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November 27, 2014

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Attacks on Harry Reid have mixed messages

Reactions to senator’s Medicaid funding deal illustrate contrasts in GOP’s 2010 election strategy

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

As Republicans ramp up their campaign against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the party’s Nevada and Washington operations can’t seem to get their stories straight on a line of attack.

In Nevada, Reid is badgered for not doing enough for the state — not using his power as majority leader to bring home enough bacon.

In Washington, he is being pilloried for using his clout to cut a better Medicaid deal for Nevada in the health care legislation.

Which is it?

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Reid was decried for wielding his influence for Nevada’s gain.

“They got a special deal for four states — one of them being the state of Nevada,” Arizona Sen. John McCain railed. It was his second day on the attack over the issue.

“I wonder how citizens in Wyoming, California and Florida and other states will feel?” remarked Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. “Sen. Reid has done exactly what all the governors hope would be done” for their states.

But back in Nevada, Republicans have been leveling a steady line of attack against that perceived Reid strength.

Nevada Republicans chisel away at Reid’s emerging 2010 campaign slogan that “he delivers for Nevada as no one else can.” They point to the economic recovery act as an example of legislation that didn’t deliver enough pork to Nevada.

Other than his efforts to halt the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, “I’m not sure Sen. Reid has explained what benefits Nevada has received,” strategist Ryan Erwin recently told the Sun.

The contradictory messages show that as the 2010 campaign gets under way, what might resonate in Nevada doesn’t necessarily translate for Washington audiences, and what the Hill might see as a political swipe might not ding the candidate back home.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“In the state, Reid has always kind of built his political campaigns around delivering for Nevada,” Herzik said. “Then Republicans attack him for not delivering enough. Then when he does deliver it’s like, ‘You shouldn’t do that.’ ”

The Sun reported last week that Reid secured a deal for Nevada and three other states with high unemployment, giving them 100 percent federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid being considered in the health care reform bill. The four states also have low Medicaid enrollment.

The deal, which would cover the first five years of the expanded Medicaid program, was a head-turner.

Reid defended it Wednesday.

“I make no apologies, none, for helping people in my state and our nation who are hurting the most,” Reid said on the Senate floor.

Health care reform advocates say one of the most cost-effective ways to give the uninsured access to health care is to broaden state Medicaid programs to include more low-income residents.

But states have balked at having to share the costs of such an expansion when money is tight.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons has warned against extra expenses. Even after Reid secured the sweetheart deal that has set Washington aflutter, Nevada Republicans were cool to the idea.

The Republican governor’s office questioned how Nevada would afford its share of the costs after five years, when federal funding would shrink to an 82 percent match — meaning Nevada would have to pony up 18 cents for every $1 spent providing health care to newly eligible Medicaid recipients.

Republican Sen. John Ensign tried unsuccessfully in committee to halt the Medicaid expansion for any state that would have to pay more than 1 percent above its current Medicaid expenditures.

Nevada’s annual Medicaid expenditures would jump by 1.6 percent over the next decade.

On average, states would pay 1.3 percent more toward Medicaid over the next 10 years under the bill than they now do.

Yet states would also receive vast new funding from the federal government to handle the increased load. On average, states would see a 12 percent increase in federal Medicaid money being sent their way.

Under the deal Reid secured, Nevada would see a 30 percent increase in federal Medicaid funding flowing to the state.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones having trouble getting their stories straight.

When the health care reform legislation was introduced last month in the Senate Finance Committee, Reid offered different messages to different audiences.

He told the national press that he welcomed the legislation as moving “us a step closer to having a comprehensive health insurance reform bill.”

To Nevada reporters, Reid said the proposed Medicaid burden for his state was too high and he vowed not to bring a bill to floor unless changes were made. “This bill will be improved for Nevada,” he said.

And it was.

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