It seems we may just need the Montana Home Guard after all, as there appears to be a hostage situation developing at the Montana Capitol. Despite it being the most important and contentious issue for the 2015 session, despite the bill having been introduced almost three weeks ago, and despite the fact that 70,000 Montanans need access to health care it would provide, Representative Wittich, chair of the House Human Services Committee, has been holding Governor Bullock’s Medicaid Expansion (HB 249) hostage since January 19. Wittich has not scheduled a hearing for the bill, although unconfirmed rumors are circulating that he cut a part off of the bill and sent it back the Governor’s Office with a ransom note.
It’s not as if Wittich’s Committee has been pressed for time. They’ve had time to spend two hours debating the sale of unpasteurized milk, a poorly researched assault on welfare recipients mandating drug testing, and TEA Party grandstanding about battling the scourge of Obamacare. Wittich’s committee had also had sufficient time to let three disgruntled aid workers air third-hand allegations about those living in poverty and urban legends about welfare cheats owning boats and driving luxury vehicles.
Wittich has even had the time to post alternatingly sad and angry rants on Twitter like this statesmanlike remark about Governor Bullock:
— Art Wittich (@ArtWittich) January 29, 2015
And it’s not as if there’s reasonable justification for holding up debate on the bill. Its fiscal note was printed and made available on January 27, and both House and Senate committees have seen fit to schedule and even debate others bills still awaiting fiscal details. Montanans have been debating the practical and political merits of Medicaid expansion for years, so it’s time to let Montanans debate the merits of this proposal. It would seem that not scheduling public comment and debate on a bill reveals the weakness of Wittich’s argument: he knows that the business and health benefits of the bill vastly outweigh his ideological, partisan objections. The longer the bill lingers in committee, the more difficult its passage will be.
Given the surfeit of time available to Wittich’s committee for less serious matters and the availability of all the information necessary to debate Medicaid expansion,there’s no real explanation for the absence of the bill on the committee’s docket, other than Wittich’s refusal to have it be heard in a timely fashion.
Mr. Wittich, bring forth that bill. Surely such a champion of representative democracy knows that an open hearing on this most critical issue is what the traditions of the People’s House demands.