ObamaCare will live on … until single-payer takes its place

Sen. Mitch McConnell today released ObamaCare repeal and replace legislation. (AP pix via WSJ)

You can’t drive a stake through its heart. It looks like ObamaCare will live on — or at least until the death spiral of premium and deductible hikes force Congress to pass single-payer, as was the plan all along.

Today the Senate Republicans released their revised repeal and replace legislation, according to The Wall Street Journal, and it would include steep Medicaid cuts. With only 52 Republicans in the Senate and no Democrat likely to get on board, that likely means Republicans like Dean Heller of Nevada will balk and the 50 needed votes can’t be found.

“If you want my support (on repealing Obamacare) … you better make sure that the Republican governors that have expanded Medicaid sign off on it,” Heller was quoted as saying by a morning newspaper columnist a few weeks ago. “I’ve been saying that for months. … Where is Governor (Brian) Sandoval? What does he think?”

Sandoval was one of 31 governors to expand Medicaid with the promise that the feds would pick up 90 percent of the cost. He was quoted as saying, “As a result of [expanding Medicaid] we’ve added 210,000 Nevadans and allowed them to access health care,” Sandoval said. “These are our friends. These are our families. These are our neighbors.”

In addition to Heller several moderate Republicans have voiced opposition to Medicaid cuts.

So, when the death spiral hits bottom, that’s when the Democrats’ plan will kick in. Nevada’s former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid admitted four years ago on public radio here that the country will eventually drop private health insurance for the single-payer government-run-and-funded medical coverage.

Reid said the country has to “work our way past” private health insurance.

“What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas Sun. “We had a real good run at the public option … don’t think we didn’t have a tremendous number of people who wanted a single-payer system,” but he could not get enough votes then.

That was then.

At a meeting with constituents in April in Las Vegas, Reid’s successor Catherine Cortez Masto was repeatedly asked about single-payer legislation.

At first she said, “We are fighting Republicans who want to take away health care. […] We have to be realistic.” But when asked again about single-payer, she replied, “I will take a look at it.”

 

No expansion of the role of government can ever be reversed

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth! — Ronald Reagan

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is pushing to keep spending federal tax dollars to keep the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, of course, is on board, along with all of the rest of the state’s delegation except Rep. Mark Amodei. Nevada lawmakers want to expand Medicaid. The governor is for keeping the Medicaid expansion.

Dean Heller

Thus far, according to the morning newspaper, the expansion has added 221,000 to Nevada’s Medicaid roles, although previous stories in the same paper put the number at 400,000. Most of those are able-bodied, childless adults earning above the poverty level.

Few seem willing to throttle back on the government largesse, even though the economy has picked up a bit since the depths of the recession and unemployment has fallen from October 2009’s 10 percent peak to 4.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Medicaid enrollment has grown by 47 percent since 2006 and spending by 75 percent — to $554 billion in 2015.

Trump’s budget proposes to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and trim $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs — all of which have increased in recent years.

What goes up must never go down.

 

Newspaper column: It may be time to negotiate for Yucca Mountain benefits

Yucca Mountain in Nye County

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman once threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This past week the environmental subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on a draft bill that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage of spent nuclear fuel — the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017.

Except for four members of Nevada’s Washington delegation, the majority of the House members discussing the proposal seemed strongly in favor of shipping nuclear waste out of their districts to a hole in the barren desert.

Yucca Mountain was designated as the nation’s sole permanent storage site for 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from commercial power plants by a 1987 law. More than $15 billion has been spent drilling miles of tunnels into solid rock and analyzing the site. But President Obama, at the urging of former Sen. Harry Reid, suspended funding for the project and it has since lain fallow.

In addressing the chairman of the subcommittee — Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, the driving force behind the draft bill — Nevada’s senior Sen. Dean Heller testified, “I appreciate your commitment to ensure that progress is made on this issue; however, I do not believe the bill that is before the committee today – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 – is the solution.

“Rather, I believe it is heavy-handed, federal government-only proposal to reinstate Yucca Mountain while making false promises to the residents of Nevada.”

Heller’s mention of “false promises” appears to be a reference to the “benefits section” of the draft bill that envisions dollars flowing to the state and local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft.

Under existing law, the state loses any potential benefits by challenging the waste dump, but the draft states that a benefits agreement would not constitute or require the state’s consent.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who represents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism.

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Rosen stated, “Using Yucca Mountain as the nation’s dumping ground would require transporting over 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste, much of it through my district, and through the heart of Las Vegas, a city that attracts over 43 million visitors annually and generates 59 billion dollars in revenue according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.”

