From "concierge" services to iPads connecting new parents with their babies in the nursery, Kojo explores some of the patient-centered ideas coming from health care innovation labs at local hospitals.
The Supreme Court speaks, and the region reacts. Officials from Maryland and Virginia join us to reflect on the decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Also, a D.C. activist discusses the future of campaign finance reform in the District. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Joshua Sharfstein Secretary of Health & Mental Hygiene, State of Maryland
- Bryan Weaver Former Democratic Candidate, D.C. Council (At-Large, Ward 1)
- Ken Cuccinelli Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia (R)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, discussed what the state has done and still needs to do in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act. Sharfstein said Maryland is holding meetings, hiring more staff and building a website for consumers to purchase health insurance.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour" starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, you'll be happy to know that yesterday I got a call from a reporter at the Washington City paper who wanted to know where I would be watching the fireworks on July 4.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd I informed him that I'd be watching it from the balcony of Tom Sherwood's home in Southwest Washington. And he asked me who else was going to be there. And I said I am really not even sure if Tom is going to be there, but...
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, actually, I will be there. You know, my place -- and I'll say this -- Harbor Square in Southwest has...
SHERWOOD...a spectacular, resort-like view of the Potomac River and the Washington Monument. And we always have a huge crowd of people there, the guests who come and people who come, and it's going to be -- and my ex-wife will be there.
NNAMDILet the record show that I invited myself to be there.
SHERWOODA lot of people have invited themselves, yet they haven't been able to make it past security.
NNAMDII'll be able to make it past security. I am sure that it's...
SHERWOODIt's a spectacular view, though, 'cause the lights bounce off the water.
NNAMDIWe'll be hanging out there. We'll have entertainment. We'll have refreshments, and, well, a whole lot of people are going to be there. If you'd like to join this conversation, of course, it's "The Politics Hour," you can always call 800-433-8850. But, I guess, you can't do that until you know exactly what we will be talking about. Tom, a bill to give budget autonomy to the District was pulled from Wednesday's schedule.
NNAMDIAfter negotiations between Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Republican, failed to produce any agreement to his proposed amendments ahead of a scheduled Wednesday morning markup of a bill to give D.C. budget autonomy. He has proposed a handful of amendments that could delay consideration of the bill introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut. Why does this story sound so familiar to me?
SHERWOODBecause it's stuck. You know, in the era of 78 rpm records, you know, when the needle would get stuck? Well, that's what we're having here. The conservatives on Capitol Hill want to keep -- because they have authority over the District, want to impose the laws on the District that the people who live here don't want. One of them is gun control. Another he -- or Rand Paul wants to codify that. He wants to make it a law that you can't spend any government money on abortions. Right now, every year, that's just simply included as in the budget bill that gets passed.
SHERWOODHe wants the city not only to have a concealed carry permit for handguns, but he wants the city to recognize the concealed carry permit of any other state or any other jurisdiction. And I'm just thinking that's all we need are tourists who come here by the millions to also bring their guns and their rowdy children. It would just make this a wonderful place to live.
SHERWOODAnd there was a third thing that he wants, but he said that, you know, he's -- these are things he believes the city should have, and he's going to do it because the Congress has authority over the city, even if the citizens don't have a vote in that Congress.
NNAMDIPolitical reporting yesterday that the senator doesn't think that the Supreme Court gets the last word on what's constitutional, quoting Sen. Rand Paul as saying just because a couple of people on the Supreme Court declare something to be constitutional does not make it so. Well, most people do think that the Supreme Court has the last word on what is constitutional.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Chief Justice Roberts says, you know, he's umpire. He calls balls and strikes. That's what they decide. Now, of course, it's not set in stone. It can be changed by a subsequent Supreme Court, which has happened on major cases. But, you know, I think that was an odd statement by the senator.
NNAMDIThe Congress -- or the Republican members of the House say they intend to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And joining us now by phone is the attorney general for Commonwealth of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, who is well-known as an opponent of the Affordable Care Act. Atty. Gen. Cuccinelli, thank you for joining us.
ATTY. GEN. KEN CUCCINELLIMy pleasure. Good to be with you.
NNAMDIYou started the day yesterday by saying it was a dark day for the American people, the Constitution and the rule of law, but you ended it by saying it was mostly sunny. Why did you have a change of heart about the ruling?
CUCCINELLIWell, I'm more in the partly sunny. On the constitutional elements, it was OK. But, you know, you start with the fact that the bill was largely upheld with one state government exception, and that was a real loss from our -- my perspective and from a lot of people's. What made it not look so bad long term after we dug through 193 pages of opinion was that the Commerce Clause, which has been the main vehicle for Congress to impose massive economic regulation across our society, was rejected.
CUCCINELLIIt was held not to be constitutional as the basis to uphold the individual mandate, and they went on to explicitly declare an outer limit of federal power under the Commerce Clause that was the first time that happened since the New Deal. So, even though we didn't appreciate where the case ended up, there were a couple of nuggets in there for those of us whose first concern for our oath is to the Constitution, and that was item one.
CUCCINELLIAnd then, number two, as I mentioned, for the state, they restricted the spending power of the federal government. They put a limit on it for the first time since the New Deal, so two firsts since the New Deal. And if that's all that had happened, this would have been a blockbuster win for our side. And -- but they upheld the law, finding the money you have to pay if you don't buy their chosen health insurance to be a tax, which really broadens the definition of a tax, but that is the most accountable power of Congress, if you will.
CUCCINELLIYou know, who shows up and campaigns and says, have seen what this guy has done under the Commerce Clause? Nobody does that. But the most common argument of all is he raised your taxes or he didn't raise your taxes, or she did this on your taxes, or she didn't do that. And the president, of course, famously said when he was being grilled by that noted right-winger George Stephanopoulos, this is not a tax. This is not a tax. This is not a tax.
