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Medicaid is the cure for Snyder's summertime blues

The Legislature’s off on its summer recess and Governor Rick Snyder is on a Pure Michigan tour of Republican senators’ districts to hammer them for leaving Lansing without voting on his top policy priority, the Medicaid expansion.

We are now atanother point in this administration where Governor Snyder is trying to grab hold of the Lansing agenda and shape it to his liking. This is the Nerd’s version of offense: hitting members’ districts, trying to engage the public to compel recalcitrant Republicans to interrupt their summer recess to approve the Medicaid expansion, something that is fiercely opposed by the Tea Party.

And, that’s a good reason why state Senate Republicans, out of principle, political expediency or both, have not been able to get a majority of the GOP caucus to support the expansion – or, at least, putting the question up for a vote. Which is what’s so frustrating to Governor Snyder, who thinks there are enough votes in the state Senate to support the Medicaid expansion. It’s just that most of the votes are Democrats. Twelve of them; we’re pretty sure they’d all vote for it. Which means it would only take eight Republican senators to pass it or, seven Republican senators with Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley casting the tie-breaking vote.

This morning there was perhaps a small breakthrough, that’s when state Senate Republican leader Randy Richardville said that the Senate Government Operations Committee will meet next week to outline a process for the legislation. But does that mean the Medicaid legislation is suddenly on a fast track to get done, or does this just help buy the Senate Republicans some time? We’re not hearing a commitment to return before late August, which Governor Snyder says is too late.

So, it raises the question: what happens if the Senate doesn’t act before then (that’s if it acts at all)? If it’s passed later than the deadline, the state might have to delay enrolling people. Michigan would still have an expanded Medicaid program, but could lose a month or two of full federal funding. The governor has not really set a hard deadline, he’s just said that August is too late.

So, here’s Snyder, trying to use his bully pulpit, trying to engage the public and mobilize interest groups to get this done. And, it’s certainly not just Snyder invested in this legislation. Business groups, hospitals, insurance companies all have a stake in this. The AARP, the Small Business Association of Michigan, to name just two, are calling on its members to contact their senators. The administration actually has a fair amount of experience with this type of campaign.

But not to any great effect. The governor could never get all the way with the Legislature on approving a new international bridge in Detroit, on health insurance exchanges, or road funding. In the case of the bridge, the governor just cut his own deal with Canada. There really is no workaround on Medicaid like there was with the bridge.

And, when you look at how these things get done, public engagement campaigns typically take years; the governor and his allies are trying to pull this off in weeks. Typically, when there’s a knotty issue, it gets handled in work groups. Interest groups, policy experts and legislators work things out largely out of the public eye. Engaging the public directly on a question adds time and complexity.

But, the administration and interest groups think they see a clearer path with Medicaid than, say, with the bridge, because so many people have a personal stake in this issue: Health coverage for half a million Michiganders who don’t have it. Many of them will have to pay penalties if they don’t buy coverage. There’s also the penalty for businesses that don’t cover their employees.

And it’s not just the Medicaid expansion at stake here. There’s the governor’s reputation - his street cred, that combination of fear and comity that a governor uses to get his or her way. What might a Medicaid defeat bode for the governor’s next big policy objective, road funding, and other issues where he’s facing vociferous Tea Party opposition...

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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