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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Bragdon takes center stage in Medicaid expansion fight

Senate President Peter Bragdon is standing between Gov. Maggie Hassan and an expanded Medicaid program in New Hampshire.

Hassan wants it, as do her fellow Democrats in the House and Senate. But Bragdon, a Milford Republican, is wary of, among other things, the federal government’s promise to pay 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years and at least 90 percent after that. After all, the longtime local school board member is fond of saying, Washington never followed through on promised funding for special education.

Budget negotiations begin in earnest tomorrow. Democrats who control the House and Republicans who control the Senate will spend long days hammering out a final budget for the biennium that begins July 1. And whether to expand Medicaid is the single biggest policy question that separates the two sides.

While Bragdon isn’t a member of the committee of conference, he won’t be far from the debate. He’s made Medicaid expansion a signature issue, setting down his gavel during the Senate’s June 6 budget debate to argue his case on the floor.

Bragdon led the Senate to propose the state study the expansion option rather than, as Hassan and the House want, immediately accept federal money that would help add an estimated 58,000 low-income residents to the program.

And Sen. Chuck Morse, the Salem Republican and chief Senate budget negotiator, struck a hard line Friday during the conference committee’s first meeting by declaring, “The Senate will not support expanding Medicaid as part of the budget.”

Bragdon said he’s open to some sort of “New Hampshire solution” on the question of Medicaid expansion. But, he said, that solution will take time to develop – time not allowed by the budget process.

“I think the senators just see this as a pretty complex issue, and they want a chance to really understand it and see what our options are to tailor it,” Bragdon said. “It’s hard to see that amount of work being done in such a short period of time. We basically have three working days to put a budget together.”

There is, of course, another possibility.

In theory, the 11 Senate Democrats could peel off two or more Republicans and find some maneuver to pass Medicaid expansion without Bragdon or the other Republicans. Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster and Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton are two names that frequently come up when Democrats talk about potential swing votes on the GOP side.

But while Odell and Stiles sided with the Democrats at times during the last legislative session, they and others haven’t shown much inclination this year to break ranks. The 13 Republican senators have stuck together on just about every partisan issue, including the education tax

credit repeal, voter ID and, yes, Medicaid expansion, rejecting a Democratic amendment on a 13-11 vote during the June 6 budget debate.

The final countdown

For the record, 42 bills have gone to a committee of conference, including the two operating budget bills, the capital budget bill, the medical marijuana bill and the voter ID legislation.

Those committees face a Thursday deadline to file their final reports, noon for the Senate and 4 p.m. for the House.

Both the House and the Senate are scheduled to meet the following Wednesday, June 26, for final up-or-down votes on those reports, sending all remaining bills to either Hassan’s desk or legislative death.

Barring something unexpected, the Legislature can then call it a year.

Advocates for Ayotte

A group of local GOP leaders has Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s back on immigration reform.

Ayotte has come out in support of the bipartisan immigration reform bill that reached the Senate floor last week, along with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

That’s earned Ayotte some grief from local and national conservatives. The Granite Grok blog said Ayotte was “stabbing New Hampshire and U.S. citizens in the back by supporting amnesty for illegal aliens.” Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly said the New Hampshire Republican “betrayed every conservative who supported her when she announced her support for this shameful bill.”

But Americans by Choice, the pro-immigration reform group founded by former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen, is on Ayotte’s side. Cullen praised Ayotte’s stance at a press conference Thursday, where he was joined by three other former state GOP chairs: Jayne Millerick, Wayne MacDonald and Steve Duprey.

“We think that Sen. Kelly Ayotte is doing the right thing by supporting the bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ proposal to reform and modernize our immigration system,” Cullen said.

Duprey called it “poppycock” to describe the immigration bill as amnesty for illegal immigrants. And he said Ayotte’s support for the immigration bill, coming two months after her vote against expanded background checks, shows she’s carving out her own path in the U.S. Senate.

“My liberal friends . . . are unhappy with her on the gun vote. My more conservative friends are unhappy with her on some of the immigration votes,” Duprey said. “And that tells me she’s doing an outstanding job in the New Hampshire tradition, and I’m proud of her.”

Gun control bus tour

Quite a few people are still upset with Ayotte’s vote against expanded background checks in April, a vote that helped sink the proposal in the U.S. Senate.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun-control group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, has been running television ads in New Hampshire against Ayotte.

And Friday, the group started a 25-state “No More Names: the National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence” bus tour to mark six months since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The tour’s full schedule isn’t being released “for security and other reasons,” said spokeswoman Kayla Keller. But it’ll be in Concord on Tuesday for a rally on the State House Plaza, 5 to 7 p.m.

Lambert for governor?

State Rep. George Lambert might run for governor next year.

The Litchfield Republican, now in his second term in the House, said last week he’s thinking about running for the GOP nomination to face Hassan. His goal in government service is “accountability and transparency,” he said, and he’s motivated in part by his service last session on the House’s Redress of Grievances Committee. (The committee was eliminated after the Democrats won back control of the House last fall.)

“When I was sitting on Redress, there were so many people who were saying they had problems with government, ‘government is not listening to us.’ . . . How do you go out and say, ‘Government is working for the people?’ That attitude starts at the corner office and works its way down,” Lambert said.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to mock Lambert’s trial balloon, with spokesman Harrell Kirstein saying he “would fit better in a circus tent than he would in New Hampshire’s corner office,” and Chairman Ray Buckley sending out a fundraising email describing Lambert as “a top lieutenant of disgraced former House Speaker Bill O’Brien.”

Lambert isn’t intimidated.

“I say, hey, they must be concerned with my message,” he said. “And I think that’s a good place to start, since I’m concerned with their message.”

Other names frequently mentioned as potential GOP gubernatorial candidates include former gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith, Sen. Andy Sanborn and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu.

If Smith decides to run, Lambert said he won’t run and instead will support his fellow Litchfield resident.

In that case, Lambert said, “I’m sure that I would look for another way to represent the people of this state.”

(Tip: Don’t confuse George Lambert with fellow Republican Gary Lambert, the former state senator from Nashua who’s exploring a run for Congress in the 2nd District. They’re not related.)

Rising stars

Plenty of people with Granite State ties turned up last week on Campaigns & Elections magazine’s “2013 Rising Stars” list.

Among them: Amelia Chassé, who runs the D.C. office of New Hampshire-based Hynes Communications; David Kanevsky, Republican congressman Charlie Bass’s 2010 campaign manager; and Bergen Kenny, former communications director for Democratic congressman Paul Hodes.

Quote of the Week

“My initial reaction was OMG, what are we doing? I am sure it would benefit the younger sailors if all the orders were issued at 140 characters in length.”

That was John Hutson, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and former dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, grousing to The Wall Street Journal about the Navy abandoning its policy of using ALL CAPS for all written communications.

Quick takes

∎ Happy birthday to former governor Steve Merrill, who turns 67 on Friday.

∎ The Executive Council will hold a public hearing tomorrow afternoon on Hassan’s nomination of former House Democratic leader Jim Craig as the new commissioner of labor.

∎ Ed Engler, editor of The Laconia Daily Sun, is running for mayor of the city, his newspaper reported. Also running is Republican Rep. Bob Luther.

∎ Sen. Jeff Woodburn, Democrat of Dalton, last week published his first “Woodburn Report” newsletter. Don’t miss the masthead sketch of him holding what appears to be a chicken.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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