Democrats try to hijack Medicaid expansion bill

Posted at 4:54 PM, Mar 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-07 13:49:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- House Democrats tried once again to hijack a Republican-led Medicaid expansion plan on Friday, triggering a contentious debate.

House Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, attempted to substitute House Bill 446, dubbed "Utah Cares" with "Healthy Utah," the Medicaid expansion plan backed by the governor and Senate. At first, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, refused to let her -- but then decided rules allowed it to go forward.

That led Democrats to try to push the health care they support in the shell of the plan crafted by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

"I absolutely do not support that!" Dunnigan said.

Some Republicans were surprised while others were angered by the move.

"Please stop wasting our time!" said Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi. "It is unfortunate that this small minority within our body is more interested in headlines and gamesmanship than doing the job they were elected to do."

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, accused Anderegg of "impugning" members of the House. He and eight other Republicans broke ranks with their GOP colleagues and voted in support of Rep. Chavez-Houck's substitution.

When it came to a vote, Rep. Chavez-Houck's attempted hijacking died 22-52. It matched a similar effort by House Democrats late Thursday when they attempted to resurrect Healthy Utah on the House floor.

House Democratic leaders were supportive of Rep. Chavez-Houck's actions.

"Our stance on this issue is clear. We want nothing less than the compromise the Governor worked so hard for, that the Senate has sent to us, and that has been endorsed by healthcare organizations, advocates, and the people of Utah," said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.

"This is no longer singularly a health care vote. This is a vote about truly representing the people who have elected us. Democrats continue to fight for all the people of Utah, not just those in our districts."

Rep. Hughes told FOX 13 it reflected how they believed "Healthy Utah" would have fared had it been debated on the House floor.

Dunnigan's Medicaid expansion plan, "Utah Cares" passed the House by a 56-18 vote. It now goes on to the Senate for consideration.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, "Healthy Utah" bill sponsor Brian Shiozawa said he hoped for compromise.

"Substitution of a bill is always possible is always technically possible at this stage of the game," he said. "We’re looking seriously at doing some sort of agreement with the House of Representatives, Representative Dunnigan, and looking at the best parts of Healthy Utah and Utah Cares and see if we can compromise."

Dunnigan told FOX 13 he is willing to compromise -- to a point.

"I’m certainly interested in doing that. I think I heard very loudly from my colleagues on the House floor their parameters, how far they want to go," he said. "They want to do something but they want it to be sustainable and have certaintly on the budget aspect."