Page 5 of 8
"I won't belabor the point," Icet says, "but there are a significant number of members of the House who have significant heartburn on this."
As the two leaders confer quietly, Icet holds a copy of the budget in front of him, and Nodler tucks his face behind it. Now the room is quiet. A peanut M&M clinks on the glass tabletop like a marble on sheet metal. Finally, after several minutes, Icet and Nodler re-emerge.
By the time they return on Monday, May 4, the leaders have struck a backroom deal.
Yes, the Medicaid money will stay in the budget. If the Senate's private insurance plan passes, that's how the money will be used. If not, those millions will go to a Medicaid expansion.
Icet doesn't like it and doesn't sign the bill — a very unusual move for a budget chairman. He doesn't file HB 11, either. By noon on Tuesday — with just three days left to pass the budget — he buzzes past his secretary and sets a budget file on her desk with a half-joking command: "Guard this with my life."
Sitting in his bright office, he doesn't seem frazzled. He thinks that Blunt's Medicaid cuts have made the system more efficient. Making health care free, he reasons, leads to overconsumption. "I believe the majority have philosophical concerns that, if we continue, the end result is socialized health care," he says.
After lunch, Icet is still sitting on the bill. Democrats and lobbyists start to wonder if he'll refuse to file it. The Senate sends envoys across the rotunda, urging Icet to stop dragging his feet. Finally, late in the day, Icet changes his mind. He wants to give his colleagues a chance to debate the bill.
Instead, he gets a show.
The next day, the hallway outside the House chamber is clogged with men in suits. Lobbyists lean in close to confer with legislators, trying to make inroads in the final minutes. Because enough members are on the fence about the HB 11, nobody knows what's going to happen.
One lawmaker in the cross hairs of indecision is Rep. Chris Molendorp, a Republican from Raymore. An earnest man with a self-effacing sense of humor, Molendorp has served on his local hospital board and sells insurance for a living. He knows the predicament that hospitals are in and the struggle that low-income folks face trying to afford health care.
The 39-year-old family man considers himself a citizen legislator. He says he has no interest in climbing the political ranks. In the few months since he arrived at the Capitol, he has broken with the majority party several times. It's no secret that he could vote with the Democrats on HB 11.
A little before 4 p.m. the doorman brings Molendorp a card from Dustin Allison, deputy chief of staff for Nixon. Surprised, Molendorp puts it in his breast pocket and steps into the crowded hallway. According to Molendorp, Allison meets him outside the chamber and asks if he "shares the governor's vision" on health care, then tells him that if he were ever "interested in a future career change," the governor would look favorably on a yes vote today.
Molendorp is uncomfortable. The entreaties from Allison are ill-timed. Over the past couple of months, the Capitol has buzzed with reports that the FBI is investigating a "pay to play" culture in Jefferson City. Rumors have swirled that campaign contributions have bought prime committee appointments.
Molendrop excuses himself and slips back into the chamber. He surveys the other desks on the Republican side. At least two other possible swing votes are missing — Anne Zerr is gone, and so is Scott Largent. Sweating the ethics, Molendorp sets off a chain reaction.