I don’t think we’ve ever seen Governor Rick Snyder really angry before. But he was yesterday. He’d cut a trade mission in Israel short to rush back to Lansing to try and pass the Medicaid expansion.
But while the state house of representatives did so a few days ago, the Michigan Senate refused to even take a vote despite the governor’s pleas. This means hundreds of thousands of Michiganders will remain without health care coverage.
They could have been made eligible for Medicaid without a dollar in cost to the state for a couple years. After that, Michigan would never pay more than a small fraction of the cost, and save far more than that in a variety of ways, including the benefits of a healthier workforce. So why did the Senate refuse?
Simple. A few are so-called Tea Party members, a fervently anti-intellectual group whose platform consists basically of hysterically claiming that big government is bad, and that raising taxes for any reason, is even worse.
Others are afraid of being challenged in Republican primaries by those even further to the right than they.
Now, if you remember civics class, our elected representatives are supposed to occasionally take principled stands for the good of the people. They aren’t, after all, risking being hanged, as our Founding Fathers were. The worst that could happen to them is losing a seventy thousand a year job that term limits will make them give up in a few years anyway,
Yet faced with what they thought was a difficult choice yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville chose to cut and run, dismissing the senate for their summer vacation even after the governor pleaded: “Our senators need to take a vote not a vacation.” Snyder called their behavior unacceptable.
But Richardville ran for cover, giving this bizarre explanation: “Members of my caucus have been working hard to improve upon something that was hoisted (I think he meant foisted) on a federal government that had very little consideration for the impact of this program upon the taxpayers of Michigan.” Richardville said they needed the summer to think about it. The fact is that the federal government’s proposal would have saved taxpayers money. What the senators couldn’t figure out is how to take that money while appeasing the crazies.
Last week, a high-ranking source told me as many as eleven of the twenty-six Republican senators were willing to vote for Medicaid expansion, which, with the Democrats, would be more than enough to pass it, But for cover, Richardville was insisting there would be no vote unless he had a majority of his caucus, or thirteen.
There is a lesson here for Rick Snyder, and anyone with any desire to show statesmanship: Stop trying to appease the far right and stand up to them. Snyder has pandered to the Tea Party for two years. His reward was for them to circulate an open letter last week calling for his defeat for inviting the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to come and visit Michigan.
Wasting taxpayer dollars is indeed a bad thing.
But for our elected representatives to act against our interests is possibly the worst abuse of all.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.