If the first public hearing on Medicaid expansion is any indication, the debate is only going to get more uncomfortable for those on the religious right who oppose Governor Brewer’s plan.
While Brewer has already been trying to court her faith-conscious foes by using pro-life rhetoric in championing her plan, testimony by community members appealing to this crowd came out more as a God-based guilt trip.
Republicans are already trying to distance themselves from the one biblical barb that was on their side during the lengthy House Appropriations Committee hearing as the remark gains national attention.
“Jesus had Judas and Republicans have Gov. Brewer,” said Maricopa County Republican Chairman A.J. LaFaro.
House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Prescott Valley, tweeted that the comment was inappropriate and called for LaFaro’s resignation and Rep. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, tweeted that LaFaro doesn’t speak for him.
Glen Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (who is a Republican and for the expansion), blogged that LaFaro “needs to be consigned to the kiddie table.”
While lawmakers attempted to steer conversations away from morality and back to policy it didn’t stop religion from cropping up throughout the hearing.
One woman's testimony was almost quite literally “I was blind but now I see.” A young woman testified that AHCCCS saved her eyes from a rare disease and if she gets kicked off the program in December she may go blind.
Rev. Jarrett Maupin flat out asked the GOP, “Who’s on the Lord’s side?”
“I’m not sure we can prescribe a position to God since he has not signed in,” Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, joked.
Gray said that he was uncomfortable with Maupin’s assertions and brought up scripture, which turned into an awkward theological dance between him and Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.
“When we look at what’s right and wrong there isn’t a clear cut ‘this is what God’s word says,’” Gray said. “If we want to go to a scripture we can look at what Paul said, ‘if a man doesn’t work don’t let him eat.’ You’re not supposed to feed them if they don’t work.”
Campbell then questioned if Gray was implying that the expansion of coverage would apply to people who are unemployed and Gray said Campbell was taking things out of context. Gray said he didn’t want to get into a theological debate since that would require taking all scripture into account.
“Your reference was using scripture that was based around a person’s employment status so I can extrapolate that to assume that you’re saying that we’re trying to provide health care coverage with this expansion to people who are unemployed and don’t do anything with their lives,” Campbell said.
Gray then thanked Campbell for questioning him so that he could say that that wasn’t his point at all.
After many testified about the life or death nature of the decision at hand, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, the committee's vice chairman, cautioned against asking how someone can claim to be religious and be against the expansion.
He said that the point of the hearing wasn’t to answer the question of whether or not it is right to help others, even though that is a Christian goal.
“That is certainly something that all people of faith aspire to, is helping others, but I think there is clearly a distinction between what Jesus did and lobbying Caesar,” Olson said. “The question we have before us is, ‘Is this the appropriate form of government or not?’”
—Bethany Barnes is Arizona-Sonora News Service's Don Bolles Fellow