December 5, 2021, Raleigh, NC—Sometimes government gets things done, despite itself, and despite the ongoing, internecine partisan bickering that marks most of the life of government in America.
This November represented such a moment for America, and for the State of North Carolina, in particular. This November marked such a moment, a time when government took care of the people’s business, a time when rare bipartisanship prevailed in North Carolina with the adoption of a new state budget after three years of partisan wrangling. This real result bodes well for the political future of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. In Washington, the story was not so much about bipartisanship, but about Democratic Party unity, following a poor showing this year for the Democrats in this year’s national election. This legislative result should bode well for President Biden’s next big legislative priority, the social spending bill, up for consideration this December, and it should bode well for the Democrats’ hopefully improved chances at putting forth a better showing in next year’s more significant mid-term national elections. Nationally and in the statehouse in North Carolina, the Democrats got things done. In North Carolina, the Republican leaders of the State legislature can claim credit, too.
Two years ago, in 2019, I wrote a post on this blog in which I excoriated Governor Cooper and the Republican leaders of the North Carolina State legislature for not agreeing to a budget to cover that year, 2019 (“North Carolina Still Without Budget, But I-77 Express Lanes in Charlotte Open,” nickpattifeatures.com, 11/18/2019). Two more years passed, and finally, this past November, North Carolina political leaders agreed on and passed a budget. Writing in the News & Observer, of Raleigh, NC, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan noted that it had been three years since the State had passed a budget. “In the end,” Vaughan wrote, “the spending plan had passed because after three years with no budget compromise, lawmakers of both parties and their constituents had run out of patience for any more delay, especially after the long-running coronavirus pandemic” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 1A). She credited, also, the Democrats on the committee in 2021 who pushed for adoption and compromise, even though the budget failed to meet long-standing Democratic Party demands in North Carolina. Finally, on November 18, 2021, Governor Cooper signed the state budget into law (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/19-20/2021, p. 2A).
If it took that long to pass the budget, what caused the delay? What was so important that lawmakers could not agree for so long? Two issues stood out and caused disagreement. One: Medicaid expansion to cover the working poor. Two: teacher pay. On Medicaid expansion, we are talking about an estimated, roughly 634,000 people in North Carolina who have failed to gain Medicaid eligibility since 2019, according to Elizabeth Thompson, writing in the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). Under Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, the federal government gives states the option to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor, or people who fall in what is called the “coverage gap.” That is the group of people whose income is too high for Medicaid guidelines, but too little to receive federal subsidies to help with the cost of private insurance. Without state-level Medicaid expansion, these hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina would continue to rely exclusively on hospital emergency rooms only for all of their medical care. They generally do not have a primary care doctor, either (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). Anyone can see how this situation is unacceptable for working people, or anyone, but it remains the reality. This issue was a top sticking point for Governor Roy Cooper, since the Republican leadership of the NC House would not allow Medicaid expansion to provide coverage for these people. In the final budget that was adopted in November, 2021, NC Democrats still failed to obtain Medicaid expansion. Governor Roy Cooper has said he agrees with many parts of the new state budget, but would fight on in the future for those parts not included. “I will sign this budget, because on balance the good outweighs the bad,” Governor Cooper was quoted as saying in the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26/2021, p. 14A). “While I believe that it is a budget of some missed opportunities and misguided policy, it is also a budget that we desperately need at this unique time in the history of our state.” Furthermore, Gov. Cooper said that the budget included many things that he deemed “critical to our state’s progress as we are emerging from this pandemic” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A; 11/18/2021, p. 1A).
Although Medicaid expansion was not included in the 2021 budget, the North Carolina legislature will form a committee to study the issue for the future. With one estimate at $1.2 billion in federal funding to cover Medicaid expansion in 2022, if President Biden’s social spending bill passes, this committee could lead to adoption of Medicaid expansion in the future (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). Currently, North Carolina is one of only 12 states, mostly in the Southeast, which have not expanded Medicaid. North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger has already changed his mind, now supporting Medicaid expansion. Previously, he was concerned about the cost of the expansion. Now, he was quoted as saying, “I just don’t think the fiscal concerns I’ve had in the past about the cost of expansion are things to be worried about” (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). Although the state failed to adopt Medicaid expansion at this time, there is hope that it will in the near future.
On teacher pay raises, the two sides compromised, and agreed on a number. This number ended up at 5% pay raises over two years, plus bonuses, and more for teachers in rural counties. Most state workers will also see a raise of 5% over two years, as well (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 6A).
The 2021 NC budget represented a compromise, but a good compromise. What is more, the Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper came together and took care of the people’s business, which on the state level, begins with the adoption of a state budget.
Raleigh, NC © Paul Brady | Dreamstime.com
All of this bodes well for Governor Roy Cooper’s political future. The Governor is in his second and final term, thanks to term limits. His future could include becoming the leader of the Democratic Governors Association, according to Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan of the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A). Currently, Gov. Cooper serves as the vice chair of that organization.
