Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s ability to sustain his first high-profile veto against a Republican-controlled legislature may increase the odds of an expected test of wills over the 2019-20 state budget and Medicaid expansion.

However, political scientists and policy analysts are mixed on whether the GOP’s inability Wednesday to override Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359 — titled “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” — will foreshadow the potential outcome, or serve as a sociopolitical outlier.

Heavyweight politicians on both sides — foremost Cooper and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham — have issued Medicaid statements that point at, and talk past, their opposition.

Berger fought Cooper’s Medicaid expansion plans even before the governor took office in January 2017.

The Senate GOP leadership was able to convince one Democratic senator — Don Davis of Pitt County — to be the necessary flip vote for its SB359 veto override.

However, House GOP leadership secured just two Democratic votes — five short of what was needed for override. There were four Democratic votes when the bill cleared the House on April 16.

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a leading expert on state legislatures, said he would separate SB359 from other social and budgetary issues before the legislature.

“I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from the born-alive bill for the fate of the budget bill or Medicaid expansion or other negotiations,” Dinan said. “Those issues all have their own separate politics and dynamics.”

Dinan said one conclusion that could be drawn from the failed veto override is that “House and Senate Democrats’ willingness to occasionally vote with Republicans on initial passage of bills is no guarantee that they will side with Republicans when it comes to overriding a veto and standing against the governor in that way.”

The office of Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, told N.C. Policy Watch that the three Democrats who voted in favor of the Senate budget version, including Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, have promised to uphold a veto.

“I think each issue stands alone on the merits, and issues related to the topic being debated and discussed,” Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said. “The budget is more about numbers and priorities of spending, and the born-alive bill was much different in my opinion.”

Lambeth said the sustained veto is a reflection of “a number of new Democrats elected (in 2018) from the money and support of the governor.”

“They are going to be loyal to him and the party regardless of the issue.

“So, it does appear they will stick together in a block to force the leadership of the General Assembly to negotiate with the governor on the budget.”

Sen. Paul Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth, said that "I believe that the veto being sustained is significant."'

"I’m not sure If it will encourage the governor to veto the budget proposal, however I certainly hope he does. Democratic blocs will always hold in the House, Senate or both in the face of legislation that is redundant, as the “Born Alive” legislation was.

"I hope the failure to override encourages the majority party to work with us in the minority party and the governor so that we can come up with a budget that delivers for the people of North Carolina and Forsyth County," Lowe said.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said she “has no idea what the governor will do regarding the budget.”

“The Senate passed a bipartisan, fiscally sound budget” that had three Democratic supporters. It is not clear if the three would vote to override a potential Cooper veto.

Krawiec called the SB359 House vote “political theater for the governor and many Democrats” even though only one House Democrat spoke during the more than 1-hour long debate in the House.

“The GOP has always been willing to compromise with the governor,” Krawiec said. “Many of his recommended budget items were included in the House and Senate budgets.

“We hope to reach a final compromise. Otherwise, teacher raises will not happen and many other important budget items will not take place.”

Expansion

Cooper has been crisscrossing the state, featuring presentations with medical providers and officials, to show his desire to expand Medicaid coverage to between 400,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians. The issue was a key policy issue during a heated campaign vs. former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Cooper’s 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,” according to a statement from his office.

“Closing the health care coverage gap would be a boost for rural communities,” Cooper said in a recent appeal to rural legislators concerned about their community hospital’s financial status.

A 2013 state law signed by McCrory surrendered the governor’s ability to expand Medicaid through executive order, as Ohio did with then-Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.

Expansion would allow many of those residents to be covered by health insurance, giving them access to affordable primary physician care and reduce the dependency on hospital emergency-department services.

However, neither the House or Senate budget proposal contains any Medicaid expansion language.

Cooper’s office said “this (Senate) budget leaves out Medicaid expansion that would close the health care coverage gap, and it shortchanges public schools in exchange for more corporate tax cuts.”

“The governor hopes to continue working with the House and Senate on a budget that does more to help hard working North Carolinians.”

