Sen. Kay Hagan Says She Will Support Budget Agreement

Democratic Senator Kay Hagan today said she will vote to support the bipartisan budget agreement, reached by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA):

“For too long, Washington has been paralyzed by partisan gridlock and lurched from crisis to crisis, causing tremendous uncertainty in our economy and stalling our recovery. Over the last several days I have heard directly from top leadership in North Carolina’s military community regarding the importance of avoiding the harsh and unnecessary cuts from sequestration and urging support for this bipartisan bill. For these reasons, I will be supporting the bipartisan budget agreement reached by Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray. While no bill is perfect, it is time for Congress to stop the political games, end sequestration, and come together on behalf of the American people.”

Hagan was previously undecided on the bill. She did, however, vote in favor of the procedural motions, which set the bill up for a final vote. Hagan is up for reelection in 2014, and number of Republicans are lining up to fight for her seat.

Meanwhile, the Senate could vote as early as tomorrow on the budget agreement.

NC Attorney General says refusal of Medicaid expansion was wrong

RALEIGH—Attorney General Roy Cooper said there was no reason for North Carolina not to expand Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Cooper, who is considering a possible run for governor in 2016, said he believes the refusal was political and he hopes lawmakers will reconsider their decision in the spring session.

Gov. Pat McCrory refused to call a special session to accept the expansion, saying Medicaid needs to be fixed before the state takes on new consumers.

Former senator John Edwards to open Raleigh law firm

RALEIGH—John Edwards is going back to work, opening a new law firm in Raleigh.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports Edwards will team up with his former law partner David Kirby and his daughter Cate to form Edwards Kirby law firm.

Edwards made millions as a trial lawyer before going on to the Senate and a vice presidential run. His political career was derailed by a sex scandal and a trial for campaign finance violations.

When asked if he would consider running for office again, Edwards responded with a quick “no.”

Vice President Joe Biden arrives in NC

CHARLOTTE—Vice President Joe Biden flew in to Charlotte Thursday night.

He will attend a private event at an undisclosed location for the Democratic National Committee Friday.

He will then travel to Chapel Hill for a fundraising event for Sen. Kay Hagan at 12:45 p.m. at the Carolina Club.

On Monday, his wife, Jill Biden, will visit Cleveland County Community College.

She is expected to talk about a program in which the school received more than $13 million to train veterans or people who’ve been unemployed for a long period of time.

Democrats urging Republicans to reconsider their stance on Medicaid

RALEIGH — Democratic leaders and left leaning activists gathered on the lawn of the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Monday. Their mission was to call on Republican leaders to reconsider their stance on Medicaid.

“Do the right thing,” said Rep. Larry Hall, the House Minority Leader. “Stand up for North Carolinians. Have this Medicaid expansion, have a special session so we can decide on this Medicaid expansion.”

At issue is a decision by lawmakers this year to turn down federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. North Carolina is one of 22 states to refuse the federal funds, but supporters of the expansion argue this means North Carolina tax dollars are now going to other states who have agreed to grow their programs.

“Our decision on failing to expand Medicaid, not participating fully in the health insurance exchange was a shortsighted decision,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham County Democrat. “We need to give healthcare in North Carolina a shot in the arm.”

While speaking in the nation’s capital last week, Gov. Pat McCrory had indicated he might not think the book is completely closed on the idea of Medicaid expansion but not because North Carolina leaders are looking to change their minds.

“The [Obama] administration is sending us new regs on Medicaid, and no one is talking about it,” McCrory said last week while speaking to the Heritage Foundation. “We just got a new reg, which might force us to do Medicaid expansion if we want to or not in the upcoming year.”

As far as the idea of coming back for a special session on Medicaid, the leaders of the two chambers in the legislature sent a clear “no” back to Democrats. In a joint statement, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said:

“An expansion of Medicaid would cost North Carolina taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars through 2021. How do these Democratic party front groups suggest we pay for it – how many teachers are they willing to fire? How high are they willing to raise the sales tax on groceries and medicine? How much are they willing to cut doctors’ and hospitals’ reimbursement rates?

