“I’ll see your veto and raise you the Department of Health and Human Services.”
That seemed to be the message from state Republicans last week, who are so obsessed with not providing health coverage to thousands of cash-strapped North Carolinians that they’re willing to dangle the largest agency in state government as payola.
Specifically, Republicans are trying to buy enough votes from Democrats to overturn a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who rejected the GOP’s budget primarily because it did not include Medicaid expansion.
So now the GOP is tempting some Democrats with the possible relocation of the state’s DHHS headquarters to their communities.
It’s the kind of pitch you’d expect from a used-car salesman. And Guilford and Forsyth counties are only two of the potential suckers. As the Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week, also in the running are Cumberland, Granville, Harnett and Wayne counties.
But wait, there’s more. Smaller enticements are also being offered to individual legislative districts throughout the state to tempt Democrats to break ranks. One local Democrat who already split with his party is state Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point, who voted for the GOP budget that Cooper vetoed. Brockman cited funding for initiatives in the district he represents as the reason: $1 million for the John Coltrane Jazz and Blues Festival; $250,000 each for the High Point Arts Council and High Point Preservation Society; and $100,000 apiece for various social or economic programs.
While Brockman supports Medicaid expansion, he says, he has also got to look out for his constituents. He doesn’t see the money for his district as a payoff. He sees it as how politics gets done in the state.
But if Democrats want to be taken seriously, at some point they have to stop giving in. Republicans have lost their veto-proof majority in the House. They can’t pass a budget without Democratic votes.
And there is no sane or humane reason to deny health coverage to as many as 600,000 North Carolinians with a program that is 90% funded by the federal government and that also would create jobs, help address the opioid crisis and support struggling rural hospitals.
Turning down Medicaid expansion simply because it’s an Obama-era initiative is not only petty and cynical, it’s downright cruel. That’s why Democrats should make it clear to Republicans that they will not be bought or sold.
While Cooper is standing fast in his support for Medicaid expansion, he’s also expressed his willingness to compromise on other key elements of the Republican budget, including supporting all the special local projects that Republican leaders have promoted. That would include 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. We’d like to see those items returned to the budget, too. They would certainly be feathers in the caps of sponsors Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth.
Legislators return to work today and we hope they’ve had time to think good and hard about the needs of the state. Supporters of Medicaid expansion have never had a stronger hand to play. They may well win — as long as they stand firm and stand together.