You probably know the old story about the man who kept hitting himself in the head with a hammer. When asked why, he grinned happily and said, “because it feels so good when I stop.”
Well, the Michigan Legislature reminds me of that, with two big differences. We have begun to regard their nutty behavior as normal, and unlike the guy with the hammer, they show no signs of stopping.
Politically, Michigan is a moderate to liberal state. The state hasn’t voted Republican for president in 25 years. Republicans have lost every U.S. Senate election except one over the last 40 years.
We aren’t right-wing extremists. Except in the legislature, which is controlled by ideologues out of touch with the reality the rest of us live in. I’m not talking about conservatives. Good intelligent conservatives from Arthur Vandenberg to Gerald Ford have helped make this state great. I’m talking about people who substitute ideology for common sense.
There are left-wing nuts too. They meet in basements and fight over whether Leon Trotsky or Mao Zedong’s revolution is the right one. They are crazy, but we don’t elect them to run anything. But the other side is ruining our state.
Consider this: Experts agree our roads are falling apart. If we don’t spend money to fix them now, we’ll have to spend a lot more money so that we don’t have to fix them later. Our Republican governor gets this, and wants us to tax ourselves to fix the roads.
Our legislators say absolutely not. Some think all taxes are bad. Others fear that if they support such a common sense measure, they will be defeated by other anti-tax zealots next time they run for office. So we are doomed to become even less competitive.
Here’s a second example: The governor, who nobody would call a liberal, wants to take advantage of a federal offer to extend Medicaid eligibility to nearly half a million people.
Michigan would pay nothing at first, and never more than 10 percent of the cost. This would save the health care system vast amounts, and stop these folks going to emergency rooms for primary care. But the legislature won’t do that either. And yesterday, a House committee stripped out of the budget money the governor wanted to expand dental coverage for kids, and mental health services for veterans.
Finally, there‘s the health care exchange. Most of President Obama‘s health care plan kicks in next year, and the state is supposed to design an exchange, which is a way for Michigan residents to compare plans when shopping for health insurance.
We were supposed to do this after “Obamacare” was passed. But Republicans in the legislature first refused, because they said the Supreme Court would rule it unconstitutional. That didn’t happen.
Next they refused because they said Mitt Romney would be elected and repeal Obamacare. Guess what. It’s here to stay. But the legislature still refuses to approve it.
Know what effect this will have? The federal government will do it, and instead of them giving us $31 million to design it, we will have to give the federal government $9 million to do it for us.
Something is radically wrong. And we need to figure out some way to take back control of the asylum, soon.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.