Republican Govs. blast Baucus bill

A group of Republican governors are working together in a coordinated attack on Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) healthcare reform legislation, according to GOP sources and documents obtained by The Hill.

At least 14 of the nation’s 22 Republican governors have sent, or will soon send, letters to their respective congressional delegations claiming the Democrats’ healthcare bills would bankrupt their states.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been actively involved in the effort. And while Republican lawmakers are hoping the GOP governors will be more united against Democratic healthcare reform bills than they were on the $787-billion stimulus, not all of governors are on board yet.

The eight Republican governors who have not committed to writing critical letters are Charlie Crist (Fla.), Jodi Rell (Conn.), Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), Bob Riley (Ala.), Bobby Jindal (La.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Jim Douglas (Vt.). Of these, Crist, Douglas and Rell were strong proponents of the stimulus package that was rejected by all but three Republicans in Congress.

Republican governors have previously lambasted healthcare reform legislation in the House, so while their criticism addresses bills in both chambers, their main target is the Baucus’s bill, which was unveiled earlier this month.

The blunt condemnation of the measure being marked up in the Senate Finance Committee comes as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and a handful of Democrats on the panel are seeking changes to it. 

GOP Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman told his delegation, including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), that that “this new unfunded federal Medicaid mandate could result in the higher taxes on Nebraskans or in cutting state aid to Nebraska’s school districts as well as state appropriations to our universities, state colleges and community colleges.”

Nelson, a centrist, has refused to commit to voting with Democrats on procedural roll calls on healthcare reform legislation. If Nelson sided with Republicans, he would significantly increase the chances of a successful GOP filibuster.

Other Republican governors, including Haley Barbour (Miss.), Mitch Daniels (Ind.) and Rick Perry (Texas), echoed Heineman in letters they have recently sent to Capitol Hill. Governors from Hawaii, Arizona, Alaska, California, Rhode Island, South Carolina and others plan to follow suit before week’s end.

Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), was the first to pen a “letter of concern” to lawmakers from his state. And it provided a template for others to follow.

The Baucus proposal is the most centrist health plan when compared to the other bills approved by the Senate health committee and measures cleared by three House panels. Liberals have focused their criticism of the Baucus plan on its lack of a public option.

But Barbour and other governors are seizing on what they claim are unfunded mandates.

“The current proposals, both in the House and Senate, will expand the Medicaid program at additional costs paid not by the federal government, but passed down to the states,” Barbour wrote earlier this month.

Republicans are touting an editorial in Monday’s Wall Street Journal titled, “Max’s Mad Mandate.” The op-ed called Baucus’s bill “the mother — and father and crazy uncle — of unfunded mandates.”

A Finance Committee Democratic aide disputed Republican assertions, stating that “the benefits of health reform for states outweigh the costs. Under the chairman’s mark, the federal government would cover nearly all of the costs of increasing Medicaid eligibility.”

Baucus will continue to press that point this week as his committee concludes the mammoth markup meetings that started last Tuesday and sends a final product to the floor.
Republican governors are planning to issue a joint statement of their concerns later this week.

Though Barbour coordinated the letter-writing effort among the governors, it is part of a larger initiative launched by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this year to increase the outreach among state heads and congressional leaders. Sources say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also playing a leading role on this issue.

Democratic governors have raised concerns about the House healthcare bill, but some of them backtracked this summer. The Democratic governors, including Brian Schweitzer (Mont.) and Martin O’Malley (Md.), accused staff at the National Governors Association of giving them false information after a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, according to a report.

This article was updated on Sept. 29 at 1:05 p.m.