LANSING — The Michigan Senate adjourned as expected Wednesday without voting to make more low-income adults eligible for government health insurance as supporters pressed for a vote.
Majority Republicans urged patience as they look at alternative legislation. It was, in the words of one lawmaker, a “bizarre,” “surreal” scene at the Capitol.
Senators stood in the back of a Senate chamber that had no carpet and no desks because of a summer renovation. Advocates for the uninsured packed the gallery.
Attendance originally wasn’t to be taken at the session because no voting was expected, but that changed after Democrats promised to show up and demand a vote. Realizing the situation, many Republicans attended too.
Democrats’ motion to discharge a House-passed Medicaid expansion bill from committee failed on a mostly party-line 12-18 vote.
Majority Leader Randy Richardville had convened the committee before the session and outlined his expectations for a work group he hopes will propose an alternative to the House legislation.
No testimony was taken in the packed hearing room.
“The Senate Republicans stand alone in their ignorance and obstinance,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat who with other Democrats told stories about people in need of health coverage.
Mr. Richardville, a Monroe Republican, plans to hold another hearing in two weeks, allow testimony, and get an update from the eight-member work group. The group is to meet twice a week and give a progress report every other week.
“I do understand how important this issue is to people on both sides of it and those that are in the middle as well,” he said. “We don’t have a bill in front us. House Bill 4174 ... is not the final product that we’re going to be looking at.”
The GOP-led chamber is under pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to act this month or next after adjourning June 20 without voting.
He’s traveling to hospitals across the state to push for a Medicaid expansion plan called “Healthy Michigan” — which he says will save money because the uninsured will have primary care coverage instead of going to the emergency room.
Mr. Snyder, who held a round-table discussion with small business owners to make his case, has said he needs time to seek waivers from the federal government if Michigan is to cover 320,000 more residents starting Jan. 1.
But Senate Republicans are concerned about a large expansion of government under the federal health care law, and Mr. Richardville said the Senate deserves some time to come up with a better bill.
While backers of the House bill say it would have passed with Democratic and some Republican support last month, Mr. Richardville said it would have gone down to defeat.
Mr. Snyder was pushing the Senate to vote five to seven days after it cleared the House with bipartisan support.
“I think that by the end of July we will have something the committee can consider,” Mr. Richardville said. “Whether or not the committee votes on it or not is a decision I will make at that time.”