It has been a long time since there was such a prominent display of arrogance and disdain for suffering North Carolina families as there was at the General Assembly Monday night.
The House and Senate both convened at 7:00. The Senate promptly began debating legislation that would deny health care to more than 500,000 low-income people even though the federal government would pay the entire cost of the care for three years and 90 percent after that.
At the same time, the House was debating a plan to repay a $2.5 billion unemployment insurance debt to the federal government by slashing benefits for workers and cutting off 80,000 laid off employees from unemployment completely even though the federal government would pay for an extension of their benefits for another six months.
The debates about punishing workers and people without health care were about different pieces of legislation but sounded very similar.
The Republican majorities in both chambers defended rushing their regressive plans through on the third day of the legislative session by saying the bills were important to the state’s economy even though studies show both proposals would cost the state jobs, not create them.
They claimed that it didn’t matter that no committee deliberated very long about the complicated plans or heard very much from the public or outside experts because they said everybody understood what the bills would do.
That was proven false by the Republican House and Senate members themselves who said things during the debate that revealed they had little idea about what the proposals would do or how many families they would affect.
Rep. Julia Howard called the unemployment bill a balanced package that called for sacrifice from both employers and workers. But 75 percent of the debt to the federal government would be repaid by cutting benefits to laid off workers and some of the tax hikes on companies would be temporary and end when the debt is repaid. The benefit cuts will be permanent.
Laid off workers will receive lower amounts of benefits for a shorter length of time, as few as 12 weeks in some cases. Forty-three states and North Carolina currently have a 26-week maximum.
The Democrats offered amendments to soften some of the most draconian cuts but they were all defeated in mostly party line votes. The Republicans, who crafted the bill in secret with business lobbyists, were not about to stop doing their bidding on the House floor.
Even an amendment to simply delay the implementation of the unprecedented level of benefit cuts until January 1 was defeated. That means that 80,000 laid off workers will lose their emergency federal benefits in July.
The rhetoric in the Senate was very similar with Republicans railing against the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid itself, a program that provides vital health care services to some of the most vulnerable people in the state.
With dozens of doctors looking on from the gallery, Republican Senate leaders made a series of absurd claims about how much expanding Medicaid would cost the state and misrepresented the requirements it would impose.
A study released last week by the widely respected Institute of Medicine found that expanding Medicaid and providing health coverage for 500,000 people would actually save the state more than $60 million and create 23,000 jobs. It would also bring in more than $15 billion to North Carolina hospitals in the next ten years.
Even Governor Pat McCrory was concerned, sending a letter to Senators asking them to delay the legislation to allow for more thoughtful consideration of its implications.
That had no affect on the majority, because their opposition is ideological, not based on logic or policy. They hate the Affordable Care Act and don’t seem to care that 500,000 people would be denied coverage and rural hospitals would be threatened because of their refusal to consider expanding Medicaid.
It was quite an evening on Jones Street indeed, as the Republican majorities in both chambers tuned their backs on families they represent who are struggling, preferring instead to side with corporate lobbyists and right-wing anti-Obama ideologues.
If for some reason it wasn’t already clear who the House and Senate were working for, it’s perfectly clear now. And it’s not most of us.