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Stuck between a rock and a hard place: Moderate state Republicans post-healthcare ruling

Photo courtesy of the Snyder Administration

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is officially the law of the land.  The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. The health and welfare of millions of people right here in Michigan is at stake. And, it has broad policy implications. But, of course, this is It's Just Politics... which means Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and Zoe Clark, Michigan Radio's resident political junkie, are not talking policy but, instead, the politics of the Court's decision.

Rick Pluta: A couple of weeks ago we had the Left galvanizing around what’s become known as “Vagina-gate.” A couple of female lawmakers sanctioned, silenced for a day, by state House Republican leaders for things said during a heated abortion debate. It gave the Left a memorable moment to create what appears to be a stark choice to get their people out in November. Now, the Right has this health care decision. Attorney General Bill Schuette – one of the state’s top Republicans and Mitt Romney’s Michigan campaign chair - says this decision is also a political tool.

Bill Schuette: "This decision, I believe, is going to raise the stakes in November. I think it will energize, it will cause a firestorm of protest to be exhibited in the ballot box in November and I think, in the end, it is going to be one of the things that is going to cause Mitt Romney to be the next President."

Zoe Clark: And, so, the Right is incensed. They’re going to use this issue to get out the vote in November, to protest this decision. And Schuette also says, in effect, don’t let this issue whither on the vine.

RP: Right. There are things the state has to start doing to comply with the health care law. The most immediate one is to create these so-called healthcare exchanges where people and businesses can shop online for coverage. And the attorney general is counseling the legislature: Don’t do it. And, of course, Governor Snyder has called for these exchanges. Snyder is not a fan of the law but he is a fan of the exchanges and says it would be a mistake to wait to implement them.

ZC: So, Rick, this seems to be just one more issue where we're seeing division between the very conservative Attorney General, Bill Schuette, and a more-moderate Governor, Rick Snyder.

RP: Indeed. Schuette is positioning himself to the philosophical, ideological right of Governor Snyder, who is in the practical center. Also in the mix is Americans for Prosperity - a well-known conservative, Libertarian group - anti-taxi, anti-big government - and setting itself up as perhaps the Number One ideological foe of Rick Snyder.

Now, the state Senate has approved the healthcare exchanges. They've made the practical decision that if that is what the law calls for then the state should not risk being put into a vast federal exchange. Now, that legislation is sitting in the state House. Speaker Jase Bolger says the House will approve the healthcare exchange. But, he hasn't said when they'll do that - before or after the November election.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity and it's Michigan director, a former legislative staffer named Scott Hagerstrom, has thrown down on this. Hagerstrom sent out a message yesterday saying silence on the question of creating the Snyder/Obama healthcare takeover- what he calls the exchanges - is not sufficient. He wants a commitment from state Republican lawmakers: No vote.

ZC: So, what does this mean, then, for moderate Republicans in the state House. For example, Representative Wayne Schmidt from Traverse City. He has a Tea Party opponent on the August primary ballot. This puts him and fellow Moderates at risk.

RP:  That's right. Representative Schmidt is in an awkward position. And, state House Health Policy Committee Chair Gail Haines says no committee vote on the exchanges before November. That’s significant, but not necessarily the last word. This has really become a debate on what it really means to be a conservative in Michigan.

ZC: So, it's been a little more than 24 hour now since the Supreme Court decision came down and we've got state Attorney General Bill Schuette - very much to the right - we've got Speaker of the House Jase Bolger - he's not showing his cards yet on when he'll take the issue of healthcare exchanges up in the House - and, finally, moderate-Governor Snyder... What happens next? Where do things go from here?

RP: Well, that's an open question. It's a standoff. Do Republicans go with their governor, follow the law, make  the arrangements and not risk losing millions of dollars in federal planning grants? Or do House Republicans go political: Take a stand against the law and use it as an election tool, keep their voters angry and galvanized and ready to head to the polls come November?

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public'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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