Two On Wisconsin: Holding onto Benefits and a War on Wisconsin Women, Decade Long Project Edition.

Two things on the situation in Wisconsin.

Holding onto Benefits

The first is from John Schmitt at Center for Economic and Policy Research and goes to public-sector unions generally. Everyone knows that the problem with unions is that they are pushing for more and more benefits has spiraled out of control, right? Schmitt goes into the data and finds, in Bottom is Falling Out for Private-Sector Workers:

…the public sector isn’t pulling ahead –the private sector is falling behind the standard that it long provided.

As an example, the figure here shows the share of workers in the private sector and in state and local governments that have employer-provided health insurance where the employer pays at least a portion of the premium. In 1979, the earliest year of data available, the private, state, and local sectors were not far apart. (Then, as now, state and local employees tend to be older and have more education, two factors that are highly correlated with better pay and benefits.) Over the next 30 years, the health-insurance coverage rates remained essentially unchanged for state and local government workers. But, the share of private-sector workers with employer-provided health insurance fell more than 15 percentage points –from over 70 percent to just under 55 percent.


State and local workers have been much more successful at retaining their benefits than private-sector workers. They have made concessions, including paying a higher share of their premiums, higher deductibles, and higher copays. But they have largely been able to maintain coverage for themselves and for their families. Private-sector workers, however, have had the rug pulled out from under them –by private-sector employers.

Health insurance – the idea that if you break your leg you aren’t spiraled into bankruptcy and debt peonage – is one of the core goods of middle-class life. Public sector workers have held onto their insurance over the past 30 years. Notice that they aren’t increasing their coverage, just that they are steady. The same can’t be said about private sector workers.

War on Wisconsin Women, Decade Long Project

Reihan Salam wants to go back to the drawing board and rethink how the Right should approach public sector unions with a new long-term strategy, akin to liberals and health care following their defeat during the Clinton years.

If that’s the case, then two quick suggestions: First, actually try and campaign on the issue, else voters might think they were hoodwinked by a power-crazy ideologue.  Democratic legitimacy and all that.  That should have been learned during the privatizing Social Security debate.  Second, don’t be a crazy ideologue. If you want to reform education, unions, government employee compensation, and be a responsible caretaker of the budget etc. don’t make it co-equals with a vision of government that strips women of family planning services, budget be damned.

Because Walker’s budget goes after family planning and women’s health.  Pema Levy writes Gov. Walker’s Assault on Women at TAPPED:

…Walker’s budget would impact women – particularly poor women – by taking away several avenues to reproductive care and contraception.

First, Walker’s budget would eliminate Title V, the only state-funded family planning program, which provides not just birth control but the gamut of tests and cancer screenings that keep poor people healthy. Generally, conservatives are content with simply stripping care from poor women, but Walker’s budget also repeals Wisconsin’s Contraceptive Equity law, which would allow insurance plans to deny coverage of contraceptive prescriptions. As icing on the cake, Walker’s bill gives the Wisconsin health department – headed by a former Bush Administration official – the power to end a Medicaid-supported program under the new health-care law that provides family planning to women and men.

To anyone interested in actually saving money, Walker’s proposals cut off vast amounts of federal money flowing into the state and raise the state’s deficit. But as we’ve already seen around the country, the new crop of Republicans at both the state and federal level are interested in a lot more than cutting deficits.

It’s even more interesting. The guy in charge of Walker’s plan is someone from Heritage named Dennis Smith. Jonathan Cohn flagged that some funny stuff was going on with medicaid and this guy, and how Walker’s plan gave Smith a huge amount of power to determine what would happen with benefits.

I looked around to see if there was any evidence with what happened the last time Dennis Smith had power over health services. Turns out Dennis Smith was part of the team that radicalized HHS under the early George W. Bush years. And one of the things he did was fight family planning in the states, including Wisconsin!  From the Washington Post Administration Promoting Abstinence, July 30th, 2001 (my bold):

…Most of the controversy has emanated from HHS, a department described as “ground zero for the ideological wars in this country” by Kevin Keane, Thompson’s top political strategist.

Dennis Smith, who oversees state Medicaid programs as head of HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, designed the proposal to guarantee Medicaid coverage for fetuses. Department spokesmen said the goal was to expand prenatal care for poor women, but public health experts, noting that there were other ways to accomplish that, described Smith’s language as a backdoor attempt by antiabortion activists to establish a legal precedent protecting the unborn.

Smith, a former Reagan administration official who worked to prevent health providers from offering abortion counseling, was also largely responsible for a new HHS policy rejecting requests by Georgia and New York to provide family planning to more poor women. Many state officials — including Thompson, then governor of Wisconsin — applied for the waivers after seeing other states post notable improvements.

The most dramatic case was California, where Republican Gov. Pete Wilson abandoned his Education Now and Babies Later abstinence program in favor of a Medicaid waiver for comprehensive family planning. During 1997-98, researchers found that the program prevented 108,000 unwanted pregnancies, including 50,000 unintended births, 41,000 abortions and 15,000 miscarriages. The state saved more than $512 million in prenatal and birthing costs.

Peggy Handrich, administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Health Care Financing, said that when she received a call from Washington warning that Wisconsin will not be allowed to develop a similar program, she was “very disappointed.” Family planning services, she said, “help women make good decisions about their lives.”

Smith did not return phone calls, but Keane said HHS is trying to find a compromise allowing states to expand family planning services in conjunction with primary care.

Dennis Smith’s quest to prevent women in Wisconsin from getting family planning services goes back to 2001! Talk about dedication.

I’m trying to find out what the final outcome was between Wisconsin providing family planning services and Smith back in 2001.  If he told Wisconsin’s Peggy Handrich, who wanted to provide family planning, something like this fake quote: “If you fight me on family planning, I’m going to wait 10 years until a fake budget hawk GOP candidate gets elected governor of Wisconsin, then have him appoint me to be in charge, then have him cause a crisis by having everything run through me and a small cohort of Republicans, and then I’ll remove family planning in Wisconsin myself” that’s some remarkable foresight.

He’s also the guy who was instrumental in that whole “Let’s give a fetus rights” meme as part of his tenure with the team that politicized HHS under the Bush years. No wonder Wisconsin voters are having second thoughts – they rejected the Bush years in 06-08, so why should they now inherit the leftovers from the more extreme parts of that administration?

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4 Responses to Two On Wisconsin: Holding onto Benefits and a War on Wisconsin Women, Decade Long Project Edition.

  1. Tim says:

    Highly politicized issues hidden in the language of fiscal discipline, yet again. That reminds me, I really should start a pool for when republicans are going to propose eliminating food stamps.

  2. Mike says:

    Wasn’t (isn’t?) mandatory drug tests for food stamps a thing with the conservative new guns? I like how they could push the political-economic space a significant degree to the Right under the guise of “fiscal discipline” without attacking family planning or defunding planned parenthood, but apparently that’s not good enough. Never compromise.

  3. Pingback: Don’t Worry Wisconsin Poor! Walker Will Help You When You Die | Libel's Affairs of the State

  4. Tim says:

    I don’t understand why you would hire someone from the Heritage foundation as a public servant. Didn’t Scott Walker get the memo that the purpose of these people is to hide out in their think-tank bunker and lob fringe ideas into the debate in the hope that actual republic policy will look more “moderate”. You’re not meant to actually let these people implement their ideas.

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