CUCCINELLIAnd that was the position they held all the way through, and yet the Supreme Court said, oh, yes, it is. And so in any future scheme like this -- and let's face it -- this scheme was cooked up to avoid a tax vote. That was what they were -- that was a big motivation for the way this got structured and how the votes (unintelligible).
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Ken Cuccinelli, attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. If you have questions or comments for him, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org.
SHERWOODMr. Attorney General, Tom Sherwood from Channel 4, thanks for coming on the program. But some people have said that -- you're using the word scheme as if that were an underhanded thing, but, now, what is your view of Chief Justice Roberts -- this defining moment for him? The people who have praised him, that's a great thing. And others have said that he, in fact, schemed to write an opinion that kept the law alive but gave Republicans a great way to attack it by calling it a tax. And it seems to me...
SHERWOOD...that's kind of an insult to the chief justice.
CUCCINELLIYeah. Well, maybe so, but it's nearly impossible to intellectually reconcile his positions on the Commerce Clause and the Spending Clause with his position on the Taxing Clause. I mean, it's just -- there's no connection between those three elements of his opinion, none at all. And so, you know, that's his problem that we all look at him and scratch our heads and say, well, how did this train get derailed intellectually in mid-opinion?
CUCCINELLIIt's really peculiar to say the least, and however, you do mention, Tom, that he upheld it as a tax. And what that does is it does change the political dynamic. And I don't just mean, OK, the decision has been made, and now, both sides respond. Because it's a tax bill, it doesn't need 60 senators to vote for it to repeal it or to vote against it to repeal it. It only needs 50 and a vice president.
CUCCINELLISo, you know, all along, Mitt Romney has been talking about, I'll repeal it on day one. Well, you don't get to repeal it unless you have a repeal bill in front of you. Well, one of the things the chief justice did by deciding this was a tax bill instead of a Commerce Clause bill was he brings about the application of different rules in the Senate which make it much easier and, frankly, within political reach of this year's election to repeal the bill.
CUCCINELLIIn Virginia, you know, we've got George Allen running against Tim Kaine, and you can bet that this is going to be a major feature of their race -- a major feature of that race now, much to a degree that never would have happened absent yesterday's ruling.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought up the politics of the situation and used the phrase absent yesterday's ruling because I read an article which quoted a statement that you had made on C-SPAN, but I guess it was before yesterday's ruling in which you were talking about the fact that Mitt Romney being the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party not being -- making an issue of health care.
NNAMDITo quote you directly, it says, "I mean, for Romney to get out and say I'd repeal it, that's fine, and I believe him. But it doesn't have the power politically to motivate people to vote or volunteer that someone who has been a permanent opponent does. I mean, you're effectively giving up that issue if you select Romney as the nominee." What did you mean by that.
CUCCINELLIWell, the -- yesterday, you take the -- before yesterday and after yesterday, you know, with the Massachusetts health care that Romney put in place, it was a -- it had the same central thrust of Obamacare, but it's missing an awful lot of the more overbearing elements. And -- but go and parse that to, you know, somebody who's thinking about do I want to volunteer, do I want to go spend eight, 20 hours out knocking on doors or whatever, making phone calls, then, you know, that's a hard sell.
CUCCINELLIWell, now, all of a sudden, because repeal is so much within reach -- and as I said, nobody really doubts that he would repeal it. He's been very emphatic about that. He's not lying to anybody. And it has been very bad in implementation thus far. So there's every reason for him to be enthusiastic about that. Well, this ruling yesterday has given volunteers and activists who may have been sitting on the sidelines an awful lot of motivation.
CUCCINELLIAnd part of the key isn't just Mitt Romney. Yeah, he'd sign a repeal bill if it got to him. But if it was going to take 60 senators to get there, nothing anybody was going to do in 2012 was going to make that happen. But now, all of a sudden, it only takes 50. And that is absolutely within reach in this election cycle. And so people are going to -- people who have been sitting on the couch are going to get off the couch because of how this was -- this ruling came out.
NNAMDII want to take a phone call from Dennis in Chevy Chase, Md. Dennis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DENNISHi. I am a little bit concerned here. I've heard so many times about the original negotiations over this bill, about the individual mandate and the neocons or the conservatives fighting so hard to get that individual mandate in. So I really don't believe, Mr. Cuccinelli, I think he's very dishonest, and I think the Republicans are hiding on this.
DENNISI think it's amazing that this particular guy can get up there and say that the Republicans weren't behind creating their own tax on the people 'cause this sounds like a huge tax on the people because the Republicans started it. And I don't understand how he can get away with it. Who is this guy that he can lie like this...
NNAMDII'm not understanding what you mean when you say the Republicans started it.
SHERWOODHe's talking about Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.
NNAMDIRomney in Massachusetts. Atty. Gen. Cuccinelli, care to respond?
CUCCINELLIYeah. The -- I have to interpret the question a little bit. But I think he's hitting the same issue we were just talking about, and that is that the government focused efforts that they experimented with and still are, frankly, in Massachusetts, which haven't worked to reduce cost. They've raised cost dramatically, which is the best way to get access and then to turn and attack Obamacare. Now, there are differences between the two. They're fairly substantial, but both had an individual mandate element to them. And that's what I take to be the thrust of his comment.
CUCCINELLIAnd, you know, I don't think anybody's denying that those are the circumstances. The question then becomes for a voter: Do you believe Mitt Romney will repeal it or not? You probably don't give him, as the gentleman doesn't appear to, any credit for, you know, opposing it on any substantive basis.
CUCCINELLIBut if you want the bill gone, if you think it's bad policy and if you think it's way too expensive for an already bankrupt government, well, then he is your answer versus President Obama. And that's what it comes down to, 'cause one of two people is going to be president of the United States on Jan. 21, 2015.
