During the course of the presidential campaign, Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) was often rumored to be on then Sen. Barack Obama's vice presidential short list. At the Democratic National Convention he gave one of the most crowd-pleasing speeches -- a blue-collared take on Democratic politics with a healthy dose of acid-tongue pokes at Sen. John McCain's wealth.
Now, however, Schweitzer isn't doing the president any favors, becoming one of the highest-profiled Democrats outside of Washington to throw cold water on health care reform.
Appearing on C-SPAN Sunday morning, Schweitzer said that the legislation currently making its way through Congress would unfairly burden states by requiring them to pay for a portion of the expanded coverage at a time when budgets are tight and pushing for growth in Medicaid.
"I have a lot of concerns as a governor," Schweitzer said from the National Governors Association meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi. "Now, let me lay this out, there are only a few states that have a budget surplus, we are one them, we have about $400 million in cold hard cash in the bank. Very few states have got that. And we got there through good fiscal management. You can't put more things on your plate than you can afford to pay for. Now what is happening in Congress right now, things that disturb us as governors, is first they are looking at the rules and one of the proposals would be that the way we are going to pay for a portion of this health care is we will turn to the states and ask them to bond, to pay for some of the health care. They want to do some financial trickery, simply stated, we can't afford what we are doing today so we will get the states to borrow some money. Well we are not going to do that, because it is going to hurt our bond rating. We as states, we have as prizes our bond rating and this would tend to decrease our bond rating. By the way, the federal government, if Congress wants to have a health care program, then they need to pay for it. They can't dump it back on the states."
"The second problem we have is that one of the least effective programs in terms of health care, in the history of this country, is something called Medicaid," the Montana Democrat added. "About 20 percent of America is on a Medicaid program and they would like to shift it and grow it to somewhere around 25 or 30 percent. In Montana's case alone it would add 115 million dollars to our costs in our state, as our match. Now Medicaid is a system that isn't working, almost everyone agrees. But what Congress intends to do is increase the number [of people] on Medicaid so they could do it for the cheap. It is not working for anybody."
Fortunately for the Obama White House, Schweitzer ultimately won't have a vote on health care legislation. But his skepticism doesn't help the administration's argument that Washington is out of touch with the American public. And having a prominent ally express doubts publicly is not something the president wants right now. And it wouldn't be much of a shocker if Schweitzer were to get a call sometime this week from his former gubernatorial colleague, current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Or maybe even Obama himself.