But the bill says that “to the extent practicable” no radioactive waste is to be shipped through Las Vegas. In fact, one proposal would be to be build a transshipment depot near Caliente and then build a rail spur directly to Yucca Mountain through the newly created Basin and Range National Monument — a job creating endeavor.

Rosen continued, “Severe transportation accidents threaten the health and safety of tourists and individuals who live along the proposed waste transportation routes, and would cause hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and related economic losses.”

But an expert witness told the subcommittee there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

Though Gov. Brian Sandoval and a majority of the state’s Washington representatives oppose licensing Yucca Mountain, the Nye County Commission had entered into the congressional record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain. The letter states, “The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.”

A group calling itself NevadansCAN (Conservative Action Network) has joined the debate by suggesting that nuclear waste could be shipped to Yucca Mountain, not for storage for a million years, but for reprocessing, as is done in a number of countries, to create new nuclear fuel that could be sold — with the proceeds distributed to Nevada citizens in a way similar to how oil proceeds are paid to Alaskans.

If we just shout no and lie down on the tracks, we could get run over.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

Jim Day cartoon

Bill would revive licensing of Yucca Mountain for nuke waste storage

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman threatened to lie down on the tracks to block any rail shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. “We’re going to do whatever it takes, even if we have to lie down in front of the tracks,” Goodman said.

We hear the train acomin’.

This morning four of Nevada’s Washington delegation members testified during an hours-long hearing on draft legislation that would restart the Yucca Mountain licensing for storage spent nuclear fuel. They all testified against it.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on the environment took no vote on the draft Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, but a number of subcommittee members from states with nuclear power plants seemed more than willing to ship nuke waste to Nevada.

Yucca Mountain entrance (AP pix)

Sen. Dean Heller testified, “Rather than attempting to force this project on the people of Nevada – a state that currently does not have any nuclear power plants of its own – it is clear taxpayers’ dollars would be better spent identifying viable alternatives for the long-term storage of nuclear waste in areas that are willing to house it.”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen — who presents Nye County, where Yucca Mountain is located — called the project a threat to Las Vegas tourism, even though the bill says every effort would be made to avoid shipping the waste through Las Vegas. He added, “Many of you may not know it, but the area around Yucca Mountain is seismically active, and an aquifer runs beneath the proposed repository site. Additionally, placing a large amount of nuclear waste in an unsuitable site like Yucca Mountain could lead to numerous potential health issues. Substandard care or the mere passage of time could lead to leaking and leaching of nuclear material into the aquifer.”

Las Vegas Reps. Dina Titus and Jackie Rosen also testified against the bill.

Despite concerns about shipping, one of the expert witnesses said there have been 5,000 nuke waste shipments without a single incident.

A Texas representative said the amount waste — 70,000 metric tons — is not so large, just the size of a football field stacked 10 feet high or enough to fill two congressional hearing rooms.

But the Nye County Commission had entered into the record a letter supporting Yucca Mountain:

The legislation, which would strengthen the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, addresses many of the concerns brought forth by the state and Nevada’s federal lawmakers, including a provision that specifically says that the waste shall avoid moving through Las Vegas.

Another change for Nevada is the acceptance of benefits, including funding and participation in mitigation discussions, shall not be considered consent and the State can get benefits tied to hosting the nuclear repository. Under the existing law, when the State vetoed the repository it gave up its right to benefits.

The bill also allows Nevada to be the site of an interim storage facility, a change from the original Act.

Yucca Mountain, which is located in Nye County, was designated as the permanent nuclear waste disposal site by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982. Nuclear waste continues to be stored temporarily at various locations around the country while the promise of Yucca Mountain has been delayed too long by political science. To date, $15 billion has been spent to prepare the site to accept nuclear waste.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear repository would bring federal dollars to Nevada, create well-paying science and construction jobs, and improve the state’s infrastructure. The project would also strengthen national security, a role Nye County and Nevada has always taken the lead in through the past eight decades.

The bill includes a “benefits section” envisioning dollars that could flow to the state and the local communities, but the dollar amounts are left blank in the draft. “The acceptance or use of any of the benefits provided under a benefits agreement under this section by the State of Nevada shall not be considered to be an expression of consent, express or implied, to the siting of a repository in such State,” the draft states.

One states’ rights concern is that it removes Nevada’s right to deny water for the project.

But Nevadans should remember that lying down in front of a train greatly increases the chances of getting run over. The bill appears to open paths for negotiation of benefits the state and Nye County.

 

 

 

Editorial: Will collaboration on sage grouse finally happen?

Nevada has every reason to feel like a slighted wallflower. We keep getting invited to the big sage grouse dance, but never get asked to dance.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney Adam Laxalt and others have complained bitterly that state and local input on how to protect the sage grouse population and still conduct economically productive endeavors on the land the birds occupy have been roundly and almost universally ignored by the federal land agencies.

