Capital Beat: Collapse of Medicaid session could portend a nasty 2014 at State House
It wasn’t exactly the Era of Good Feelings. There were any number of floor fights, procedural stunts, bruised egos and partisan attacks.
All in all, though, 2013 was a pretty calm year at the State House. The lines of communication were open among House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. People tried to be polite. And six months of lawmaking ended in June with just about everyone taking credit for a new state budget that passed with nearly unanimous support.
But if the denouement of the special session on Medicaid expansion is any indication, 2014 could be a lot nastier.
The second year of the Legislature’s session is an election year, so partisan politics was always going to be a factor. But a harsher edge seemed to emerge last week amid the collapse of negotiations to craft a compromise plan to expand Medicaid.
Democrats were united in blaming Senate Republicans for refusing to budge. House Speaker Terie Norelli said the Senate “has let down the people.” Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen said Senate Democrats were “deeply disappointed.” And Hassan implied there could be consequences in the 2014 election.
“We will keep working and there will be more votes. I hope that at some point, a few Senate Republicans will set ideology aside and step forward to do what is right,” Hassan said. “Until then, it is the people who are hurt, and it is the people whom senators must answer to.”
As for the Senate Republicans, President Chuck Morse and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley made clear they want to keep talking and try to reach a deal on Medicaid expansion next year. But Bradley also lambasted Hassan, who held events across the state urging senators to support expansion, for contaminating the negotiations with partisan grandstanding.
“We’ve seen in the last week that instead of people being serious, it’s been politicized,” he said.
Continuing to negotiate also means Senate GOP leaders will continue to take fire from groups and activists on the right who oppose any deal to expand Medicaid: Cornerstone, Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, the Granite Grok crowd and others.
The 13-member Senate GOP caucus fractured Thursday. But it wasn’t a couple of moderate Republicans joining the 11 Democrats to pass House-endorsed legislation – a scenario Democrats have been hoping to engineer all year. It was a break on the right, with Sens. Andy Sanborn, Sharon Carson and Russell Prescott declining to back their leadership’s own expansion plan.
In the end, Morse and Bradley couldn’t muster enough votes to pass any plan, settling for tabling a bill and, on a party-line vote, killing the House’s plan.
On Medicaid expansion, the negotiations will continue. Lawmakers have more than a month to lick their wounds before they return for the second year of the regular session. And 2014 will feature a number of bills where support and opposition are likely to cut across party lines, such as expanded gambling and abolishing the death penalty.
But don’t be surprised if there’s a little less civility in the halls of the State House come January.
Saving some trees
The Executive Council’s agendas can run to hundreds of items every few weeks – state contracts and other items that must be reviewed, discussed and approved by five duly elected state officials.
That can mean a lot of paper printouts. But Councilor Colin Van Ostern has decided to start sparing a few trees.
The Concord Democrat says he’s asked the Department of Administrative Services to stop printing a packet for him, starting with last week’s meeting. Instead, he’s reading the packet as a PDF file on his iPad.
“This is a small step towards a more modern and efficient process, but for anyone who has ever sat through an Executive Council meeting with 10,000-plus-page stacks of paper in front of each councilor and felt like we are still living in the last century, I think it is a welcome one,” Van Ostern wrote in an email.
New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators split last week as Senate Democrats detonated the so-called “nuclear option.”
That’s the scary name for a procedural issue with far-reaching consequences: ending the use of the filibuster for most presidential nominations to federal agencies and courts. Thursday’s 52-48 vote means President Obama’s nominees can be approved with a simple majority rather than needing 60 votes.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen voted with most of her fellow Democrats to change the rule. “For too long qualified nominees have been denied up-or-down votes due to partisan gridlock,” Shaheen said in a statement. “We passed necessary reforms today to end this unprecedented obstruction.”
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte voted with other Republicans to keep the rule in place.
“The Democrats’ vote to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ and fundamentally change the rules of the Senate is a raw power grab which is deeply disappointing,” Ayotte said in a statement. “Like the manner in which they rammed through Obamacare on party-line votes, they have now broken the rules of the Senate to allow them to do the same for the president’s executive and judicial nominees.”
Dan Innis has a new inn.
The congressional candidate and his husband, Doug Palardy, sold their Ale House Inn in Portsmouth earlier this month, and last week bought the Sise Inn. They plan to reopen it this spring under a new name, The Hotel Portsmouth, according to The Portsmouth Herald.
Innis stepped down Nov. 1 as dean of the University of New Hampshire’s business school. A Republican, he’s running for the U.S. House in the 1st District next year.
NBC News last week put out a list of the seven most vulnerable Democratic-held governor’s offices in 2014.
No. 6: New Hampshire.
It’s worth noting that NBC is swimming against the tide by considering Hassan vulnerable for re-election next November.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato rates the race “likely” Democrat. The Rothenberg Political Report rates it “currently safe” Democrat. And The Cook Political Report rates it “likely” Democrat, meaning the race is “not considered competitive at this point but (has) the potential to become engaged.”
Frank Guinta and Gary Lambert are getting some help from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
They were among 36 candidates named last week to NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, at the lowest of three levels, “On the Radar.” Guinta is running in 2014 for his old U.S. House seat in New Hampshire’s 1st District, while former state senator Lambert is running in the 2nd District.
“I am confident that these candidates will continue to work hard for their communities and their campaigns as we head into the 2014 election year,” said Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the NRCC’s chairman, in a news release.
It’s interesting the NRCC seems willing to step into contested Republican primaries. Guinta and Innis are both seeking the GOP nomination in the 1st District, and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia is said to be considering a run in the 2nd District.
∎ Be sure to wish a happy birthday tomorrow to former governor John Lynch.
∎ Mothers Against Drunk Driving has named House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff its 2013 New Hampshire “Legislative Champion” for the Penacook Democrat’s bill expanding the use of ignition interlock devices.
∎ Robin Comstock will step down Feb. 6 as president and chief executive officer of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. She’s held the job since 2001.
∎ Jon Huntsman will be at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College tomorrow evening to deliver a lecture, “U.S. and Asia: Current Political Trends and Opportunities.” The former Utah governor and ambassador to China ran for president in 2012, finishing third in New Hampshire before dropping out.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)