In the aftermath of yesterday’s hearing over Medicaid expansion in the House Human Services Committee, I keep coming back to the most egregious action by the Committee Chairman and his Republican henchmen: after six hours of informed testimony and debate, some from people who drove as many as 8 hours to attend the hearing, the Republican majority voted to send an adverse report on the bill without having the courage to entertain discussion or amendments. These cowards didn’t even have the courage necessary to explain their reasoning (terrible though it would have been) to the citizens who waited through the proceedings or even give their fellow elected representatives the opportunity to speak on the motion or its merits.
Why? Because there is no defensible way for Wittich and his cronies to have conducted themselves in the manner they did. As Tara Veazey, the governor’s policy advisor for Health and Families noted, “It’s rare in this building that moral policy, fiscal and economic imperatives all align,” and that’s exactly what Medicaid expansion represented: a chance for the body to do something that will grow the state’s economy, protect the health of its citizens, and live up to the values of human decency and compassion that Montanans embrace, whether in religious or philosophical expression.
And you don’t have to believe me or Veazey. Those testifying on behalf of Medicaid included investment bankers, tribal leaders, doctors, hospital administrators, and veterans. Most heartbreaking were the stories of people who lost their sight or their lives because they were unable to qualify for assistance programs as adults—the very assistance programs this bill would expand.
The reason so many disparate groups support the bill? Because it’s not only a moral imperative; it’s an economic one As the Associated Press notes, “Mark Semmens, managing director of investment banking for D.A. Davidson Co….said the expansion would bring an estimated $5 billion of new revenue into Montana over the next six years and create 12,000 jobs.”
So the case for Medicaid expansion? A moral good, fiscal responsibility, and better health for Montanans and a better health care system across the state.
The opposition? Among the ten or so who spoke against the bill were two paid stooges from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, including one who took his advocacy for the Gilded Age seriously enough to attend in a tuxedo, a doctor from the Flathead who has been investigated for Medicaid fraud, and a woman who ranted about the “Obamacare of Education.” There was no expert witness in their testimony, no consideration of health care or budgets, but pure ideology that believes that government cannot help its citizens.
In the end, it makes sense that Wittich and his thugs wouldn’t allow for full discussion on the House floor or even within the committee. They know that every time they spew their poorly-reasoned AFP talking points to restrict health care acesss another Montanan who knows someone desperate for medical care will hear what the reactionary Republicans truly believe, that basic human dignity and quality of life are less important than tax breaks for corporations. Every time they are questioned by moral, sensible members of the Democratic Party and their own caucus, their moral failure will be laid bare.
So that’s what cowards do. They close off debate after pretending to listen to the people, just as they close their eyes to the suffering of dialysis patients who have to travel 8 hours three times a week to receive care and the thousands of Montanans whose only health care plan is pray that they don’t get sick.
We know what cowards do. The question is now what are we going to do about it?