You often hear Republicans talking about the downfalls of big government. The face of the Republican Party is changing and, as members of the “next generation,” we feel it’s vital to the state that we serve to explain why we must uphold this ideal, and why you should too.
There are four principal areas that our joint Republican caucus agreed on at the beginning of the session to guide our priorities: strengthening jobs and the economy; putting students and parents first; safeguarding health care options; and protecting rights and individual freedom. These are the most important areas to the voters who sent us here, and the conservative caucus worked hard on bills to achieve them.
Unfortunately, we lost the votes on a handful of major issues that our generation of legislators will be faced with. The most disappointing part is that these issues were not lost on the ideals of our members, but through rule maneuvering.
One of the major disappointments of the session is that—after some fancy interpretation of the rules from the minority party—Medicaid expansion in Montana will soon be a reality. Senate Bill 405 accepts $700 million of federal money to expand the Medicaid program through Obamacare to tens of thousands of able-bodied adults. What we know about this program is that eventually the federal money will run out and Montana will be left with a $250 million tab over the next eight years, and that it adds additional levels of bureaucracy (and spending) to an already complicated and expensive system business collaboration software.
Although Montana elected 59 Republican legislators in a 100-person House, a handful of liberal Republicans sided with the Democrats to form a majority and muscle through the largest increase of welfare Montana has seen in our lifetimes.
During the first week of the session, every legislator voted to accept our House rules. But we got to a point—and some big issues—where there were two clear sides that disagreed. The Minority Leader Chuck Hunter openly admitted, on the record, that he was willing to break the rules by not allowing SB405 to be referred to the Appropriations Committee. This committee is responsible for hearing all bills that have fiscal notes with more than $25,000, and Medicaid expansion fiscal note is much, much higher. This is a firmly established and reasonable rule and the minority leader broke his promise.
This behavior by our fellow legislators sets a dangerous precedent for future sessions. There are some issues that are so big and important to our constituents that they should require a supermajority to pass. Medicaid expansion is one of them. Montana will be feeling the consequences of these shenanigans over the last few weeks for years to come.
Op-ed by: Rep. Seth Berglee (House District 58), Rep. Sarah Laszloffy (HD53), Rep. Forrest Mandeville (HD57), Rep. Nick Schwaderer (HD14) and Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (HD45).