Equally important, I would argue, is how Gov. Cooper looks, following his performance leading the purple state, North Carolina, through three years without a budget, and finally reaching agreement with the Republican leadership in the legislature this year. Actually, I think that the Governor looks pretty good. Previously, he looked awful, for not being able to reach any agreement or compromise, and for leading the State without finishing the most basic of business, adopting a State budget. This is primary on the state level throughout the United States, for any single, individual state. This is the single most important piece of the people’s business that each state in the Union must attend to. Failure to do so is failing on the most basic responsibility of the people’s business on the state level. The Governor looked pretty bad on this score, until, that is, he reached a compromise with NC Republicans, and found a budget that he and North Carolina Democrats could live with.
What is even more important, I would argue, is why it took so long for Governor Cooper to attain responsible state government, with a current budget. That reason is he was fighting for the working poor of his State, North Carolina, to achieve coverage and access to health care, as newly allowed and encouraged by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The pressure is even greater from the federal level now, with the federal government promising to fund most of the expenses for the states (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/1/2021, p. 5A). It really is an outrage that we still do not have health insurance coverage or adequate health care for the working poor of North Carolina. We still need Medicaid expansion to provide that care and access. According to a study in 2019, we are talking about an estimated 600,000-plus people in North Carolina alone who lack that coverage and access to adequate health care (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 7/11/2019, on-line). This is truly a noble fight. It is about basic access to health care, especially during the pandemic and during the recovery from the pandemic. I think Governor Roy Cooper is and was justified in taking on this fight, both for himself and for the State of North Carolina. Three years without a state budget is a steep price to pay to stand up for your values. I recommended compromise two years ago, in 2019, in an earlier post on this blog (“North Carolina Still Without Budget, But I-77 Express Lanes in Charlotte Open,” nickpattifeatures.com, 11/18/2019). With the government of North Carolina finally having reached compromise and having achieved a state budget this past November, this fight for basic health care for the working poor looks much better. Governor Roy Cooper did everything in his power to fight this good fight, and although he failed to win on this score, he made significant progress toward this goal in North Carolina, and he still took care of the State’s core business, the budget, in retrospect, as well. More work needs to be done. Hopefully, this new committee, combined with a more welcoming view on the issue from at least one leading state Republican, State Senate leader Phil Berger, can lead to the ultimate adoption of Medicaid expansion. Then we can fill in that crack in the foundation with concrete, properly, and prevent hundreds of thousands of working people in North Carolina from falling through that crack, regarding basic access to adequate health care and regarding finally obtaining health insurance for themselves, where they currently still lack access, even under Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. I think this current situation remains unconscionable. Governor Roy Cooper was right to prioritize this fight, and to continue that fight into the future.
Governor Cooper looks good, as of this past November, and he has now a political future. I wish him the best, for the remainder of his current term, and in whatever endeavor he pursues, after that.
In reaching this agreement on adopting a state budget in North Carolina, elected officials of both parties, Democrat and Republican, finally took care of the people’s business in North Carolina. Although they had been mostly squabbling over this and other issues over the past three years, this past November, they came together, reached an agreement, a compromise, and fulfilled their core responsibility in State government. This November marked a rare moment of bipartisanship in North Carolina, and it was desperately needed.
Now, both parties are returning to their former, usual, partisan ways. Just this past Thursday, December 2nd, Governor Cooper vetoed a Republican-backed bill regarding election integrity or voting rights and ballot access, depending on your perspective (News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, 12/3/2021, p. 2A). Aside from your opinion on this issue, my point is that the two parties disagreed once again on this key issue in North Carolina, and thus, basically, returned to partisan squabbling, once again. One outlook for the near future in North Carolina is that the entire NC General Assembly is up for re-election in 2022. That is 170 seats. Up in the air is the possibility that Republicans may or may not need any Democratic votes to override any of Gov. Cooper’s future vetoes, depending on whether NC Republicans win back a supermajority, or not. That is up for grabs in next year’s 2022 elections, according to Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan of the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC, 11/26-27/2021, p. 14A). I support the Democrats in 2022 in North Carolina, and I hope both parties can find it inside themselves in the State to adopt, finally, Medicaid expansion for the working poor.
In Washington, DC, the story was not so much about bipartisanship as it was about Democratic Party unity. Here, however, continued party unity into December, this month, is anybody’s guess. Similar to the bipartisanship in North Carolina, the Democratic Party unity we witnessed in November may well turn out to have been a fleeting phenomenon.
In Washington, DC, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. This law passed along strict party lines. Prior to the national elections on November 2nd, Democrats were divided, internally, with the progressives and the moderates at odds over the bill. After the election, in which they underperformed, Democrats found the unity to pass President Biden’s infrastructure bill. Next comes President Biden’s even larger social spending package, up for consideration this December. Although Democrats in Washington found unity to pass the infrastructure bill in November, the jury is out whether they can do the same on the social spending bill in December. For the sake of accomplishing President Joe Biden’s agenda, and for the sake of putting forth a better showing for voters ahead of next year’s mid-term elections, I hope the Democrats pass President Joe Biden’s social spending package. The Democrats’ fate next year in the mid-terms may hang in the balance (New York Times, 11/6/2021, p. A1; 11/4/2021, p.A15; “Democratic Voters See Many Losers in Party Schism, and One Winner: Trump,” New York Times, 10/3/2021).
