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Medicaid impasse: Tea Party pushes around a Nerd

This week on It’s Just Politics, we break down the breakdown over the Medicaid expansion. We’re thinking a bit about Mick Jagger right now (something along the lines of, “You can’t always get what you want") and Jagger might just have been singing that tune for Governor Snyder, who, yesterday, was once again denied by the Michigan Legislature. This time, by the state Senate, they left town, out-of-dodge for the summer apparently, without voting on an expansion of Medicaid.

The Medicaid expansion is the governor’s top policy objective at the moment and, so, Mr. Relentless Positive Action ain’t too happy. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘angry,’ but, obviously this is not my normal demeanor. What word you’d like to put on it, I’ll leave it to you.”

Peeved? Vexed? Splenetic. We’ll step away from the thesaurus, now, and breakdown this breakdown. First of all, Rick Snyder played a big part in creating this problem for himself. He and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley were both missing during some critical days of these negotiations. This was the final week of session before the Legislature’s summer break and, yet, face-to-face Medicaid negotiations were delegated while the governor went on a trade trip to Israel and the lieutenant governor was on a tour of the U.P.

Both of those trips were cut short as things melted down in Lansing, but precious time was lost. There are things only a governor can promise and he has to be in the room to do it. But, the governor may have set the stage for this impasse two summers ago when he signed into law the new legislative district maps; a lot of very safe Republican seats. When you do that, you also give outsize influence to the more extreme elements of your party. No wonder you can’t get Republicans to support you, governor. That’s how you set it up.

So, now, Snyder is calling on all Michiganders to harangue their Republican state senators until they high-tail it back to Lansing. But the Tea Party isn’t going away. Neither is Americans for Prosperity. Michigan Director Scott Hagerstrom says that group is also making summer plans, “ We’re going to do a grassroots tour across the state of Michigan where Medicaid expansion will be a big part of that, and then we’re going to be running radio ads.”  The Nerd is facing his own Tea Party issues. A group of well-known Tea Party leaders released a letter last week, saying the movement should sit out next year’s governor’s race because Snyder is not sufficiently conservative. We’ll see how that plays out. We don’t even know how
influential these people are in a movement that prides itself on being leaderless.

And Rick Snyder was never a Tea Partier in the first place. He didn’t go to rallies. Other Republicans did, but not the Nerd. And he was still able to win a Republican primary. Would a Tea Party boycott of the top of the ticket make a difference if it’s close next year?

Speaking of the governor’s race, Democrat Mark Schauer is jumping into the fracas, telling the Nerd to man-up and call the Legislature back to Lansing for a special session; to start vetoing bills from fellow Republicans; basically, telling the governor how to be a governor. And, as the prospective challenger, Mark Schauer gets to do that without having to actually deal with the reality of the situation. It’s not clear the governor can call a special session unless the Legislature adjourns for the year with no specific plans to return.

So, it’s hard to think of any winners in all of this. But, if there was one it is Jase Bolger. The wiley Republican House speaker once again showed that when he says something’s going to happen in Lansing, it happens. The Tea Party certainly didn’t stop him. The Medicaid expansion was a tough vote in the state House. Bolger had to abandon the “Hastert Rule;” named for ex-U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. That’s the one that says it takes a majority of the majority party to get anything done. Bolger put together a working majority of Democrats and Republicans to win state House approval of the Medicaid expansion. And that was a politically hard vote for some of those Republicans, especially ones swept into office in the Tea Party revolt of 2010.

And, by the way, House Republicans are not very happy now, with how they’ve been left by their Senate Republican counterparts. So, the question is can these pieces be put together in less than a month. Governor Snyder says it’s got to get done by then or almost half a million uninsured working Michiganders will continue to go without health coverage.

And how will this play out as - or, if - the governor goes toe-to-toe with Republicans who don’t want to support the Common Core education standards and road revenue. This dynamic will play out over a bunch of issues and most certainly will be part of next year’s race for governor.

So, as of now, the governor seems to be re-tooling and testing the bully pulpit and the power of his office against that of these Senate Republicans AND the Tea Party AND Americans for Prosperity AND the Democrats.

We're going to find out how tough One Tough Nerd can really be.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
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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