Commentary

Desperate for excuses, NC Senate Republican leaders try new ploy to forestall closing Medicaid gap

You’ve got to hand it to North Carolina Senate Republicans: just when it looked like they’d all but run out of excuses in their costly and deadly crusade to keep a half-million North Carolinians from obtaining health insurance, they’ve manufactured a new and preposterous one out of whole cloth.

In case you missed the whole silly charade, it happened on Wednesday when the Republicans voted to “table” a proposed Democratic amendment to a health bill. The amendment would have provided for the Medicaid expansion that’s so long overdue in the state. After the vote, some Republicans advanced the silly claim that because the amendment was “tabled,” Senate rules technically proscribe the consideration of the matter for the rest of the legislative session. Medicaid expansion, therefore, is “dead” for 2019, went the argument.

This claim is, in a word, preposterous. What’s next — a claim that Sen. Phil Berger’s dog ate his copy of the proposal?

Senate “rules” are not laws or constitutional provisions. They are merely self-imposed guidelines that are waived and/or suspended every day. As Sen. Jay Chaudhuri pointed out, the Senate suspended its rules earlier this week in order to speed passage of new voter ID legislation.

If someone ever wanted to attempt to invoke such a rule later in the 2019 session in an effort to prevent a vote on Medicaid expansion and it was somehow adjudged to be a proper motion, the rule could be easily waived.

The bottom line: As Sen. Minority Leader Dan Blue told WRAL’s Travis Fain, “This rule is not going to keep us from debating the issues that are important to North Carolinians. Nothing has changed. If it’s going to take Medicaid expansion to pass a budget, it will take Medicaid expansion. … If they want to expand Medicaid and this rule is in the way, you suspend the rule.”

Blue is absolutely right. Republicans are not going to be able to deny the overwhelming will of the people (a recent Meredith College poll found that North Carolinians support Medicaid expansion by a margin of better than four-to-one) by invoking obscure parliamentary rules. At some point in 2019, Republicans are going to have to come around on this issue. The people and simple justice demand it.

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