If anything, Majority Leader Randy Richardville said, he saved Gov. Rick Snyder from a big defeat more than two weeks ago by not calling a vote on House legislation to expand eligibility for government-provided health insurance to 320,000 low-income adults in 2014. The Republican governor had cut short a trade trip in Israel to return home and lobby the GOP-dominated Senate.
"I think he was convinced that the votes were there. I'm in the room where those votes get counted," Richardville, of Monroe, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday, the day he outlined his expectations for a Senate workgroup that will study Medicaid expansion this summer.
"This debate, this issue, is alive because I provided leadership on this issue based on the feedback from the Senate Republican caucus. This thing was dead if we had taken a vote when it was being demanded that we take a vote. It wasn't a gentle request. There was a demand and then after the demand there was a — they called it a press conference. I've got other words to describe it, but I'm not going to use them."
In a June 20 news conference, an uncharacteristically angry Snyder blasted the Senate for not voting on a bill that had passed the GOP-led House with bipartisan support a week before. He urged them to "take a vote, not a vacation" — a line he has since dropped following a private conversation with Richardville, who's in his 13th year in the Legislature.
"When you say that, 'If you're not following me then that's a lack of leadership,' well quite frankly that's bull----, you know, because I got elected by 25 of my colleagues to lead the best I can the most diverse group in a caucus maybe in history," Richardville said. "It's not an easy task."
Snyder also has toned down other criticism of Republican senators while still keeping the pressure on during a statewide tour of hospitals in their districts. He has defended, however, billboards calling on at least 10 GOP senators by name to support Medicaid expansion and remains confident the legislation will pass if a vote is allowed.
Richardville himself favors insuring more people under the federal health care law but wants at least half of the 38-seat Senate's 26 Republicans to be OK proceeding with a vote. He has indicated he could drop the unwritten rule for the Medicaid measure but not before the Senate can put its stamp on the bill.
Richardville disputed the notion that pressure from tea party groups is mostly to blame for the Senate's inaction.
"This conservative group of (senators) genuinely has beliefs that expanded government is something we're here to fight," Richardville said. "A lot of them believe that even though this program's already paid for and all that this would be an expansion of government and potentially cause dependence on government and move toward socialist Europe kind of thinking. They came up here to keep government limited."
He said he understands Snyder's concern that time is running out to secure federal approval to cover new enrollees starting Jan. 1, but said "if we don't do it right, why do it?" He attributed some of the governor's consternation to not knowing what the Senate may come up with and whether it can receive the Obama administration's OK.
"If the (Snyder) administration needs more time to implement and they need more time to talk to (federal officials), well I've heard this stuff about dog years for 2 ½ years," Richardville said. "So when we give you a superior product to implement, use dog years to get it done. Dog years seems to only apply when he's talking to the Legislature."
The legislative branch represents the people's will more than the executive branch does, Richardville said.
"This group has got a voice and they're standing up for the voices that elected them," he said. "I'm proud of each and every senator that is speaking whether for, against or unsure about the issue at this point. So to undermine them and call it a lack of leadership was inappropriate. But it's water over a dam and I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm instead going to take a look at the track that's in front of us and try to stay on it and stay on the high road. I think that there will be a superior product to be talked about, debated, maybe come out of committee within a few weeks."