Amid prayers and passionate speeches, House override effort on GAMC fails on party-line vote

There were prayers outside the House chamber, and passion inside.

And in the end, there was a predictable result: Minnesota House Republicans, who last week overwhelmingly supported a bill that would have preserved the General Assistance Medical Care program, overwhelmingly supported their governor’s veto of the program this afternoon. Not a single Republican supported the override effort.

Today’s vote to support override was 87-46, although procedural moves mean the bill will almost certainly be returned for override again.

Two weeks ago, the House supported the GAMC bill 125-9.

Why this remarkable switch on the medical program that has served Minnesota’s poorest?

“We’re waiting for something better,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove, one of 38 Republicans who switched their vote.

Most of the Republicans claim they did a flip-flop on the vote because they had assumed the original bill would be headed to a conference committee for some cleaning up. As it turned out, there was no conference committee. Instead the House and Senate bills were procedurally meshed and sent on to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who came down with his veto.

In supporting the governor today, most Republicans still seem to believe that some sort of reformed GAMC program will rise from the current ashes after more negotiations with the governor.

Over and over again, the Republicans called for more negotiations with the governor’s office, though DFLers noted that negotiations have been going on for nine months and that seven weekend negotiating sessions with the governor’s staff could not reach agreement.

Still, the Republicans fled from their earlier votes to be on the governor’s side.

“The bill that was passed,” said Urdahl, “was a 16-month bill. We need a longer-term fix.”

Republicans were insisting that DFLers were simply trying to create more conflict on an emotional issue by pushing for today’s override vote. (The Senate, it should be noted, was able to override the veto last week on a straight party-line vote.)

DFLers insisted that there was nothing political about today’s effort. They pushed for the vote because, they said, counties today were being notified by the state to start the process for transferring the poorest of the poor to the Minnesota Care program.

MinnCare not only will not work for the vast majority of GAMC recipients, DFLers argued, but also will cost the state more.

The Republicans stood with the governor despite considerable pressure from religious leaders, who led a prayer service outside the chamber before the vote. The group of more than 100 held up little electric candles, pictures of GAMC patients and banners.

“Let these candles flicker with the intensity of hope,” said one of the rally leaders.

There were murmurs of agreement and prayers for the homeless, the poor — and Republicans.

“I do have some hope,” said the Rev. Gwin Pratt, pastor at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Minnetonka. “I’m sure there must be at least three or four Republicans wavering about supporting the governor, who has ambitions outside of Minnesota.”

But religion was working both sides of this issue. God’s name wasn’t just being tossed around outside the chamber, but inside as well.

In fact, Republicans started getting testy about it.

“I’m just as good a Christian as you are,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, on the House floor.

Cornish was clearly angry because a number of DFLers took to citing Bible verses about service to the poor as a reason for Republicans to support the override.

“You trot out the Bible on an issue like this,” said Cornish, “But I don’t hear you when the issue is abortion or gay marriage,” both of which he opposes.

Religion wasn’t the only point of debate. The budget was, too, though it was a hard one for Republicans to argue logically.

“Our bill costs less and covers more,” said an exasperated Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. “I know it’s hard to override your governor, but …”

On and on went the debate.

The DFL needed to hold its 87 members and pick up three Republicans to override. But as expected, not a single Republican supported the effort.

In the end, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, switched his vote, seemingly opposing the override. But that was merely a procedural vote, allowing the DFL to call for another override at a later date.

“The choices don’t get any easier,” Sertich had told the membership just before today’s vote. “Members, we aren’t talking about saving a program. We’re talking about saving people’s lives. Do you honestly think that if we wait another day, week or month, there’ll be another option before us?”

Clearly, Sertich believes that pressure will build.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/01/2010 - 05:00 pm.

    Sure, now the GOP defies religious leaders. Someone should have told them anyone kicked off GAMC will turn gay. Then they would have insisted we all get on it.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/01/2010 - 05:02 pm.

    Leftists citing the bible…that’s some funny stuff, right there!