NNAMDIDennis, thank you very much for your call. Tom?
SHERWOODTo wrap up this conversation, it certainly reboots the debate over health care. Now, the -- what the Democrats are going to be pitching the good things and their prior conditions, and older children on the policies until 26, et cetera, Republicans are going to attack the tax issue. But isn't this health care debate going to undermine also -- or is it going to play along with Mitt Romney's overall arching campaign that the economy is the issue on which this election will be decided?
SHERWOODIs it going to be a distraction or an assistance?
CUCCINELLINo, Tom. I think you hit it there. And I did a -- an event today with a small business owner, David Napier, in Richmond who's got 42 employees. You know, he's right on that cusp of the magical 50. And we talked about how hard it is for him to even figure out what potential health care costs would be in light of the situation set up by Obamacare. And it was about jobs and -- that he's frozen from hiring more.
CUCCINELLIAnd what this does to the economy and how the president came into the stimulus bill that stimulated government and nothing else and then turned immediately to Obamacare, and that ate up an entire year when the economy was completely on the mat, perhaps the worst it's been in quite some time. And he -- it was nowhere near the top of his priority list. And Mitt Romney, as you point out, Tom, is going to make that comparison.
CUCCINELLIHe's going to say, on day one, I'm going to make the economy job one, and this president has not done that. And the history books are clear on that at this point. I mean, you know, President Obama is scrambling to reposition himself, but that's what he's doing. And it's kind of hard to erase three and a half years of history.
NNAMDIKen Cuccinelli is attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much for joining us.
CUCCINELLIIt's always a pleasure to be with you both. Tom, Kojo, great to talk to you.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Joshua Sharfstein. He is Maryland's secretary for Health and Mental Hygiene. Joshua Sharfstein, thank you very much for joining us.
DR. JOSHUA SHARFSTEINThank you for having me.
NNAMDIYou just heard what Atty. Gen. Cuccinelli had to say, and we spoke with you a few weeks ago about how if the Supreme Court approved the Affordable Care Act. It's now going to be on state officials like you to bear the brunt of setting up insurance exchanges and following the letter of the law. Can you talk about what that task ahead of you now looks like?
SHARFSTEINWell, don't make it seem like a task we take on reluctantly. I mean, from our perspective -- I'm a pediatrician. I'm not a lawyer. And I think about the kids, the parents, the grandparents who are out there right now deciding between whether they can buy food or medicine, and there are hundreds of thousands of them in Maryland. There are many of them in Virginia. And this is a law that gives tremendous tools to states to help them do the right thing for the dignity of their citizens as well as reduced cost for businesses.
SHARFSTEINThere is a tax that all of us pay now because when people are uninsured, they wind up in the hospital with that stroke or heart attack 'cause they didn't get preventive care. And those bills get passed on to the rest of us and our insurance. That's why so many companies are now struggling to pay insurance bills. It's the cost of the uninsured. And states that are in a position to move forward with this law are not only going to do the right thing by the many, many people in their state who need a better health care but also for the economy.
NNAMDIYou've already answered my next question, which was going to be, as a matter of policy, how would you defend keeping this law on the books? Obviously, you favor this law. You think it should be kept on the books. So can you briefly walk us through what Maryland has already done to comply with the Affordable Care Act and what you still have to do?
SHARFSTEINSure. Well, Gov. O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Brown have long seen this law as providing a great set of tools for states, practical, practical tools. It does not guarantee an outcome. States have to be focused on figuring out how to conform the law to meet the circumstances that they have, and from the day that his law was signed, Gov. O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Brown have been leading a planning process in Maryland. We have had dozens of public meetings. We've had the brokers at table, the small businesses at the table.
SHARFSTEINWe've had hospitals, doctors, nurses, and we've been working to build the building blocks of a successful marketplace for health insurance in the state, that includes two laws that have passed the Maryland General Assembly, setting up the exchange and putting in place a policy framework that makes sense for our state, hiring a terrific staff for the exchange, including four people with significant private insurance experience.
SHARFSTEINWe've got a team on site building a modern eligibility system so people can go online and get health insurance, just like they can go online and get books and other things. And the idea is to have an efficient, effective health care system that really supports the economy and the lives and help the people in Maryland. We are in a position to succeed with this, and I...
SHERWOODDoes it give you concern that this -- what you're doing obviously costs some money to do all this. Does it concern you at all if the Republicans were to win the White House and possibly even the Senate that this -- all of this law would go to (unintelligible) ?
SHARFSTEINWell, I mean, you know, the Congressional Budget Office independent people look at and say that the law saves money because it does a few things to really bend the cost curve. I mean, the world without the Affordable Care Act is an expensive place for businesses. It's an unhappy place for a lot of people with chronic illness. Now, am I worried? I was worried that the Supreme Court might knock it down. So, you know, I'm worried about everything. That's part of my job.
SHARFSTEINBut, you know, I've got to, you know, keep in mind the incredible potential to help people and to help the economy, and that's why Maryland has been working at a deliberate speed, not too fast but right where we need to be to make this law effective.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of cost, here is Yvette in Bowie, Md. Yvette, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YVETTEHi. I guess all I'm doing is reiterating what the secretary just spoke toward. I just don't understand how it is that -- and let me back up one second. This individual mandate was created by the Heritage Foundation. The president of the Heritage Foundation stood with Mitt Romney in Massachusetts when they signed the bill into the law. How is it suddenly it's to be objectionable by the Republicans? They're the ones who constantly push individual responsibility.
YVETTEHow is it okay that my insurance cost and everyone else's go up every time an uninsured person goes into the emergency room because they can't get care anywhere else? I'm just at a loss for words as to how this has gotten spun to oh my God, it's a tax, and how dare people tax it. We all have a responsibility, and when it's shared across the board, the costs come down.
