House Republicans Overwhelmingly Desert Bush On Medicaid Rules

[ Posted Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 – 15:15 UTC ]

House Republicans today massively defected from President Bush's harsh new Medicaid rules, always an interesting event in an election year. Two-thirds of House GOP members voted with all the Democrats to impose a one-year moratorium on implementing the new Medicaid rules which the Bush White House recently re-wrote. The vote was astounding -- 349 to 62 -- which is well beyond the veto-proof margin needed.

Of course, it still has to go through the Senate. But nonetheless it is a milestone of sorts, being an issue that Democrats have enticed most of the Republican Party members to cross the aisle to support. It's easy to see why -- all fifty state governors also oppose the new rules, meaning there is almost-universal support for the Democrats' defiance of the Bush administration's position on the issue.

How it will play out in presidential politics is uncertain. It may help Democrats, showing that Congress can stand up to Bush (for once). It may help McCain, since if he supported Democrats on the issue it could help him distance himself from Bush (something he's been trying to do stylistically, but hasn't had a lot of luck with on specifics). It could also bolster his "maverick" reputation and help him with independent voters in the fall. It may ultimately have no effect on the election at all.

But the Democrats in Congress could sure use a win right about now, especially one in direct confrontation with Bush. Defying a president with 28% approval ratings would appear to be a no-brainer, but so far Congress hasn't been all that successful in doing so. And this is a great issue to raise, because it once again terrifies congressional Republicans with being painted as evil and uncaring, right before an election. The last time this happened, to a smaller extent, was over children's health. Taking money away from health care for sick poor people isn't exactly the kind of "compassionate conservatism" you can brag about on the campaign trail.

Details can be found in the Associated Press article referenced above, which begins:

The House voted Wednesday to block the Bush administration from cutting federal spending on Medicaid health care for the poor by $13 billion over the next five years. President Bush has threatened a veto, but supporters have more than enough votes in the House to override him, and maybe in the Senate, too.

Two thirds of the Republicans joined every voting Democrat in the 349-62 vote to impose a one-year moratorium, through next March, on seven rules changes that the administration argues are needed to rectify waste and abuse in the state-federal partnership to provide health care to the poor.

Supporters of the bill said the rules would merely shift financial burdens to the states at a time of economic distress while reducing access to health care for the country's neediest people.

For an election-year issue, this is hard to beat. Which is obviously why two-thirds of House Republicans jumped ship from Bush's position. The only questions that remain are whether it can get through the Senate without being bottled up somewhere, and whether it can make it to Bush's desk during the campaign.

The Democrats should do a full-court press on this issue. With the House locked up tight in favor of the bill, the party should start targeting weak Republican Senators up for re-election this year. 527 campaign groups should start running ads in those states where Republicans are weakest. The presidential candidates -- all three of whom are sitting Senators -- also have a big chance to influence the debate, it should be pointed out.

It's rare (in an election year) that the opposition hands you an issue that is just begging to be exploited politically. Democrats shouldn't drop the ball on this one, and should use it as an enormous lever in the Senate to get the bill actually passed. Overturning a Bush veto would reap all kinds of rewards in November, and Democrats would be fools to pass this chance up.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


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