Washington, D.C. —
At the completion of his most recent trip to Washington and just before President Donald Trump issues his remarks to a joint session of congress, Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) said that his recent and numerous meetings in the nation’s capitol have led him to conclude that Utah can be “better off” among the states as the efforts to reform the Affordable Care Act proceed. “I’m a practical guy,” said Herbert, “We recognize the need to have bi-partisan healthcare reform; the Republicans are fond of speaking of ‘Repeal and Replace,’ and the Democrats are calling for ‘Reform, Modify and Improve,’ but I’m just interested in fixing the problem.”
A Republican Amid a Republican Majority
In a week’s worth of meetings with the National Governor’s Association, the Western Governor’s Association and White House officials, Herbert said he was generally encouraged and “optimistic” by the “new beginning and opportunities” before the nation under the new administration. “We had a record turnout at our National Governor’s Association meeting, with 46 governors in attendance,” Herbert said. Presently, 33 of 50 U.S. governors are Republicans (the most since 1922, Herbert noted) and by all indications their agenda is in motion, according to the governor.
Utah May Be “Better Off”
The topic of healthcare reform was central to the governors’ meetings, allowing Herbert to cite three reasons why the ongoing and future discussions can be fruitful for the nation. “First, in the bi-partisan effort to improve healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, we stressed that funding and sustainability were important, both now and in the future,” Herbert said. In Utah, where a balanced budget is mandated by state law, that pressure creates more awareness of the costs of offering universal healthcare through programs like Medicaid. The state has struggled with expanding Medicaid coverage to Utah’s underprivileged and made several proposals to the Obama administration to do so. One of the primary sticking points then was the “work requirement” that Utah was attempting to build-in to the expanded coverage, calling for the able-bodied to submit to employment or training to qualify for coverage. Cost was certainly another factor.
Cost was certainly another factor.
“Balancing our state’s budget and funding healthcare is a big deal,” said Herbert. “Secondly, we emphasized flexibility for the states,” he said while emphasizing that the previous “Healthy Utah” plan may become a more viable option, especially if the work component is approved by a new administration. “Consideration of states’ demographics, culture and politics are all factors to be considered in solutions that are flexible,” Herbert said.
“Fairness in funding,” was the third reason for the Governor’s optimism about his healthcare discussions as he described the idea of “capping” the expense to states. Citing Oregon as an example of this idea during the Clinton administration, the concept allows for the reduction of services to fit a specific governmental funding. “In some locations, the healthcare budget consumes as much as 30% of the state’s budget,” Herbert reported. “100% ‘fairness’ may not be possible,” he admitted, “But it may be possible to get to 90% fairness if we emphasize sustainability, flexibility, and fairness,” he said.
Other Topics in Herbert’s Most Recent Discussions
In addition to healthcare meetings, Herbert was asked about other hot topics arising during this most recent trip, especially that of public lands which are such a big portion of Utah. Acknowledging his discussions with Secretary of the Interior designee Ryan Zinke of Montana. Herbert said that an invitation for congressman Zinke to come and visit Utah and the specific areas generating the most local controversy had been extended and would likely occur once Zinke’s appointment as a Trump cabinet secretary is confirmed. Additionally, Herbert said that resumed discussions with Utah’s congressional delegation would also be upcoming, where officials repeat the interest of Native Americans to be involved in public lands management, an aspect that politicians maintain can only be done via congress. To this point, Governor Herbert stressed that “the state is making a proactive effort [on public lands issues] including the participation of our county commissioners,” he stated. Herbert began his political career as a county commissioner in Utah County, after becoming known there as a realtor.
Herbert confirmed that the Antiquities Act had not been discussed during his visit with White House officials, but that his efforts regarding what he terms “the abuse” of the 1915 law allowing presidents to protect public lands would be ongoing. Among the concerns of Utah politicians is what they refer to as the “expanding” acreage involved in recent designations within Utah, beginning with the 1.8M acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument designated by then President Bill Clinton in 1996. Governor Matt Mead (Republican) of Wyoming had brought up the Wyoming exemptions from the designations due to congressional action in 1950 which amended the Act requiring congressional approval for any further use in that state, Herbert said.
Controversies still rage among many Utahns and other stakeholders about the validity of purpose of these designations, with the most recent Utah legislature having issued resolutions encouraging rescinding and resizing of the two Monuments. It is unclear what authority, short of intricate and lengthy congressional action, could accomplish the mainly Republican-endorsed efforts. Designation of the Bears Ears National Monument were the result of years of negotiations in congress, with First Nations leadership and finally with the Obama administration.
Immigration Policies from the Trump Administration
Herbert also reported that “one of the priorities of the [Trump] administration is that of the problem of undocumented immigrants and the ‘clarification’ of immigration policy.” Citing concerns of Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe (Democrat) regarding recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and arrests, Herbert said that in a meeting yesterday the Trump administration was prioritizing “…the really bad guys; the gang bangers and those [without lawful immigration status] who are robbing banks and knocking off liquor stores,” Herbert said, “Those are the ones, the really bad people, who are being sent home.” In view of recent reports of those without the ability to remain in the U.S. who are respected in their adopted American communities, Herbert’s endorsement of Trump administration immigration policies is sure to meet with concern among Utah’s minority populations and their advocates.
On his numerous discussions involving the immigration topic, Herbert said, “I have been emphasizing not just our borders and the ‘fence,’ but the ‘gate’. We have to address the gate,” meaning the manner in which deportations, international travel, and lawful immigration occurs throughout the nation.