Senator Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, is no birther/deprive poor children of free summer lunches/table pounding Glenn Beck ideologue. Nuh-uh. Schmitt, one of the panelists at the Feb. 5th Missouri Budget Forum, showed the audience that he was not only as congenial a Republican as you’ll find in the state senate, but empathetic in the bargain.

“Having a son on the spectrum with developmental disabilities [autism], I am very sensitive to the folks in our community who are the most vulnerable, who have–particularly when times are difficult–have nowhere else to go. And that is a legitimate function of state government for us to look out for those folks. And so those are where my priorities are as we enter this very difficult budget year.”

Helping the vulnerable is “a legitimate function of state government”, eh? There’s no Grover Norquist peeking out from behind Schmitt’s shoulder. And his time has been where his mouth is. He founded Habitat for Humanity at Truman State, has always been involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and serves on the board of Nurses for Newborns. In an echo of Rachel Storch’s remarks about avoiding the  penny wise, pound foolish mindset–she said we ought to spend a little money on drug treatment programs instead of incarcerating drug offenders for years at great expense–Schmitt pointed out that spending on early intervention is smart. He’s seen it with the autism issue and is ready to apply that lesson to other needs that nonprofit organizations will bring to the legislature.

I did have a distinctly “huh?!” reaction, though, to Schmitt’s claim that Republicans had been bipartisan on last year’s budget–considering the zig zagging merry budget chase that Allen Icet led the House on last spring. But perhaps Schmitt spoke only of the Senate, where common sense is more likely to poke its head above ground.

During the Q & A, a participant called out the nice man for Republican behavior. She wanted to know why the Rs turned down a hundred million free bucks last year when the MO Hospital Association offered to pay for putting more poor people on Medicaid.  

Schmitt pointed out that the Senate did pass a bill last year accepting the funds but that it didn’t pass in the House. He explained in some detail the advantages of the Health Savings Accounts for additional Medicaid recipients that the senate Republican plans called for.

Did he convince you that HSAs “bend the cost curve” while teaching recipients to make responsible choices? If he was persuasive, it was in part because he, ahem, glossed over the steep downside of that bill. Did he omit the weaknesses because he didn’t want to talk too long? Perhaps. But if so, let me help him out:

But when you [Senator Schmitt] spoke of plugging those folks into insurance, what you neglected to add was “well, sort of.” People making less than fifty percent of the poverty level can get Medicaid IF they can scrounge up a thousand dollars a year for a “health savings account” and IF they meet a laundry list of eligibility requirements that will eliminate some of them and that will require a federal waiver for the program. Oh, and that’s IF in any given year, the legislature chooses to appropriate the funds.

And IF hell freezes over?

Tsk. I do jump towards being harsh, don’t I? Perhaps the bill you’re co-sponsoring makes sense to you, Senator, but consider, in contrast, Governor Nixon’s proposal. He is asking that people under fifty percent of the poverty level be included in Medicaid, using the additional funds from the Hospital Association and the federal funds that money would draw down. Simple.

The plan outlined in SB 306 is Rube Goldberg-ian.  

It sets up a new bureaucracy, which will increase costs. As a recent Post-Dispatch editorial points out:

A peer-reviewed study published last June in the journal Health Affairs concluded that switching Medicaid enrollees to private insurance would increase costs by 26 percent – an average of nearly $1,500 per person.

Oh wait, I have a brainstorm. Why not go with Medicaid, save the fifteen hundred per person and spare the churchmice from coming up with a thousand apiece? And I’m not even suggesting that you put that extra $500 into insuring a few more people.

Another problem with the Senate plan is that it requires recipients to use HMOs, despite the fact that many of them live in rural areas that are not served by HMOs (but would be served by Medicaid).

Don’t get me wrong. Senator Schmitt is no Scrooge. Or at least not all the time. His heart is often in the right place. He cared enough to found a chapter of Habitat for Humanity and to serve on the board of Nurses for Newborns. But he defends a bill mandating that parents in a family of four who earn more than $340 a month have to find one thousand big ones–and for them, every single dollar is a big one–before they get Medicaid.

Oh, and speaking of items Schmitt probably wouldn’t care to reveal to a fairly liberal audience, he has signed on for some revealing legislation. He sponsored:

SCR 36, which “Urges Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution”

SJR 32, which “Requires a two-thirds majority vote of both houses of the General Assembly to pass a new, or increase an existing, state tax”.

He co-sponsored:

SCR 34, which “Reaffirms Missouri’s sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment”

SJR 25, which “Prohibits laws interfering with freedom of choice in health care”

SJR 34, which “Requires the attorney general to seek appropriate relief against actions of the federal government when directed by the governor, general assembly, or a petition of the voters”

Now what was it I was saying about Schmitt not being a Glenn Beck ideologue? He is and he isn’t. He’s a tenther but not–as far as we know–a birther. So give Eric Schmitt all the credit he deserves for whatever empathy he shows. Just remember that a moderate Republican is still a Republican.