YVETTEI compare this to the same thing as the helmet laws when motorcyclists constantly complained about how you cannot force us to wear helmets. But, by golly, if they were in an accident and had severe injuries, who's going to eat the cost for taking care of them?
NNAMDIYvette, I can't imagine what you would be like when you're not at a loss for words...
NNAMDIBut, Joshua Sharfstein, it would seem that a lot of Americans are not going to see what's in it for them if the cost of their health care continues to go up. What are the steps that need to be taken to get costs or to make sure the costs are under control?
SHARFSTEINWell, I think that the Affordable Care Act is one piece of the cost puzzle, but it does not guarantee success on costs. I think it helps by expanding coverage and getting people into a more rational system so that they can go to doctor and get preventive service. They can have a primary care doctor and not wind up with that stroke, that heart attack. But ultimately the solution to cost is to change the way that health care is delivered and paid for.
SHERWOODYes. I'm going to have say, as I understand it -- and I'm not taking political sides on this -- the health care costs had been going through the roof anyway, right? So this is not going to make them worse. Health care costs have been going up regularly, right?
SHERWOODI mean, this is one of the worst drivers of our economy issues.
SHARFSTEINAbsolutely. And, you know, the increases moderated a bit in recent years, but the underlying cost pressures are still there. However, there are signs that -- of promise in how the health care system is looking forward or not. I'll give you two examples. In Maryland, just recently under the Affordable Care Act, institutions in our state got two really big grants.
SHARFSTEINJohn Hopkins got a $25 million to expand primary care in the zip codes around the hospital in East Baltimore. Areas where people for a long time would be sick, they'd show up with one complication after another. Hopkins is going to push out great primary care services and really keep that population healthy, and that's going to reduce cost. CareFirst, the insurer that covers, you know, D.C. and Maryland.
SHARFSTEINCareFirst got a 20 to $25 million grant to strengthen medical homes, so that primary care doctors now just don't get paid by -- for every 15-minute interval. But they'll get paid more when their sick, chronically ill patients actually feel better and use less health care resources 'cause they're having fewer strokes and heart attacks. So these are the kind of initiatives that over time will bend the cost curve. It's not going to happen overnight.
NNAMDIIt's one thing for CareFirst than John Hopkins to get $25 million, but how far does the law go to change the whole incentive structure for the people who deliver medical services? What is that going to take for them to move away from a system where they basically get paid more with the more services they provide regardless of the results?
SHARFSTEINWell, that's exactly what we have to get away from. I don't think the Affordable Care Act guarantees an outcome there, but it is a good piece to the puzzle. In Maryland, we have a unique way of paying hospitals where all the payers for a particular hospital pay the same rate. Their innovations were doing at the state level separate from the Affordable Care Act. For example, we don't pay hospitals for re-admissions for certain conditions.
SHARFSTEINSo that hospitals get a little bit more the first time the person comes in. And they can then use that money, that extra money to do home visits and other things to keep the patient out of the hospital. And if they happen to come back, the hospital doesn't get paid again. So we're using the hospital rate-setting system to pay for value instead of volume, and it's going to require more than the Affordable Care Act. It is just piece, but it is a critical piece.
SHERWOODSeniors are a major -- we baby boomers. Let me be precise. And they are big voters, and they're a big part of the health care issue. There are a lot of improvements from the affordable health care act for seniors. But it seems to me -- can you address the politics of it as you see this playing out? The Republicans are going to say, see, after all, this was a tax. You don't want it. Let's repeal it and start over. Obama's going to say, wait a minute, there are some great things in here for young people, for seniors and everyone in between. That's going to be a political fight.
SHARFSTEINYeah, well, you know, this wasn't an abstract question for me because I'm on the board of the Maryland Health Insurance Plan that administers the subsidies for seniors who are in the doughnut hole and need to take drugs to live. And that story of that, you know, that the challenge for seniors is a lot of them are choosing between, you know, were choosing between housing and medicine or food and medicine.
SHARFSTEINAnd, because of the subsidies that came in with the Affordable Care Act and other work that's been done in Maryland, they're now able to get their medicine. And, you know, if that law had come down, that would've been a huge shock and how -- whether we could've dealt with it Maryland, it is -- would've been a real challenge. And I think this is sort of -- in reflecting what the attorney general of Virginia said, you know, his message may play well for certain cable news audiences.
SHARFSTEINBut I can't believe that people who know the facts about this law is going to play well with seniors who need those subsidies. I don't think it's going to play well with people who are chronically ill, who are worried about getting health insurance. There is a mom of a little girl in Maryland named Aivee (sp?) who has cancer. She's been very outspoken.
SHARFSTEINShe worries about her child's ability to get health insurance later in life, even after she's gone. And she said, if we don't have the Affordable Care Act and these guarantees, what happens to Aivee? People who want to repeal this law are going to have to have an answer to those people, and I don't think they do.
NNAMDIJoshua Sharfstein is Maryland's secretary for health and mental hygiene. How does the exchange that you're setting up depend on the quality and effectiveness of the exchanges being set up by other states? Could we eventually be looking at a situation where people might even want to move based on where they can find the best deals for their health care?
SHARFSTEINYou know, right now, this -- it is a state-based system, and Maryland is working to setup an exchange, and we have a bunch of teams working in advisory committees in Maryland putting that together. Our goal is to get this to be successful so that we can hit the key deadlines and really make health -- affordable health care available to people. You know, it is going to be one of the interesting, you know, fallouts of the decision are going to be how different states approach this, and we'll just have to see how that goes.
SHARFSTEINI think, you know, the evidence in Massachusetts is pretty promising that they were able to reduce the rate of uninsurance and their economy has done just fine. In fact, it really provides a lot of healthy workers for the workforce.
