Speer: GOP, Tea Party need to cooperate

Can the Republican Party and Tea Party co-exist, or are we at a split in the road that each travels in a new direction, separate of the other?

I believe the answer to that question rests with just how embracing Republicans want to be of conservatives, and whether Tea Party members are ready to apply the strategy of compromise or not.

Frankly neither side is enamored of the other right now – especially in Michigan – where the Senate barely passed a Medicaid expansion package this week.

The Medicaid issue has been especially contentious all summer long, as even at one point Gov. Rick Snyder was upset with GOP Senate members for not voting sooner on the package. Snyder supported the expansion, arguing the state would benefit by more of its citizens having access to needed health care.

At the center of the debate is the Affordable Health Care Act. Medicaid expansion, as approved by the Michigan Senate this week, is a key component of that act to cover as many uninsured as possible.

The federal government has promised states it will pay the entire cost of Medicaid the first three years, and 90 percent of the costs after that for those states that vote to expand coverage.

Conservatives have argued by doing so, the feds only add to the national debt and thus, compromise the economic stability of our country.

Northeast Michigan’s state senator, Republican John Moolenaar of Midland, argued that very point in the Senate chamber Tuesday.

“I rise today to encourage my Senate colleagues to oppose House Bill 4714. As chair of the Department of Community Health subcommittee, I researched the issue of Medicaid expansion thoroughly. Two important questions came to mind, and needed to be answered.

“First, is now the time in our nation’s history to expand federal government entitlement spending? Our country sits $17 trillion in debt, and another debate looms about raising our nation’s debt ceiling in Washington because again, the federal government has maxed out its credit card.

“Second, does HB 4714 truly reform Medicaid? At the end of the day, what proponents are doing is offering their perspective on what the Department of Community Health should seek within a federal waiver. We have no guarantee the federal government will accept these recommendations, and further this is just the opening bid in a long negotiation with the Obama Administration.

“A wise leader once said the borrower is slave to the lender. Today, we have the opportunity to say no to crushing federal debt that burdens our children and grandchildren, no to future unfunded liabilities that lead to structural deficits for Michigan and NO to the greatest expansion of government in our time.”

The measure now goes back to the Michigan House, whose members earlier approved a similar version. There the vote wasn’t as close as in the Senate (20-18 in favor), but debate was just as spirited. In the initial House vote State Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, voted against expansion.

It is expected the Senate version will pass the House.

As a result of Snyder’s position on the issue, Tea Party members and conservatives have vowed to oppose his re-election efforts next year. This week a Tea Party activist from downstate, Wes Nakagiri, said he would challenge Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at the GOP convention.

Such action does little to heal the difference of opinion within the party. The Tea Party needs to soften its approach and develop more “warm and fuzzy” characteristics, while Republicans need to figure out how best to let the conservative voice be heard and part of their future platforms.

In the interim you have folks like Bob Lamb, Alpena County Tea Party chairman, who I consider a “voice of reason” in this debate. He is a strong proponent of strength in numbers, and combining the resources and energy of both parties through a grassroots effort of knocking on the door of every home in Northeast Michigan and urging residents to vote.

Who knows if both sides ultimately can co-exist. In the short-term apparently they can, as next Friday Dave Agema, Republican National Committeeman, will be the keynote speaker at the Alpena County GOP Reagan Day Dinner. Agema is a conservative who has enjoyed strong Tea Party support in Michigan.

Both parties are at a crossroads? What path will they travel in the future?

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.