The DeLeo Dilemma

The Massachusetts House of Representatives does not seem to be in a great rush to work on Governor Deval Patrick's and Senate President Therese Murray's top priority of the session, health care cost containment, Liz Kowalczyk writes in the Globe. So true. In fact, I've found that when you mention health care cost containment to people on the House side, they tend to assume you're talking just about moving municipalities to GIC for health insurance; the big reform Patrick and Murray are talking about doesn't seem to even be on their radar.

Kowalczyk suggests that the House doesn't expect action on the bill until next spring, or later. That doesn't allow much time for the process to play out before the end of the session. It also pushes a potential vote until deep into the election cycle, when tough votes are even tougher to wrangle.

Ordinarily, we might chalk this up to any number of things: genuine concern about the details of the proposal; reticence of House members to deal with it; political power of certain health providers.

But there's a big perception problem with the House right now: Speaker Robert DeLeo's credibility.

Last year, DeLeo held up legislation that Patrick and/or Murray wanted, primarily to attempt to force them to cave on race-track slots. Now to be fair, you and I and others not directly inside those negotiations don't know exactly how that really played out, but that's sure how it looked -- and it's sure how DeLeo himself seemed to talk about it, and it's certainly what just about everybody around state politics believes happened.

And, as I suggested in my column in last week's Phoenix, folks are wondering if DeLeo's going to do it again. I wrote:

Several close Beacon Hill observers believe that DeLeo is planning the same strategy — specifically, that health-care cost containment, the top priority of both Murray and Patrick, will encounter slow going in the House unless those two cave on slots.

So, yeah.

I have no idea if that's really what's happening. And it's worth noting that a Speaker's motives can be very hard to discern, because one of his key jobs is to take heat for his members -- which might entail, for instance, letting the entire state think a bill is stalled because of your own personal petty grievance, when in fact it's because your members don't want to piss off some constituency.

That said... I don't see how anything that happens on the Hill these days can not be viewed through the lens of DeLeo's personal Ahab-like quest to put slots licenses in the hands of the current owners of the state's race tracks. Not after last summer's circus; and not while he's going around talking about pushing a gaming bill, and not talking about conceding on racinos.

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