SHERWOODYou know, the attorney general said something that was very interesting to me about this law because it's a tax. It can now be overturned in the Senate by 50, plus one. I don't want to you get into politics of the Senate.
NNAMDIBut we do.
SHERWOODIt doesn't require the 60 vote majority. I hadn't heard that. I hadn't read that so...
SHERWOOD...I mean, if you read that one, is it...
NNAMDINo, I have not.
SHARFSTEINI know, you know, it's far -- whether that's true or not, I can't comment. I'm just a pediatrician.
SHERWOODOK. Just a pediatrician. I like that.
NNAMDIJoshua Sharfstein is Maryland's secretary for Health and Mental Hygiene. You are saying that as far as you know, what occurred in Massachusetts is that cost did not go up significantly. We just heard Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli saying that in Massachusetts cost did not go down significantly.
SHARFSTEINNo. I was talking about the employment picture in Massachusetts. Cost and access have an interesting relationship. And in Massachusetts, they have definitely struggled with cost. However, they have put forward -- and Gov. Patrick has done a tremendous job putting forward some very bold ideas for how to reshape the financing and the delivery of care. And they will be in a position to succeed because people now do have access to primary care. So as that ship is turned around in health care incentives, I think Massachusetts will be in a very strong position.
SHARFSTEINI think that it's important to see the Affordable Care Act as just one piece of the cost puzzle. And if you don't fill in those other pieces, you're going to have a problem. I think we recognized that from the beginning. But I think without that piece, it's extraordinarily difficult. You'll expect individuals and businesses to continue to pay that tax where you're paying for the uninsured.
NNAMDIJoshua Sharfstein, thank you so much for joining us.
SHARFSTEINIt's been great. Thank you.
NNAMDIJoshua Sharfstein is Maryland's secretary for Health and Mental Hygiene. You're listening to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, who took time off doing his staycation to go to the Wilson Building for the hearings over whether or not the District's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, should be reappointed to his position. Tom, there was some suggestion that these hearings might be extremely controversial and fiery, but none of that occurred.
SHERWOODIt was a love fest.
SHERWOODWell, Tony Williams was the first person who testified among the dozen or so people to testify...
NNAMDIFormer mayor of the District.
SHERWOODOh, yes, I should say.
NNAMDI...and predecessor to Natwar Gandhi.
SHERWOODAnd federal city council will be in August.
SHERWOODHe was there on the board of trade, even labor leaders, Kathy Patterson, a former councilmember from the Ward 3. A broad group of people came in to say Nat Gandhi should be reappointed to a new five-year term and that the council should confirm that reappointment. Everyone what you referred to -- everyone was expecting David Catania, who is probably the harshest critic on the council of Nat Gandhi, was not there.
NNAMDITo go ballistic.
SHERWOODHe had a previously scheduled meeting out of town, could not be there. And so -- and Eric Payne, a fired worker from the CFO's office, who has filed a suit over the handling of the lottery contract -- a big deal -- also did not show. He was on the witness list, and someone told me -- I don't know it to be true. It sounds logical -- that his attorney didn't want him to appear. But whatever reason, he was on the witness list and he didn't show.
SHERWOODSo Gandhi, despite the -- and he said that the step to 48, $50 million by Harriette Walters was the singular thing in his life that he regrets as a CFO. And that he's worked hard to recover from that and for the city to recover from that. And he certainly has a strong reputation on Wall Street, so I think he will be voted in by the council pretty easily.
NNAMDIWell, I actually went to the theatre to see him play Mahatma Gandhi. And I recommended at that point...
SHERWOODAt the Shakespeare.
NNAMDI...that he should keep his day job as CFO.
SHERWOODI thought he did a pretty good job. I would invite you to try that.
NNAMDII used to be an actor, and that's why I'm now working in radio because I was really bad at it. And I would advise Mr. Gandhi to do the same, even though I did enjoy his performance. This is a very unusual story in Washington, D.C., where an elected official running for re-election finds, as Michael Brown says, that there has been some apparent pilfering going on in his campaign, and he himself reports it to the police.
NNAMDIAnd his campaign treasurer has been removed from his position, of course, suggesting that that is who is, in some way, responsible for this. And then in another unusual move, the candidate himself becomes the campaign treasurer. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, I don't know that Michael Brown needs to spend more than a day being his own campaign treasury. But he gets someone who does that for a living because that is a snake pit of things that you have to do in order to comply with all the laws. You know, one of Michael Brown's opponents in the November 6 election, Mr. Grosso -- I'm blanking on his first name.
MR. BRYAN WEAVERDavid.
SHERWOODDavid. Thank you -- said, well, Michael Brown...
NNAMDIWe have another guest in the studio who knows all. Yes.
SHERWOODYes. And we'll introduce him in a moment. But Michael Brown has personal, political and government problems of spending, so that was a pretty tough thing. But, you know, Michael Brown, to his credit, announced that he had found some irregularity in his campaign money. One is -- a source close to Michael Brown said it was substantial amount of money. We don't know yet what that means. And the police -- and I suspect the U.S. attorney will be looking into what this is.
NNAMDIAnd joining us now in studio is Bryan Weaver. He's an activist and former candidate for the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. He's one of the leaders of the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust, which is behind a potential ballot initiative to limit the influence of corporate money in D.C. elections. Bryan Weaver, thank you very much for joining us.
WEAVERThanks for having me.
NNAMDITell our listeners exactly what Initiative 70 would do.
WEAVERWell, Initiative 70 is a sort of a grassroots movement that a group of activists in the District started several months ago, which was just trying to find a way to sort of come out of this crisis of confidence that we're having at the Wilson Building.
WEAVERAnd one of the things that we kept on coming back to was the ability of well-connected, well-heeled members of the council who had connections in different industries to be able to bundle a series of corporate checks through what seemingly were the same company, but a way to bypass campaign contributions so that you would be able to, like, spend 10 or 20 times the legal amount in a way that was not particularly transparent, in a way that was not disclosed fully.
