Could lawmakers trade on income tax reduction, Medicaid expansion?

Below, a column of political analysis by Geoff Pender:

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn wants an overhaul of state taxes, including the elimination of personal income tax and an increase in sales and other taxes.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann wants lawmakers to consider a solution to state health care, which – although he hates even to pronounce the term – would most certainly include some form of Medicaid expansion with federal dollars.

Each seems disinterested, if not outright opposed, to the initiative of the other.

Both proposals are the subject of much fear and loathing among state lawmakers, other elected leaders and political scholars. Both could be vetoed by Governor Tate Reeves – a tall order to overcome. And both have ardent supporters and detractors among the citizens and the industrial complex. Both could potentially be taken out of the hands of lawmakers by voters, should lawmakers ever step aside and re-establish the ballot-initiative process that the Supreme Court had devastated this year.

Could there be room for some good old-fashioned political haggling on Capitol Hill over these two supercharged issues?

May be. It depends on a lot of ifs and ifs and leadership. We should know more after some Senate hearings on “health care delivery” (don’t call it the Medicaid expansion) that have reportedly been scheduled for September.

For starters, Hosemann should be much stronger on health care reform (don’t call it the Medicaid expansion). He said he was open to it, wanted to study it and “it’s all on the table” and said people shouldn’t hang on to “nicknames” such as the expansion of Medicaid (although he wouldn’t utter those words even when he said this). But he stopped before publicly approving the expansion.

Perhaps his strongest verbiage to date came at this year’s Neshoba County Fair, when he said, “We are working to make healthcare more accessible and affordable in Mississippi. Gone are the days of just saying “no” to our options for working Mississippians. When a cancer diagnosis can ruin a family, we have a responsibility to help. Plus, no Mississippian should be more than 30 minutes from an emergency room.

“This fall, the Senate will hold hearings and deepen the delivery of health care in our state. From managed care to scope of practice issues to insurance options, it’s all on the table.

Hosemann should come out a lot harder pushing what has been a Republican bugaboo in Mississippi. He would have the support of hospitals and other groups. It could end up with the support of the state’s business leaders through the Mississippi Economic Council. MEC said it was in the process of surveying its members about the expansion of Medicaid, but the results are still pending. Another big and so.

As for Gunn, he is quite fiercely opposed to the expansion of Medicaid and apparently has higher political ambitions for which such a step could be an anvil collar in a GOP primary.

All kidding aside, executives should come up with a program that would provide political cover to rock-rib Republicans, and they should call it something other than the Medicaid expansion.

Gunn really, really wants his tax reform plan. He called it the most important political proposal of his career. Would he be prepared to consider health care reform in return, especially if the business world approves of it? Of course, lawmakers are constitutionally not supposed to make such exchanges, but the realpolitik is that it happens often.

If House and Senate leaders were to come to an agreement on the Tax and Medicaid proposals, then the heavy lifting would come: securing a veto-proof two-thirds majority of lawmakers to sign.

Governor Reeves has time and again vowed to oppose any form of Medicaid expansion, which he calls “the Obamacare expansion.” He also vowed to oppose any tax deal (he simply supports the elimination of income tax) that includes a “tax swap,” raising taxes to offset cuts.

Reeves would likely not be a party or facilitator of legislative negotiations on such proposals. Negotiations and facilitating negotiations are not his thing, and his relationship with the Legislature can’t really be called a relationship. He is either for something or for something, and he is generally against most of the things that others put forward.

The bottom line: As leaders mull over the many assumptions, two of the most monumental political questions that lawmakers have faced in recent history remain unresolved.

– Article credit to Geoff Pender of Mississippi today

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