State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

A battle, to be sure, but over words or substance?

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 6, 2013 2:53 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

A week has passed since the governor’s ill-received comment linking the state’s seven-point-nine percent unemployment rate to job applicants unable to pass drug tests.

Now, state lawmakers are bringing the focus back to policies, while the governor insists at the mere mention of the “drug test” line that any controversy is much ado about twisted words.

Gov. Corbett said Monday that the news media are partly to blame for people take umbrage at his comments, because they’re being misconstrued by Democrats.

“I make statements that they take out of context,” said Corbett Monday, presumably talking about Democrats. He was addressing a small group of reporters: “And you guys don’t question them on it, when it’s out of context.”

But the Senate’s top Democrat says such statements are significant not because they make easy hay for political opponents, but because of what they reveal about Corbett himself.

“There’s a direct connection to what I call the mindset and the statements… directly related to policy ,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa.

He dredged up the past few years’ of controversial comments and linked them to Corbett policies. He mentioned last year’s “close your eyes” comment during the governor’s defense of making abdominal ultrasounds mandatory for women undergoing abortions. Costa linked the most recent example of perceived callousness toward unemployed Pennsylvanians to last year’s 10 percent funding cut to county-run human services programs, the reinstatement of a means test for food stamp recipients, and an array of business tax cuts.

“When you frame all of those things against what he’s given to the corporate community, that’s what’s offensive, and that’s what people see and that’s what people are not happy about,” said Costa.

The possibility of a Medicaid expansion has been among the Senate Democrats’ top issues – supported, they say, by a growing number of Senate Republicans who are publicly staying quiet on the issue. So far, Gov. Corbett has been unwilling to agree to change the eligibility requirements of the program to accept more low-income Pennsylvanians. Corbett and others in his administration have cited the potential for substantial costs to the commonwealth down the road.

But just last week, Corbett offered another reason for wanting to hold off on the Medicaid expansion authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act. The Post-Gazette reported on his comments at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event during which Corbett joined other Republican governors blasting the ACA:

The law's most cynical critics have said its liberal architects intended businesses to opt out because that would force people into insurance exchanges, essentially using a back door to create the kind of single-payer health care system that Democrats have been unable to get through Congress.

"I see the whole thing collapsing and, potentially, in the long run that may have been the plan," Mr. Corbett told summit attendees Monday. "I'm a prosecutor. I believe in conspiracies."

Polls show Corbett’s approval ratings have been low for the past several months. But while the governor's not happy with his image, he gave no inkling he’s changing his tune on the very policies that stir Democratic indignation.

“I would like people to look at what we have been doing and what we have done and the jobs we have brought. That’s going to be the image, and that’s going to be what the campaign will be about,” said Corbett. He hastened to add he’s not yet making his re-election bid official.

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