Far from Level Fields: November 2013 State Net® Capitol Journal in Review

Posted on 12-02-2013 by
Tags: Real Law

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

Military leaders tend to avoid fighting real uphill battles. For reasons that are probably obvious, in such engagements the odds are usually stacked against the side that starts at the bottom and is on the offensive.

There have been exceptions, of course. The Battle of San Juan Hill, one of the most famous actions fought during the Spanish-American War, is one notable example. Even so, the wisdom of avoiding a confrontation when an opponent’s advantage starts with higher ground is well understood.

So, too, is the expression “fighting an uphill battle” when it is used metaphorically to describe struggles that are frequently met with stiff resistance—as is so often the case when attempting to effect significant social change.

Several such issues are currently drawing widespread attention across the country, once again invoking the expression. Those issues drew the scrutiny of Capitol Journal editors throughout November.

Help Needed

The rollout of federal health reform has been an uphill battle from the outset. Now the very survival of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in question. Indeed, as Capitol Journal editorial advisor Lou Cannon observed in the top story for the November 25 edition, “Obamacare is clinging to existence.”

Cannon’s sweeping analysis retraces how the ACA has found itself in such a perilous condition and what’s at stake if it fails to get back on its feet—quickly. Opponents of the ACA now have real hopes of undoing the president’s signature health-care legislation for the first time since the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in 2012.

What went wrong? “Many things,” Cannon allows, “but the disaster is at root political.” Cannon charts some of the deep divisions that have led to the current dilemma facing the Obama administration while it struggles to prop up its ailing bid to reform health care.

Meanwhile, some states are doing a far better job than the federal government at rolling out exchanges and signing up applicants, “giving the law a desperately needed lifeline.” Cannon explores that angle of the story in depth. Whether the pattern will continue is unclear. For that matter, so is the future of the ACA itself.

“What we do know,” Cannon concedes, “is that Obamacare is a moving target and that satisfactory performance of the state exchanges is crucial to the eventual fate of this important and profoundly controversial social program.”

Cannon’s reporting and analysis of the ACA’s continuing uphill struggle is a worthwhile read.

The GMO Debate

In the top story for the November 11 edition, editor Rich Ehisen examined another ongoing and highly contentious issue. Advocates for requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such seemed to be having a good year. As reported in the July 8 edition, they had scored major legislative victories by gaining lawmaker approval of bills in Connecticut and Maine. But a bitter Election Day defeat on a ballot measure in Washington and another potential setback in Hawaii are forcing them to regroup in their campaign.

Also, those earlier victories do not seem as emphatic now. As Ehisen explains, while Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) signed HB 6527 into law, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has held off, citing “serious concerns about the cost of defending the measure against anticipated lawsuits from biotech companies.”

As Ehisen notes, those companies and others have already proven themselves to be serious adversaries in the fight over GMO labeling. They refute claims that GMO foods are unsafe and seem willing to pay vast sums to thwart any attempt to suggest otherwise. “Biotech companies like Monsanto and industry groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association spent $22 million to fight the labeling initiative in Washington, the highest amount in Evergreen State history and almost three times the funds raised by the initiative’s supporters,” Ehisen reports. He adds that similar interests spent $46 million in their furious opposition to a similar initiative in California in 2012.

Where that leaves advocates for GMO labeling is unsettled. “The movement is going to continue,” Ehisen quotes a pro-labeling campaign organizer. “It’s a lot like what it took to get nutritional information on food labels. It’s all about giving consumers more information about the groceries they are buying.”

In fact, momentum may be shifting in favor of that common-sense view, despite heavily funded counterattacks by various biotech and retail grocery industry groups. According to Ehisen, legislation is currently pending in several states including New Jersey, New York and Vermont, where HB 112 passed last year and is awaiting review by the Senate when it reconvenes in January.

Overall, 95 GMO-related bills were introduced in statehouses this year, while a group in California is among those who say they will renew their pro-labeling efforts in 2014. Plus, there’s a glimmer of hope that the setback in Hawaii might be overturned. “Measures are also pending in Congress, notably SB 809, authored by California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and HR 1699, authored by Oregon Rep. Peter De Fazio (D),” Ehisen adds.

The fight may be an uphill one, but it’s far from over.

Troubled Waters

Finally, another top story by Ehisen is worthy of attention. Writing in the November 18 edition, Ehisen reports on how Congress is struggling to find some balance in flood insurance reform measures.

For decades, homeowners in flood-prone areas of the country have had their insurance heavily subsidized by the federal government. A 2012 law changed that—after the National Flood Insurance Program found itself at least $24 billion in debt to the National Treasury. Not surprisingly, the new measures have resulted in skyrocketing insurance rates for property owners in flood-prone areas, and the protests of homeowners have prompted a furious retreat by Congressional lawmakers.

The stage may be set for another prolonged and difficult battle. It will be one in which the price of not holding high ground will be determined, while—to borrow an expression related to fighting uphill—both sides will be literally and figuratively contesting the currents of change.

News and Views from the 50 States

There’s more that fills each weekly edition of Capitol Journal. It’s all compiled by the expert State Net editorial staff and freely available on the State Net website or in various formats via email.

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