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Capitol Retort: Insurance relief, Russian threat, Willie weed

Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.

Question 1: The Minnesota Senate passed its health insurance premium relief with a raft of reforms attached. The governor says he won’t sign it unless its $150 million reinsurance component is stripped out for reconsideration later. Will that be a deal breaker, or do you see room for compromise?

Greg Davids, Republican House Taxes Committee chair: I think there is room for compromise. The Senate has passed their bill; we’ll pass our bill. We’ll get together in conference committee, working with the governor’s office, and get a deal done.

Brian Rice, Minneapolis lobbyist and attorney: I would see room for compromise. It’s a very critical issue for a large number of Minnesotans. I think the governor and the Senate certainly want to find common ground on issues and this might be one of the most important ones that they can do so early in the session.

They did that on tax conformity and the governor signed that. Now obviously, on this one, the Senate is taking a different tack. But I certainly saw [Senate Majority Leader Paul] Gazelka indicate a willingness to try to work with the administration early on the tax conformity bill. And I would think, in the end, he would want to do the same on this health care issue.

Amy Koch, former Republican Senate Majority leader: I am hopeful that there is room for compromise. There has to be.

I think it is unrealistic to pass a major relief package without at least the beginnings of reform to get at the bigger problem. Because everyone, including the governor, acknowledges that the premium increase that they are fixing is a symptom — a very big, painful symptom — of a much bigger issue that has to be tackled. It just makes sense to me. Some reforms getting at the underlying problem, I think, are reasonable when you are spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Question 2: As Congress went through its confirmation process last week, it became clear that on some matters — notably the Russian threat — there is much daylight between President-elect Donald Trump and his Cabinet picks. Is this a good thing? Or is it a recipe for chaos?

Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testified Jan. 11 at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. Barraged by questions about Russia, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state promised a far more muscular approach toward the Kremlin, abandoning much of the president-elect's emphasis on improving ties between the Cold War foes. (AP photo)

Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testified Jan. 11 at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington. Barraged by questions about Russia, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state promised a far more muscular approach toward the Kremlin, abandoning much of the president-elect’s emphasis on improving ties between the Cold War foes. (AP photo)

Davids: President-elect Trump has said [to Cabinet prospects] that they are to call it the way they see it. I think he is going to allow them to use their expertise in making decisions and recommendations to him. The buck stops with the president-elect when he becomes president.

I don’t think it is bad to have differences of opinion. That’s what that [Washington, D.C.] Capitol building was built for, and I think that is just fine. Just so long as you hear from both sides.

Rice: Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” and I agreed with him. In fact, it’s probably more evil now than it was in Reagan’s time. Because the Communist Party, even then, had some semblance of responsibility in that there were still several members of the Politburo alive at that time who were soldiers in the Red Army. I think they understood the threat. At many levels, they experienced the devastation of military conflict — tens of millions of Russians died in that war.

So, if there is daylight between Trump and his nominees, maybe that means there are still a few Reaganites left in the Republican Party.

Koch: I fall on the side of Russia is a threat. It has been a threat and it continues to be a threat. Putin is not a friend and he should be treated that way in action. Now, diplomatically and relationship-wise, whatever is being cultivated there can be one thing. But the intelligence community needs to be supported in the fact that Russia is a threat and Putin is a threat.

I think that in every administration there is the messaging and then there is the actual work that is being done. So, I don’t see this as a recipe for chaos. It can be a smart thing, actually, to have a public face and then work being done [behind the scenes]. And if that is what is happening, good.

 

In this Jan. 7 photo, Willie Nelson performs in Nashville, Tenn. The 83-year-old outlaw country icon wants to help a lot of people give marijuana a try. (AP photo)

In this Jan. 7 photo, Willie Nelson performs in Nashville, Tenn. The 83-year-old outlaw country icon wants to help a lot of people give marijuana a try. (AP photo)

Question 3: Country singer Loretta Lynn reported tried pot for the first time at age 83 to relieve glaucoma. She didn’t like it. But her friend Willie Nelson says she should give it another try. How comfortable would you be with Willie Nelson’s medical advice?

Davids: I think he better stick to singin’ country and let the doctors take care of medical issues. You gotta love Willie Nelson. But I wouldn’t take any medical advice from him.

Rice: I’ve always taken Willie’s advice when it comes to love, but I will pass when it comes to medical and tax advice.

Koch: [Laughs] OK, I would be completely uncomfortable with Willie Nelson’s medical advice. But I would be extraordinarily comfortable with Willie’s pot advice. The man knows cannabis.

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