“If these liberal activists were truly serious about reducing the cost of health insurance, they would be in Washington protesting Obamacare – an abomination that has caused insurance premiums to skyrocket for working families.”

But Democrats point out that Republican leaders in other states have had a change of heart, and say they want to see the same discussion in North Carolina.

“We are starting to see more conversation about this,” said Woodard. “We are starting to see more impacts.”

Republican governors in Ohio, Florida and Arizona all changed their minds on accepting Medicaid funds, choosing to expand their programs.

Gov. Pat McCrory also released this statement about the possibility of calling a special session on Medicaid:

“I will not sacrifice quality care for the people truly in need, nor risk further budget overruns by expanding an already broken system. Calling a special session to further expand Obamacare in North Carolina is out of the question.

“We’re listening to North Carolinians, engaging stakeholders, reviewing new federal regulations and analyzing data about the best way to fix our Medicaid program. We’ll be submitting a reform plan in the spring, and we will continue to evaluate what is best for the state, the Medicaid program and the healthcare needs of our citizens.”

– Loretta Boniti

Cooper in HuffPo: GOP taking state 50 years back in 10 months

Attorney General Roy Cooper

Attorney General Roy Cooper continues to make not-so-subtle moves toward a run for governor in 2016.

The Democrat wrote an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post, published Tuesday.

Copper continues to rail against Republican initiatives on teacher pay, Medicaid, tax changes and more. In one line, he said it’s as if the Tea Party created its own playground of extremist fantasies.

He also writes:

This is not the North Carolina that any of us recognize. The harrowing economic times we live in require steadiness, innovative thought and a redoubling of commitment to bedrock principles like public education that have brought our state this far, not more pain inflicted on the middle class and those struggling to stay in it.

The North Carolina Republican Party responded, calling it a left-wing diatribe looking for support from national liberals.

Republicans have criticized Cooper for using his current office as a springboard to run for governor.

Read Cooper’s piece here.

Legislative Black Caucus questions actions of DHHS

RALEIGH — The questions continue about North Carolina’s second biggest department. North Carolina’s Legislative Black Caucus says it has a long list of questions for some of the state’s top officials about actions being taken and not taken by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Now we see a whole lot of contracts that seem to be extraordinarily flexible as well as individuals appointed to positions where salaries are far in excess of their qualifications, their experience and far from the norm of what people have been paid in the past in similar positions,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick.

The Black Caucus’ concerns are just the latest in what seems to be daily scrutiny of the department. Last week, when lawmakers were in session, pay of DHHS employees was a hot topic, even though it was not the issue legislators were convened to discuss.

“That’s an executive branch issue as far as I’m concerned,” says Sen. Phil Berger, Senate President Pro-tem. “The executive branch does have wide authority and discretion to make determinations about pay levels.”

But, legislative leadership says interim oversight committees could discuss any and all health and human services actions if they choose to.

For his part, Gov. Pat McCrory told News 14 Carolina last week that he is not second guessing any of his decisions at DHHS and says he believes positions, pay and other decisions are being cherry-picked to give the sense of improperity at the department.

“That is what I am looking at, the big picture,” said McCrory. “If we hire fewer people, pay them more and they do more work, taxpayers will get better return on their investment.”

State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, says she is not inclined to examine any of these issues currently being asked and says pay is a constant barrier in state government.

“It seems to be the exact same scenario that I am talking about in my office,” said Wood. “In order to get skilled staff that can audit your taxpayer dollars like you would want them to be audited, you need skilled staff, committed staff, people who want to do a good job. And in order to do that you are going to have to pay them.”

The Legislative Black Caucus sent dozens of questions to Gov. McCrory and DHHS about actions recently taken by the department.