‘New reality’

The vote to sustain the governor’s veto “may very well be a sign that Democrats will indeed hold under pressure and stand with the governor when it comes to future debates,” said Brendan Riley, policy analyst with left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

“That includes whether to proceed with a budget that under-invests in our state, while doing nothing to expand Medicaid for half a million North Carolinians currently struggling to choose between health care and putting food on the table.”

Riley said that “it would be in the best interest of our state if the Senate would be willing to compromise and negotiate with the governor in order to pass a budget that better reflects the needs and best interests of our state.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said the failure of the veto override in the House “proves how vital it was to break the Republican super-majority (in 2018) and elect pro-choice Democrats to the General Assembly.

“There’s a new reality in North Carolina, one where Republicans can no longer push extreme, divisive legislation purely for political gain.”

Meanwhile, Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of right-wing NC Values Coalition, said the failure to override Cooper’s veto will not deter their anti-abortion legislative efforts.

“Our pro-life coalition will not cease in advancing bills to protect the innocent babies inside and outside the womb,” Fitzgerald said. “Together, we will work to seat more members in the General Assembly who value life and promise to protect the next generation.”

Fitzgerald was a fervent supporter of the transgender restroom bill House Bill 2, passed in March 2016 in a special session, that cost the state economy billions of dollars from a nationwide backlash.

The legislation was somewhat replaced in March 2017 by House Bill 142, which resolved enough of the overlying issues for the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference to return championship events to the state.

What’s ahead

Dinan projects that the legislature will pass a state compromise budget without Medicaid expansion and Cooper will veto it.

“The governor will demand that Republican legislators include Medicaid expansion in the budget or he will not sign it,” Dinan said.

“Republicans (will) argue that the issues should be separated and that the governor should sign the budget without Medicaid expansion, and that Medicaid can be discussed and dealt with separately.”

The reality of that scenario is that GOP legislative leaders have chosen not to address two Democratic-sponsored bills that would expand Medicaid, nor the Republican option introduced by Lambeth that has gained bipartisan support.

House Bill 655 contains two controversial elements: a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients between ages 19 and 64; and an assessment for health care systems and prepaid health plans (PHP) to pay for the state’s 10% share of additional administrative costs. Health-care systems and PHPs operating in the state would pay $758 million annually.

The federal government would pick up the remaining 90%, although Berger and other key GOP Senate leaders have tried to cast doubt on the sustainability of those federal funds. Berger released a statement March 11 in which he called the health-care assessment a tax that he claimed would be passed on to patients.

The N.C. Healthcare Association said it supports HB655 “as a common-sense option” to close the coverage gap and increase affordable access to health insurance for working individuals and families in North Carolina.”

However, the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center said in a report released Tuesday that the work requirement in HB655 “would likely cause 23% of expansion beneficiaries to lose their coverage.”

“The theory of proponents of work requirements is that, by requiring this reporting, people will find a job. Such a theory lacks evidence from real-world application.

“In fact, research shows that the strongest improvements to labor force participation and employment outcomes have come from income supports and the establishment of strong systems of referral and direct connection to work.”

Issues

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said House and Senate GOP leaders are unlikely to be persuaded on the state budget by the upholding of the SB359 veto.

“Legislative leaders are just as likely or unlikely to compromise with Cooper today than they were a few days ago,” Kokai said.

Kokai said it is expected that Cooper would veto any Republican-derived state budget since he did for the first two budgets of his term. Both were overridden within a week.

“Cooper paved the way for a veto by tying his budget so closely to Medicaid expansion — a goal key legislative leaders never have endorsed.”

Kokai said the decision to hold the veto override vote Wednesday “says more about legislative Republicans than it says about Cooper.”

“House leaders could have tried to wait for an opportune time to bring the bill back to the floor any time between now and the 2020 election, waiting for a moment when missing Democrats would have made a veto override possible.”

“Instead, Speaker Tim Moore gave his colleagues several days of advanced warning.

“The failed override vote sent a message to bill supporters,” Kokai said. “The issue was important to House Republicans, but they accepted the fact that they would not be able to get seven Democrats to join them.”

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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