Branstad opposes federal aid for education, Medicaid

When Congress passed $26 billion in fiscal aid to the states, including $96.5 million in education funding and $128 million in Medicaid assistance for Iowa, Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad avoided commenting on the issue. Scott Keyes of Think Progress was in Iowa recently and got Branstad to speak on the record about the issue. Click the link for the audio and the full transcript. Excerpt:

[Think Progress]: They just passed that big state aid bill out in Washington. I was curious how you felt about that.

BRANSTAD: I have real concerns because there’s strings attached to that. And it’s one-time money, so it doesn’t solve the problem, it just puts it off a year. And it increases the federal debt. I don’t think they should have done it. I’m not sure, we’ve got to see what the strings are and whether or not we should even accept it or not.

Branstad added that he was against the 2009 stimulus bill and wasn’t sure whether he would accept or reject stimulus funding for Iowa.

Perhaps Branstad has never heard of economic cycles. Congress approved the stimulus bill when the U.S. was in the middle of the worst recession since World War II, and state revenues were dropping at the sharpest rate seen in 60 years. Although the recession is technically over, and state revenues are increasing in Iowa, shortfalls are still projected in key social services.

Branstad says federal assistance “doesn’t solve the problem, it just puts it off a year.” But if the economy continues to improve, state budgets will be under less strain in the 2012 fiscal year. Branstad would rather give up an additional $96.5 million for Iowa schools during the current fiscal year, which would cost approximately 1,800 teachers’ jobs. He would rather do without an extra $128 million for Medicaid, and I doubt he’ll offer an alternative budget showing how he would meet the need for those services. Branstad can’t explain how he would have balanced the current-year budget without stimulus funds, just like he can’t explain how he would pay for his new spending promises.

Branstad is wrong about the $26 billion fiscal aid bill adding to the federal deficit, by the way. The Congressional Budget Office confirmed that the bill’s costs are fully offset by closing tax loopholes and various spending cuts.

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Silence from Branstad as 1,800 Iowa teachers' jobs saved

Yesterday the House of Representatives approved and President Barack Obama signed a $26.1 billion package to support state education and Medicaid budgets in the current fiscal year. The bill passed the House by a 247 to 161 vote. Iowa’s House delegation split on party lines, as with the 2009 federal stimulus bill and previous legislation designed to support public sector jobs in the states. Iowa will receive about $96.5 million of the $10 billion in education funding, enough to save an estimated 1,800 teachers’ jobs.

The bill also contains $16.1 billion in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage or FMAP funding, including about $128 million to support Iowa’s Medicaid budget in the 2011 fiscal year. Last week I read conflicting reports about how much Medicaid assistance Iowa would receive, but staffers for Representatives Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack confirmed yesterday that $128 million is the correct figure. That’s a bit more than Iowa legislators were counting on for FMAP funding in the 2011 budget. Extra federal spending on Medicaid also “has an economic benefit for the state of Iowa far greater than the federal government’s initial investment,” according to Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson.

For the last several days, I have been searching for some comment on this legislation from Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad. I’ve found nothing in news clips, and his campaign has not issued a press release on the federal fiscal aid since the Senate approved the bill on August 4.

Branstad rails against “one-time sources” of funding to support the state budget, but he has nothing to say about $96.5 million for Iowa schools and $128 million for Iowans dependent on Medicaid services.

Branstad is happy to run false advertising about the number of teachers’ jobs supposedly lost in Iowa, but he has nothing to say when federal action saves a significant number of teachers’ jobs. The issue is a bit awkward for Branstad, because Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King voted against the fiscal aid bill in the House, just as Republican Chuck Grassley voted no in the Senate.

Perhaps Branstad lacks the courage to go beyond vague campaign rhetoric about excessive government spending. It’s easy to talk abstractly about “one-time” funding, but risky to slam government support for education and Medicaid. CNN’s latest nationwide poll, which was in the field from August 6 through August 10, asked respondents, “Do you favor or oppose a bill in which the federal government would provide 26 billion dollars to state governments to pay for Medicaid benefits and the salaries of public school teachers or other government workers?” 60 percent of respondents favored such a bill, while only 38 percent opposed it.

Speaking of conspicuous silence from Branstad, when will he tell us how he plans to keep his contradictory promises to cut state spending by 15 percent while having the state pay a larger share of mental health and school funding?

