After receiving 58 percent support in the last election, there was no question that Gov. Brad Little earned the right to be the state’s chief executive through 2022.
There were no “sideboards” requiring Little to share the job with the two worthy opponents he defeated in the Republican primary. Nor were there any hidden stipulations for Little to allow Democrat Paulette Jordan, who received 39 percent of the vote, to be governor 39 percent of the time. A majority of Idaho voters sent a clear message that they wanted Brad Little as their governor, and that’s what they got.
So, why is it so difficult for many House Republicans to accept the fact that 61 percent of Idaho voters approved Medicaid expansion? All legislators had to do this session is honor the wishes of the voters. It should have been easy.
But in politics, it’s not always so simple. Republicans, who have long scored Medicaid expansion as a creation of Obamacare, are well into the process of adding “sideboards” (work requirements) to expansion -- apparently to stop those government freeloaders who don’t work, don’t want to work and think they are better off by never working. The “sideboards” bill passed through the House Health and Welfare Committee, although almost everybody who testified thought it was a bad idea. Then the bill, sponsored by Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, sailed through the full House.
So, let’s get this straight. The House is attacking the problem by adding another layer of government bureaucracy and a potential enforcement nightmare. It’s a blind faith in government that I never thought I’d see from conservative Republicans.
Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, one of the few voices of reason in the debate, saw some irony in the House actions. He gracefully pointed out that legislators don’t have work requirements for serving three months out of the year, yet are eligible to receive full health care benefits. “I signed up here 13 years ago for this insurance,” he said. “Nobody yet has ever come around and asked me in July how many hours I worked.”
It’s well acknowledged that the vast majority of the estimated 91,000 people who would be eligible for Medicaid after expansion are working Idahoans who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford insurance under the state’s health exchange. They happen to be stuck in low-paying jobs, which should not come as a surprise in a state that’s known to be a low-wage state.
Vander Woude’s bill is not the final straw. It still has to go through the Senate, then to the governor – who may well be waiting with his veto stamp. Little has offered some clues about what he will, or will not, accept. According to a story in the Idaho Press, Little said he wanted a “landing pad” for Medicaid expansion that doesn’t over-complicate its implementation or result in unnecessary costs. It’s hard to see how Vander Woude’s bill meets Little’s standard.
Democrats, of course, want Medicaid expansion without stings – which is closer to the will of voters. They are fuming over Vander Woude’s latest effort, and understandably so.
“This bill is an affront to the nearly two-thirds of the state that voted to approve Medicaid expansion,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, the House assistant majority leader.
Little, for the most part, is sitting calmly while the legislative process runs its course. He’s not prone to political grandstanding, so don’t expect a series of news conferences or a lot of “tough talk.” If a bill is acceptable to him, he’ll sign it. Otherwise, he won’t.
The worst thing Little could do is let the Legislature go home after failing, again, to address the crisis facing some 90,000 people caught in the health care gap. Perhaps the best thing he can do is let the Legislature fight it out for as long as it takes. If the session ends in July, so be it.
But if the session runs that long, the governor might consider shutting off the air-conditioning in the legislative chambers – you know, just to save a little bit of money.