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Michigan governor slams Senate Republicans for taking summer break without Medicaid vote

courtesy of Richardville's office

Governor Rick Snyder is calling on state Senate Republicans to return to Lansing.

That’s after the Senate adjourned for its summer recess without voting on a Medicaid expansion under the new federal healthcare law.

The episode left hard feelings, and dimming prospects for extending health coverage to many thousands of low-income working households.

One Tough Nerd angered by lack of action

The relentlessly positive Governor Snyder was plainly frustrated as he lashed out at his fellow Republicans in the Senate for leaving without approving the Medicaid expansion.

"Take a vote, not a vacation," Gov. Snyder scolded.

“Take a vote, not a vacation,” Snyder scolded.

Governor Snyder had cut short a trade mission to Israel to return to Lansing in hopes the gesture and a personal appeal would change the outcome.

Instead the negotiations collapsed – if they ever actually started. That’s after a bipartisan coalition of votes got the measure through the state House last week.

The governor says that was a tough vote for many Republicans to support enacting a part of "Obamacare."

And it appeared there was a deal for Senate Republicans to follow suit, but that was never the case, says Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.

"I don't view it as insignificant that I'm standing here in a press conference asking 10 million people to bug the living daylights out of their senator until they come vote on something," Gov. Snyder said.

“It’s not really a responsible thing to say, 'take a vote, not a vacation' when we are the deliberative body and are going to take a hard look at something,” Richardville commented.

Richardville says a state Senate committee and a workgroup will spend the summer to try and develop something Republicans there can support.

But Governor Snyder says waiting until the Senate returns in August is too late. The governor says his plan is to harness public opinion to get the Senate to act in the next 15 to 20 days.

“I don’t view it as insignificant that I’m standing here in a press conference asking 10 million people to bug the living daylights out of their senator until they come vote on something,” Snyder said.

Michigan's Tea Party to support Senators

But Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations say they won’t be quiet during that time either.

Scott Hagerstrom with Americans for Prosperity says his organization will back lawmakers who opposed the expansion.

“They were quite brave. They stood up to their own Republican governor and did the right thing. My hats off to them. A lot of respect to those Republican senators,” Hagerstrom said.

"They were quite brave. They stood up to their own Republican governor and did the right thing..."

This is now largely a fight between conservatives who say Republicans should not cooperate with enacting "Obamacare," and Republicans who say it’s now the law of the land and it’s time to make the best of it.

James Havemen is the director of the state Department of Community Health and the cabinet official responsible for implementing the Medicaid expansion.

He says time isn’t growing short – it’s practically run out, and there’s a lot at stake. It would cut in half the number of uninsured people in Michigan who rely on emergency rooms for health care.  

“The whole idea is to move healthcare from a curative model so people don’t wait till they’ve got Stage 4 cancer, but to be involved in preventive care and engage with a physician to go to work on chronic conditions," Havemen said. "I mean, 70 percent of the health costs in this state are related to chronic conditions. We can do better than that.”

One of the frustrations for Haveman – and Governor Snyder – is there were apparently enough votes in the Senate to pass the Medicaid expansion. If all 12 Senate Democrats went along, it would take only eight Republicans to get it passed.

But the Michigan Senate, like the state House, operates under a rule that requires more than half the members of the majority party to agree to put a question up for a vote. With rare exceptions, legislation otherwise languishes. The governor said this was an instance where the rule should have been set aside.

The state of Medicaid expansion in the U.S. (last updated May 2, 2013)
Credit Avalere Health, LLC
The state of Medicaid expansion in the U.S.

The experience of other Republican Governors

Snyder is one of a handful of Republican governors across the nation who’ve tussled with their Republican legislators on Medicaid.

In Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer carried through on a threat to veto all legislation sent to her desk until the Legislature there adopted a Medicaid expansion that she signed into law this week.

Governor Snyder’s strategy is to hope enough constituents will ruin enough senators’ summer breaks to get them back to Lansing.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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