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That impromptu raising of voices isn't nearly as loud, though, as the bitter fight on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives.
A Republican from Wildwood, the dark-haired engineer behaves with Victorian decorum. His back seems always straight. His elocution is precise. He takes a dim view of handouts.
Icet is the House Budget Committee chairman, giving him a grasp of the state's purse strings rivaled only by Nixon and Senate Appropriations Chairman Gary Nodler. Icet constantly raises the specters of New York and California — states, he warns, that have spent themselves into oblivion. Missouri's financial situation is far less dire. Still, when the governor releases his proposed budget on January 27, 2009, Icet is poised to challenge any spending increases.
Two of Nixon's health initiatives stick in Icet's throat. The governor wants to tweak the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). In 2005, Blunt increased the number of families that have to pay a monthly premium to get coverage and he also upped that premium for others. Thousands of kids fell out of the program. Nixon wants to get 27,000 of those children back by eliminating or lowering fees. To do that, he adds an extra $13 million to the program — an offering that will bring a $42 million federal influx.
Icet thinks those parents should be responsible for their own children. His revision: zero additional assistance for SCHIP.
Nixon also wants to restore Medicaid access for some of the 90,000 parents who have been bounced from its rolls since 2005. To do it, the Missouri Hospital Association has agreed to a slight, voluntary adjustment to the state's hospital tax that would put an additional $52 million in the bank and draw down an extra $93 million from the feds. It wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime.
Icet suspects that many of the parents wanting Medicaid aren't working a full-time, minimum-wage job. His budget revision: no Medicaid expansion.
The Republican uses his point in the triangle to hack off the governor's health-care initiatives.
Jason Kander, a state representative from Kansas City who looks like a high-school student but speaks with the quiet resolve of a college professor, is one of 13 Democrats who is spending his late-winter days wading through a 3-inch-thick stack of budget documents. The 28-year-old freshman is irked by a system that seems rigged in the Republicans' favor. The governor's budget is gone. The only version that Kander and his colleagues have to work with is Icet's.
The Democrats are handcuffed by House rules, too. They can add funds to a budget line only if they subtract the same amount from somewhere else in the budget. To revive the governor's health-care initiatives and add funding to SCHIP, the Democrats try to chip away at other programs and suspend the "balancing rule" altogether so they can discuss the Medicaid idea. The Republicans use their three-vote edge to shut them down.
It's just a taste of what is to come.
In the Missouri House, the narrow strip of carpet dividing the dark wooden desks of the 89 Republicans and 74 Democrats might as well be a high brick wall.
On the Democrats' side, it's the job of House minority leader Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence, to find cracks in that wall, to heave over facts and line up allies who will bring down the Republicans' partisan defenses.