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Our View: Cooper, GOP legislators forge small, welcome alliances

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Rocky Mount Telegram

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Regardless of party affiliation, most of us probably can agree that the political landscape in Washington these days is ... well, different. Whether different means good or bad is up to the beholder. But D.C. aside, who could have imagined a year ago the changes in attitudes we have seen in Raleigh?

Between 2013 and 2016, Republican legislators were then-Gov. Pat McCrory's own worst enemies. Bitterly ironic, considering that McCrory was a Republican. The GOP lawmakers didn't really care. Under the leadership of Phil Berger in the Senate and Thom Tillis in the House, the legislature did what the Republicans willed it to do.

Even though McCrory seemed a popular governor at the time of his election, he could not muster enough support among fellow Republican lawmakers in four years to even pass a bill that would go after puppy mills.

His vetoes on legislation were symbolic gestures that fell on deaf ears. When Democrat Roy Cooper defeated McCrory in 2012, a lot of people shrugged. The partisan chips would be stacked against Cooper from the start, but after four years of McCrory's futility, what would be the difference?

A funny thing has happened in Cooper's first year of office. For whatever reasons, the GOP leadership and Cooper have found it advantageous to work together – occasionally.

Let's not get carried away here. Coop and Berger aren't exactly trading s'mores and singing campfire songs. But who would have thought the Democratic governor and GOP leadership would find common ground at all?

And yet they have. They put aside partisan differences long enough to cobble together a giant incentives package of $1.5 billion in an unsuccessful attempt to attract a Toyota-Mazda auto plant to North Carolina. More recently, they are making small overtures, at last, in an effort to expand Medicaid.

The Toyota-Mazda deal would have been huge, and it was a shame to see North Carolina lose out once again to Alabama. But Medicaid expansion holds economic promise for the state, as well.

Cooper is seeking permission from the Trump administration to require Medicaid recipients to work if the legislature will expand Medicaid to include 400,000 state residents who don't currently qualify.

The work requirement would not apply to the 1.1 million North Carolinians who already receive Medicaid. And there would be exceptions allowed among the 400,000 people potentially included in the expansion.

If that's enough to win some love from Republicans – and four GOP lawmakers already have filed a bill to expand Medicaid – then both parties could emerge with a victory here.

Expansion would mean an additional $13 billion in federal funds over the next 10 years. That money would be particularly appreciated at hospitals in rural parts of the state. The state's Medicaid bill would go up a bit, but 90 percent of the tab would be paid by Uncle Sam.

Thirty-three other states already have expanded Medicaid for exactly those reasons. North Carolina's opposition to the idea in the past was rooted largely in the GOP's disdain for Obamacare.

With new leadership in Raleigh and in Washington, the landscape is growing more interesting. And maybe, just maybe, Cooper and the legislature can forge a pact that will work for all of us.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to correct erroneous information regarding former Gov. Pat McCrory’s vetoes. An earlier version said McCrory vetoed House Bill 2. That was not the case. The Telegram apologizes for the error and any confusion it might have caused.

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