WEAVERWe tried to find ways that -- first through the council, and then, secondly, if the council wasn't willing to work with us on that, how do we go outside the council and try to put pressure on them to make our city government a bit more open and transparent for folks to be able to run for council and to lessen the influence of a few well-heeled donors?
NNAMDIAre you suggesting that there are non-well-connected, non-well-heeled council members, or would that only be Ward 6 Council martyr's Tommy Wells?
WEAVERI think there's a -- no, I think there's a -- no, I think there's a sliding scale.
SHERWOODWe've talked about this, and people have heard about it, and certainly you guys have been out all over the city in all -- to get these petitions. Tell us what the practicalities are. When is the deadline to turn in the petitions? How close are you to your goal of getting X number of...
SHERWOODWhere are you, and are you close to wrapping that up?
WEAVERWe -- yeah. We've set a goal for July 9 as the -- so 445. I think the Board of Elections would like it earlier, but only the 445 on July 9 to send in our 23,000 -- I have it right in front of me -- 23,299 signatures that we need to get...
NNAMDIHow many do you currently have?
SHERWOODHow many do you have to have by law?
WEAVERWhat is it? What's that?
SHERWOODHow many do you have to have by law? What is...
WEAVERTwenty-three thousand, two hundred and ninety-nine.
SHERWOODSo how many do you hope to turn in? Are you saving that for a...
WEAVERWe're going to -- we're in a buffer period right now. We're trying to make sure that we can get enough signatures over that to make sure that if some people have moved or, you know, change of address, that...
SHERWOODSome people think you have 35- or 40,000 to do it.
SHERWOODYou think you'll have that many?
WEAVERI don't think we'll have that many. But, I mean, we're already at that threshold right now, so, you know, over the next...
NNAMDIHow is that 23,299 figure arrived at?
WEAVERIt's considered 5 percent of the registered voters in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIEarlier this week, the Supreme Court overturned Montana's ban on corporate political contributions. How would that likely affect Initiative 70?
WEAVERWell, Montana -- what they're doing there is they're trying to lessen the influence of corporations through independent expenditures, which really sort of flies in the face of speaking -- yeah, speakingout.org versus the FCC or FEC and the Citizens United decisions. So it doesn't really affect us. There's still 22 states that have a ban on corporate contributions to -- directly to candidates, and the federal government still has a ban on corporate contributions.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. What do you think about Initiative 70? Do you think there should be a ban on corporate contributions to candidates in the District of Columbia or not? 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODThe attorney general for the District, Irvin Nathan, when he was testifying, I think he raised -- he thought there might be a legal challenge given the bent of the Supreme Court, that...
WEAVERI think all bets are off today, right? We don't really know what the breakdown is. Yeah. Look...
SHERWOODThat you can't ban a -- an entity from participating -- you can just require disclosure, but you can't ban an entity -- could change that.
WEAVERYou know, I mean, that's looking out pretty far. I mean, there's not really a test case that's coming forward to challenge that. I know that the 4th District upheld yesterday that the -- the ban on direct contributions from corporations. If that was to go forward and be challenged in the next cycle by the -- taken up by the Supreme Court, you're looking at October, November. A decision would be well after November. So we're going to go forward.
SHERWOODYou're doing something -- you're not going to wait for some mythical or prospective court case.
WEAVERRight. I mean, that's something way down the line. And it'll have -- I mean, those will have serious, deep ramifications across the country if that's to happen 'cause you're talking every congressional race, every Senate race, the presidential race.
SHERWOODCorporations are people, to use a little -- let me ask you a very serious question, the last week on this program, about the state of ethics in the city. You ran for the council -- Ward 1, I believe -- a couple of years ago. You've heard all -- you've seen the people indicted, people resigned, all of that. On this program last week, Michael Brown, the at-large member, said it all depends on what ethics means.
SHERWOODHe says some people will say you're unethical if you jaywalk. And he said, well, we've got some problems, but we -- he seemed to downplay it. Even -- I'm told even his supporters were upset with his response. How serious is the problem of ethics in the city?
WEAVERI think -- I mean, we're at a critical point. I mean, I think for years you have people that have -- there's the response we get when we go out and we ask people to sign a petition. We either have people who immediately want to sign on because they, you know, are bothered by the Citizens United decision, and they're bothered by the sort of state of the ethics in the Wilson Building. You have another group of people that essentially -- who say, well, you know, I'm a little bit swishy on whether or not a corporation should be able to give directly. And that's a pretty small percentage.
WEAVERBut there's a growing population, which is just throwing their hands up about anything in the Wilson Building. When you see, you know, the chief of staff or one councilmember being indicted, you know, sent to jail -- you're talking about two key advisers to the mayor, you have two council members who had to step down in a very short period of time -- I think in any jurisdiction anywhere in the country, people would sort of view that as a crisis of confidence in your local government.
NNAMDIBryan Weaver is our studio guest. He's an activist. He's a former candidate for the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat. He's one of the leaders of the D.C. Committee to Restore Public Trust. That's the group behind a potential ballot initiative to limit the influence of corporate money in D.C. elections. We'd be interested in hearing your opinion about that. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIWhen Michael Brown was here last week, he said his alternative is that he favors public financing of campaigns. He thinks that would be a better way to go. How would you respond?
WEAVERYou know, there's this -- a lot of people have given us suggestions of, oh, we should do public financing, or we should fight for more disclosure, or we should require that limited liability corporations disclose who's on the...
NNAMDIWe're going to ask all of those.
