Finally. After months of struggle, Michigan’s state Senate passed legislation last week to accept Washington’s offer to extend Medicaid to nearly half a million of our state’s working poor.
The vote was close — 20 to 18 — and the run-up to it was complicated, intense and very partisan. But when crunch time came, eight (out of 26) Republicans joined with all 12 Senate Democrats to ratify one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s main policy priorities.
At first glance, it looks as if the day was won by solid bipartisanship, fostered by a decision by the lawmakers to govern like adults. And that is true, up to a point — at least when it comes to last week’s vote.
Those who argue the state has both a moral responsibility to 470,000 poor and uninsured Michiganders and a financial incentive to glom onto billions in federal support for expanded Medicaid should now give big pats on the back to at least four adults in the room, all Republicans: Gov. Rick Snyder, who persisted in fighting for this for months; House Speaker Jase Bolger, who constructed a similar bipartisan coalition in the House; Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who worked hard to persuade a minority of fellow Republicans to go along; and Sen. Roger Kahn, a doctor from Saginaw, who led the work group that thrashed out the final compromise.
But underneath, the main political dynamics in Lansing remain much the same as they’ve been for the past two and a half years: An uneasy mixture of ideological Republican opposition to anything that smacks of support for President Obama, heightened by even more intense snarls from the Tea Party. That group is playing an outsize role in Michigan politics by threatening insufficiently intransigent GOP officeholders with primary election opposition from the right.
Senators opposed to Medicaid expansion cited concerns about increasing the size, cost and intrusiveness of the federal government. Some questioned whether Michigan could really believe the feds would keep their end of the deal.