Pa. House GOP leaders, Trump White House double down on formula for failure

Madness, I tell you, madness.

We’ve hit the 100-day-late mark for Pennsylvania’s budget. Instead of seeking compromises, the speaker of the House posts a video calling for “No More Gimmicks.”

Gimmicks? I’ll give you gimmicks. Pennsylvania is staring at a calamity, especially in regards to paying for services it provides its most vulnerable citizens. The bilge-water status of Pennsylvania’s credit rating has taken yet another hit and now ranks among the worst in the nation.

So how do House Republicans respond? They propose borrowing more money and rifling already earmarked funding.

They respond by voting against a fair extraction tax on Marcellus Shale gas drillers, a levy embraced by every other gas-producing state. All but 10 House Republicans voted against the Republican severance tax bill last week. Joining the naysayers to recurring and responsible revenues were the House speaker and majority leader.

Meanwhile, House GOP leaders have failed to muster the votes for their own cockamamie ideas, including almost doubling the state’s hotel taxes, which would paralyze the state’s tourism industry, and taxing commercial storage and logistics.

House Republicans default to childish gimmicks to try to fix Pennsylvania’s $2.2 billion structural budget deficit, but can’t find the gumption to support bipartisan efforts to pay for the $32 billion in spending the overwhelming majority of their members approved in June.

The failure of House GOP leadership -- obviously they like to spend without paying for it – to compromise on plans to pay for state services is taking a toll. The harms are much more than delayed payments to state-related universities, including Pitt and Penn State, as Pennsylvania’s cratering credit makes it costlier to keep the state operating, and forces Gov. Tom Wolf to scramble to plug the revenue chasm.

The federal follies playing out in Washington, D.C., compound the dysfunction on display in Pennsylvania’s House Republican Caucus.

By failing to reauthorize in a timely fashion the Children’s Health Insurance Program – CHIP – Congress put at risk health insurance benefits for 9 million children from low- and middle-income families, including 176,000 Pennsylvania children.

Saner minds have surfaced, finally, and compromises and interim funding are inching forward to support CHIP. However, the funding debacle had states eyeing shutdowns of the federal-state program that is immensely popular with both parties.

Another safety net seemingly at risk of unraveling is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program – LIHEAP -- which provides crucial heating assistance for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, and opens on Nov. 1.

Pennsylvania initially was projecting a 25 percent reduction in 2018 heating assistance, based on President Trump’s budget request in March to eliminate LIHEAP’s federal funding.

Nobody is expecting elimination of LIHEAP funding – the program is too popular and vital for that to happen – and the final state LIHEAP plan keeps cash and crisis grants at last year’s levels despite the elimination threat and still not set-in-stone funding, even as forecasters predict a harsh winter.

Then there’s the Affordable Care Act – ObamaCare – the around-the-clock whipping boy of the Riled Right.

Open Enrollment for 2018 Marketplace health insurance starts Nov. 1. But the Trump administration has reduced the health insurance enrollment time frame by half, cut the advertising budget and has cut funding that helps people receive health care. Madness, I say.

U.S. Sen. Robert Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, says the Trump White House needs adult daycare supervision to keep the president – and, I would add, CHIP, health insurance and heating assistance -- from going off the rails.

The House Republican Caucus in Harrisburg also needs adult supervision. Its formula for failure on the budget, now in its fourth month, needs a “time out” and Pennsylvania taxpayers need responsible adults to step up.