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Sat., March 23, 2013

Editorial: Otter shows leadership on health act amid outcry

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter led a bruising battle to establish health care exchanges he would rather not deal with. In the world of ideological purity, this stands as hypocrisy. In the real world, it is an example of smart leadership from someone elected to lead a state, not a political party.

Fortunately, enough legislators decided to side with pragmatism. The Senate voted 23-12 to give the state control over the conduit through which people will be able to purchase health insurance plans at the beginning of next year. The House had already passed the bill.

Those arguing against the exchanges weren’t at all fazed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, or the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Apparently, they’ve taken an obstinacy-only pledge and can’t be swayed by their own hypocrisy on states’ rights. Voting no on this bill would’ve handed control to the feds.

To the protesters, the most important accomplishment was to put their opposition on record. This is precisely the kind of thinking that has ground Congress to a halt on a number of important issues. Compromise and cooperation have become twin demons that must be slain at all costs.

Such an extreme stand led to some strange arguments.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said setting up the exchanges would be a capitulation to an “unjust law.” He compared the situation to slavery and segregation, forgetting, perhaps, that it was the secessionist states that were on the wrong side of history in those battles. Nonetheless, his opposition wasn’t surprising given the support in some Idaho quarters for nullifying any federal law the states don’t like.

In the House debate, Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, explained his support for exchange legislation: “Our choice is between state sovereignty and federal control. If we give up control, we will never get it back.”

That’s a conservative argument, but it doesn’t achieve what the extremists prefer: total opposition, no matter the consequences. However, it is rooted in realism. The federal government would’ve set up Idaho’s exchange if the bill had not passed.

As Otter has made clear, he is no fan of the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn’t have the luxury of lobbing rhetorical bombs and shrugging off the damage. So he held his nose and acted like a leader. He lobbied legislators and countered tea party ads with media spots of his own. He followed the path of several other Republican governors by weighing the pros and cons of mule-headedness, and rejecting it.

To those blinded by partisanship and a simplistic adherence to principles, the passage of this bill looks like heresy. To the clear-eyed, it’s a healthy act of leadership.

Now the state must hustle, because this debate has stalled progress, and establishing the exchanges is no simple task. We ask those who have lost on this issue, yet again, to please stop erecting counterproductive barriers.

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