Good tidings and cheer were plentiful this week on Beacon Hill. Too bad the same could not be said for Capitol Hill.
While Massachusetts received its own Christmas miracle in the form of a $26.75 billion deal with the Obama administration for Medicaid reimbursements over the next three years, Congress dissolved into another spate of partisan brinksmanship, only this time some of the crime was Republican-on-Republican.
His popularity arguably faltering in recent weeks, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown earned himself some positive local and national attention for voting in favor of a two-month extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits while blasting his GOP colleagues in the House for blocking the Senate compromise.
With his independent streak on full display - nevermind the fact he joined a filibuster to block the extension when Democrats proposed paying for it with a surtax on the wealthy - the biggest thing Brown had to answer for the week before Christmas was why his Shih Tzu Snuggles was conspicuously absent from the Brown-family holiday video greeting.
Thanks to the Globe’s intrepid Noah Bierman, we now know Snuggles is just camera shy, or else we might have feared the worst.
An estimated 40,000 Massachusetts residents got an early stocking stuffer when House Speaker John Boehner, to use perhaps the most commonly repeated verb in print Thursday afternoon, “caved” to pressure from President Barack Obama and the Senate to accept a deal that will save workers an average of $40 in their paychecks.
Obama and the Democrats dominated the messaging war in the fight over the short-term tax cut extension, in part by using a trick Gov. Deval Patrick’s team tried when selling a failed gas hike as less than a cup-of-coffee a week. Apparently it works better when government is keeping less money, rather than asking taxpayers to pony up more.
So what can you get for $40? Well, the White House asked and received. For K.Z. from Maryland, the payroll tax cut means ‘Friday Family Pizza night’ doesn’t have to be cut from the household budget. L.A. from Connecticut can buy cafeteria lunch for a month for his or her twins, and B.T. from New Mexico won’t have to choose between insulin and paying the water bill.
The translation of tax policy to everyday life made it all the more curious why Bay State Democrats weren’t doing the same thing to highlight how a .5 percent reduction in the state income tax, triggered by solid revenue growth, could amount to a similar saving for state taxpayers starting Jan. 1.
Nine years after the Legislature froze the income tax rate at 5.3 percent in defiance of voters who in 2000 approved a 5 percent plan, the rate is on the move again, dropping marginally to 5.25 percent.
Though tax cutting can be a rare phenomenon on Beacon Hill, the accompanying silent non-objection from the Democrat establishment to allowing the rate to drop may have been simply an admission of their vulnerability. No doubt the MassGOP had an, “It’s about time,” comeback cued up.
Word of the deal on a health care waiver trickled out of the administration Tuesday night just as the governor and other assorted electeds prepared for the festive annual lighting of the Hanukah menorah at the State House.
The deal represented a $5.6 billion increase over the last Medicaid waiver negotiated with the Bush administration, and was the first since Edward Kennedy, a champion of health care reform, passed away in 2009.
The pact will allow Massachusetts to preserve the cornerstone programs of the state's health care reform law signed by Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006, while also pushing the state along the course Gov. Deval Patrick has set to change the way health care is delivered and paid for in Massachusetts.
A peppy Patrick, back from a weekend excursion with his wife Diane in Paris last weekend, described the waiver thusly: “It’s way good.” The need for a series of one-month extensions since the original waiver expired in July, Patrick said, was in order to make sure Massachusetts was correctly positioned to implement federal health care reform in a few years – that is assuming it doesn’t get struck down by the Supreme Court.
While it took state health officials 18 months to negotiate the terms of the waiver with the feds, the audible concerns from attendees in Nurses Hall that the menorah lighting was on track to rival that pace with a stream of speeches and musical interludes melted away into some good-natured holiday fun.
Blessedly, the event went off this year seamlessly: No forklift malfunctions to speak of.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo drew laughs with his best attempt at Hebrew when he tried a phrase he said Treasurer Steven Grossman had recently taught him: Chag Sameach, translating roughly to happy holidays. But when the largely Jewish audience gave him so-so marks on his pronunciation, DeLeo quipped: “That’s the Italian version.”
Senate President Therese Murray also delivered a light moment with a history lesson when she explained that it was the Puritans who discouraged religious toleration, not the pilgrims who settled in her hometown of Plymouth after a brief pit-stop in Provincetown to do their laundry.
Aside from the Hebrew lessons he has been giving the speaker, Grossman carved out a place in the holiday news cycle this week with an announcement that the Lottery may start allowing consumers to use debit cards to purchase scratch tickets as early as January.
The Treasury and Patrick administration released a financial statement that expressed reluctance to count on any tax revenue just yet from casinos, so maybe it should not be a surprise as the Lottery prepares to take a bath on its holiday $10 million raffle promotion that they want to maximize profits before facing competition for disposable income from Caesars or the Sands.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Let’s make a deal.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: With Mitt Romney apparently on the path to fend off the surge of another not-Mitt Republican presidential contender, the latest flavor of the campaign aimed his darts at the Bay State while campaigning in New Hampshire. “Please don’t turn America into Massachusetts,” Newt Gingrich said while campaigning in Manchester. The former House Speaker a day later called Boston an interesting place for a historian, but said the culture was “a tad liberal” for his taste.
This program aired on December 23, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.