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Watch what they do, not what they say

POSTED: February 17, 2014 5:04 p.m.

When you’re writing about people in politics, you should pay closer attention to what they do than to what they say.

Talk is cheap in the world of politics, and I can’t count the number of times an elected official or one of their spokespeople said something to me that later turned out to be untrue.

You don’t have to go back any farther than Bill Clinton’s infamous remark, “I did not have sex with that woman.” As we know all too well, he did.

Look beyond what politicians say and focus on what they actually do. For example, some very influential members of the General Assembly introduced a simple little bill last week just before the ice storm swept across Georgia and shut down legislative activities.

The bill would take away the power of any governor or state official, including Gov. Nathan Deal, to expand Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income families.

In the language of HB 990, neither the governor nor any of his department heads “shall expand Medicaid eligibility under this article through an increase in the income threshold without prior legislative approval.”

The bill is sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Majority Whip Matt Ramsey and Deal’s House floor leader, Rep. Chad Nimmer of Blackshear.

These are some of the most powerful people working under the Gold Dome, so their sponsorship is a reliable indication the bill will be passed by the Republican majority in the House as soon as lawmakers can vote on it.

The legislation is part of the ongoing debate over the federal Affordable Care Act, which includes a section that provides health insurance to low-income consumers through the expansion of Medicaid coverage.

Georgia would receive an estimated $3.4 billion in federal funds each year if it participated in this expansion of Medicaid. The federal government is required to pay 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and then cover 90 percent of the expansion costs for the next seven years.

This expansion would make health insurance coverage available to an estimated 650,000 Georgians who currently cannot afford it.

Despite the infusion of federal money the expansion would bring to the state’s economy, Deal has steadfastly refused to participate in it.

“Be assured, I am prepared to fight any intrusion into our rights as a state,” he said in a recent speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Deal’s actions back up what he says. The governor has formally rejected all opportunities to expand Medicaid or even have Georgia participate in running the health insurance exchange that is a key provision of Obamacare.

I do not doubt for a minute that Deal’s dislike of Obamacare is so sincere he will do everything he can to block implementation of the program.

Since that is the case, why would the House leadership bother to introduce a bill prohibiting the governor from expanding Medicaid? Perhaps because they think Deal might not be the governor after this year.

Ralston insists he is not worried that the Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur), could be in position to win that race. “I have no concern about a Republican governor getting elected this year, four years from now, or eight years from now,” Ralston said after his bill was introduced.

That is what Ralston says. But his actions in having such a bill drafted and introduced speak much more loudly than his words.

Ralston and his colleagues don’t have to worry about Deal flip-flopping on the issue of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. The only logical reason for them to introduce their bill is that they are worried the next governor could be a Democrat.

Carter is raising a decent amount of money for the governor’s race and has indicated he will make the expansion of Medicaid coverage a major issue in the campaign.

It’s too early to say if access to health insurance will be the type of issue that shapes this statewide race. Maybe it will. It’s also possible that a lot of voters simply won’t care.

It is obvious, however, that some very influential figures in the Legislature are worried about it. Just watch what they are doing.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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