New Hampshire Democrats are hoping a campaign strategy centered on opposition to a controversial health care bill will pay off in 2012 elections across the Granite State.
The Democrats have launched a petition drive to block pending health care compact legislation, saying that it would end Medicaid, Medicare and other health programs in the state. The legislation, which will land on the House floor next week, would help move all federal health care dollars into a pool controlled by the state government. Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) used a similar strategy in her ultimately successful campaign last year to capture a historically Republican district in upstate New York.
"This bill puts Tea Party ideology before the best interests of the people of New Hampshire, would cripple Medicare, and is an unconstitutional attempt to supersede federal law," House Minority Leader Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) said in a statement. "Unfortunately the sponsors are not backbenchers or freshmen representatives; it is the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate."
The petition aims to get residents to convince the 400-member House to defeat the bill, introduced by House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt (R-Salem) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse (R-Salem). Democrats say the bill would defund health programs and cost the state more money if Medicaid enrollment increases, pushing more of the burden on the state instead of the federal government.
After House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) introduced a budget proposal last year targeting Medicaid and Medicare, Hochul made the proposal a centerpiece of her campaign. Her victory over Assemblywoman Jane Corwin in a 2011 special election was largely because of her opposition to the plan.
Bettencourt said the bill -- which is being pushed nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council -- is needed to help bring health care reform to New Hampshire and other states. He said the legislation would allow the state to write its own health care policy, and denied claims by state Democrats that the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause.
"We just want to make it possible for Americans to exercise greater control over their health care options," Bettencourt said. "This would be accomplished by relieving the federal government of the responsibility for health care policy and returning it to the states."
A similar proposal was vetoed last year by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who cited fiscal concerns.
Bettencourt said he believes Democrats are ignoring the real issues with the petition drive.
"Democrats may try to demonize this bill to avoid a substantive discussion on the real issues facing New Hampshire," he said. "It's a completely dishonest fallacy to try to claim that it cost New Hampshire more money in the case of a rise in Medicaid, but it is a tactic they continue to use to distract from the fact that they have no solutions other than a bigger government and higher taxes, such as Obamacare."
Democrats have vowed to press on with their case. They lost the House majority in 2010, with a largely Tea Party-dominated Republican caucus taking control of the chamber.
"The idea of turning [the health care bill] over to [House Speaker] Bill O'Brien and his cohorts is despicable," said state Democratic spokesman Harrell Kirstein.