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Steve Benen notes that many of the most ardent supporters of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion don’t belong to constituencies that sway Republican lawmakers:

When we watch the debates unfold over Medicaid expansion, we expect to see folks like the uninsured, family advocates, religious leaders, and progressive activists pushing for conservative policymakers to do the right thing. For many Republicans, however, these aren’t constituencies with meaningful political capital.

But here in Missouri, GOP disregard towards any opinion that doesn’t reflect the most radical rightwing biases or, alternatively, the preferences of the GOP big-money backers seems to have morphed into outright hostility. Witness the response of Rep. Myron Neth (R-17) to the recent protest by 300 Missouri religious leaders who interrupted House proceedings. Some of the pastors sang hymns and there was chanting. The capital police were summoned and twenty three clergymen were peaceably arrested. The protest was clearly a last-ditch effort to do something to change the hardcore GOP determination to deny insurance coverage to poor Missourians – a life and death issue for many. Here is how the petulant Neth, who seems to have been expressing the emotions of many of his GOP colleagues as well, reacted to what the Kansas City Star characterized as “couple dozen pastors singing ‘Amazing Grace'” :

Well, I can almost definitively say that we will not be expanding Medicaid this year. It was just derailed by the very people that want it to happen. The large number of Medicaid supporters, many clergy included, started a protest in the Senate gallery and had to be forcibly removed. I even believe some of the clergy were taken into custody.

There have been several Republicans, Sen. Silvey and Rep. Torpey to name a few, leading the charge behind the scenes to possibly get something done and they were making some strides in doing so. However, now I am sure that the Senators and others who have traditionally opposed it will now really dig in their heels on our efforts to get something done.

But Neth wasn’t finished expressing his pique with Missourians who exercise their right to freedom of expression. When people responded to the snitty little statement above with what seems to have been heated indignation, letting him know that that they didn’t appreciate a lawmaker treating principled individuals motivated by the common good as if they were rowdy high schoolers who would now have to forgo prom because they made too much noise, he dug in deeper:

I was surprised at a number of negative responses I got from my mid-week report. By no means am I surprised that some people disagree with me on certain issues. However, the tone and content of many of the responses were extremely rude and disrespectful. I do not see how people expect me to respond or seriously consider feedback when it is delivered in such a poor manner. I understand one’s passion on a given issue and that, at times, there might be disappointment, but sending an abrasive message dilutes anything that might be said and carries much less weight than a cordial and well stated response.

Doesn’t it leave a foul odour in the vicinity of the capital when a lawmaker thinks it’s reasonable to imply that something of such life-and-death importance as insurance coverage should be withheld because Mr. Big Poohbah Legislator Neth doesn’t think its supporters were properly deferential? What’s worse, of course, is that Neth and his GOP colleagues didn’t have the slightest intention of extending Medicaid – certainly not without privatizing or otherwise weakening the program. But, of course, when it becomes time to take responsibility for his actions, it’ll be so much easier to blame the folks who cried for help because they didn’t conform to his ideas of decorum. The Kansas City Star editorial gets it just right:

Missouri lawmakers are big on free speech. Unlimited campaign contributions, we are told, are a form of free speech. There are no limits on lobbyist gifts because, hey, lobbyists and their clients have the right to free speech.

Surely these free-speech champions will support the right of the pastors to make their voices heard. At the very least, don’t use them as an excuse for denying health coverage to 300,000 people.