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House committee approves GOP-backed state budget; Senate Dems introduce theirs

| Monday, June 3, 2013, 2:18 p.m.

HARRISBURG — House Republicans and Senate Democrats on Monday set the stage for the political struggle over Medicaid expansion that unfolds this month.

A House Republican-controlled committee approved a budget plan without Medicaid expansion and Senate Democrats announced their budget, which counts on it for savings.

Pennsylvania is one of about 14 states that tentatively declined to accept billions more federal dollars to provide health insurance to more than 500,000 low-income people under the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obama-care.

The House Republicans' $28.3 billion budget — at least to this point — supports the position of GOP Gov. Tom Corbett and does not anticipate Pennsylvania expanding Medicaid.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the budget proposal 21-14 along partisan lines.

Asked whether House Republicans would back Corbett on the issue through the budget deadline of June 30, committee Chairman Bill Adolph of Delaware County said the caucus has not met to consider it.

Corbett's position is not final. He's negotiating with federal Health and Human Services for flexibility, a spokeswoman said. But he has said that although Pennsylvanians need access to greater and more affordable health care coverage, it “must be done in a sustainable way,” spokeswoman Christine Cronkright said.

She said the state Department of Public Welfare is analyzing the program, which costs state and federal taxpayers $21.9 billion annually.

Democrats, in the minority in the House and Senate, are pushing for Medicaid expansion.

“It's a no-brainer,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, an Oakmont Democrat.

A Rand Corp. study released on Monday claimed the costs to states to expand Medicaid “would generally be lower” than expenses states would face paying for medical issues from uninsured residents.

Some Republicans in the Appropriations Committee meeting chided Democrats for not having their own budget plan. Dermody said it would be included in an amendment offered on the budget.

Senate Democrats put forth a $28.4 billion budget plan that includes $154 million in estimated savings from Medicaid participation. Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said the budget addresses job creation, education and social services.

The House GOP budget would boost basic education spending by $274 million. The budget calls for spending about $110 million more than Corbett proposed for basic education in February. It would increase overall state spending by 2.1 percent.

Dermody acknowledged that Republicans might slap down budget proposals by House Democrats through procedural votes. But he predicted a close vote if there were a clear up-or-down vote on expanding Medicaid.

Unlike most years, Democrats have something that Corbett needs during budget talks: votes for a plan to raise transportation money.

Dermody stopped short of saying Democrats would withhold votes on a transportation bill if Republicans don't consider the Democrats' priorities such as Medicaid, freezing a corporate business tax cut, and pumping money into education and human services. But Democrats made it clear they would not provide most of the votes to raise money for roads, bridges and transit.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol writer. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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