“What’s The Matter With Kansas?” in which he asked why voters in that once progressive state had become deeply wedded to Republicans. What particularly intrigued Frank was that Kansas’s electorate enthusiastically supported Republican economic policies, which provided benefits for the very wealthy, but did little for the residents of that largely middle class state.
In other words, Kansans seemed to vote against their economic self-interest. This stemmed, Frank speculated, partly from an affinity with Republicans on social issues, but more than that from ignorance.
That’s a loaded charge since voters in other states also apparently vote against economic self-interest. Wealthy people in high-income states such as Connecticut, Maryland, and New York gave President Obama majorities in the recent election even though his proposal to increase taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year will take money from them.
Of course, their abandonment of self-interest, if noticed at all, isn’t portrayed as stemming from ignorance, but rather as a sort of enlightened sense of the collective good, which lends their behavior a satisfying if not necessarily justified air of noble self-sacrifice.
But, other states’ disregard for self-interest is mild compared to West Virginia’s. In the recent election we gave Mitt Romney his fifth largest majority among the twenty four states he won even though enactment of his economic plan would drain $1.6 billion annually from West Virginia’s economy – enough to plunge the state into recession.
As a result, we’re now in a Mick Jagger moment. The election may not have given us what we wanted, but what we need. Now, will we seize the opportunities?
West Virginia’s first bit of good fortune is the opportunity to fully expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Morally, from a healthcare perspective, and, importantly, from an economic and budgetary perspective, the reasons for doing so are overwhelming.
Full expansion will insure about half of West Virginia’s 270,000 uninsured residents whose life expectancy is nearly a decade below the national average. At the same time, expansion will trigger $3.7 billion in federal funds over the program’s first six years according to Renate Poor of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. The vast majority of that money will go to West Virginia healthcare providers giving the state’s economy a jolt that will likely generate as much or more money in incremental tax receipts for state government as it will cost in expenditures.
Even without that offset, the state will spend nothing in the first three years. Then, in the out years, the incremental cost will never amount to more than 1% of the budget.
Another opportunity to improve West Virginia’s economic prospects can be seized if our representatives in congress accept compromise and help the nation avoid plunging from the “fiscal cliff”.
Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley are signatories to Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge that obligates them to oppose any increase in marginal income tax rates as well as any loss of deductions unless the loss is offset by additional rate cuts.
A year ago their unwillingness to compromise together with that of fellow House Republicans prevented a solution to the budget crisis and led to the creation of the fiscal cliff. This year’s election, in which the president campaigned on a mixed policy of budget cuts and tax increases for the very wealthy and decisively beat the Republican nominee, should be a signal to Capito and McKinley that compromise is both good for the nation and desired by Americans.
Besides, any negative consequences from the tax increases would have little impact on West Virginians very few of whom make enough money to be affected.
Still, some House Republicans will argue that their constituents elected them to oppose all taxes. They should also realize that Democrats won more than the presidential election. Democrats added to their majority in the Senate. And the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is a product, not of the will of the people, but rather, of the way in which congressional districts are drawn. Democratic candidates for the House actually received more votes than did Republicans.
The final opportunity and probably the most difficult for West Virginians to embrace is the need to take this, our last, best chance, to prepare for the decline of the coal industry. Thanks to market forces, coal wasn’t going to come back even if Romney won and it’s not going to now. So, maybe, finally, West Virginia’s leaders will find the courage to deal with the social, economic, and budgetary consequences of that reality.
Seizing any of these opportunities will be difficult for West Virginia because attitudes here are going in the opposite direction of those in the nation as a whole. America is becoming more diverse and progressive while West Virginia is becoming less so. But, it will be tragic for the state economically and otherwise if, because of that trend and for ideological reasons, we fail to act on the opportunities available to us.
Because Fox News and assorted conservative voices assured us of a Romney landslide and derided as creatures of liberal media bias commentators and polls that said otherwise, many people were astonished by Barack Obama’s victory. Now it’s apparent to everyone where the bias really existed and, with that recognition, maybe West Virginians can begin to deal with the world not as we wish it and not as we fear it, but as it is.