The feds give a royal two fingers to Medicaid privatization, the Dems shout down Dan Webster and not all chambers are full of secrets

While we were hacking up the royal phlegm of the annual Happytown flu on Friday morning - staring blankly at our 
6 a.m. flatscreen, waiting for ginger Prince Harry to grab his best man(hood) and, well, propose to us - it flashed into our heads that, hey, we're poor and sick! Wonder what the state legislature would have to say about that? Well, you may know that, in his infinite compassionate wisdom, Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon (along with his CannonHair™ Senate compatriot Mike Haridopolos) has had his sites set on effectively dismantling Medicaid as we know it before that new federal health care thing kicks in. It's all in the name of privatization, natch, and given that the state has gotten away with a pilot program in five of Florida's counties since 2006 - even amid complaints that half of the 200,000 people being serviced by the program have been dropped or shuffled between various health plans - Cannon is hoping to get some form of his heartless dream for the entire state passed this legislative session.

Or not? According to a report in the Miami Herald, the federal government folks who actually know about these things, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, drafted a letter to the state on April 28 that basically forbid it from taking the system private statewide, mostly because the House and Senate can't really agree on the details; also, the federal government actually funds half of the state's $20 billion in annual Medicaid expenditures, so there. Somewhat hilariously, the Senate has threatened to withdraw the state from Medicaid altogether if CMS doesn't allow the program to expand; the House is not quite ready to make that leap.

The problems within the pilot program are hard to quantify - private companies are not really big on transparency, see - but anecdotally speaking, at least five providers have pulled out of the program in Broward County citing low profits, doctors are pissed at the insurance "red tape" and patients aren't able to see specialists. The only thing it improves? The chances that somebody is making money and more people are probably dying. Yay, Florida!

The more things change, the
more they stay the same. What comes around, goes around. Depending on your political ideology and your sense of county history, you'd choose one cliché or the other to contextualize the clusterfuck that was Congressman Daniel Webster's "Spigot of Spending" town hall meeting on April 26.

Back from the nation's Capitol with a series of graphs in hand, Webster stood at the front of a packed Orange County Education Extension Center auditorium and acted as public relations flack for the controversial budget plan passed by the U.S. House last month. Webster implored the audience to notice that by cutting $5.8 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, Republican fiscal outlay graph lines will be flatter, sexier and more sustainable than those of the Obama administration. "We don't have a tax problem, we have a spending problem," Webster said, predictably.

Many in the crowd called bullshit on the charts, however, echoing Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein's criticism of the budget. "Ryan's savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor," Klein writes. "The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed." Thus, when Webster unveiled the "Foreign Owners of Our Debt" chart, which portrayed the Chinese flag peering ominously from its oversized slice of the peonage pie, one heckler shouted: "We don't care who you borrow from to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy!"

There were some shots flung the other way as well by those either supportive of Webster or frustrated with the general lack of civility. "This is mob rule!" one man shouted. No matter. The word "bullshit" arrived at minute seven, "liar" was employed at minute eight and two police officers 
slowly crept closer to the stage as the event ground on. At some point, Adam Lucier, a home-schooled 10-year-old sitting in quite possibly the best class ever, leaned over to Happytown and said: "I wouldn't be surprised if someone 
got tased." Bro!

To some, liberals' crashing of the party was just them giving conservatives a taste of their own medicine, as the fracas was reminiscent of former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson's health care town hall meeting in August 2009. Then, Grayson defended Obama's Affordable Care Act (what Webster repeatedly called "ObamaCare"), and scores of protestors massed outside of the building, shouting at Grayson and each other; police cars were employed to block off streets near the building.

Of course, Webster is a much different political animal, and the soft-spoken man coated with a fine layer of sweat was inaudible for most of his presentation. When the intra-crowd shouting got loud enough, Webster silently watched the melee with a gaze that reminded Happytown eerily of George W. Bush.

Still, a couple hecklers muscled in more than the requisite half-sentence to Webster, such as Wanda Ramos, an office clerk who held the floor with a loud tirade about the cost of the war in Afghanistan. "Something overtook me," she told Happytown, adding that she hadn't planned on the outburst beforehand. "What I'm seeing on that chart is me. He's talking about me, and he's going to cut me off from having something."

It was unclear what portion of the heckling crowd at the town hall consisted of professional activists, but a carefully scripted protest two days later at Winter Garden City Hall ­- where Webster's district office is located - left far less doubt in that regard. About 15 members of the nonprofit political activism group Organize Now stood outside of the building wearing white makeup smudged with fake blood, alleging that under Webster and his Republican cohorts, we Americans would "work til we die." "Social Security belongs to the people who have worked hard all their lives and contributed to the program," read the group's political director, Mike Cantone. "It does not belong to politicians in Washington who want to use it as a piggy bank to fund tax cuts for the rich and bailouts for Wall Street."

That and other serious statements from the undead about fiscal policy blended awk-
wardly with a series of half-hearted zombie grunts, and another activist experiment was concluded with most Winter Garden residents wondering what the hell they just saw.

While the power-drunk antics
of the Florida Chamber of Commerce are usually enough to satisfy Happytown's business beat, it's good to point out once in awhile what other, less paranoid chambers of commerce are doing. On April 28, the Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando, the city's gay chamber of commerce, which counts more than 300 LGBT-friendly businesses as members, celebrated the opening of its headquarters at a spacious, 1930s-era home on the corner of Pine Street and Osceola Avenue. Though the chamber was founded in 1992, it has, until now, never claimed a physical location. "We've stuck a flag in the ground, and we're here to stay," says MBA President Gina Duncan. "It's a symbol of the economic success that the LGBT community is enjoying."

The following day, the British-American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida threw its own party at the Citrus Club, celebrating the marriage of England's Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Though many of the guests had already watched the wedding - it occurred at 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time - they watched it again, this time wearing stately top hats, munching scones topped with Devonshire cream and sipping imported British tea. Mili Boreham, the chamber's executive director, compared the pomp and circumstance to the Kentucky Derby, which begs the question: Will a horse be incorporated into the royal honeymoon?

We hope so. Cough!


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