A lawsuit filed by Laxalt on behalf of the state, several counties, a couple of mining firms and the owners of a ranch against the Interior Department, the Bureau of Land Management and others used a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times to describe how state and local objections to land use plans were received. In fact a motion filed by the state in that suit points out that after dismissing local input three top Interior Department officials met privately, after the public comment period was closed, with environmental groups to obtain their “buy-in” on a land use plan.

Sage grouse workshop session.

Sage grouse workshop session.

So, pardon us if we scoff at the cheery BLM press release from this past week under the headline: “Collaboration the key to Sage Grouse success.”

The press release announced the creation of Nevada-based working groups comprised of federal and state agencies and key stakeholders “to identify regulatory flexibility and improve communication and outreach between themselves and the public.”

The working groups resulted from a two-and-a-half day workshop in Reno in early December.

“A key part of the workshop was the emphasis on establishing and improving relationships between the agencies and stakeholders, “ said John Ruhs, state director for the BLM in Nevada. “We also spent time getting to know people as individuals as opposed to just identifying them by their interest or agency.”

He was further quoted as saying, “In the case of the amendments for the Greater sage grouse plans in Nevada, a collaborative network of local, state and federal partners is essential for protecting the sagebrush ecosystem while ensuring multiple uses.”

Though Ruhs has a reputation for being a straight shooter — he brokered a deal that allowed Battle Mountain district ranchers to temporarily continue grazing after permits had been denied — he does answer to the federal land bosses in Washington, from whence just two weeks ago came a proposal to ban mining on 10 million acres in the West — a quarter of that in Nevada alone and most of that in Elko County — to protect sage grouse.

Sandoval fired off a retort saying, “Today’s announcement does nothing to protect the greater sage-grouse, but does cripple the mining and exploration industry. It is an unfortunate end to our collaborative efforts with this administration. I am hopeful the new administration will consider the limited ecological benefits of this withdrawal.”

Now senior Nevada U.S. Sen. Dean Heller called the ban an 11th-hour attack on the West by a lame duck president.

“Federal land grabs are never popular in Nevada and the latest one by the BLM is no different. A mining ban does little to help sage grouse and will devastate northern Nevada’s future economic competitiveness,” Heller said in a press release. “I will partner with the next administration to reverse this decision and to ensure the BLM focuses on the real threats to sage grouse, like wildfires, instead of locking up Nevadans’ public lands. Those are the types of efforts, rather than these harmful mining bans, that will benefit our environment while also allowing our economy to grow,” Nevadans can only hope that with the changes coming in Washington these working groups might actually be listened to.

National BLM Director Neil Kornze — a former aide to Nevada Sen. Harry “Lock Up the Land and Throw Away the Key” Reid — has announced he is stepping down on Jan. 20, the day Donald Trump is inaugurated president.

Trump, meanwhile, has nominated Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who grew up in a logging town, to head the Interior Department.

That BLM press release announcing the working groups quotes JJ Goicoechea, chairman of the Nevada Sagebrush Ecosystem Council, as saying, “While this process was just the beginning, there was a collective recognition of key issues to address and an overall feeling that if we don’t collaboratively work toward solutions, we will fail individually.”

Perhaps, with a different band in Washington playing a different tune, Nevada will finally get to dance.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Editorial: Give Nevadans a voice in land use

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Gold Butte (R-J photo)

Nevada’s two remaining Republican representatives in Washington have joined forces to introduce legislation that would prevent future presidents from usurping Nevada land without first consulting Nevadans.

This past week Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, introduced the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act of 2017 (H.R. 243, S. 22). If passed, it would block executive fiats designating or expanding national monuments without congressional approval or local support, they say.

In just more than a year President Obama has unilaterally declared off-limits to productive economic uses 1 million acres of Nevada land — first the 700,000-acre Basin and Range National Monument in Lincoln and Nye counties and in recent weeks the 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument in rural northeast Clark County. Basin and Range alone is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Obama used the authority granted him by the Antiquities Act of 1906. Though more recent legislation has required environmental reviews and public comments, none was undertaken.

The legislation introduced by Heller and Amodei is terse and to the point. It basically piggybacks onto current law that reads: “No extension or establishment of national monuments in Wyoming may be undertaken except by express authorization of Congress.” The current proposal would amend this by simply adding the phrase “or Nevada” after the word Wyoming.