    Bible verses citing service to the poor address us each as morally obligated individuals, not as part of a governmentally controlled hive.

    To get a feel for what the bible is actually teaching, write out a personal check to medical facilities that serve GMAC recipients.

    Write “for poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick” in the note line.

  3. Submitted by chuck holtman on 03/01/2010 - 05:07 pm.

    I must say, I don’t understand the Republicans’ vote. The Governor’s aim in the matter is to burnish his national Republican credentials by displaying an unyielding ideology and punishing a captive population of generally decent and progressive people. Republican members of the House, conversely, need to stand for reelection. From all I can gather, the GAMC bill is fiscally sound and a vote for it shows at least a basic level of empathy for the least fortunate among us, which I still have to believe is considered a virtue among ordinary folks, even across party lines. So a veto and an override seemed to me like a win-win for the Republican caucus. Guess that’s why I’m not a political operative…

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/01/2010 - 06:17 pm.

    While I’m not a proponent of using the Bible as a guide for deciding how to run a country – unlike some of those who hypocritically decry the theocratic governments of the middle east – it’s pretty hard to not point out the steaming irony in Mr. Swift’s post. Specifically, if the Bible is about addressing each of us as morally obligated individuals, why do conservatives like to use the government to attempt to control individual behavior when it relates to, say, sex, but think it’s wrong to use the government to attempt to control individual behavior when it relates to making health care available?

    Frankly, I want to believe in the good intentions of all Americans, even those who I disagree with politically, but it’s getting harder and harder.

  5. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 03/01/2010 - 06:50 pm.

    “I voted for that bill before I voted against it!”

    John Kerry got raked over the coals for that famous flip-flop. I won’t hold my breath, but I sure would like to see the right side of the House aisle get the same treatment.

    The bill was good enough last week. Why the switch? ‘Cause out-of-state, out-for-a-new-job Pawlenty says “boo”.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/01/2010 - 06:55 pm.

    I think I’m about conservative as you can get, but I never use the bible to defend my conclusions exactly for the reason Jeff points out; it’s just too easy to pick and choose.

    My goal in this case is simply to point out a solid fact ie: the bible does not anywhere in any way teach that government is moral, it talks of people as individually responsible for one another.

    I also thoughtfully included an example of the sort of Christian charity the bible does teach.

    For any constraints on behavior, say sex, I may believe government is justified in regulating, I always defend the need of regulation with the strictly secular maxim that your right to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/01/2010 - 07:32 pm.

    “Leftists citing the bible…that’s some funny stuff, right there!”

    Love thine enemy?”

    “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”

    “judge not lest ye be judged”

    “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”

    “Whatsoever you do to the least of my children, so you do unto me”

    “Thou shalt not kill”

    “You cannot serve both God and Money.”

    “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”

    “Blessed are the peacemakers…”

    Just by cherry-picking a few of my favorite biblical quotes it seems like a pretty strong case for Christians having a hard time with Republican ideology…

  8. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/01/2010 - 08:20 pm.

    Thank you Jeff Klein, you are right on. Right wing religious hypocrites such as Tony Cornish are absolutely furious that the religious community has lined up for GAMC and that the DFL is enjoying their support and praying for an ethical awakening in Republicans frightened of incurring State Republican party wrath with an overide. Talk about trotting out religion. Republicans have made that their fall back issue when ever logic seems to be prevailing.
    Republican assertions that the GAMC bill does not do enough to lower costs and is not efficient or is too quick are phony. They either just hate the idea of any government money for healthcare or are deathly afraid of recording the yes vote for fear of retribution.
    People will die if GAMC fails to pass. But what are a few hundred preventable deaths or a program that saves taxpayers money when ideological conservatism is at stake?

  9. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/01/2010 - 08:46 pm.

    It is unfortunate that not even a combination of charitable contributions and government spending still leaves us with people without housing, health care and food. If those who advocate charitable giving would get busy, the government could get out of the business of charity.