WEAVERAll of those things. But we as citizens outside of the Wilson Building have a very limited scope of what we're able to do. So if -- Initiative 70 applies pressure on people at the Wilson Building to actually push forward these ideas 'cause many council members have talked about public financing. Many of them have talked about disclosure requirements. None of them have really pushed any -- this agenda.
WEAVERI'm more than willing to sit with Councilmember Brown or any other member of the council that's, like, willing to try to work with citizens to come up with a better system. But there doesn't really seem to be an urgency out of the 13 people down at the Wilson Building.
SHERWOODYou're making -- this I understand 'cause I've raised questions about my feeling that a corporation banned from giving directly will simply give indirectly. And I understand that. But your -- part of your view is that whether they do that or not, you need to make some step forward because the council didn't go nearly far enough from what it was doing earlier.
WEAVERYeah. I -- you know, I think that there were some gains that were made in the ethics legislation, but I think that many people feel that it fell, you know, terribly short. And a big part of this has to be continuing the pressure applied on the Wilson Building. Now, you know, the issue that comes up about money, you know, there's two ways to look at this. One is there's the influence of corporations trying to reach into the Wilson Building to push an agenda.
WEAVERBut there's also the hand of candidates and council members reaching out into the business community. And if you have oversight of an agency and you're able to sort of reach out to that agency where those people have contracts before the city and sort of shake those money trees to try to get you to give to their campaigns, that becomes -- that has become a lot more problematic here in the city.
SHERWOODIsn't it the way American politics works?
WEAVERYeah. But I think that there's a group of, you know...
SHERWOODAmerican -- not just city. American politics, all politics.
WEAVERI think there's a -- but I think there's a frustration within that, particularly with the scandals that have come out recently because a lot of that does sort of seem to have an air of pay to play. And even if you had a super PAC -- I know that a couple of people run around and say, let's create super PACs. One of the other 21 states that have enacted this, you didn't have this rise in super PACs except for the craziness in Wisconsin around the recall.
WEAVERBut the other thing is super PACs disclose. There's a disclosure requirement that they have when they have to report. You know, I think that people would like it more timely.
SHERWOODTwice a year only, though. It's very inadequate.
WEAVERWell, that's -- it's inadequate in a timeliness fashion. But in many cases here in the District, when you talk about, you know, limited liability corporations that don't even have business licenses existing in the District, that don't have addresses or won't tell you who's behind it, that's even shadier than some of the requirements that are behind super PACs.
NNAMDIYou know, one of the criticisms that has been made of the residents and citizens of the city is that they do not express a level of outrage when things like ethical violations occur, even when members of the council are sentenced to jail terms for it. And, frankly, we're not getting any calls on this issue at all right now. So I'm wondering, is it possible that there are people in the District, who, like Michael Brown said last week, look, things in the city are going well? Buildings are going up every place. People are just not concerned about issue like this any longer.
WEAVERYeah, I think there's two different things. I mean, one, you know, with 23,000 signatures, or almost 24,000 signatures, the people who've signed on to this petition are more than anyone voted in the last election. No candidate received over 24,000 votes in the last election for citywide office. So Vincent Orange, I think, received 22,000. We're going to come in above that with just people who've come in to sign on to the petition.
NNAMDIBut if you're just, like, hanging around supermarket and department store parking lots and asking people to sign on to something, that's, it seems to me, qualitatively different from people making an affirmative step to go to the polls and say this is something we would like to see...
WEAVERWell, I mean...
SHERWOODThere's a certain frustration with people who kind of throw up their hands and just don't want to -- don't like it, I think.
WEAVERThe difference between now and the last time that we had, like, a serious crisis in the city, you know, if you think back to, like, you know, late '80s, early '90s here in the District, you know, let's take the financial issue that we had. Oyster Elementary School had to sell off part of its land, its sports field to essentially repair the building that was falling down. One of the best performing public schools in the city almost lost its building from just age.
WEAVERAnd we had to sell off part of the land to actually, you know, be able to fund this new school. Now, you're looking at, like, the DMV lines are short, people -- there's a huge growth, you know, commercial development, everywhere.
NNAMDIThe city is working.
WEAVERIt's the government that, like, has failed everyone.
SHERWOODIt's the politics.
WEAVERAbsolutely. And so in that sense, it's like, I think that, you know, there's -- there are two different things. One is people just sort of throwing their hands up and saying they're all crooks, get rid of all of them. I think Marion Barry had mentioned that. He's like those people who want to see all of us gone.
SHERWOODWell, you know, the -- Harry Thomas resigned in January, Kwame Brown, a few months later, you know, and then the rumors that are constant all over the city, you know, Mayor Gray is going to resign on -- tomorrow. He's going to resign in a week. He's going to resign before, you know, the clouds part. He's going to resign by July 3.
NNAMDIAnd not coming back from China.
SHERWOODHe's going to come back -- he's going to stay in China on political asylum. He's going to come back and say he's ill, I'm going to resign. I mean, it does permeate the feeling in the city that things can't get done because there's so much political discord.
WEAVERYeah. No, absolutely, absolutely.
SHERWOODI mean, you've heard those rumors.
WEAVEROh, without a doubt. I mean, and it goes to almost every member. I mean, many times you hear things that, you know, you've heard things about even, you know, St. Tommy, as you'd said earlier. I mean, you hear like, you know, what I think Jack Evans referred to as the chattering class, people talking about all sorts of rumors that have come forward.
WEAVERBut when the rumor started coming true around Kwame Brown and around Harry Thomas and around the key staff of the campaign for the mayor, I think now everyone is sort of holding on to like, you know, what's coming next. And there is a little degree of everyone holding on to their seats, saying, like, what's, you know, what's the next shoe to drop?
NNAMDIGentlemen, don your headphones, please. Here is Marina, who is in Foggy Bottom in D.C. Marina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARINAHi. Thanks for taking my call. I am one of the many people who has been going out and asking for signatures to get Initiative 70 on the ballot.
