Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cornyn Watch: Losing The Doctors AND Older People Could Prove Terminal For The Senator

There are two constituencies that right-wing Republicans have generally been able to count on in Texas: doctors and other medical professionals, and people 65 and older. This election year, most of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, have managed to royally piss off both groups.

This is not unimportant for Cornyn, who is facing surprising opposition in his bid for a second term in the Senate. State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, trails Cornyn, but only by single digits in most polls. He's within striking distance of Cornyn.

You Texans out there: Our glorious senator was one of 40 who kept the Senate from reaching the 60 votes needed Thursday night to invoke cloture and end Republican obstruction of a bill to avert the Bush administration's 10.6% cut in Medicare payments, set to go into effect today. (Sen. Barack Obama showed up and was one of 58 who voted yes; Sen. John McCain was one of two senators who did not vote.)

This bill, to forestall the cuts by 18 months, had passed in the House by a vote of 355-59. Only the most kook-right Republicans there opposed it. But just enough Senate Republicans caved in to the most loathed administration in U.S. history to kill what could have been an easy veto override.

In response, the political committee of the Texas Medical Association has rescinded its support of Cornyn for re-election to the Senate. ("Senator Noriega." I like the sound of it.)

The San Antonio Express-News reported Friday:

Medical association officials said the cut, which is set to take effect July 1, will force them to choose between their finances and their elderly patients.

Cornyn said he voted against the measure because it was a partisan ploy and "election year grandstanding" by Democrats rather than a real effort to solve the problem.

The physicians group began the day criticizing both Cornyn and senior U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for their votes against the bill on Thursday. Association President Dr. Josie R. Williams of Paris said they "chose to protect insurance companies profits instead of protecting our patients’ health."

By the end of the day, the association’s political committee, TEXPAC, had withdrawn its backing of Cornyn, saying its board was "outraged."

"That (planned Medicare cut) will force physicians into an impossible choice: face financial crisis by continuing to see their Medicare patients or protect their practice and cut off those patients," the political committee’s chairman, Dr. Manuel Acosta of El Paso, wrote to Cornyn in a letter made public by the association.

"We expect our elected officials to show leadership and do the right thing," Acosta said. "Absent that, TEXPAC has rescinded our endorsement of your candidacy."

Noriega didn't pick up an endorsement, but the challenger's campaign had a rapid response. The Express-News again:

"Cornyn has failed Texas families again and again - from rejecting health care for children to medicare votes that prioritize big insurance companies over doctors and seniors, to cutting veterans’ benefits and health services," said Noriega spokeswoman Holly Shulman. "Texans are ready for a change from a senator that continues to choose to vote with special interests instead of Texas families."

The Bush administration had threatened a veto because the bill included payment reductions to Medicare Advantage, which some senior citizens use as a private, fee-for-service alternative. Yep -- somebody's profits were being affected. For the Bush administration, it's business as usual.

But in this state, as in others, medical professionals and senior citizens are two groups that show up on Election Day. They also sign checks. Both of our GOP mannequin senators -- Kay Bailey Hutchison also voted no -- may live to regret this vote. But in an election year in which Cornyn is no shoo-in according to the polls, it could cost him everything politically.

Postscript: This is also one vote McCain may wish he hadn't missed.

P.S. II: Go here for Blue Girl's take on this.