Majority Republicans in the House refuse to budge on a rule, ultimately rejecting a proposal by Governor Nixon to expand Medicaid coverage to 35,000.
Heated exchanges between Republicans and Democrats over the $23 billion state budget boil down to this simple request: suspension of House Rule 46 (F). Yet, the motion by Minority Leader Paul LeVota of Independence wasn’t so simple, setting off a debate lasting more than an hour.
The rule guides House debate on budget amendments. Under the rule, a member wishing to increase appropriations to a state program or service must propose decreasing appropriations somewhere else in the budget. In other words, to give money to one part of the budget, money must be taken from another part.
LeVota wanted to suspend the rule to enact Nixon’s proposal. The governor has reached an agreement with the Missouri Hospital Association to increase the provider tax on hospitals. The $14 million raised through that additional tax, plus an agreement by the hospitals not to seek $32 million in reimbursement the state would normally provide as partial payment for treating the uninsured could be used to draw down $93 million in federal money.
Though the plan wouldn’t cost the state any money, Republicans, such as Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt of Blue Springs, saw it as another attempt by Democrats to expand Welfare.
"It’s an insatiable thirst for more money to spend," Pratt said during floor debate, "whether we can find that through federal stimulus dollars, whether we can find that through tax increases, it’s an insatiable thirst to spend."
Democrats countered that Republicans are just as thirsty to spend; only they spend state money on other programs.
More than an hour of harsh accusations left Democrat Chris Kelly of Columbia, a supporter of the governor’s plan, frustrated.
"Mr. Speaker, today we engaged in an orgy of partisan rancor and none of us is without stain," Kelly told colleagues.
Republicans rejected the motion, and then they rejected another attempt. The state budget, as amended, has passed. The final vote comes today. Once given final approval in the House, the budget battles move on to the Senate.
The budget bills are HB 1 – 13.