– Loretta Boniti

Foundation set up to honor life, work of Jamie Hahn

Jamie and Nation Hahn

A foundation set up by the family and friends of Jamie Kirk Hahn has planned events around what would have been her 30th birthday.

The Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation seeks to find, train and match emerging community leaders with existing programs. The events are set for Oct. 25-27 and include a day of service, a concert and a fundraising brunch at Poole’s Diner.

Hahn, a political finance director and rising star in the Democratic Party, died after a stabbing attack in her Raleigh home in April. Jonathan Broyhill is charged with murdering Hahn. Broyhill also stabbed and injured her husband, Nation Hahn, who was his best friend.

For more information, visit the foundation website here.

Democrats lining up to run in 2016 NC governor’s race

RALEIGH — Though election night might not seem that long ago, at least two candidates have officially said they plan to run in North Carolina’s 2016 governor’s race.

“It is early, unless you are a Democrat and you want to be governor,” said Steven Greene with N.C. State University.

This week, former state lawmaker and Democrat Kenneth Spaulding said he’s in for 2016.

In a statement Spaulding said: “The taxpayers and voters are looking for a reasonable alternative to the extremist positions and actions taken by the governor and his legislative majority.”

Attorney General Roy Cooper, also a Democrat, is not ready to officially throw his hat in the ring, but his talking points certainly have the ring of a future candidate.

“I am talking to people,” Cooper said. “I am very concerned about the direction of our state. I’m very concerned when we put into place tax cuts for corporations or the wealthy when we very much needed investments in education and law enforcement.”

And not to over-crowd the Democratic field, James Protzman also has his campaign website up and running. He is former Chapel Hill councilman who says North Carolina is on the verge of losing its business edge and its imperative to get it back.

So why all the interest so soon? Greene says it might be a good strategy.

“The point is there is a lot of Democratic energy right now,” said Greene. “Pat McCrory looks weak right now. And so for those who are aiming toward 2016, I think the feeling is why not jump in right now, take advantage of that energy, hopefully get a head start, a jump start on the competitors in terms of getting endorsements, raising money, etc.”

According to the most recent poll by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, 39 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job being done by Gov. Pat McCrory while 51 percent disapprove.

– Loretta Boniti

Rep. Ellmers Faces Major Fundraising Hurdle

If Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers is to mount a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014, she has a major hurdle to consider: money.

Ellmers raised about $158,000 during the second quarter, according to fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Compare that to the $2 million raised by Hagan over the same period.

What’s more, Ellmers has $180,000 cash on hand, compared to Hagan’s $4.2 million.

Those awaiting Ellmers’ Senate announcment will have to wait a bit longer. Partisan wrangling over the House Farm Bill reportedly forced Ellmers to rethink things. According to National Journal:

“I’m not sure the decision I made was the right one,” Ellmers said in an interview, adding that she’ll take the next few weeks to reconsider before announcing whether she will enter the race against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. She said that she “owe(s) the people of North Carolina” a decision by August 1.

“Watching I’ve watched today, the way this has played out, I’m not sure that either side is very effective. … I’m going to take the next couple of days and re-think my decision,” Ellmers said. Ellmers voted in favor of the Farm Bill, following hours of delay and sparring between both parties, as Republicans removed food stamp provisions from the legislation.

Asked whether she was implying that she had decided to stay in the House, Ellmers declined to comment.

Other North Carolina fundraising numbers worth noting in the FEC filings:

Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre, who was reelected in a tight race, raised $236,000 in the second quarter. He ends the period with $383,000 cash on hand.

And Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx raised $225,000 in three months, bringing her Q2 haul to $1.7 million cash on hand. Foxx chairs the House subcommittee on higher education and has played an important — at times controversial — role in the ongoing debate over student loan interest rates. She sparked controversy in April, saying she had “very little tolerance for people” with serious student loan debt. “We live in an opportunity society,” said Foxx, “and people are forgetting that.”