Immediately after his election last week, House Speaker Scott Bedke said he would resist appointing lopsided committees advancing his agenda.
“When you have regional balance, when you avoid the appearance of a stacked committee, then things go a lot better,” said Bedke, R-Oakley.
But Bedke’s handling of the House Health & Welfare Committee suggests an exception to his rule. At minimum, he’s populated the panel with enough open minds to give Gov. Butch Otter a chance to get a state-run insurance exchange through the 2013 Legislature.
It was resistance in the House, led by former Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, that blocked Otter’s effort last session.
The new Health & Welfare Committee is chaired by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley ,a physician sits on the task force reviewing Medicaid expansion for Otter. Otter said Tuesday he prefers state control to the default federal exchange because it can be tailored and governed at home.
Wood replaces an exchange foe, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, who retired.
Bedke expanded the committee from 10 to 11, shifted an afternoon meeting time to morning, and elevated it to “privileged” status, meaning the panel can introduce legislation late in the session.
The schedule forced a senior opponent off the panel, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who left to keep his post as chairman of State Affairs.
Wood is one of just three holdovers on Health & Welfare. The others are the two Democrats, Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, also a doc who favors the exchange; and Sue Chew, D-Boise, a pharmacist and likely “yes” vote.
Two more new members look to support Otter, Vice Chairman Christy Perry, R-Nampa, and Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. That gives Wood five “yes,” votes, one short of a majority.
New House GOP Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Ada County, would ordinarily be a “no” vote because of his very conservative outlook. But he’s now part of Bedke’s leadership team and may take a second look.
The five freshmen are key: Reps. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg; Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell; Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene; Ed Morse, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony.
Morse could well be a “yes.” He’s practical guy who won his seat by defeating a vociferous Obamacare foe, Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, in the primary. A real estate appraiser, he was recruited by business-minded Republicans, who are the most important force backing an exchange.
I don’t have a read on Hixon, but clues about Hancey, Malek and Romrell suggest they’ll be susceptible to Otter’s arguments.
Hancey is a retired Ford dealer who was urged to run by former Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, a thoughtful moderate.
Malek, a lawyer, works for a firm serving federally qualified community health clinics, Community Link Consulting. He has no knee-jerk aversion to dealing with feds.
Romrell is a former hospital administrator who ran two institutions at once, Fremont General Hospital in St. Anthony and Afton Memorial Hospital in Afton, Wyo. He spent 40 years as Fremont County coroner and six years on the county commission. Again, not someone to put ideology ahead of practicalities.
The thrust of the opposition argument is a soft-core case for nullification: though the Supreme Court affirmed Obamacare and the people re-elected the president, states should refuse to cooperate in a quixotic quest to undermine federal law.
Here’s what Wayne Hoffman, a loud foe, had to say: “Gov. Otter’s decision makes the national effort of resistance much more difficult and more likely the law will remain in place, at great cost to Idaho families, businesses and our nation’s economic vitality.”
Hoffman is a former Statesman reporter and executive director the Idaho Freedom Foundation, where he has to raise money to eat. One can’t blame him for refusing to let go of Obamascare, a reliable fundraising spur.
Lt. Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday that Otter spoke with Bedke, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and other GOP leaders about 30 minutes before he made his decision known.
The House and Senate Health & Welfare committees won’t be alone in reviewing an exchange. The Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee must approve spending and the House Business and Senate Commerce panels may also play.
Joint House-Senate hearings by the germane committees could be followed by a recommendation to JFAC, which is co-chaired by another prominent exchange advocate, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.
Real-world considerations will fuel Otter’s pitch to preserve Idaho’s options, Little said. “We lost at the Supreme Court. We lost at the ballot box. We’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons. If we don’t try, we’re going to get a tart-tasting lemon."
Speaker Bedke’s picks for Health & Welfare suggest his lemonade stand is open for business.
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