Scenes from the health-care struggle in Jefferson City 

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On health care, LeVota thinks his side has foolproof ammunition. Nobody wins when low-income families can't afford basic preventative care and seek medical attention only when a crisis pushes them to the emergency room. That equation burdens hospitals with unpaid bills that, one way or another, people with private insurance pick up. The economic argument hasn't just won over the hospital association but also has garnered the support of the business lobby: the Associated Industries of Missouri.

"What I'm trying to do is deal with the situation we have in the state: that is, the highest unemployment rate in years, people without health care for years," LeVota says. "I want to create a better economy in this state. I want to invest in health care for kids and health care for the working poor that will not cost one dollar of general revenue."

Unlike Icet, LeVota plays along with the House's unofficial "Bowtie Wednesdays," wearing a colorful cravat that looks strangely tiny pinned on his stocky frame. Despite his amiable air, though, LeVota is fiercely partisan.

On this particular day, March 25, the House is debating the budget bill, and emotions are running high. LeVota and the Democrats want to do what Kander and the Budget Committee couldn't — replace the health-care expansion. But the Republicans are adding bricks to their wall.

First comes Rep. Tim Flook, a Republican from Liberty in door-to-door salesman's clothing. His voice edges up to a shrill shout as he insists that Missouri not depend on the federal government to provide more services.

"When we bite off on that bait and say, 'Take those federal dollars! Soak 'em up! Spend 'em!' ... all we've done is played that game of who pays. And when government pays, we all lose. If we want to be strong, we'll tell Congress we're not going to take that money and do dumb things with it."

The Liberty Republican continues for several minutes.

"In a year when we're all hung over from our drunken spending spree and the headache has come in ...."

Crack!

"Gentleman, your time has expired," Speaker Ron Richard says, banging the gavel from the front of the chamber.

"Give him more!" a Republican member shouts.

"Flook, Flook, Flook," the conservative side of the aisle chants.

But Flook isn't the highlight of this show.

Later, Rep. Rob Schaaf, a Republican from St. Joseph, leverages an explosive argument. The slight physician stands at the microphone, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln over his right shoulder, and launches into a plaintive speech about the role of legislators. When the government picks up the tab for parents or children in poverty, he says, drawing out each word for dramatic emphasis, the result is worse than welfare.

"That, Mr. Speaker, is slavery," Schaaf says. "And that man on the wall tried to end it in our country, and they want to bring it back! That is the difference between the two parties. We need President Lincoln to come back and lead us."

Across the aisle, Rep. Shalonn “KiKi” Curls, a Democrat from Kansas City, is astonished. As she moves, still in disbelief, to her microphone, the Republicans cheer on the confrontation.

"Uh oh!" they jeer.

"Let's keep the conversation clean, gentlemen," Richard warns.

"Gentleman, am I right that you have likened providing health care to those who are less fortunate to slavery in the United States?" Curls asks Schaaf in a measured tone that barely conceals her anger.

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