FRIDAY, MAY 11, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include a renewal of the healthcare debate in Virginia, the NRA’s endorsement of Nick Freitas in the Virginia GOP Senate primary, and reaction to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good Friday morning to you, Craig.
CC: Next week the Virginia Senate returns on Monday for the next step in the healthcare debate. It’s been nearly a month since the House sent over a budget that includes Medicaid expansion. What can we expect, Jeff?
JS: Not a great deal. The Senate will be in session, likely very briefly. All of this is about taking a baby step toward getting the House and the Senate together working on some sort of a compromise budget that includes Medicaid expansion. Of course that’s the shorthand for a program under which Virginia would accept a couple of billion dollars in federal aid to expand a largely federally financed healthcare program for the poor and handicapped. The idea is to provide healthcare for up to 300,000 uninsured Virginians. This is all part of a program that Donald Trump and Republicans have tried to dismantle. We know it as Obamacare. The arithmetic on the Senate side is not encouraging for the Republican opponents to Medicaid expansion. At least two senators are now in favor of it. That would auger passage and a likely victory of some consequence for the new Democratic governor, Ralph Northam. But the Republicans are trying to run down the clock making it look as if they’re doing everything they possibly can to derail this initiative.
CC: Virginia’s treasured AAA bond rating, the highest possible credit rating, has been a talking point for politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades. Now Governor Ralph Northam and his administration are invoking the possibility that it could be downgraded in the Medicaid expansion fight.
JS: And as you point out, Virginia has the highest possible credit rating, AAA, and has had that rating since the rating system was put in place by Wall Street in the late 1920’s. The bottom line here, pun unintended, is that the Northam administration is trying to create the impression that there are some nervous bondholders out there. And that the reason they’re on edge is that Virginia, again this is sort of the norm and has been since 1921, has failed to complete a budget on time. And this is raising questions, the Northam administration says, about Virginia’s reliability, that these bonds could become a higher risk, and if they become a higher risk it means that Virginia would have to pay higher interest rates to calm bondholders. And that means that the money that would ordinarily go to services would have to go to debt service. It’s an arcane inside baseball sort of issue, but if you are on the losing side on this you don’t want to have to explain it. And clearly the Democratic Northam administration is hoping that the perhaps Republicans will get a little nervous ahead of next year’s legislative elections about having to explain something like this.
CC: And Republican opponents of expansion may have a talking point of their own with two Virginia health insurance companies announcing big rate increases because of the Trump administration’s continuing attack on Obamacare.
JS: Cigna and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield want to raise their rates 15% and 64%, respectively. Now the reason for this is the repeal by Congress of the individual mandate and the Trump administration’s continuing assault on the subsidies to the insurance companies that make it a little easier for them to take a risk on these higher risk folks now currently without coverage. The Democrats are in a state over this, the Republicans too. The Republicans would argue that this is, once again, the consequence of this irresponsible program called Obamacare. The Democrats, Governor Northam and Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, have put out some pretty tough statements lamenting these announced increases and lay the blame entirely with the Trump administration, Northam referring to it as “active sabotage of the healthcare system,” Warner and Kaine accusing the Trump administration of, again in the senators’ words, “irresponsible games that are hurting Virginians by making it harder for families to afford healthcare.”
CC: And in a bit of a surprise, the NRA, among more, the more muscular Republican-friendly political organizations, has endorsed Republican Delegate Nick Freitas in the Senate GOP primary over the presumed frontrunner Corey Stewart and religious broadcaster E.W. Jackson.
JS: No doubt a big boost for the Freitas campaign. Remember he gave that fiery speech at the close of the legislature in March, in which he attacked Democrats on everything, most notably segregation, abortion, and gun rights. In a thinly attended Republican Senate primary, and this primary in June would likely qualify as such, an endorsement by a group like the NRA could, underscore this, notice I’m using the conditional verb tense here, could be decisive in that it would magnify the voting strength of a small but disciplined group of often single-issue Virginians. Corey Stewart, who is running as sort of the Trump mini-me, has not said anything on this yet, but no doubt he will be making much of his support, particularly among the Confederate heritage people, also active Republican primary voters. E.W. Jackson has been largely invisible so far in this primary campaign. Of course Republicans are choosing a nominee to take on Tim Kaine, who is seeking a second term in the Senate.
CC: Speaking of Kaine, Virginia’s two senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, at center stage again this week weighing in on Trump’s decision to blow up the Iran nuclear deal and the growing controversy over the President’s pick to run the CIA.
JS: Yes, Kaine on the Foreign Relations Committee, Warner on the Intelligence Committee, they’ve been very concerned about what this administration is doing and how it’s positioning the U.S. relative to the outside world. Kaine worried about this pull-out, and then of course this is an ideal opportunity for Kaine to essentially continue running for reelection, not against whoever the Republicans choose, but against Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Virginia. Warner’s concerns are about the nomination of Gina Haspel for Director of Central Intelligence. Warner has special credibility on this issue as the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. He’s not said yet whether he will support or oppose the nomination. He has acknowledged her considerable credentials, but he has also said that he is worried about her ties to the post-9/11 torture program put in place by the CIA.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Have a good weekend.
CC: You as well.