Let’s be clear: Michigan’s Republicans can get things done quicky — especially when they’re doing the bidding of their big donors.
Since taking over the governorship and winning a supermajority in the state Senate in 2010, they’ve shifted the tax burden from big business to pensioners and the poor. They’ve cut a billion dollars from education and twice implemented an emergency manager law that replaces local elected officials — almost exclusively in African-American communities — with appointed bureaucrats.
And late in 2012, just after President Obama won the state by more than 9 percent, legislation designed to cripple labor unions supported by Amway heir and one of the state’s largest GOP donors, Rich DeVoss, passed both houses of Michigan’s legislature and was signed into law by Republican governor Rick Snyder in just a few days.
They got all that done. No problem.
But the issue of Medicaid expansion, which could cover 300,000-500,000 poor Michiganders who earn too much to currently qualify for subsidized health care, was left to the last minute — because saving lives and eventually lowering everyone’s health insurance rates just isn’t a priority for Michigan’s Republicans.
It began in February. After his sudden attack on unions made him one of the most vulnerable governors in the nation, Governor Snyder followed fellow Republican swing-state governors Brian Sandoval (R-NV), Jan Brewer (R-AZ) and John Kasich (R-OH) in announcing that he wanted his state to accept Medicaid expansion as offered to states through the Affordable Care Act.
The Tea Partiers who dominated the state legislature opposed expansion as if it were Obama himself and for months, nothing happened. As the end of the legislative session neared without the law the governor needed to give his state and the federal government the six months they would need to implement expansion, Snyder stepped up the pressure. He brought in Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to beg Republicans to let the $1.5 billion Michiganders will be paying anyway go back into the state’s economy.
This was too much for the Tea Party.
“Governor Snyder has gone too far by seeking help from one of the most polarizing figures in modern history, a representative of the most destructive American President of our history as a nation,” local leaders wrote in a letter and vowed to sit out the governor’s re-election campaign in 2014.
But just days after Arizona’s Brewer overcame Tea Party opposition to pass expansion in her state, Michigan’s House of Representatives finally voted on the “Healthy Michigan” compromise.
About half of the Republican caucus joined Democrats in passing the bill.
Governor Snyder cheered the result and instructed the Senate to finish the deal while he made a week-long trip to Israel.
Of course, as the governor toured the Holy Land, Senate Republicans refused to take a vote.
Many of the same party funders who supported anti-union legislation — including the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity — came out against Medicaid expansion, encouraging the Tea Partiers who were flooding their reps with calls and visits.
With just hours remaining in the legislative session, Snyder — a former CEO of Gateway computers who ran as “one tough nerd” — flew back to Lansing in order to rally his troops.
And Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) decided to adjourn for two months. He did this knowing the measure likely had the eight Republican votes it needed to pass.
Except it isn’t funny at all. Because Republican governors and legislatures are turning down expansion, the Rand Corporation estimates that 19,000 Americans a year will die. And that number doesn’t even factor in the states like Michigan, Ohio and Florida where the governors are being blocked from implementing the program they want.
Smarting from the early end of his travels and his most public defeat as governor, Snyder held a press conference to denounce his own party.
“Take a vote, not a vacation,” he said.
Democrats blame him for leaving the state at a crucial time. But the fact is, now that the Tea Party machine is fueled by GOP donors, Snyder praying at the Wailing Wall would probably be as effective as him lobbying Republicans directly.
As someone who had never run for political office before, the governor has no real political constituency. He was elected in 2010 in the Tea Party wave by promising competence over divisiveness.
And the GOP said, “Tough, nerd.”
Recognizing that he’s probably lost, Snyder has taken to saying that he simply wants to resolve the issue, to get it off the agenda, one way or another.
This is what the Tea Party won in 2010, the ability to deny the working poor health care that their state will pay for anyway. And that they get to do it while humiliating a Republican who is trying to seem moderate is just a little bonus.
Rick Snyder is no Jan Brewer. And thanks to the Tea Party, Michigan is now less progressive than Arkansas.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya