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Lockstep, robotic state GOP is a misnomer

December 2, 2012

Sid Salter

The Politico website in recent days trumpeted what they call a Mississippi Republican political “feud” over the question of health care exchanges. The truth is slightly less dramatic — and the notion that Mississippi’s GOP is a robotic, lockstep organization simply ignores reality.

According to the site: “In red-state capitols in places like Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi, Republicans are clashing over whether to participate in a Democratic president’s signature legislative achievement.

“At issue are the state-based health care exchanges, set to start in 2014, which will create new marketplaces for people who can’t get insurance elsewhere. If states don’t declare their plans to set one up by Dec. 14, the Department of Health and Human Services will begin doing it for them. So Republicans face a choice: Create their own and appear to endorse a federal government health care takeover, or allow Washington to take control.

“Nowhere is the fight playing out more publicly among Republicans than in Mississippi.”

Facing a Nov. 16 deadline for states to tell the federal government whether they will create a health insurance exchange, Chaney chose what he considered the lesser of policy evils.
The same Supreme Court ruling that initially gave Republican leaders some wiggle room on Medicaid expansion leaves far less such on the health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. Under the ruling, states are left with three choices: First, the states can operate their own insurance marketplace using federal funds to acquire and implement the technology to allow insurance customers to compare and buy their own insurance.

Second, the states can leave that responsibility and the control of the process to the federal government.
Third, states can create a federal-state “partnership” to set up a health exchange.

Despite criticism of the policy decision from Gov. Phil Bryant and other fellow Republicans, Chaney chose to lay the groundwork for Mississippi to operate its own health insurance exchange under state control. Bryant has consistently held opposition to the exchanges, as he has the overall ACA.

Chaney, while also a longtime opponent of the ACA, thought the state-operated health exchanges gave Mississippi the most flexibility and control.

Do Bryant and Chaney disagree over the policy? Sure, but does that disagreement reach the level of a political “feud?” Makes for a nice headline, but the fact is that back in the days when the Democratic Party dominated Mississippi politics, there was no great outcry when Democrats regularly disagreed among themselves over public policy.
It was accepted, expected and given little notice with the possible exception of the issue of segregation. Anyone remember “Freedom Democrats” and “Regular Democrats?”

Now, magically, are we to accept the suggestion that Republicans in Mississippi are always of like mind on questions of complex public policy? The fact is that Mississippi Republicans have long had significant factions and will likely continue to do so.

Bryant aligned himself with fellow Republican governors who fear future changes in the ACA — and the policy stance has not wavered. Chaney is looking at his own immediate regulatory and service responsibilities. Those strategies are difficult to reconcile to a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all policy and hence, they disagree.

As it was with state Democrats, the existence of factions and divergent thought and even a few healthy disagreements among Mississippi Republicans is the sign of a maturing, growing political party — not a “feud.”

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or

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