Commentary: Snyder spread too thin?

Apr 19, 2013

There was a lot of criticism of President Obama for devoting so much time to his health care plan during his first year and a half in office. Some felt he should have also tried to get through a massive job creation plan, or a program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. However, he did succeed at getting what we now call “Obamacare” passed, and it is now transforming medical coverage.

Yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder unveiled a massive new program of his own, a revolutionary proposal that would change how much insurance companies pay victims of catastrophic auto accidents. Currently, Michigan is the most generous state in the nation when it comes to taking care of the severely injured.

Exactly what effect the governor’s proposal would have is both unclear and in dispute, and the legislation hasn’t even been introduced yet. There are those, including some Republicans, who think it will mean new billions in profits for insurance companies, and less coverage for injured citizens.

I am not taking sides on this, in part because we don’t yet know enough about it. But my guess is that this won’t be easy to get through the legislature.

And this also raises another significant issue: Is the governor trying to do too much? Is he trying to get so many different sweeping changes that he risks succeeding with none of them? There’s increasing evidence this may be so.

The governor did get a lot accomplished, more than anyone expected, his first year in office. But he had just been elected by a landslide, had a friendly legislature, some of them swept in on his coattails, and there’s a natural tendency to support someone through their so-called honeymoon period. However, that time is long past.

Some months before this new proposal to cap auto accident benefits, the governor announced that he was fully committed to his agenda to raise $1.2 billion a year to fix the roads. But his plan for how to do this was contemptuously ignored by the legislature, which is now talking about boosting the sales tax. But it’s not at all clear if they are going to approve any new money for our roads.

The governor also wanted his fellow Republicans to create a new health care exchange to help Michigan residents weigh their Obamacare options. The lawmakers refused.

Snyder is also still trying to get them to accept free federal money to add hundreds of thousands of uninsured Michiganders to Medicaid. But so far, he has failed at that too.  You have to wonder whether he is spreading his political capital too thin.

Many of the votes he needs are from lawmakers who are more conservative than he is, and who could be facing a formidable primary or general election challenger next year.

Governors do have considerable clout, and Snyder had more early success than most. But next year is an election year, every seat is up, and the governor’s priorities are bound to take a back seat to political survival.

The governor still may be able to persuade lawmakers to do one politically difficult thing. But probably not everything. For now his top priority may be to simply, and seriously, prioritize.

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.