Watch: Baker, Sanchez on Puerto Rico aid
  • Senate restores $25 million in Baker budget vetoes

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 200]: On health care, McGovern’s a Bernie Bro

What do you do when you have an upstart Republican challenging you in your district and a Trump confounding you in the White House?

If you’re Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern, well, you pretty much keep on doing your thing — with a little lean further to the left. Long an advocate for improved health care, particularly better nutrition in schools, McGovern recently latched onto progressive pied piper Bernie Sanders’ latest push for universal coverage.

For Hitch, though, something still doesn’t quite add up.