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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: From GOP, several approaches to Medicaid vote

Despite weeks of attacks from conservative groups and local Republican committees, Senate President Chuck Morse and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley came out of this week’s Medicaid expansion vote relatively unscathed.

Seven of 12 Republicans (Sen. Peter Bragdon recused himself due to a conflict of interest with his employer, HealthTrust) stood behind their leaders and backed the plan to expand private health insurance to roughly 50,000 low-income people. And the five who didn’t made their cases without dragging Morse’s and Bradley’s names through the mud. Some even applauded their leaders for crafting the bill before voting against it.

“While we don’t agree on this issue, I do thank them for all their hard work because they truly believe what they are doing is best for the people of the state of New Hampshire,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican.

But while the Republican senators refrained from calling out their leaders – perhaps demonstrating Morse’s control over his caucus – they came at the issue with several different approaches. Several defended the bill and their leaders, while others, like Carson, made their opposition clear. Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford brought the boldest opposition, offering three amendments that would have dismantled the law. And still other Republicans said nothing at all, casting their votes but keeping their heads down.

The more than two-hour debate offered a window into a party facing internal divisions about how to proceed with pieces of the Affordable Care Act, a law that remains unpopular among conservatives but is, so far, here to stay.

Sanborn talked on his three amendments for nearly an hour. It was clear from the number of senators who milled about during his speech – 11 left the room at one point – that none of his amendments would attract broad support. But it was an opportunity for Sanborn to paint himself as a watchdog for New Hampshire’s taxpayers.

On his amendment to delay the program until the federal government approves waivers: “We should have them all up front, or I fear for the taxpayer.”

On his amendment that would have cut people between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty line out of the expansion: “We need to be able to institute into this legislation protections for taxpayers.”

And on his third amendment, to cap enrollment in the expansion at 50,000 people or $300 million: “I believe that we need to find a way to protect the taxpayers.”

He also, in a somewhat convoluted way, tried to be a watchdog for the uninsured. The law has a sunset provision that would end the program if federal funding drops below 100 percent. He warned about the dangers of taking away insurance from people after they receive it. But then he said he didn’t believe a future Legislature would vote to end the law even in the face of less federal money, therefore harming . . . the taxpayer.

“I’m so afraid and concerned for the long-term health of our state when the pressure on the taxpayer is so great,” he said.

At least one Republican wasn’t amused by Sanborn’s approach.

“I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but what this bill brings is 100 percent being paid for by the federal government,” said Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican. “What this bill does is it protects the taxpayer, and I’m getting a little tired of hearing what might happen in the future.”

Sen. Bob Odell, a New London Republican and a cosponsor of the bill, said he was proud of the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders for coming to a solution that works for New Hampshire.

“This Senate process, as difficult as it is, I think it makes heroes of those involved who were willing to compromise and pull and tug,” he said.

And then there were the Republicans who sat silently, including Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield, who voted for the bill in committee then against it on the floor. Also quiet were Sens. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith and Sam Cataldo of Farmington. They, like most of the Democrats, likely figured it was smarter to let the spotlight shine on others.

The Republican Party was clearly divided, and likely will be on all health-care issues going forward. But for all the opposition Sanborn and Sens. Russell Prescott of Kingston put forth, none of the caustic language spewed by conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity entered the chamber during debate.

Morse, for his part, waited until after the debate to speak, saying he didn’t want to unduly influence debate. But he and Bradley clearly had control over the situation Thursday, no matter what was happening on the outside.

Whether or not they used up all their political capital on this vote remains to be seen.

New gubernatorial candidate?

Businessman Walter Havenstein’s name has been circulating for several weeks now as a potential candidate for governor, and Republicans seem excited.

“My sense is that there’s a lot of curiosity about him and people are really kind of excited to learn more,” said Jim Merrill, a Republican strategist.

Havenstein, of Alton, is the former chief executive officer of BAE Systems Inc. and someone with a long career in the defense industry. He’s never run for elected office but is a major Republican donor. In 2013, he contributed at least $12,500 to the New Hampshire Republican Party and he and his wife gave more than $60,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2012, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Former congressmen Jeb Bradley, John E. Sununu and Charlie Bass have also received campaign cash from Havenstein, and he donated to Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Any challenge to a first-term governor in New Hampshire is a difficult venture. After all, 2004 is the only time in recent memory that a first-time incumbent lost his or her seat. But Republican strategist Jamie Burnett, who is informally advising Havenstein, said he thinks 2014 is a winnable year for the GOP.

Hassan hasn’t shown strong leadership on major issues and hasn’t jump-started the state’s economy, Burnett said. He also points out her reliance on a nonexistent casino to balance the budget as a failed idea. Plus, the national climate is looking favorable for Republicans in 2014, and New Hampshire has made wide swings from one party to the other in recent election cycles.

With his business background, Havenstein could be the right candidate to excite Republicans and even independents. The one Republican who’s probably not wishing he’ll jump in? Candidate Andrew Hemingway.

Health care headaches

Obamacare once again became a headache for Democratic U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter last week, as both voted to delay penalties on the individual mandate portion of the law.

Both of their teams pitched it as the congresswomen fighting for their constituents to fix pieces of an otherwise good law. But Republicans had a field day casting the vote as evidence that Kuster and Shea-Porter are losing faith in a law they once championed.

State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, a Salem Republican hoping to challenge Kuster, called the vote “politically convenient,” as a recent poll showed a majority of New Hampshire residents do not like the president’s health care law.

The New Hampshire Republican Party used the same tactic, blasting Kuster and Shea-Porter for changing their minds.

“Granite Staters are smart enough to see through their dishonest election year stunts and realize that the only way to get rid of ObamaCare is to replace Representatives Kuster and Shea-Porter with responsible Republicans in November,” the party said in a statement.

If Republicans hate Obamacare so much, shouldn’t they be cheering this vote to delay penalties? Perhaps in an election year, that wouldn’t be politically convenient.

O’Brien vs. Democrats

A lawsuit between former House speaker Bill O’Brien and the New Hampshire Democratic Party dating back to 2010 was settled last week by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. O’Brien probably isn’t happy with the outcome. 
In 2010, O’Brien was encouraging Democratic voters to write him in on empty spaces on their side of the ticket, and the Democrats put out a robocall thanking O’Brien for embracing the Democratic platform. Of course, he wasn’t. So he filed a lawsuit, alleging the party violated the state’s robocall statute.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that O’Brien had no standing to bring the suit because he couldn’t prove injury from the calls.

What to watch

∎ The Senate’s plan to expand health insurance through federal Medicaid dollars will get a hearing before the House Finance Committee tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

∎ Bills to repeal the death penalty, increase the minimum wage and legalize one casino will come to the House floor this week. The House will meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays through the end of March to meet the March 27 deadline of sending all bills to the Senate.

∎ On Thursday, the Senate will vote on a bill that requires energy projects to provide in their application alternatives for burying transmission lines along public rights of way and hold public hearings in the counties where projects would be located. This bill could affect the future of the Northern Pass Project.

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

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