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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: On Medicaid and gas tax, it’s Republicans vs. Republicans

A Medicaid expansion plan under way in the Senate is a “gateway drug to socialism in the Granite State” and will create a “whole new class of Obamacare victim.”

A gas tax increase would “punish working families” and force them to pay more at the pump “simply because Gov. (Maggie) Hassan is unwilling to do her job and look for ways to control spending.”

These are some of the most fiery statements by right-leaning groups – the Republican Liberty Caucus, Americans for Prosperity and the New Hampshire Republican Party itself, respectively – on two proposals that have recently come out of the state Senate.

Both proposals were introduced by Republicans.

This party infighting mirrors the national narrative of a Republican Party struggling to find its identity. Just last week, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said during a visit to Concord that the Tea Party needs to “mature” and learn how to compromise. But days later in Manchester, his House colleague Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said healthy debate in the party is a good thing.

Here in New Hampshire, is anyone listening?

“I don’t know that citizens at large are paying a lot of attention to intra-party fights over this issue or that,” said Dante Scala, associate political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. But “in the face of a Democratic incumbent, it does beg the question of who could unite Republicans against this governor and bring together different parts of the party.”

Medicaid expansion – or the “health protection plan,” as Republicans like to call it – was introduced by six senators, including Republican Senate President Chuck Morse, Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Sen. Bob Odell.

Independent groups Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, which frequently promote right-wing economic policies, have promised to “hold accountable” legislators who support the plan. The ultra-right Republican Liberty Caucus says it has at least 10 candidates it can run in November against senators who support the bill.

Both the Manchester and Rockingham County Republican Committees announced opposition to the plan this week in an effort to “send a message to all of the Republican senators,” Manchester chairwoman Tammy Simmons said in a statement.

Among lawmakers, the conservative House Republican Alliance, a faction of the Republican caucus, has also been strong in its opposition to both Medicaid expansion and the gas tax. Rep. Pam Tucker, a Greenland Republican, said the group will work to convince senators that both bills are bad for the state. And division already exists within the Senate GOP caucus. Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford was vocal in his opposition to the health-care bill during last week’s hearing.

But debate within the party isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Tucker said.

“As Republicans, we don’t all march lock step and all vote the same way; we all have different opinions,” she said. “We have to report to our constituents first, and that might mean you vote a little bit different than another Republican.”

Different opinions on Medicaid between House and Senate Republicans reflects a tension that’s existed between the two chambers for several years, Scala said.

Even when Republicans controlled both chambers after the 2010 election, Senate and House members often disagreed.

“I think Senate Republicans have a reputation for being, despite their rhetoric, being willing to deal and to compromise,” Scala said.

The divide over the gas tax increase, meanwhile, is pitting Republican senators against one another more than Medicaid. Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, is the prime sponsor of a bill that would increase the gas tax by 4 cents this year and in 2018 then tie increases to the consumer price index. Republican Sens. Nancy Stiles of Hampton and David Boutin of Hooksett are cosponsors.

But Republican leaders Morse and Bradley and the state party are no fans of the bill. Notably, the state party has been careful to slam Hassan for her pledge to sign the bill without mentioning Rausch’s name.

The party has also taken to Twitter to criticize Democratic co-sponsor Rep. David Campbell of Nashua.) It’s a careful dance meant to knock Hassan down without taking one of their own, too.

But in the end, none of these intra-party politics will matter if right-wing groups don’t follow through on their pledge to recruit competitive candidates to challenge certain Senate Republicans in the party primary.

“Compromise is a bad word to some conservative groups. Are they willing to back that up with a quality candidate and with real money behind the candidate? That’s when things, I think, get serious,” Scala said.

Senate Republicans don’t seem to be worried.

“If they think they’re going to get a more liberty-minded person than me up there, then good luck to them,” Sen. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican, told the Monitor last week after his committee vote in support of Medicaid expansion.

Hassan: Medicaid good, CBO bad

While Republicans fight over Medicaid expansion, Hassan, a Democrat, showed her support for the plan while acknowledging there’s still work to be done, in a Friday interview on Bloomberg Television.

