Idaho Democrats’ last-gasp move for Medicaid expansion and $478 million in tax relief fails

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, took the rare step of using a parliamentary move to force a committee chairman to hold a hearing on legislation against his will. His gambit failed Monday morning, when House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood of Burley was supported by his GOP colleagues.

Last week, House Speaker Scott Bedke said it was too late in the session to move forward with House Bills 308 and 309, which would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and provide local property tax relief. The bills are supported by House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, but top GOP legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Butch Otter want to study the matter in the interim before the 2014 session.

Bedke, R-Oakley, pressing for adjournment on Friday, said there’s not enough time to thoroughly explore the issue. Passing HBs 308 and 309 could mean an estimated $478 million in county property tax reductions through 2024, financed by federal subsidies of expansion of the health insurance program for low-income Idahoans. That figure comes from a study commissioned by the state and released last week.

At the close of Monday morning’s Health and Welfare Committee hearing, Rusche made a surprise motion that the committee hold hearings on the two bills Tuesday morning.

Wood mulled ruling Rusche’s motion out of order, but instead recessed the committee and gestured to Rusche to follow him behind closed doors. A minute later, the pair emerged.

After gavelling the committee back to order, Wood noted Rusche’s concern. “We’re all frustrated by the amount of money that we’re leaving on the table. Rep. Rusche’s motion comes out of frustration. I understand that.”

But Wood asserted his authority as chairman. “The chair has no intention of having a meeting tomorrow, or in the foreseeable future.”

House GOP Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude of rural Ada County backed up Wood, saying, “I’ve never seen a committee where the committee members start setting the agenda. It’s always been up to the chairman. We don’t have motions in front of the committee to put our own personal items on the agenda.”

On a voice vote, Rusche and the other committee Democrat, Rep. Sue Chew of Boise, voted to hold the hearing. But the other eight Republicans appeared to unanimously support Wood.

Shortly after the House recessed at noon Monday, Chairman Loertscher continued to press Wood to hold a hearing, asking, “So, what’s it going to take?”

Replied Wood, “You go to the governor and the speaker and the (Senate President) Pro Tem (Brent Hill) and they say it’s OK and, by God, I’ll do it.”

Minutes later, Speaker Bedke reiterated that no means no and that Medicaid would not be taken up before adjournment.

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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