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Missouri officials' meeting on Medicaid scuttled after legislators, Nixon tangle over terms

Gov. Jay Nixon
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - The anticipated meeting next week between Gov. Jay Nixon and top legislative leaders, to discuss health care and Medicaid, may be on the ropes as a result of a dispute over how and where the session would proceed.

"At this point, the meeting has been cancelled,'' said state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, adding that he was taken aback by the governor's angry response to the legislators' conditions for the meeting.

"I was disappointed that he took it as an affront to him,'' Romine said. "It wasn't meant that way at all."

"I do hope to maintain an open communication with the governor,'' Romine added.

Nixon made public late Tuesday a tersely worded letter in which he took umbrage – and rejected – the terms of the meeting stipulated by the chairmen of the House and Senate Interim Committees on Medicaid Transformation and Reform.

“I am not interested in taking part in a political game at the expense of the Missourians we have sworn to serve,” the governor wrote, as he accused the legislative leaders of engaging in “political posturing.”

An aide confirmed to the Beacon that Nixon was stating he wouldn't participate in such a meeting. The session will be rescheduled only if the legislators reconsider, the governor's staff said.

Nixon's reply was in response to a letter that the chairmen had sent this week to the governor, in which they accepted his invitation to a meeting Tuesday – but then detailed their terms.

“The meeting will operate as a joint hearing of the House and Senate committees, conducted in customary manner in accordance with administrative guidelines and state laws,’’ wrote state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and Romine.

“We will preside over the hearing as co-chairmen,’’ they continued. “You will be the only witness called to testify.”

The governor would be allowed to make an “opening address’’ to legislators and the public, but it would be held in the House Lounge, not his planned location in the Governor's Office Building, two blocks east of the Capitol.

Nixon countered that he was “disappointed’’ by their reaction and said the chairmen had “reneged on our agreement’’ as to how the meeting – open to the public and the press -- was to be conducted.

“Two weeks ago, I invited you and your colleagues on the House and Senate Interim Committees on Medicaid Transformation and Reform to take part in a two-way discussion about one of the most important public policy issues facing our state: making our health care system more efficient, effective and responsive to the needs of Missourians,” he wrote. “As I said in my invitation, I looked forward to this meeting as an opportunity to hear about your findings and to present my ideas for making progress in this area. Based on your agreement to participate, my office proceeded to finalize the details of the session including clearing the schedules of the cabinet members who would participate.

“That is why I was disappointed to learn today that you had reneged on our agreement for a constructive dialogue on this matter.  Given the assurances my office received in good faith from you on the form and content of the meeting, I can only conclude that this last-minute change of heart demonstrates that, as we saw last session, you and your leadership have chosen to give politics precedence over the substance of the discussion.  And while I am always willing and eager to engage in a serious, thoughtful debate about Medicaid, in any setting, I am not interested in taking part in a political game at the expense of the Missourians we have sworn to serve.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.