“We are going to have some challenges implementing this. Every new project is like this, I think. But we are confident that the bipartisan nature of the agreement we’ve just reached is a very good foundation for us to move forward,” Hassan told host Al Hunt.

The rollout of Obamacare has been frustrating and disastrous, but the overall goal of helping people obtain health care is on point with New Hampshire priorities, she said.

In the wide-ranging interview, Hassan challenged the Congressional Budget Office’s recent report that increasing the minimum wage could cost 500,000 jobs and touted a bill in the state Legislature to raise it in New Hampshire.

“When people have the financial security that an increase in the minimum wage would bring . . . to most families, then they have the confidence to buy more goods and services, so businesses have more customers, and that spurs economic growth,” Hassan said.

In response to several questions about recent Republican comments about women, Hassan shied away from labeling specific issues as “women’s issues.”

“I think, you know, we spend a lot of time trying to divide issues into women’s issues or not. Women’s issues are economic issues. They’re people issues. . . . I think women care about having the same opportunities as men do,” she said.

(Cash) race to the finish

With less than three weeks until the Executive Council District 1 special election, Democrat Mike Cryans is far exceeding Republican Joe Kenney in campaign cash and contributions. The election is March 11, which is also town meeting day.

Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 19, Cryans raised $38,747, more than double Kenney’s $13,756 haul, according to recent filings with the secretary of state. Cryans’s cash came from roughly five times as many donors as the 60 who gave to Kenney, meaning Kenney’s donors gave more on average.

Prominent Kenney donors include Bradley, Republican National Committeewoman Juliana Bergeron and former House Speaker Bill O’Brien.

Cryans received a $500 donation from former Democratic governor John Lynch and won the endorsement of three of Burton’s siblings last month.

The sprawling District 1 stretches from the Lakes Region to the Canadian border, encompassing 108 towns and four cities.

Turnout in the January primary for the race was miniscule, meaning getting out the vote will be key to either candidate’s success. Campaign finance reports show Cryans has spent about $18,700 of his latest haul, with about $5,000 of that going toward signs, mailings and pins. Kenney, in contrast, has spent about $1,000 on phone calls.

Where are the Democrats?

A long list of well-known Republicans are starting to make their way through New Hampshire, likely with their eyes on 2016.

Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was here last week, and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky will visit Manchester in April at an Americans for Prosperity event.

In March, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former U.S. senator Scott Brown and former-congressman-turned-TV-host Joe Scarborough will all attend the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua.

All have been discussed as potential 2016 candidates, although none have committed (why commit this early when you can win influence simply by hinting at a run?)

Among Democrats, however, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is the only potential 2016 candidate who’s traveled here recently.

At that event, party leaders said they’re still hoping for Hillary Clinton to get in the race. Other possible candidates are likely staying away until they get a better idea of Clinton’s plans.

But a “prominent Democrat” is scheduled to attend the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner on April 19. The party is staying mum on the guest’s identity for now.

Even if none of these early visitors choose to run in 2016, showing up in New Hampshire is an easy way to generate buzz that can turn into influence later.

As Issa said in Concord last week, “tonight I came here to hopefully shape the debate for 2016 – not join it, but shape it.”

Team Ayotte shakeup

The No. 2 man at the state Department of Labor, David Wihby, is joining U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s team as her state director in March. Orville “Bud” Fitch, her state director since 2011, will become legal counsel.

In his nearly 25 years at the labor department, constituent service was a big part of Wihby’s job, through creating or tweaking state regulations and solving problems, he said, skills which will translate well to his work on Ayotte’s team. He needs to get the lay of the land before making any changes but hopes to make Ayotte’s state organization better in any way he can, Wihby said.

Wihby has known Ayotte for almost 15 years and was working as counsel to former governor Craig Benson when Benson appointed Ayotte attorney general.

He said he’s not worried about leaving a permanent job for one that could be gone in 2016.

“(That) doesn’t worry me one bit, because I think the senator is doing a great job, and I think – well, I know – she can win re-election,” Whiby said. “I didn’t even think twice about that when I took the job.”

Take a breather

Lawmakers are on break this week, meaning there will be no House or Senate sessions. During the break, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Monitor’s State House coverage so far this session and suggestions on what issues you’d like to read more about.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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