On the Political Front: With Rare Tie-Breaking Vote, Jasper Takes a Political Gamble

Mar 14, 2016

Shawn Jasper
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

"On the Political Front" is our weekly check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers.

The biggest bill of the year, to reauthorize Medicaid expansion, cleared the House. The final vote was 216-145, but the final margin wasn’t really the whole story, was it?

No. That margin was wider than many people expected. But on what may be the most crucial vote, an amendment to make the bill severable, the House was deadlocked 181-181, before Speaker Shawn Jasper cast a tie-breaking vote. And adding that severability clause means the rest of the law survives should the federal government reject the work requirement now in the bill – 30 hrs a week work, job training or community service. CMS, the center of Medicare and Medicaid services, which must sign off on the bill, has never OK'd such a requirement, which lots of Republicans wanted, and many Democrats viewed as a poison pill. So this issue was fraught.

Speaker Jasper is a convert when it comes to Medicaid expansion. He opposed it when it first passed when Democrats ran the house. But last year he started to signal he would support reauthorization if it could be done without making taxpayers foot the bill directly.  This proposal did meet that test. Taxpayers take no direct hit. Hospitals and insurance companies will be responsible for making the gap from a shrinking federal contribution. Some arch-conservatives were quick to predict Jasper will pay for his tie-breaking vote, if not in November then when the House chooses its next Speaker.  But with 48,000 people insured under Medicaid expansion, and with many big business interests fully in support, you could also argue Jasper’s action makes his speakership more secure than it’s ever been.

But how rare is it for a speaker to make or break a bill, or an amendment, with their single vote?    

It’s pretty rare. I can recall Terie Norelli’s actions of a 2009 bill to add protections for transgendered people under New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination laws. This bill was debated and debated on the House floor, for five hours over two days. Including all the various motions, the bill had 20 floor votes. It only passed after Speaker Norelli put down the gavel, spoke up for the bill from the floor, and cast the vote that got it to the Senate. The Senate later killed the bill 24-0. In 2012, when Bill O’Brien was speaker, I can remember a time he declined to vote when he could have sunk a marijuana decriminalization bill by forcing a tie. That bill also died fast in the Senate. Those are ones that leap to mind. So the severability vote by Jasper was big, and rare.

Somewhat less rare, is the state Senate voting on a casino measure. That could be coming up this week.

Chuck Morse
Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

  Yes. In order to freshen it chances, its sponsors - Manchester Democrat Lou D’Allesandro and Salem Republican and Senate President Chuck Morse - have amended the bill to have the award of any license be based on a  competitive bid process. That’s a big change for them – they’ve favored Rockingham Park, as a casino location – and also a  sign that support for the gambling has reached a low ebb, even in the Senate. Sen. D’Allesandro has said if it doesn’t pass this year the fight for expanded gambling may be over. I feel like I’ve heard that before. But if any expansion of New Hampshire’s gambling is to become law this year, Keno may have the better odds.

Before you go, I want to ask you about national story, a story that’s been very big on social media, involving Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. He’s from NH. And he’s accused of violently grabbing the arm of a female reporter who was attempting to ask Donald Trump a question in Florida the other night.

Corey Lewandowski
Credit Twitter

Yes. The reporter, Michelle Fields, who works for the conservative news site Breitbart, has actually filed charges against Corey Lewandowski, who lives in Windham and has been on the New Hampshire political scene for a number of years. The story has lots of claims and counterclaims, but bottom line is Lewandowski says Fields is making this up, Donald Trump has said the same. Fields’s version of events, which include a bruised arm, meanwhile, is backed up by a Washington Post reporter.

Fields and editor-at-large Ben Shapiro have now resigned from Breitbart over the incident.

"I can't stand with an organization that won't stand by me," Fields wrote on Twitter. 

I have now watched a bunch of footage of the alleged incident people have been tweeting, footage shot by different cameras. It’s frankly hard to make out what is going in most of it. Nothing I’ve seen shows a violent grabbing; and none of it makes it impossible for Lewandowski to have grabbed Fields by the arm and caused some bruising.  Different people seem to see this in very different ways. Not unlike the Trump campaign itself.