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Political Rundown: March Madness, Medicaid, Mandates -- And Mendacity

The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the contraceptive mandate required by the Affordable Care Act and opposed by some businesses.

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day.

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day or perhaps just some reading pleasure.

Contraceptives and the court

Tuesday’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court about the federal government’s contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act had a Missouri connection.

That’s probably not surprising given the state’s longstanding status as a hotbed in the national debate over abortion and contraception.

University of Missouri law professor Joshua Hawley has been part of the legal team representing Hobby Lobby, one of two for-profit employers (the other is Conestoga Wagons) whose opposition to the mandate made it to the nation’s highest court.

Hawley, who was in the courtroom,  said in a telephone interview shortly after the 90-minute session – unusually long for the Supreme Court -- that the debate seemed to zero in on two issues:

  • “Can for-profit entities like Hobby Lobby, can they claim the benefits of the key statute in the case, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?”
  • “Does the government have other means of providing the contraceptives at issue in this case, the four forms of contraception” that the firms’ owners consider to be “abortifacients” – such as IUDs – because they can prevent a fertilized egg from implantation.

Hawley said that most of the justices directed questions at the two key lawyers representing the two camps:  Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the federal government, and his predecessor Paul Clement, head of the team for Hobby Lobby.  (The two lawyers, by the way, had squared off before the court in arguments over the Affordable Care Act.)
The two justices most engaged in the debate, Hawley said, were the two newest, both women:  Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

The issue's possible broad reach – the court’s decision could affect other medical matters – has produced a number of well-written and well-researched articles on the legal debate.  The Washington Post, for example, produced a handy-dandy article laying out the basics.

Not surprisingly, the best overviews include a piece for National Public Radio by veteran Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg. (I had the pleasure of interviewing her about 20 years ago when she was in St. Louis, and her thorough approach to reporting has been an inspiration to me ever since.)

Hawley, by the way, recently formed a new nonprofit group, called the Missouri Liberty Project, that is intended to focus on religious-liberty and constitutional-rights issues. The 501C4 cannot endorse candidates, but it can run ads about issues.  (Jo Mannies)

March madness

Everybody wants in on the NCAA action -- even incumbents running for Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seeking re-election in Kentucky, where the state's official religion is basketball.

In a recent campaign ad, the Republican promised to "renew the promise to the next generation of Americans," and featured a montage of clips from the Bluegrass state. A couple of them were intended to show the state's basketball dominance, which makes this mistake all the more unfortunate.

As the folks at WFPL write:

However, when highlighting the state's basketball dominance — 2013 NCAA Champion Louisville Cardinals and 2012 NCAA Champion Kentucky Wildcats — the ad mistakenly uses the Duke Bluedevils' 2010 championship victory. It's only for a brief moment at the 1:09 mark, but the celebration in blue and white clearly isn't the beloved Wildcats.

Duke is, of course, a bitter rival of the Kentucky Wildcats. The campaign pulled the ad and apologized -- but not before his opponents could make light of the situation.

(Chris McDaniel)

George Washington's cherry tree

The Washington Post is making an offer its readers likely can't refuse. It's asking them to submit the biggest presidential whoppers since the television era began so it can assemble a video with a clip of each president uttering his very best (or worst) falsehood. While there are some obvious choices like Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" or Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” the exercise may not be as easy as it sounds. Are all lies equal? Was George W. Bush lying to the American public when he talked about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- or was he misled by intelligence? When John F. Kennedy lied to Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev that the United States had no intention of invading Cuba, when he had just launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, was that wrong -- or a necessary evasion? It's not always so black and white.  (Susan Hegger)

It's no joke

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A group of Republican senators declares any attempts to expand Medicaid dead on arrival for this session.The ultimatum of sorts comes as the Missouri House is considering state Rep. Noel Torpey’s “reform” legislation to pair expansion with major changes to how the program operates.

It also confirms what state Sen. Rob Schaaf – a St. Joseph Republican and ardent foe of Medicaid expansion – told me a few weeks ago. Even if he decided to stand down, other Republicans in the Senate are willing to “fall on the sword” to stop Medicaid expansion.

The bigger problem now for advocates of Medicaid expansion is that some opponents have little to lose. Some legislators willing to block Medicaid expansion – such as state Sens. John Lamping, R-Ladue, and Brad Lager, R-Savannah – aren’t running for re-election. Others – such as state Sens. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, and Ed Emery, R-Lamar – are in safe Republican districts. What’s the incentive to get these senators to squelch their filibuster threat?

For all the talk about how pressure from hospitals may cause Republicans to support Medicaid expansion, not a single member of the 24-person Senate Republican caucus seems willing to support it. For proponents, that’s a vexing problem because the GOP is likely to maintain – and possibly expand – its majority in the Senate after this year’s election.

Until Republicans suffer big losses at the polls, the status isn’t likely to change. After all, the party’s numbers in the legislature have – with some bumps in the road – grown dramatically since the 2005 Medicaid cuts. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.