On the Political Front: Reupping Medicaid Expansion Faces Test With House Vote

Mar 7, 2016

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

So, Josh lots of political drama these days: a New Hampshire tea party activist charged in Bundy ranch standoff; a member of the New Hampshire House facing expulsion – and jail – on sex and drug offenses; and Kelly Ayotte has an opponent in the GOP Senate primary….

And the reauthorization of Medicaid expansion faces a very big vote in the House.

OK, let’s start there. It seems the most contentious issue is over a technical point – severability. Could you explain?

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Sure. Right now, the reauthorization bill – which would allow some 48,000 people of low income to keep their insurance coverage – aims to make sure recipients of insurance under the bill work, or be seeking work. For many Republicans this provision is crucial. But the federal government, more specifically the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, which must approve state Medicaid programs, has never allowed a work requirement. Democrats are hoping to get a severability clause back into the bill, which would allow the law to survive even if CMS shoots down the work requirement. Right now the bill lacks that severability. House Democrats are worried its absence could doom New Hampshire's bill, and they want it back in. Right now, that looks to be an uphill battle. Assuming the bill passes as is,  severability could go back in in the Senate, but that very narrow issue may prove the most contentious when the House takes up Medicaid expansion this week.

Now I know it’s a very busy time of year for lawmakers – they have several hundred bills to heading to the floor this week – but they may also be doing something rare when they convene, which is to vote to expel one of their own.

Yes. Kyle Tasker, a Republican from Nottingham, was arrested last week as he was on his way to meet what he thought was going to be a 14-year-old girl. Tasker was allegedly hoping for sex, the police who met him had other ideas.  A search of Tasker’s house turned up lots of drugs – marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and the prescription drug suboxone – and a bunch of guns. Police say some of these drugs were packed for sale, and Tasker, who’s 30 and in his third term, could face serious time behind bars if he’s convicted.    

Now, Tasker’s made news before at the statehouse – not the good kind.

Kyle Tasker
Credit Nottingham PD

Yes. He once dropped a loaded gun in a hearing room. I was actually present when it happened. There was a thud, everyone looked around, and Tasker sheepishly reached under his chair to retrieve the pistol. Tasker has also made some impolitic Facebook postings -- about domestic violence, violence against police, and African-Americans. His present problems are of a different order of magnitude, and if he doesn’t resign by the Wednesday, the House is likely to vote to get rid of him. No such vote has taken place in almost a century……when issues have arisen that might warrant an expulsion, and they do happen from time to time, resignations tend to be offered. We'll see.

Later today, another person who’s become notorious in New Hampshire political circles, Tea Party Activist Jerry Delemus will be in federal court in Concord.

Yes, Jerry Delemus was arrested last week for his role in the Bundy ranch standoff in 2014. The government says Delemus was part of a conspiracy against the U.S. government -- that he threatened federal law enforcement official with weapons, and led armed patrols, on behalf of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Delemus is 61, lives in Rochester. He’s worked as a contractor, he’s a former Marine. His wife Susan serves in the New Hampshire House, and Delemus has been active in conservative politics for some time. He’s a state veteran chairman for Donald Trump this election. I’ve dealt with Jerry Delemus a good deal and have always found him cordial and a good quote. His indictment was charged out of Nevada, which is where he’ll be tried.  He’ll be back in federal court in Concord for a hearing today. During a hearing Friday, supporters packed the courtroom. They were promising the more of the same for today.

 We’ve only got a minute, but before you go, let’s talk quickly about the U.S. Senate race.

Jim Rubens
Credit www.jimrubens.com

Sure. All the talk about someone stepping up to challenge Kelly Ayotte during the primary has come true:  it's Jim Rubens. He ran two years ago and finished a distant second to Scott Brown in the GOP primary. Rubens was a state senator, well-known for leading the fight against casinos in New Hampshire. Rubens is smart, articulate, and not particularly well liked within the New Hampshire GOP, which is why it’s hard to see him actually impeding Ayotte’s path to the nomination. But it is plausible to see Rubens being an irritant to Ayotte. I mean, if you assume his campaign schedule is accurate, he’s already been on four radio shows this morning. As far as Ayotte’s campaign goes, last week was more or less her campaign kickoff. She traveled the state with senate colleagues Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Joni Ernst of Iowa. I caught them in Goffstown on Friday evening. And Ayotte came across as someone who knows this election will be a fight. She was really asking people for their vote. And two issues were really stressed: national security and the opioid crisis.