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Tea Party looks to fight over every step of Medicaid expansion

"War." That was the headline on the conservative blog “Right Michigan” following the state Senate’s vote this week to approve the Medicaid expansion. The GOP right, the Tea Party, say this is a vote that will not be forgotten – political collusion with the loathed and dreaded Obamacare by eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to get it passed.

Make that nine Tea Party targets if you count Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, who was not forced to but stood ready to cast a tie-breaking vote if it was needed to get the expansion passed.

Last week, we outlined the political challenges facing Calley and, since then, a Tea Party opponent emerged. Wes Nakagiri says he is putting together a campaign to oust and replace Calley next year at a Republican state convention.

Calley, meanwhile, has gone on counter-offense, adopting the vernacular of the Tea Party, and sending out communications heavily laden with words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “conservative.” He is also touting the endorsement of Congressman Justin Amash, a favorite of the “liberty” wing of the Republican coalition.

All of this is an effort to begin to re-set the conversation after the Senate vote. But there is still more road to travel before the Medicaid expansion is complete. The state House must adopt the Senate version to get it to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.  The governor is actually delaying a trade-building mission to China and Japan to be on hand. (Remember, he rushed back from Israel after the Medicaid expansion stalled in the Senate earlier this summer.) It’s a good bet he’d like to sign the bill before joining the trade trip later in the week.

But, before everything rolls over to the House, there’s one more thing the Senate needs to deal with. And it’s been awhile since we’ve had a spirited dust-up over that critical but usually overlooked procedural element of Michigan lawmaking: The “immediate effect” motion.

The framers of the Michigan Constitution did not want Michigan’s citizens and businesses to have new laws foisted on them without warning. So the state constitution says new laws don’t take effect until 90 days after the conclusion of the Legislature’s session for the year. Except in cases where the Legislature decides it’s important enough to enact a law sooner, then it can suspends that constitutional provision with two-thirds super-majority votes in the House and Senate to give a new law what’s called “immediate effect.”

Over the years, it’s become routine to tack “immediate effect” onto legislation without much thought or controversy.  But every now and then, this troublesome little constitutional requirement causes a kerfuffle.

We’ve talked about this before. Last year, in the state House, Democrats took the Republican majority to court for passing “immediate effect” motions with a quick bang of the gavel and without formally counting the votes. That meant “immediate effect” motions on some controversial bills were being adopted even when it was mathematically not possible. But, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the judicial branch should not tell the legislative branch how to count votes.

The Senate handles immediate effect votes a little differently than the House. Motions for record roll calls votes on “immediate effect” are typically honored – but the Senate also has a tradition that once a bill is adopted, the losers won’t hold things up by denying it an “immediate effect” super-majority.

But not this week, when enough incensed Republicans on the losing side refused to support the motion, potentially delaying the Medicaid expansion into the spring, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid, forcing some un-insured working poor to pay penalties under the federal healthcare law for not having coverage.

So, the Senate’s probably going to try again on Tuesday. It won’t take that many Republicans, two more, to get that super-majority. Or, maybe the Senate will try what’s called a “fast gavel” – make the motion, bang the gavel and call it good.

All of this would happen under the watchful and suspicious eyes of the Tea Party. They say cooperation on a process question is still too much cooperation with Obamacare.

But they may have yet another fight on their hands. Michigan did not adopt a state-run exchange for consumers to shop for health coverage. That was also part of the Affordable Care Act. The Legislature refused, which put Michigan into the federally operated exchange. But it also meant that Michigan lost on money to put together a campaign to let people know about the expansion and encourage enrollments. Because if people don’t enroll, what was all this for? So, the Snyder administration might have to ask the Legislature for money to conduct a public information campaign. It’ll be another chance to rehash these arguments.

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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