NNAMDIWhat kind of responses have you been getting?
MARINAThey've been very interesting because I've actually been getting responses. Now, I'm over in Foggy Bottom, which is one of the more conservative areas of the city. We -- there's more Republicans, I think, in my precinct than there are in any other precinct in the city. I may be wrong about that, but it's darn close. And we get a lot of -- I've been getting a lot of, well, what's wrong with that when I suggest that perhaps we want to ban direct corporate campaign contributions for the local elections.
NNAMDIYes. And what do you say?
MARINAAnd what I -- well, what I say that the principle is that the -- it gives folks with a lot of money greater access to elected officials and that's not really how a Democracy is supposed to work. I have been -- what I've been able to do to convince people to sign the petition is to say that what we are asking is for signatures to get the question on the ballot, that is to have the conversation and to have the debate.
MARINAAnd that seems to resonate that there are people who are willing to say, yes, even if I don’t agree with your message for solving the problem, we definitely need to have a discussion about this. And that, at least, is gratifying.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Marina, which raises the question, Brian, Weaver, what do you think it will take to convince people to actually vote in favor of this resolution?
WEAVERYou know what, I've -- the people who've organized around Ward 2 -- I've been mostly in Ward 5 and Ward 1, and it's -- you can see the pivot. You know, there are so many people that are out there, like, you know, campaigning and canvassing for Greenpeace or Planned Parenthood or the Southern Poverty Law Center. When I mention what it is that we're trying to win signatures for and someone passes it, once they hear it, they often turn around and come back.
WEAVERWard 5 was one of the last wards that we went out to organize in because of the special election. And within one day, we went over half the signatures just with a group of probably about 50 folks going out to volunteer. It was -- it's been very impressive. I think that if it's on the ballot in November, it'll be hard, particularly with the atmosphere of how people are feeling in about sort of the demeanor and sort of feeling of a national politics...
SHERWOODNo one's going to campaign against them. There are people who -- like Michael Brown, who doesn't really favor it, doesn't want to do it, but he's not going to waste time campaigning against it. I can't imagine any kind of orchestrated campaign.
WEAVERYou know, and it's been interesting because like -- privately, a lot of folks who have had real estate holdings, who were friends and people who I've worked with as an ANC commissioner, they're sort of quietly supportive. Lot's of business owners, lots of small business owners…
SHERWOODYeah, because they said -- they're tired of having the squeeze put on to the contributor...
WEAVERBut lots of -- I'm always surprised by the amount of small business owners. We've had Jim Nixon, who runs a small boutique shop called Toro Mata. He, for the last few months, has been getting all of his customers to come in to sign the petition, and it's been something where he really sort of feels that, you know, he's like, you know, it's giving me direct access to people who have run for Council.
WEAVERBut he sort of sees the larger picture of it, which is that it's been abused and that there's a feel that you're going to have to, like, do pay-to-play, that you're going to have to write a check, a quid pro quo.
SHERWOODIt's pretty bold campaigning where you just call up business people and say, contribute to my birthday party, contribute to this, contribute to that, all of those things. Can I...
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from @samuelmole, who said, "I'm a District Republican who signed the Initiative 70 months ago. It's not as partisan as the caller implied." Tom?
SHERWOODVery quickly now, one ethics change that has -- is occurring is that Bob Spagnoletti, the lawyer, is going to head the ethics committee. Do you think that's a positive step in the right direction, what this committee is going to do if it's properly funded and staffed?
WEAVERYeah. You know, I mean, Jonetta wrote something today where she'd talked about...
NNAMDIThat'll be Jonetta Rose Barras from the Washington Examiner.
WEAVERI thought she was part of the WAMU family, so I just sort of like Jonetta -- she's like Cher.
NNAMDIWell, her name is well-known around here, yes.
SHERWOODWhat did she say?
WEAVERSo she talked about there needed to be -- there needs to be muscle given to campaign financing, and the thing with ethics. I mean, if you have a ethics committee or an ethics board that really can't flex any sort of real muscle, can't create penalties. Does it have the ability to sort of...
SHERWOODThat's the staff to investigate.
WEAVERAbsolutely. Then it just becomes sort of a paper tiger. You know, I think it's really important that we do that. But at the same time, we are just laboring. It's like everything has moved so slowly. Patrick Madden wrote a great piece, probably two and a half years ago about bundling, and he's done several broadcasts here at WAMU about the problems around bundling and campaign finance to get the Council to move. It just takes moving, you know, heaven and earth to actually get...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. However, I do have to mention that Butch Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation has died. He was a longtime champion of development east of the Anacostia River in D.C. He had served as president of the Anacostia Development Corporation since 1968. Butch Hopkins will indeed be missed.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we don't have much time left, and I don't know if you can describe for our public radio audience exactly what Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is proposing to change the D.C. code about what constitutes a nude...
SHERWOODPerformance in licensed-alcohol establishments. I'm going to spare our listeners, without going into the details of what it is, but let's just say you ought to cover up. But in his defense, this is a omnibus bill with 43-something different changes, including whether -- how many people it takes in a neighborhood who can stop a liquor license. They have to live with it, close to the license. There's some Sunday sales for alcohol by liquor stores. There's a lot of things in the bill, not just nudity 'cause that's the hot part.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Bryan Weaver is an activist and former candidate for the D.C. Council. Bryan, thank you for joining us.
WEAVERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
This weekend, D.C. celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Kojo chats with the civil rights leader and longtime city council member who chaired the D.C. host committee.
The D.C. Council tackles a range of progressive labor bills. The fight over who can grow medical marijuana in Maryland will go to court. And Fairfax County's schools superintendent steps down.
Kojo chats with food writer Monica Bhide on her new novel and how culture connects her family's history in India with her present life in the Washington region.