If you only read the first paragraph of the Wednesday page one Strib story about Gov. Tim Pawlenty‘s executive order on federal health care money, you could be excused for thinking something actually happened: “In a move that could cost the state $1 billion or more in federal health care funds, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced an executive order Tuesday designed to keep what he terms ‘Obamacare’ out of Minnesota.”
Hooey. Pawlenty did issue an executive order on Tuesday, but it appears to be a largely ceremonial document. And that breathless citation of a $1 billion impact? It’s mainly a reference to the federal money associated with the state’s early-expansion Medicaid option. The fate of that initiative, at least for the duration of Pawlenty’s term, was laid to rest in end-of-session wrangling between the governor’s office and the DFL Legislature nearly four months ago. (For what it’s worth, the Strib story puts the lie to its own opening clause by noting that a) Pawlenty’s refusal of the money is already a long-done deal and b) the next governor will have the opportunity to reverse him — meaning, inescapably, that any intermediate proclamation has no practical effect on the Medicaid question.)
On Wednesday I phoned Rep. Erin Murphy, who played point for the House DFL in negotiations with legislative Republicans over GAMC and the subsequent early Medicaid option, to ask what she made of all the folderol about Pawlenty’s executive order.
“The most consequential part of all this,” she averred, “is what he had already done before this order.” That’s not to say health care providers weren’t genuinely upset by it, since their stability depends in part on reading the tea leaves from Pawlenty, but the Democratic politicos who piled on, most notably the national Democrats, were behaving as cynically in their own way as Pawlenty. It’s all about rallying their respective bases.
There’s one bit of news buried in all the chatter: Murphy said that the governor’s staff has told legislators that he did not apply for a $1 million grant whose deadline passed earlier this week. DFLers say Pawlenty was actually required in statute to apply for the grant, which would have paid for a team of actuarial scientists and other experts to assess the risk factors related to a state insurance exchange, so there may be some public fireworks to come on the matter.
Or not. Rep. Paul Thissen, who chairs the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee, told PIM on Wednesday, “It takes things to a whole new level if he violates this legislative directive to apply. We could potentially take him to court for violating state law. But the application deadline is today, so it’s not clear what the remedy would be.”
So there’s $1 million in fresh fallout from Pawlenty’s big day on Tuesday, but that is 1,000 times less than the estimate brandished in the Strib’s lede — or, if you prefer to cast such things in percentages, it all amounts to a 99,900 percent overstatement of the practical consequences of Pawlenty’s order.
But if stories like this gild the picture radically, they’re manna from heaven for the Pawlenty 2012 clip file. Normally one has to hire a publicist, or at least a fluffer, to obtain this level of personal service: “Tuesday’s announcement appears to place him in a new orbit nationally. Other state legislatures and governors have attempted to set up roadblocks to the federal [health care] law, but Pawlenty appears to be the only one to do everything in his power to refuse health funds that would send cash directly to the state.”
It’s simpler to make the case that Pawlenty’s order was a rhetorical flourish designed to gird his loins against the arrows he’s about to elicit by taking a step that’s bound to be unpopular with the Republican faithful. (Also worth noting, as Stribber Kevin Diaz did in a subsequent blog post: Pawlenty’s leadership PAC is trying to fundraise off the attendant publicity.) A couple of grafs later, the story drops this piquant detail: As Pawlenty was tweaking his anti-Obama, anti-Washington bona fides on Tuesday, he also allowed as how he is likely to accept the $250 million-plus in additional FMAP health care dollars from the feds recently passed by Congress. A provision written into that bill requires that states affirmatively request the money; one Congressional staffer speaking to PIM on background claimed that it was inserted to make it harder for Republicans to take rhetorical pot shots at the money even as they were taking it to the bank.
So is the whole episode best understood as a textbook piece of political inoculation? I ran the notion by Thissen. “That could be part of it,” he said. “Obviously I can’t attribute motives to him. But there’s nothing very substantive in the executive order.” With some notable exceptions (like the $1 million study grant), he added, “Not a lot of these grants have [application deadlines] attached, so the potential to apply for them will still be there next year.”