Oregon Republicans Play Political Football

Oregon Republicans are playing political football with a serious issue that affects Oregonians’ health, jobs, and economy. The OHP Expansion and Hospital Tax is up for renewal (HB 2216) and Republicans are trying to block approval unless Democrats agree to more cuts to retirees.

Close Up Portrait of Worried Senior CoupleThe tax is levied on city hospitals and long-term care facilities; the funds are then used to raise matching federal funds which assist both the facilities that pay the tax and other health care programs and institutions around the state.

But, despite the overall popularity of the plan, Republicans began threatening to pull their support for the renewal during a work session last week simply for partisan purposes.

The Oregonian reported that “Republicans on the joint Ways and Means Committee said they were voting against House Bill 2216 because it was coming before them too soon, before conversations in the Senate over a package of PERS reform and taxes had been completed.”

Several of the Senate Republicans who voted “no” in Ways and Means represent rural parts of Oregon that substantially benefit from the hospital tax, without even having to pay for it. In other words, they’re holding their rural, underserved areas hostage for partisan-motivated purposes.

Sen.  Fred Girod (R-Stayton), who agreed that “it’s a good bill,” admitted that his and other Republicans’ opposition was simply because “it’s part of the end-game.”

Buuut, that was last week! And it just was just a bluff during a committee hearing, right?

Not really. Republicans continued their opposition as the bill moved to the House floor.

As OPB reported,

Early on in the floor debate over the hospital tax, House GOP leader Mike McLane signaled that he and other Republicans would vote to move the bill along. But only to give their GOP counterparts in the Senate a bargaining chip.

“I’m going to vote yes today,” McLane said, “so that they can hopefully bring resolution on our budget impasse.”

Even the Oregonian is acknowledging the blatantly partisan move, drawing parallels to the ideological efforts at the federal level hindering President Obama’s ability to raise the national debt limit, despite the fact that nearly every single president in history has raised the debt ceiling, including 18 times during President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

The House passed the bill to renew the tax but, as Rep. McLane suggested, it will likely face further hold-ups at the Senate level.

From the Oregonian:

“Do I think it’s ultimately at risk of not passing?  No,” added Tom Holt, a lobbyist for Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.  “Because there really is no alternative.”

Of course, that was once said about the debt limit, and Congress came close enough to default in 2011 that Standard & Poor’s lowered the nation’s credit rating. And Republicans aren’t shy about saying that they see the next increase in the debt limit as a crucial point of leverage.

The Republicans in Salem aren’t saying they’ll let the hospital tax expire.  But they’re keeping a certain ambiguity.  Here’s how Gay put it:  “I think we’ll get more substantial PERS reform that will allow the hospital tax to pass.”

It’s outrageous that Oregon Republicans would bring this Congressional level of dysfunction to Oregon and even more outrageous that they would take Oregon’s sick and elderly as hostage to do so.

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