“I’ll see your veto and raise you the Department of Health and Human Services.”
That seems to be the message from state Republicans, 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 Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat 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 BH Media’s Richard Craver reported last week, also in the running are Cumberland, Granville, Harnett and Wayne counties.
But 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 was clearly smarting from criticism he has received from some fellow Democrats, including a billboard along I-40 from a progressive group, Progress NC Action, that urges him to “Stand with Gov. Cooper and sustain the budget veto!”
Brockman 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. As for Brockman’s dilemma, it’s understandable. “I’m gonna keep fighting for my district,” he said in an interview Friday. “I don’t care if they primary me. I don’t care if I lose my seat.”
Another Guilford Democrat, state Rep. Amos Quick of Greensboro, sees it differently. Noting total of $43 million in the GOP budget toward renovation of UNCG’s Jackson Library, new programs and construction at N.C. A&T and a new mental health crisis center for Guilford County, Quick acknowledged the stakes. But those projects deserve to be funded in any version of the budget, he said.
As for DHHS, Quick said, “No serious discussions have been had. It’s just promises — candy in exchange for a vote.”
He’s right. Sometimes you have to draw a line. Sometimes you have to make it clear that no means no. This is that moment for the Democrats.
Ironically, Brockman has criticized his party for not holding out for the total repeal in 2017 of the state’s costly and reprehensible “bathroom law,” House Bill 2. Instead, Gov. Cooper accepted a partial rollback of the law, defending the deal then as the best Democrats could get. It wasn’t.
Same difference with Medicaid expansion.
If Brockman wasn’t willing to surrender on HB 2, he shouldn’t be willing to surrender on Medicaid, either.