Monday, May 17, 2010

"Under the Circumstances"

A thin serving of gruel was all that could be procured by DFL legislative leaders as the session ticked toward midnight. Compared to the feast of sandwiches delivered to the Governor's office around 10 PM, the result delivered by the DFL to their constituents was downright meager. To be fair, the ultimate result may have been about as good as it could be "under the circumstances." But from the perspective of winning in November, there is a serious problem for the DFL. Well, there are problems.

Problem #1: The Medicaid opt-in means the DFL gets to replay the national health care reform debate, only on worse terms at the state level.

Instead of playing from a position of strength like Democrats will do in federal races (“Repeal? Did you notice who the President is?”), they will be starting from a position of weakness (“What? You want to spend more money to bring Obamacare to Minnesota three years early?”) Tom Emmer has just been handed a dandy campaign issue on a silver platter. The truth is that the early Medicaid buy-in package is an excellent deal for Minnesota, leveraging seven federal dollars for every one spent, solving both the coverage problem and the reimbursement problem. But as a political issue, it’s pretty terrible. Back in March a couple of weeks before the passage of health care reform, a Rasmussen Poll found a majority of Minnesota voters opposed to the bill, with 44% strongly opposing. These numbers might shift a bit, but the best strategy for the DFL was to try to put the health care debate in the rear view mirror. Instead, it’s going to be like a twitchy doe that jumps out in front of your car at dusk. No wonder the House GOP was pressing for something similar to this in earlier discussions. While the final deal didn’t include the waiver language that GOP House Minority Leader Zellers favored, it has the same effect of injecting the federal health care debate into the Governor’s race.

Problem #2: The DFL leadership failed to deliver red meat to the base.

In announcing the outline of the final deal, Margaret Anderson Kelliher stressed that there would be no additional cuts to education or nursing homes and that GAMC was fixed. After she left with Larry Pogemiller and Tony Sertich, Tim Pawlenty came out and said all sorts of nice, bipartisan sounding platitudes. But in the middle of these platitudes was the following phrase “balanced the budget with no new taxes.” And that is red meat for the GOP base. Who in the DFL base is excited about how this session ended? Rural nurses happy about the $10 million in supplemental GAMC funding, maybe. Midterm elections are about turnout, about mobilizing and exciting your base supporters. Right now it is patently obvious which side’s base supporters are fired up, and which side’s supporters are scratching their heads.

In many ways, this was a result reminiscent of 2002, where Roger Moe and Tim Pawlenty basically made a deal to fail to resolve a budget impasse and allow the victor to deal with it as he wished. The DFL approved every shift (even made some bigger), every accounting gimmick, and ratified nearly every unilateral unallotment. And in exchange, if the DFL wins the race for Governor, they will get to adopt the bill that they would probably have been able to pass anyway. As I said, thin gruel. Even if it’s the best that can be expected “under the circumstances” it still doesn’t taste very good.

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