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Iowa likely to receive more federal Medicaid, education money

Good news: the U.S. Senate overcame an attempt to filibuster a bill containing $26.1 billion in fiscal aid to state governments today. About $10 billion will support state education budgets in order to save teaching jobs. The other $16.1 billion will support state Medicaid budgets according to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage or FMAP formula, which was originally part of the 2009 stimulus package. The Senate’s final vote on this bill is set for August 5, and it will easily gain more than the 50 votes needed for passage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to call the House of Representatives back from August recess in order to approve this bill next week.

Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin was a co-sponsor of this bill. Senator Chuck Grassley joined Republicans who tried to block it from getting an up-or-down floor vote. I haven’t seen a statement from his office explaining why. The bill does not add to the deficit, because expenses are offset by revenue-raising measures:

Senate Democrats said the $26 billion bill would be paid in part by revenue raising changes in tax law. Senate Democrats said the modifications would curtail abuses of the U.S. foreign tax credit system. The bill would also end the Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit and would return in 2014 food stamp benefits to levels set before last year’s federal stimulus plan.

I’m not happy about cutting future food stamp benefits, but there may be opportunities to restore that funding in other bills. This federal fiscal aid is urgently needed to prevent teacher layoffs in the school year that’s about to begin.  

Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad has been touring Iowa this summer with a contradictory campaign message. On the one hand, he blasts education cuts that have eliminated some teaching positions (he exaggerates the number of teacher layoffs, but that’s a topic for another post). On the other hand, Branstad criticizes the use of “one-time money” from the federal government to support the state budget. He promises to veto any budget that would spend more than 99 percent of projected state revenues. Branstad has never explained what he would have cut to make up for the federal stimulus money, but other questions are on my mind today, namely:

1. Does Branstad think Grassley did the right thing in trying to stop this fiscal aid package from reaching Iowa and other states?

2. Iowa’s budget for fiscal year 2011 assumes about $120 million in additional Medicaid funding under the FMAP program. If elected governor, would Branstad try to return that money to the federal government?

3. Would Branstad reject federal education funding that is targeted for saving teachers’ jobs in the upcoming academic year?

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: A statement from Senator Harkin’s office says this bill would provide “at least $128 million in additional Medicaid funding” to Iowa in the current fiscal year. Harkin also said,

“This vote came down to one thing: priorities.  Today, a majority of Senators proved that our priority is helping those who are the backbone of this country, America’s teachers and our families, to weather the continuing effects of the great recession.  And we provide this funding without adding one dime to the deficit.

“This is a crisis of the first order.  Not since the Great Depression have our public schools faced the prospect of such massive layoffs.  With this fund, we will preserve tens of thousands of education jobs that states can use for retaining or hiring employees at the pre-K and K-12 levels.

“Also with the funding, we provide critical assistance to states, whose budgets are already stretched to the limit, to protect Medicaid.  This six month extension of federally-matched funding will allow states to continue health benefits for some of the nation’s most needy.”

SECOND UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs reported somewhat different numbers for the Des Moines Register:

A federal spending plan that advanced in Congress Wednesday would route $83.1 million in extra money to help Iowa pay for children’s services and payments to hospitals and nursing homes.

But the Iowa Legislature banked on getting an $116 million in extra federal Medicaid money in the first six months of next year.

That means the state budget will be short $32.9 million – or short $116 million if the bill fails to pass Congress altogether, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. Medicaid is the government health insurance plan for the poor. […]

The measure would give states $16 billion to help cover their Medicaid budgets, and $10 billion to extend programs enacted in last year’s stimulus law to help preserve the jobs of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees.

Iowa would get about $96.5 million in the jobs piece, which would protect about 1,500 jobs, said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat.

Keep in mind that Iowa’s budget for fiscal year 2011 has an ending balance of $182.6 million, providing a cushion in case some expected revenue doesn’t materialize. Also, state revenues for the first month of the current fiscal year exceeded projections. Falling short $32.9 million in federal Medicaid assistance isn’t ideal, but it is manageable and far better than falling $116 million short, as would happen if Grassley and other Republicans got their way.

THIRD UPDATE: The Senate gave final approval to this bill on August 5 by a 61-39 vote. Grassley voted no along with most of the Republican caucus.

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