The big noise in Helena yesterday was the final hearing on a compromise Medicaid expansion alternative, SB 405 which is being carried by Sen. Ed Buttrey, the Republican from Great Falls. It was heard in front of a committee chaired by angry Tea Partier Art Wittich (R-Bozeman).
Humiliated that they were outnumbered 10 to 1 at previous hearings, the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity rented a bus this time and hauled in (and may have actually paid) a few dozen idiots to rant and rave at the lectern about deficits, Obama, “taking back our country,” hatred of the U.S. government, conspiracies and so on. They were still outnumbered by supporters 2-1.
Highlights included testimony from AFP head Zach Lahn, who is in an understandable panic these days because Montana might become the first state where AFP loses the Medicaid battle. Lahn told the committee that if Medicaid expansion passes, people “won’t take raises or job promotions anymore.” Yes, that is the intellectual level on which the opponents were making their arguments. I suppose it’s no wonder that the AFP has crashed and burned in this fight in Montana.
Also arriving on the AFP bus was a young man named Chris Puyear, a 22-year-old Tea Partier. He ranted at the committee that he is “frightened for his future” if Medicaid expansion becomes law. Puyear left out an important fact: he himself is (almost certainly) covered under the health insurance policy of his father, who is the lobbyist for the Montana Association of Rural Schools, a group that is funded by public money.
So if he is frightened for his future, Puyear might think about other people who are 22 years old and have no parents to cover them, have no college education, and earn $12,000 a year. I would say that THEY have the right to be frightened about their future, much more than this idiot who came on the AFP bus.
Then there was testimony from another AFP top staffer, Henry Kriegel. (Before becoming a top man for the Koch Brothers in Montana, Kriegel was a high ranking member in a cult called Church Universal Triumphant, whose members dug a deep bunker and filled it with enough food for ten years, because they thought the world was going to end at any minute.) In the hearing today, Kriegel made two bizarre assertions. First, he tried to claim that studies show that Medicaid “has no impact on patient outcomes.” What this means is anyone’s guess. If you have cancer and no health insurance, you can’t get chemo. If you have Medicaid, you can–and from the same doctors everyone else has. These are simple facts, backed up by decades of research. Indeed AFP’s claims have already been soundly debunked.
Kriegel then turned to Ed Buttrey, the sponsor, and accused him of having “written his bill in the dark of night” or something to that effect. He said he was furious that Buttrey did not show him the contents of his bill “before it was drafted,” a strange thing to say given that no bill is available to the public before its drafted. It doesn’t exist until there’s a draft. Several other TEA Partiers took to attacking Buttery personally, presumably because they couldn’t think of any real reason to oppose the bill except, and I quote, “gub’mint ruins America” and “I would know because I was a football coach 30 years ago.”
Finally came the bizarre climax of the hearing. Inexplicably, the Tea Party Republican committee members began offering amendments to the bill, one after the other, turning what is a conservative Medicaid expansion bill into an all out, clean Medicaid expansion bill, arguably more progressive than the Governor’s opening compromise bill that was killed in Wittich’s committee a few weeks ago. A final amendment changed the bill to a referendum, to be put on the ballot.
And then, with all these amendments added, the same legislators voted the bill down.
If it doesn’t make any sense to you, you are not alone. There was no logic to what was going on. The best guess is that the ring leader of all these shenanigans, Wittich who is the chair of the committee, thinks that he is “poisoning” the bill so that moderate Republicans in the house–who are backing the Buttrey bill at present–will no longer back it. Alas for Wittich, he apparently doesn’t understand that each of these amendments can be taken off the bill on the floor of the House.
So one thing is clear, from what we saw from the Tea Party today: it’s no surprise that they are losing this battle. These laughable wing-nut tautologies, cherry-picked “arguments” and blatant lies are the best they’ve got. They were no match by Sen. Buttrey, who easily shot down every ludicrus statement–and clearly could have done so with one hand tied behind his back. It is amateur hour, and the amateurs are getting desperate.
For more highlights and the latest on what you can do, see the guest post below by Linda Gryczan.