Politics & Government

Senate Republicans unite against Cooper, say budget is ‘hostage’ to Medicaid expansion

NC Senate leader Berger responds to Gov. Cooper’s veto of budget

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger talks about his response after Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference announcing he would veto the budget Friday, June 28, 2019.
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N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger talks about his response after Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference announcing he would veto the budget Friday, June 28, 2019.

North Carolina Senate Republicans didn’t like what Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said about their leaders Wednesday. They responded in a letter signed by all 29 Republican members of the state Senate, saying that Cooper is holding the budget hostage over Medicaid expansion.

Talking to reporters after hosting a Medicaid expansion roundtable on Wednesday, Cooper said it was Republican leadership, not rank-and-file legislators, who are holding up budget negotiations.

On Thursday, every Republican Senate member signed a letter to Cooper saying he “mischaracterized our body’s budget position.”

It is almost three weeks into the new fiscal year that started July 1, but there’s still no state budget.

The House presented its budget in April, followed by the Senate in May; then they submitted what’s called the conference budget to the governor in June. Both chambers are led by Republicans. Cooper vetoed the budget on June 28, and negotiations have been at a standoff since then. A potential override vote on the veto has been on the House’s calendar for several days, but House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, has yet to call for the vote. At least seven House Democrats and all Republicans would be needed to pass a veto override.

The House override vote is tied to a Medicaid expansion compromise bill called NC Health Care for Working Families that would expand Medicaid but include work requirements and premiums. It made it through committee with bipartisan support. However, the Senate has not proposed any sort of compromise on Medicaid.

Gov. Roy Cooper listens to personal stories about living without health insurance from a group of North Carolina residents during a roundtable at the Andrews-London House in Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

Senators wrote in their letter that they support a special session just to discuss Medicaid. The conference budget that Cooper vetoed encouraged him to call that special session. But first, GOP senators want a budget passed. There’s no state government shutdown, but state employee raises and other projects are on hold until the budget passes. Last year’s budget rolls over for now.

“We wish to pass into law a budget for the 2019-21 biennium. We believe that this budget can and should reflect compromise between the House, Senate, and Executive Branch,” senators wrote.

“We believe that this budget should not be held hostage over your Medicaid-or-nothing ultimatum. We support the conference report provision endorsing a special session dedicated exclusively to health care access issues, including your top priority of Medicaid expansion. We oppose your ultimatum that no 2019-21 budget will become law unless the legislature first passes Medicaid expansion,” they wrote.

A statement from Cooper’s office on Thursday said the governor has not issued an ultimatum on any issue.

“Instead of negotiating, Republican leaders have spent their time recklessly and irresponsibly auctioning off the headquarters for the Department of Health and Human Services, cynically risking vital jobs and services, to any Democrat who will join them to override the Governor’s budget veto,” the release said.

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“The ball is in the Republicans’ court, and they should stop trying to bribe Democrats to override the Governor’s veto and submit their counter proposal,” Cooper spokesperson Sadie Weiner said in the release.

Republicans have a majority in the Senate, but need at least one Democrat to vote with them to override vetoes.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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