  10. Submitted by Wes Davey on 03/02/2010 - 12:03 am.

    If people do not qualify for federally funded health care programs and there is no GAMC, are Republicans telling us that we should just let low-income people die? That can’t be what they mean, so what are Republicans proposing that we do with sick people? Could a Republican tell me what am I missing here?

  11. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 03/02/2010 - 07:06 am.

    To Bill’s point, it is very sad that the combination of non-profits and government can not bridge the gap for all people in need. The issue for me is that we have organizations such as minnpost that use donations and add zero value assisting anyone aside from a few ex Strib employees. Maybe we need to reevaluate what can be a non-profit.

  12. Submitted by Ambrose Charpentier on 03/02/2010 - 08:10 am.

    So Tony Cornish is a christian? From my reading of the gospels and the record of Mr. Cornish’s votes, it would be pretty hard to tell. I might grant that he’s “christianist.”

  13. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/02/2010 - 08:30 am.

    Well, I’m sure the health-care-less folks being cut from GAMC are resting assured now that they know as soon the program ends there will be an army of Bible-driven charitable folk ready to swoop in and provide health care for them by use of individual means.

    Oh, wait, I was getting the real world mixed up with conservative fantasy land again. Actually they’re just out of luck.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/02/2010 - 09:38 am.

    I’d be curious to know how many Republican legislators have forgone their “socialist” health care plans that come part and parcel of being a legislator?

    Presumably all of them have, since socialized health care is anathema. I wonder which private plans they have bought for themselves and their families on the individual market to show their intellectual and ethical bona fides? For surely they wouldn’t avail themselves of socialized services whilst denying them to the population as a whole…

    I should think that those private insurers would want to tout the fact that Republican legislators found their plans superior to the socialized plan with which Democrat legislators suck on the government teat.

    Similarly, I wonder what percent of Republicans at large have forgone their Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security benefits as a protest against rampant socialism. Again, I presume any Republican that disdains socialism has done so. Otherwise how could they sleep at night knowing that they say one thing and practice the very vices that they rail against?

  15. Submitted by andy on 03/02/2010 - 11:48 am.

    Christians hate it when they get pinned down by their own myth traditions:

    My reading of those passages tells me that you don’t get to pick and choose who is deserving and who is not.

    Well, there is a choice, but one of them involves fire.

    Still, I have the feeling that if a minister passed the hat for a local victim of the GMAC cut, the results would be pretty thin. There’s always cheaters, after all.

    So what’s the most efficient and cost effective way to help lots of people? It couldn’t involve doing things >GASP< collectively, would it?

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/02/2010 - 01:06 pm.

    “Still, I have the feeling that if a minister passed the hat for a local victim of the GMAC cut, the results would be pretty thin.”

    Surely his hat would overfloweth with cold, hard cash if it was passed in leftist, ‘Happy to Pay’ strongholds in Mpls, SP, St. Cloud and Duluth.

    Is there a concerned, caring member of the ‘reality based’ community that is even willing to give it a try?

  17. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/02/2010 - 01:53 pm.

    Thomas: I’d like to add to this discussion that, as members of society, we have CHOSEN to socialize such needs common to all of us as public education, police and fire protection, roads and bridges and potholes, libraries, parks and playgrounds and public transportation. This means that we all contribute to the common good with our tax dollars.

    For reasons of ideology alone, we continue to mischaracterize health care as a commodity to be bought by those who can afford it (or whose employers purchase insurance) and perhaps be made available in very limited and often grudging ways to those who cannot.

    If we were to socialize health care (HR 676 nationally, $400 billion saved per year; John Marty’s SF118/HF135 in Minnesota, rought
    estimates of 9-20% or more saved per year) we could save money while assuring that no one is left without decent care. Why is this bad?

  18. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/02/2010 - 02:08 pm.

    Leftists quoting the Bible is a lot better than Rep. Rod Hamilton misquoting it last year to defend his vote against GAMC. He brings out his family Bible and reads: “The poor will always be with us.” That is a frequently misused quote by conservatives from the Last Supper used in an effort to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the poor.

