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Cooper calls on GOP leaders to compromise

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Gov. Roy Cooper, shown in this file photo, said Wednesday he has not issued an ultimatum to Republican legislative leaders to expand Medicaid — but he does hope they will compromise on expanding the health care insurance program to cover more low-income North Carolinians.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Friday, July 19, 2019

Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday he has not issued an ultimatum to Republican legislative leaders to expand Medicaid — but does hope they will compromise on expanding the health care insurance program to cover more low-income North Carolinians.

Cooper, who was interviewed by phone, said he also hopes GOP leaders in the House and Senate also will compromise on education funding. But he’s not drawing any lines in the sand, he said.

“I haven’t made any ultimatums on any issue,” Cooper said.

The governor said his concerns with the budget approved by the General Assembly include that it does not provide health care coverage for an additional 500,000 North Carolinians; doesn’t do enough to raise the salaries of teachers and other state employees; doesn’t provide enough funding for school construction; and doesn’t fund school construction in the right way.

That “right way,” according to Cooper, would include a construction bond that would take advantage of what he described as “historically low” interest rates. It would provide $14.9 million for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools rather than the $12.4 million in GOP budget.

The GOP budget, which he vetoed, also doesn’t do enough for early childhood education or clean water, Cooper said.

“Nine days ago I made a detailed, reasonable compromise proposal to Republican leaders and I have not heard anything back from them,” the governor said.

GOP leaders have been spending their time trying to “buy” enough Democratic votes to override his veto rather than working on a compromise, he said.

“They have even been shopping around an entire cabinet agency,” Cooper said, complaining that GOP leaders have tried to use the relocation of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as a bargaining chip to convince Democratic legislators to vote for a veto override. Republicans need six more Democratic votes in the House and one more in the Senate to amass the two-thirds needed to override Cooper’s veto.

The discussion about relocating DHHS has happened without any consideration of feasibility or cost, Cooper said. It’s sole purpose is to try and override his veto, according to Cooper.

But Republicans don’t have the votes for an override so they need to come to the table and negotiate, he said.

“If they had had enough votes they would have voted,” Cooper said, noting the House has yet to hold a veto override vote.

“What I want to do is have them come to the table,” he said.

Cooper said the GOP leadership in the General Assembly has gotten used to getting its way on everything. The state’s voters, however, have opted for compromise and consensus by electing more Democrats to the legislature, he said.

Most North Carolinians support expanding healthcare coverage, Cooper said, and “all I have asked is that it be part of the negotiation.”

Cooper said that while the Republican-crafted Carolina Cares legislation — an alternative version of Medicaid expansion that includes work requirements and premiums based on income — is not his preference, “I am certainly willing to negotiate that and if it passes the House it would be a positive step.”

Cooper said all of the Pasquotank projects included in the General Assembly budget, such as a shipyard cleanup and a homeless shelter, are included in his proposed compromise budget.

The governor’s proposal would also:

• Raise teacher pay 8.5 percent rather than the GOP’s 3.8 percent

• Raise pay for other school employees 5 percent rather than 2 percent

• Raise community college employee pay 4 percent rather than 2 percent

• Raise state university employee pay 5 percent rather than 1 percent.

“We just want a compromise,” Cooper said. “They just need to talk to us.”

Almost 2,400 more people in Pasquotank would have health coverage under Medicaid expansion and it also would be a boost to rural hospitals, he said.

“We’re talking about working people here,” Cooper said — specifically those who currently earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to be eligible for an Obamacare subsidy.

“We’re trying to close that gap,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he is confident that state Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, who joined with Republicans in voting for the budget in the House but has since said he plans to sustain Cooper’s veto unless the Senate agrees to the Carolina Cares legislation, will be firm in supporting the veto.

Asked about controversial tweets about four Democratic congresswomen over the weekend by President Donald Trump, who was in Greenville Wednesday for a rally, Cooper said “we need leaders who are going to work to unite us rather than using our differences to divide us. Those kinds of tweets work to divide us and we don’t need that.”

But Cooper said rather than focusing on divisive tweets he will continue to emphasize important initiatives in education and health care.

“That’s what people are talking about around the breakfast table,” he said.

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