Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Senate panel rejects Medicaid expansion

By: JORGE BONILLA

Explosion_mushroom_shaped
A select Senate panel has just rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed Medicaid expansion, a week after identical action by their counterparts in the Florida House of representatives.

Governor Rick Scott is left standing alone on the proposed Medicaid expansion, which some critics (myself included) viewed as an electoral move which would leave Florida on the hook for a huge unfunded mandate long after Scott has left office.
Per the Palm Beach Post:
A Senate panel Monday joined its House counterpart in rejecting Gov. Rick Scott’s push to expand Medicaid to bring health coverage to another 1 million lower-income Floridians.
The partyline vote came after Republicans ridiculed the expansion as building on a broken Medicaid system. Scott’s call to at least try the expansion for the three years it will be fully financed by the federal government also carried little weight with critics.
rickscottpharma
Be sure to read the full post, both for possible republican alternatives to Medicaid expansion, and for the PBP’s special, special reportage- which includes not a peep from fiscal conservatives anywhere who might express skepticism at the notion that a state with recent and well-documented budget issues has enough money to fund an aggressive new entitlement.  

If you read a bit further down, you’ll see a bit of Democrat concern-trolling.  I’m fairly certain that reports of shock and dismay that some Republicans somewhere bucked a business group are greatly exaggerated.  
Democrats were stunned — pointing out that Republican leaders were also defying major business associations and Florida hospitals, which also have embraced the expansion.
“We have a moral and economic responsibility to seize this moment for the good of Floridians,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.”
If anything, we need more of that.  Cronyism is bad whether red or blue.  

What happens next is anyone’s guess, but I’m willing to posit that the Florida Legislature will start working on some variant of the Arkansas Plan…and Governor Scott will try to extract himself from this self-inflicted rick-rolling, and from this cudgel that he has unwittingly handed to Charlie Crist

Obama Resists Simple Fixes for Sequestration Cuts

By: Byron York / Townhall Columnist
The little secret of sequestration is that the Obama administration could fix much of the problem pretty quickly. But it doesn't want to.

Congress tells executive branch agencies how much money they can spend and how they should spend it. Sometimes the instructions are broad, and sometimes they are quite detailed. Cabinet secretaries and lower-downs are bound to work within those congressional directives.

But if Cabinet officers want to spend the money differently, there is a long-established process for doing so: They ask Congress for permission. It happens all the time, with lawmakers routinely giving the executive branch the OK to spend money in different ways than originally planned.

That could be happening now. All those Obama administration officials complaining about across-the-board cuts dictated by sequestration could come up with plans to make the same amount of cuts in ways that would create fewer problems for federal workers and services. Then they could ask Congress for permission to do so. Lawmakers would say yes, and things would be fine.

But it's not happening. And the fault is not with Congress.

In recent weeks, House Republicans have been virtually begging administration officials to ask for permission to move money around. If one program could be more easily cut than others, those Republicans say, just ask us, and we'll let you do it.

"We sent out on Feb. 28 a letter to every Cabinet officer asking them what changes they'd like to have -- pluses, subtractions and so on -- to give them an opportunity to show us at least one program they would like to have cut, which would then save on sequestration," Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in an interview recently. "We did not receive a single answer."

Issa explained that Congress can allow Cabinet officials to "reprogram" money to ease the burden of sequestration. For example, the sequester requires the Department of Transportation to cut $2 billion from its budget.

"If they were to come up with, for example, $500 million in cuts, their remaining sequestration would drop by 25 percent," Issa said. "If they were able to come up with $2 billion worth of things they wanted to drop altogether or reduce, then they would have no sequestration."

In other words, Obama Cabinet officials, if they chose, could have an enormous amount of flexibility in making the required budget cuts. They just don't want to. "We've had zero answers," repeated Issa.

At a recent committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan asked officials from the Transportation and Education departments a simple question. Since they've known about sequestration for a long time and also know they have the ability to ask Congress to reprogram money, why haven't they responded to Issa's letter offering help?

The officials had no answers. "Those wheels are turning," said the man from the Education Department, indicating that, whatever crisis sequestration presents, the bureaucracy will take its time to respond.

It turned out that the officials had done little or no preparing for sequestration and instead focused on drastic measures -- things like closing down one of the two air traffic control towers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport -- to deal with it.

"I would think that most public servants would want to do what's in the best interest of the taxpayers and the public, and not try to do things for political gain," Jordan said in an interview later. "But let's be honest. Some of the statements we've heard from the administration run counter to what we hope public officials would do."

In the meantime, the administration continues to advertise new job openings for decidedly nonessential positions. (For example, why is the Federal Aviation Administration looking for a couple of "community planners"?) "What's going on is total tone-deafness from the administration," says one frustrated Senate GOP aide. "They are posting for new, low-priority jobs while announcing furloughs. If they have money to make new hires, why not use those funds to prevent furloughs? It's absurd."

Sequestration is still in its early stages. There is still time for the Obama administration to have a change of heart and try to enact cuts in the least dramatic, least obtrusive way. Certainly, Rep. Issa remains ready to go. Congress can move very quickly on something like this, he said, making an open offer to the administration: "If you find programs that you can cut altogether or programs that you can combine, the authority for it would be only hours away."
 
NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars 
NASA News Services
 
 
WASHINGTON -- An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine grain mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic, or extremely salty.

The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins.

Curiosity's drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012.

"Clay minerals make up at least 20 percent of the composition of this sample," said David Blake, principal investigator for the CheMin instrument at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline.

Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red.

"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the SAM suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the Yellowknife Bay area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project has been using Curiosity to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Curiosity, carrying 10 science instruments, landed seven months ago to begin its two-year prime mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.