The Billings Outpost

Don’t subsidize Kochs; help poor Montanans

OPINION

By BRIAN SCHWEITZER

Recently, AFP (Americans for Prosperity) conducted a sham public meeting in Dillon to condemn extending healthcare coverage to people in Montana who make less than $16,000. AFP is bankrolled by the Koch Brothers. The money spent to provide this healthcare would come 100 percent from the federal government, not the Montana state treasury.

The Koch Brothers and some GOP allies here in Montana say that the federal government spends too much money. I agree. But, they don’t want to start saving in the massive military budget, not the perks to Washington politicians, not to highway contractors or foreign governments or even subsidies to agriculture millionaires. The Koch brothers didn’t question healthcare provided to seniors, veterans or to Medicaid in other states representing two-thirds of the U.S. population.

Nope, the Koch brothers have decided that the No. 1 place to start saving money is right here in Montana with the health of our poorest people.

The two Koch Brothers are worth $88 billion – even more than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, according to Forbes Magazine. I have nothing against great wealth, and I still hope to get there. The Koch Brothers inherited a great fortune and grew it through the years with hard work, old-fashion smarts and government subsidies – in part, ironically, near Dillon, Mont.

They have owned the 200,000-plus-acre Matador Ranch near Dillon for more than 50 years. Well, not really owned the ranch, because about one-third of the ranch is owned by the state of Montana while the federal government owns around another third. The brothers rent the land from the state and the feds to graze their 2,000 head of cattle.

I am a rancher, so I crunched the numbers. The current rate charged for a cow unit on private land in Montana is about $25 per month. The Koch Brothers have historically paid $6.50 per month on state of Montana land and $1.50 on federal land. So let’s add up the subsidy:

• Assume one-third of the cattle stay on Koch land and two-thirds on government land. Cattle only graze nine months of the year, and eat hay the other three months. That’s a pretty normal Montana cattle operation. Let’s look at it closer:

• First, the Montana subsidy. 666 cattle times nine months, with a subsidy of $18.50 per month (a $25 private lease minus the state rate of $6.50), for a whopping Montana subsidy of $110,889 per year, times the 50 years of ownership, for a grand total of $5,544,450.

• Now, for the federal subsidy. Take 666 cattle times nine months, with a subsidy of $23.50 per month (a $25 private lease minus the federal rate of $1.50), for a federal subsidy of $140,859 per year, times 50 years – a very generous $7,042,950.

Yup, the Koch Brothers got some 12.5 million bucks in government subsidies to pay 11 AFP staffers to intimidate and hoodwink the Montana Legislature into rejecting hundreds of millions of federal dollars annually for healthcare of 70,000 Montana citizens, which would create thousands of Montana jobs, many at rural hospitals in areas represented by Responsible Republican legislators.

The Affordable Care Act did some good things, like covering people with pre-existing conditions and mental illness, not allowing women to be charged more than men for healthcare and covering all Americans so that those of us who pay for insurance aren’t stuck paying higher fees because of cost shift from those who do not. The law was a give-away to big insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies who continue to charge three to 10 times more in the USA than they do in the rest of the world. Responsible Republicans have made the point: This law is not perfect and Congress should fix the law’s problems and save the good features.

Meanwhile, Responsible Republicans in the tradition of Lincoln, Ted Roosevelt, Reagan and Bohlinger should stand up to the far right, stand with Montana and use the federal Medicaid health dollars in Montana in the same way they support federal dollars for Medicare, highway contractors, farmers, ranchers (including Koch Brothers), veterans, the National Guard, Malmstrom, and our universities. We pay federal income tax like folks in the other 50 states. Why allow our share to go to healthcare in other states?

Brian Schweitzer is a former governor of Montana.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:30

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