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Government, Politics & Issues

With exception of Nixon, Missouri Democrats launch new attacks against GOP over shutdown

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 8, 2013: The more he talked about the federal government’s shutdown, the more whipped up Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon got.

“Folks are very concerned and very disturbed that their government in Washington, D.C. can’t do even the basics of keeping their doors open,’’ Nixon told reporters Monday.

He said that the state government is doing all it can to keep in operation any programs funded with federal money – such as nursing home inspectors – but Nixon, a Democrat, added that can only work in the short-term.

A few minutes later, he returned to the topic. “It’s time for them to get a deal!” the governor said, with emphasis.

But mindful of Missouri’s own partisan splits in the state Capitol, Nixon demurred when asked who should get the blame in Washington. “I won’t pick on one side or the other,’’ he said, returning to his old habit, before this summer, of avoiding shots at Republicans.

But that’s not the case for other top Missouri Democrats, who have kicked off Week 2 of the shutdown by being far more vocal than the state’s Republicans, in Congress or in Jefferson City.

That’s particularly true of new state Democratic Party chairman Roy Temple and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. The senator issued at least two statements over the weekend calling on House Republicans to drop their "tantrum'' of demands to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act and pass a “clean continuing resolution’’ to reopen government without conditions.

Known for his take-no-prisoners style, Temple issued a harsher statement in which he specifically took to task all six Missouri Republican members of the House – by name – and accused them of misleading the public about the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Temple accuses Republicans of hypocrisy

Congress, he noted, had decided earlier to require all members and their staffs to purchase insurance on the ACA’s exchanges. That's a change from the current process in which the members and their staffs get insurance through their employer, the federal government, which then pays part of the coverage.

However, the federal government has agreed to continue to pay the employer share of the exchange-obtained insurance – a move that some GOP members of Congress, including those in Missouri, said amounted to an unfair “subsidy.”

Temple said the arrangement was no different than any standard insurance coverage from an employer, who usually pays a portion of the coverage. He called on the U.S. House members to drop their current health-care coverage, which comes with the federal subsidy, if they are so outraged about the benefit.

In an interview, Temple emphasized that point: "If the subsidy is really what offended them, they could voluntarily decline it..They can just not take it."

Instead, he continued, the GOP is trying to use the subsidy as some sort of wedge issue to get the public to believe that the subsidy represents something special, when it is actually just the employer-paid portion of the health insurance costs.

"If these Republicans who have shut down essential services across Missouri really think it's so immoral for someone to take an employer contribution for their health care, then they should never have accepted it to begin with -- and they should decline their employer health coverage or return the value of their employer contribution to the U.S. Treasury today,” Temple said. “It's the height of hypocrisy to claim you've shut down the government because you want to get rid of 'special treatment,' and still accept that contribution all the same. So it's time for them to put up or shut up."

Temple added that he agreed with Obama's decision to decline to negotiate until the Republicans vote to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. "How do you negotiate with someone who says, 'Do exactly what I say or we will blow up government? ' " the chairman said.

Missouri Republicans helped by boundaries

Temple's comments come as national Democrats are attempting to ramp up the pressure as well.   The Democratic National Committee launched on Tuesday a series of attack robocalls in key GOP congressional districts, including those of several House leaders.

So far, Missouri Republican members of Congress recently have been silent on the topic – or anything dealing with the shutdown. None of the state's six Republicans in the U.S. House issued any statements Monday.

The most recent public comments about the shutdown came Saturday from U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin. She highlighted her vote for a bill to provide retroactive pay for all 800,000 federal workers once the shutdown is over.

Even U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – who had been outspoken last week with his disapproval of House Republicans’ link of the budget to the ACA -- began this week by avoiding any talk of the shutdown.

Instead, Blunt issued a statement announcing that he had hired a new legislative director. Blunt is among fewer than a dozen senators who have declined to furlough their staffs or shut down any district offices, saying their employees are essential to the congressional office.

The lack of Republican talk on Monday may reflect a focus instead on behind-the-scenes discussions, or an effort for the congressional GOP to speak with one voice through its leaders.

"They don't know what to say,'' Temple contended.

The Democratic chairman, who took office less than two months ago,  also observed that Blunt is likely in a different predicament than Missouri's Republicans in the U.S. House. 

Blunt is expected to run statewide for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2016, a presidential election year, and likely is mindful that Democrats won all but one statewide office in 2012.

But Missouri's House districts, redrawn in 2011, now have boundaries that make them either strong GOP territory or Democratic turf.   So for Missouri's six Republicans in the House, "these people are behaving as if they are untouchable,'' the Democratic leader said.

And, Temple conceded, they may be right.

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