Democrats in the Minnesota House have failed in their attempt to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto of a health care bill affecting thousands of low-income adults. They needed three Republican votes Monday to override, but the minority caucus stood united in support of the governor.
DFLers say the issue could be headed back to the bargaining table, or perhaps even to court.
The House passed the bill to extend General Assistance Medical Care last month by wide, bipartisan margins. But Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the measure, saying it he was concerned about its cost and the lack of reform.
GAMC serves more than 30,000 people a month. The Republican governor wants to automatically enroll GAMC patients into another state program, MinnesotaCare.
The MinnesotaCare program has a monthly premium and higher co-payments than General Assistance Medical Care.
On the House floor, Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, argued that the governor's plan is more expensive and leaves many low-income adults without coverage.
“The lack of compassion is just astounding for this governor, who is a Christian man, supposedly.”Rev. Jonathan Zielske, Hope Lutheran Church, St. Paul
"I know I'm asking a lot of you. I know an override vote is a tough vote. But this is our last opportunity to stop the implementation of a more expensive policy," said Murphy. "Today we are fighting for the vulnerable. Today we are fighting for what we believe. Today is policy before politics, and it is a test of our courage as policy makers."
But House Republicans who voted to pass the original bill said they had expected it to make a stop in a conference committee, where it could have been improved. Instead, the Senate quickly passed the House version of the bill and sent it to the governor.
Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, said he wants to see negotiations continue with the governor's office to find a compromise.
"What the majority is doing by going forward with this attempt to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto is giving up on the poor, is giving up on the people who rely on this program," said Kohls. "What you're doing, members, is you're giving up on negotiations."
Several charitable organizations and clergy groups had pressured GOP legislators to vote for the override. And religious themes surfaced during a long, sometimes emotional floor debate on the override.
"When I vote, I vote my conscience, my constituents, and my caucus, in that order," said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd. "The governor was quoted as saying, 'God is in charge.' I couldn't agree with that more. My faith and the God that I serve taught me early in my life that I need to take care of, and fight for, my brothers and sisters less fortunate than me."
“Just because I vote against the override, doesn't mean I'm any less a Christian.”Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder
Republicans defended their decision to vote against the override, and criticized Democrats for injecting religion into the debate.
"It gives me a tough feeling when you and your members mention God in the debate here and then trot out your Bible whenever it's convenient," Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said. "I urge you to trot that Bible out again when we talk about abortion. I urge you to trot that Bible out again when we talk about gay rights and what Christians feel about that, some Christians. Don't do it just when it's convenient and try to make us feel guilty."
A group of GAMC recipients, local clergy, and social service providers gathered for a brief silent vigil Monday afternoon at the state Capitol, while the House debated the measure.
"The lack of compassion is just astounding for this governor, who is a Christian man, supposedly," said Jonathan Zielske, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in St. Paul. "I don't know how he reads the Gospels, hears what Jesus says, and then goes through with some of these policies."
Duyane Jernagin, of Minneapolis, relies on the program for his medical care. "It's going to be awful," he said.
Jernagin, like many low-income residents, expressed confusion about being switched to MinnesotaCare.
"The change is something we don't know anything about," he said.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Pawlenty said he was confident his veto would be sustained. He also said he was hopeful Democrats would then look to compromise on a health care measure. Pawlenty didn't offer many specifics about what he may be thinking.
Technically, the override issue remains alive and could come up for another vote before the session ends. The matter also could be headed to court.
Following the vote, DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she expects a lawsuit to be filed within 24 hours to try to stop the state from shifting GAMC enrollees to MinnesotaCare.
The issue would be that the governor has the authority to veto spending for GAMC, but not to increase spending by transfering people to a more expensive alternative. Kelliher did not specify who would file the suit.