For their part, Republicans were opposed to President Joe Biden’s and the Democrats’ national agenda, marked as it is by large amounts of new federal spending. US Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, put it this way, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal on CNN, “They [the Democrats] are in the midst of an absolutely unprecedented, very damaging spending spree on a scale that we have never seen,” he said. “And they want us to come along and authorize the borrowing to help pay for it when we are totally opposed to what they’re doing” (Wall Street Journal, 9/27/2021, p. A1).
The Democrats’ victory in Washington in passing President Biden’s infrastructure bill in November followed party lines, and was adopted over the protest of the Republican Party. More Democratic Party unity will be required to overcome Republican opposition to President Joe Biden’s social spending bill this December.
Democrats have already won in the US House. On November 19, the House passed the $2 trillion social spending bill, sending it over for consideration to the Senate. “The House on Friday narrowly passed the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, approving $2 trillion in spending over the next decade to battle climate change, expand health care and reweave the nation’s social safety net, over the unanimous opposition of Republicans,” wrote Emily Cochran and Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times (“House Narrowly Passes Biden’s Social Safety Net and Climate Bill,” 11/19/2021).
It is imperative for Democrats to pass this bill in the Senate, and for President Joe Biden to sign it into law, if they are to position themselves for not a loss, but a victory in next year’s mid-term national elections. In the above quote, Cochran and Weisman describe this $2 trillion social spending bill as “the centerpiece” of his agenda. With the poor showing in this year’s national elections, Democrats need to show the voters of the United States that they can deliver, when they control the Congress and the Presidency, as they do now. Otherwise, the Democrats will be seen as a do-nothing party, a party of squabbling factions who cannot achieve their agenda. Republicans would gain from this next year, even more than they already did in this year’s election.
National Mall and US Capitol in Washington, DC © Victoria Shmakova Ananchenko | Dreamstime.com
Already, progressive Democrats are breaking from the President and moderate Democrats. President Biden seems unable to pass through Congress, over the unified Republican opposition, any more serious Democratic priorities. These initiatives include proposed legislation on voting rights reform, federally, criminal justice reform, defending abortion rights, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15./hour, and repairing a “broken” immigration system, according to the New York Times (“Democrats Struggle to Energize Their Base as Frustrations Mount,” 11/27/2021). Democrats are seen as falling short of some campaign promises, and “leaving their base unsatisfied and unmotivated before next year’s midterm elections,” according to the New York Times (11/27/2021).
With the Democratic base already uninspired about Democratic victories, it becomes even more imperative that Democrats, nationally, deliver on those legislative priorities that they can, in fact, deliver on. Democrats must pass the “centerpiece” of President Biden’s agenda, the social spending bill, especially if they cannot enact any of these deeper social reforms, nationally. The base is already failing to follow the Democratic Party lead. The voters beyond the Democratic base may question, also, whether the Democratic Party can achieve really anything when they have the opportunity, such as now, to do so. All of these reasons point to the political imperative for the Democrats to pass President’s Biden’s agenda, as much as politically possible, in order to prepare better for next year’s, 2022 mid-term national elections.
In November, 2021, however, we witnessed a moment of Democratic Party unity in Washington, DC. They came together and passed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which included economic and infrastructure investments, and an effort to respond to global warming (New York Times, 11/6/2021, p. A1). Time will tell if the Democrats can continue that party unity into December.
November, 2021, represented a moment of Democratic Party unity in Washington, and a moment of bipartisan achievement in the State of North Carolina. Elected officials were able to accomplish new legislation and take care of the people’s business in Washington and North Carolina this past November. Republicans in Washington would beg to differ. I understand that. The jury is out, however, on whether the Democrats in Washington can continue to deliver, and thus put forward a good face for voters next year, or not. In North Carolina, while I commend both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, for their bipartisan achievement this past November, I doubt sincerely whether that spirit of bipartisanship will continue. In North Carolina, although significant Democratic priorities will probably remain blocked, thanks largely to partisan differences, there remains some hope that one such priority, Medicaid expansion, can be achieved, after the current process of deeper reflection in committee runs its course.
Government in America continues, at this time, largely as it had, previously. We see some accomplishment, and the continued fulfillment of the basic responsibility of government, but we see, also, ongoing partisan divides, and the ongoing inability to reach any deeper level of agreement, at this time. Deeper change remains elusive, but the continuation of the current political and social context appears self-evident.
The only exception I see to this conclusion is the most recent shift in the US Supreme Court on abortion. Roe v. Wade seems as though it may be, once again, in flux. Even then, this potentially significant political shift represents the continuation of an ongoing divide and social struggle in the United States.
Perhaps, after all, in the United States today, there is nothing new under the sun. Except, that is, when something new manages to emerge.