With state leaders at loggerheads on budget negotiations for a 16th day, both parties held firm to their Medicaid expansion stances.
The House Republican leadership chose Tuesday, for a sixth consecutive session, not to vote on overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the budget and not to address Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 665.
Instead, the veto override and HB655 carried over to today’s 11 a.m. session as the waiting game continued.
Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the Republican budget compromise June 28. Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said during a press conference Tuesday that while the Senate GOP leadership wants to negotiate with Cooper and Democratic legislative leaders on the budget, he remains firm in his opposition to any insertion of Medicaid expansion.
That includes HB655, which Berger has criticized for including an assessment charge to hospital and medical providers that he says will serve eventually as a tax on patients. The bill has drawn criticism for including a work and premium-payment requirement on recipients.
When asked about the potential for passing HB655, which currently would go into effect only after the current state budget bill becomes law, Berger paraphrased a Shakespearean quote by saying “a rose by any other name will smell the same.”
Berger said Medicaid expansion is “a very important policy issue, but it shouldn’t hold up the budget process.”
Cooper said in a letter sent to legislative leaders on July 10 that, “in recent days, it has become clear that you do not have the votes to override my veto of the budget. I don’t believe you are likely to secure those votes.”
On Tuesday, Cooper expressed in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal his confidence in not only the budget veto surviving an override vote, but also that there are enough Republican votes in the House and Senate to pass HB655.
“We definitely have the votes in the House for passage of the Medicaid expansion bill even with the work and premium requirements, but that alone doesn’t get Medicaid expansion,” Cooper said.
“There are nine to 10 Senate Republicans who are amendable to a settlement on Medicaid expansion” that’s contained in HB655, Cooper said.
The governor said he is willing to accept key elements of the Republican budget, such as supporting all the special local projects that Republican leaders have been promoting to entice Democratic legislators to support a veto override.
Cooper said his counterproposal on the budget includes restoring the $42.2 million to renovate the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem and $15 million for the Hauser building renovation at Winston-Salem State University.
Cooper said his proposal pays for those special projects by eliminating the next round of corporate tax-rate cuts, slated to go from 3% to 2.5%.
Cooper said that Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, “could play key roles in getting these projects for Forsyth and expanding health-care coverage.” Lambeth is a primary sponsor of HB655 and the lead House budget writer.
“North Carolina voters want balanced government and (GOP leaders) want to continue to have 100% control of the budget process,” Cooper said. “We should be able to find common ground on passing a good budget, but they are spending all their energy on overriding the veto.”
House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters after the July 8 session — the first session to skip a vote — that “we’re going to wait until the time is right.”
Berger said Tuesday that after talking last week with Cooper and Democratic leaders, “it is clear that there was nothing that could be done as far as budget negotiations moving forward unless there is an agreement that Medicaid expansion was either part of the budget or was passed in advanced of the budget.”
Berger said the Senate is inclined to stick with its plans to adjourn the current session on July 22 — to reconvene Aug. 27 for a limited session — even though Moore told reporters Monday night that the House is likely not to follow the same timeline.
Berger said, “we will continue to have negotiations with the House” on an adjournment date.
“The speaker has some expectations that an override will take place, and I am hopeful that is the case,” Berger said.
“We have been here a while and I don’t know that it makes a lot of sense for us to keep people here for an indefinite period of time.”
Moore said the House GOP leadership has “a number of policy bills that we’re still working through,” according to legislative media outlet The Insider.
“Those bills include one that requires sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.”
House Bill 370 would force the state’s 100 sheriffs to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on detainers to hold jail inmates who may be in the country illegally. The dispute is mostly between Republican legislators and sheriffs in eight urban counties, including, Forsyth.
The House passed its version of HB370 by a 63-51 vote on April 3. The Senate, after making changes to the House version, passed the bill by a 25-18 vote June 24. The bill remains in the House Rules and Operations committee.
Moore said he expects HB370 to be placed on the House floor agenda before adjournment, but didn’t know when.
Analysts have said Moore is likely waiting on the outcome of the budget-veto override vote before addressing HB370. If Cooper is able to maintain his budget veto, it’s likely he will feel more comfortable in expecting a veto of HB370 to stick as well.
Berger said he would like to proceed with passage of a Senate bill that would provide limited exceptions to the state’s certificate-of-need laws for medical facilities and equipment, as well as the state Farm Act and legislation that would allow Duke Energy to line up profitable infrastructure projects years into the future and bypass lengthy regulatory battles.
The Duke Energy legislation has been blasted by lobbyists for large manufacturers and other industrial customers, Google, Walmart, the AARP and clean-energy groups who see it as increasing the utility’s ability to raise power rates by reducing the ability of consumers to resist.
Berger has pitched the idea of holding a special session specifically on health care once the state budget is signed into law
Cooper said it is “a fantasy to think Medicaid expansion would happen in a special session.”
According to a statement from Cooper’s office, his budget plan “recommends expanding Medicaid to bring $4 billion into North Carolina’s economy, create an estimated 40,000 jobs and provide more affordable health care for 500,000 people.”
Lambeth has said in promoting HB655 that he was not certain how many jobs would be created through the legislation, but he said, “there will be jobs created.”
“It needs to be in the budget because it would add $4 billion to the $24 billion budget, and it would prove to be one of the most pivotal economic initiatives the state has ever undertaken,” Cooper said.
“There’s no reason to hold a special session on health care when there is a vehicle to move forward in front of us now.”