    The real quote from Deuteronomy 15:11 is: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

    All of the Republicans who vote against overriding the veto, but who voted for it the first time, are cowards. And the Republican leadership is nothing but a bunch of bullies.

  19. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 03/02/2010 - 03:13 pm.

    Keep in mind that the sin of Sodom did not lie in homosexuality.

    “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Eziekiel 16:49

    Who then are the Sodomites in this situation?

  20. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/02/2010 - 03:59 pm.

    Mr. Swift- your frequent use of the terms leftist and socialist are rather vague.

    The common usage will always exceed the dictionary and a word will always eventually adopt its popular misunderstanding. This is the same dynamic that causes words like “leftist” and “socialist” to become pejoratives.

    My (perhaps overly dramatic) opposition to the words “socialist”, “leftist”, “liberal”, etc. by the more right-minded of the commenters here is that we’re generally talking about relatively serious ideas, with the occasional bon mot tossed in for good measure.

    Intentionally using language that is not commonly understood by all participants of the conversation makes for chaos rather than understanding. Perhaps it’s more dramatic? Artistic? Certainly more inflammatory and angry.

    I’m not looking for anyone to adopt the intellectual framework of “the other side”, as such, where “socialist” means “anywhere to the left of me” and “fascist” means “anywhere to the right of me”.

    But I should think that reasonable people could agree to use terms with commonly understood meanings. After all, aside from the odd haiku, none of us is here to write poetry or stretch the boundaries of the English language. At least I don’t think so.

  21. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/02/2010 - 04:22 pm.

    “If we were to socialize health care (HR 676 nationally, $400 billion saved per year; John Marty’s SF118/HF135 in Minnesota, rought
    estimates of 9-20% or more saved per year) we could save money while assuring that no one is left without decent care. Why is this bad?”

    It’s bad because it’s a pipe dream, Bernice. Socialize anything and you guarantee failure.

    We have socialized health care for the elderly; it become a gargantuan expenditure that demands bigger budgets each year to provide less and yet it’s still going broke.

    We socialized retirement accounts; they become a gargantuan expenditure that demands bigger budgets each year each year to provide less, and yet it is still going broke.

    I’m a realist, Bernice.

    I know I won’t be receiving any return on my investment to Social Security, and I’m prepared to handle it’s loss. However, I’m not sure I want to have to add another bundle of my life savings to be lost into a health care system that will be broke and broken when I need it.

  22. Submitted by Michael Darger on 03/02/2010 - 07:00 pm.

    Thomas Swift said Socialize anything and you guarantee failure.

    Huh? Bridges and roads. Schools, parks, government centers, public hospitals. These are all guaranteed to fail because they are “socialized”? I don’t understand the logic here. There are many things that I as an individual cannot build even if I was very wealthy. Yet they are things we deem essential to our society. Health care for the poor and basic retirement income for the aged have been deemed essentials by most of us and therefore we socialized them.

    I fear a non-socialized world much more than a socialized one.

  23. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 03/03/2010 - 12:43 pm.

    EVERY country in the world is some combination of pure socialism and pure capitalism. Neither pure system is perfect. It’s a matter of where you draw the line and I understand informed people can differ on it. However, calling something “socialism” or “socialist” is nothing more than name calling. However, try getting rid of Social Security or Medicare in the country and you will find a whole lot of senior citizens who are effectively socialists.

  24. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/05/2010 - 11:19 am.

    Thomas: George Bush wanted to privatize social security by forcing young workers into accounts managed by investment companies that would use their money to play the stock market. The difference between those accounts and Social Security is that Social Security pays a defined amount and the private accounts could be at or near zero if you happened to retire in, say, 2008, when our various bubbles burst.

    The R’s DID succeed in privatizing the drug portion of Medicare in 2003. When Dean Baker studied it in 2006, he found that we, as a country, were spending $80 billion more per year (tax dollars plus excess premiums, copays, deductibles and donut hole purchases for seniors) than if we had merely added drugs to the wonderfully socialized program called Medicare.

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