“Whether you agree with our proposals or not, I have always supported a public and transparent process which includes input from interest groups, local communities, and elected representatives,” Congressman Amodei was quoted as saying in a press release announcing the legislation. “Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input. I continue to be amazed by the fact that some people hug unilateral, non-transparent monument designations, while at the same time, protesting vehemently over the introduction and public discussion of congressional lands bills proposals. In contrast to the last eight years of this administration’s one-sided approach on major land management decisions in Nevada, our bill simply ensures local stakeholders have a seat at the table going forward.”

Sen. Heller was quoted in that press release as saying, “Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed. Public input and local support remain critical to the decision-making process of federal land designations. This legislation prevents actions like last month’s Gold Butte land grab from occurring without input from Congress and local officials. I’d like to thank Congressman Amodei for his partnership on this bill.”

One hurdle for this proposal may be that all four of Nevada’s current Democratic members of the Washington delegation expressed support for Obama’s Gold Butte land grab.

Whatever one’s opinion on the end result, wouldn’t it be preferable for Nevadans to have a say in how the land here is used, instead of having it crammed down our throats?

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

How Obama’s national monumental land grab can be undone

Gold Butte

Gold Butte

After Obama unilaterally cordoned off 1.3 million acres of Utah and another 300,000 acres of Nevada as national monuments, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes vowed to file a lawsuit and Nevada’s Attorney General Adam Laxalt called Obama’s action “a unilateral land grab,” but stopped short of threatening to sue.

The creation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada has the self-styled environmentalists singing hosannas to the highest and the states’ rights crowd moaning with dejection.

Environmentalists have pooh-poohed legal challenges to the 1906 Antiquities Act in which Congress gave the president the power to create national monuments, saying the courts have upheld the act several times.

But as I related a couple of months ago the law has never been challenged on the basis of its constitutionality.

Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States …”

The question is whether Congress has the power to abdicate that power and turn it over to the president, as it did with the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Heritage Foundation essay by a federal judge argues it may not:

Although the Constitution contains no explicit prohibition against Congress delegating its legislative powers (to the President or an administrative agency, for example), the principle of non-delegation is fundamental to the idea of a limited government accountable to the people. Indeed, the people, in whom sovereignty ultimately resides, carefully assign certain powers to each branch of government. The delegated powers are defined as placed in distinct branches of government for the “accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands,” writes James Madison in Federalist No. 47, “may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” While the executive must exercise some discretion in the application of law, lawmaking remains the prerogative of Congress. 

Arguably, Congress may not abrogate the powers and authority defined in the Constitution without amending it.

Laxalt issued a statement saying: “This unilateral land grab is the latest attempt for the outgoing president to add another layer of unnecessary federal control to our State. Although I am not surprised by the president’s actions, I am deeply disappointed at his last minute attempt to cement his environmental legacy by undermining local control of Nevada’s communities, and damaging our jobs and economy.”

Though resigned to the Gold Butte designation, Gov. Brian Sandoval worked to avoid some of the problems it would create. “My priority was to mitigate any disruption a potential designation may cause the surrounding private land owners, communities and recreationists,” he said, citing especially water rights.

The governor said he worked with “the White House and Department of Interior to ensure Nevada water law is adhered to and that the Virgin Valley Water District would have access to its water infrastructure for continued development and maintenance.”

Maintenance perhaps, but development?

The Obama proclamation states: “The establishment of the monument is subject to valid existing rights, including valid existing water rights.” (2016goldbutte)

Existing water rights, not new ones.

The proclamation goes on to say “nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to preclude the renewal or assignment of, or interfere with the operation, maintenance, replacement, modification, or upgrade within the physical authorization boundary of existing flood control, pipeline, and telecommunications facilities, or other water infrastructure, including wildlife water catchments or water district facilities, that are located within the monument. Except as necessary for the care and management of the objects identified above, no new rights-of-way shall be authorized within the monument.”

Perhaps, the governor and the attorney general should discuss joining Utah in challenging the Antiquities Act itself.

They could also talk to President-elect Donald Trump about simply undoing the monument designations. A presidential right to declare implies a presidential right to rescind.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out recently, “In Myers v. United States (1926), the Supreme Court ruled that the president’s power to appoint officials, with the advice and consent of the Senate, includes the power to unilaterally remove them.”

The court said, “The power of removal is an incident of the power to appoint …”

Perhaps, Sen. Dean Heller could join the fray. He said in a statement: “I am terribly disappointed with today’s news. For years, I have urged for all new land designations, especially ones in Nevada, to be considered in an open and public Congressional process. Doing so allows for all voices and stakeholders to have an equal opportunity to be heard. Best of all, input from local parties guarantees local needs are addressed. In the future, I will continue to fight for an open process utilizing Congressional support to designate new national monuments.”

There is more than one way to flay this feline.