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Minnesota Senate DFLers did the easy work Thursday in an effort to override Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a plan to revive a health care program for some of the state's poorest residents.
By a party line vote of 45-21, the Senate moved to send legislation to restore General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) to the House, where DFLers so far lack the necessary votes to override and where Republicans have not signaled any willingness to defy the governor.
DFLers pressed for the Senate override even as top legislators have joined with the governor and his staff to find a way to salvage a plan before GAMC expires April 1.
"I hope the discussions that we have will be fruitful, but it's unclear at this moment that they will," said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsor of the bill. The governor's office, she said, "is not slowing or rescinding his direction" to begin transitioning people off the program.
At a news conference before the vote, Pawlenty dismissed the move by the overwhelming DFL-controlled Senate as "largely ceremonial."
Pawlenty has said he trusts that House Republicans would uphold his veto, though it would take only three Republicans to override. A House vote could come as early as Monday.
The governor said talks are continuing with Berglin and Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "We don't like their plan and they don't like our plan, so we are trying to find some common ground," Pawlenty said.
But starting Monday, the state will begin the process of moving more than 32,000 low-income residents into MinnesotaCare, which requires participants to be more involved to stay enrolled and offers less hospital coverage. MinnesotaCare orginally was designed as a subsidized insurance plan for those who were employed, but who could not afford coverage on their own.
Pawlenty said that MinnesotaCare was "not a Cadillac plan, but it is a reasonable plan for those who are otherwise going to have no insurance."
The fight over GAMC has been at the center of a fractious, months-long battle between DFLers and the governor, who is not seeking reelection.
To knock down part of a multibillion-dollar deficit last year, Pawlenty vetoed funding for GAMC, which covers single adults who earn less than $8,000 a year and who are generally ineligible for Medicaid. Many on the program are homeless, mentally ill or drug-addicted. Some are veterans struggling with life after war.
Late last week, both houses approved legislation to extend the program for 16 months. Pawlenty vetoed it, partly because he said it spends $170 million as the state faces a $1.2 billion shortfall.
Republicans questioned why DFLers sought an override at the same time they were trying to negotiate with the governor to fix the problem.
"We should take some time to continue to negotiate to solve the problem instead of negotiating by ramming something down the throats of the public that may be ill-considered," said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Berglin said the DFL plan is a better bargain, costing the state an average of $457 per person per month rather than $937 per person per month under Pawlenty's plan.
But the DFL plan could ultimately cost the state more because far more people would be covered.
Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said it was irresponsible to expand a health care program before figuring out first how to balance the budget.
"Overriding a veto to spend money we do not have is a mistake," he said.
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