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State House Roundup: While The Cat's Away

This article is more than 10 years old.

Elections have consequences. At least that’s what Dick Gephardt said.

But as the slow digestion of last week’s results continued, the ramifications for Beacon Hill remain a bit of a mystery.

While Gov. Deval “Don’t Call Me a Lame Duck” Patrick jetted to wine country on the West Coast for some rest and relaxation, those who survived last Tuesday began taking it upon themselves to fill in the governor’s Mad-Libs campaign pledge to “finish what we started.”

Local officials traipsed to the State House and ramped up their years-old call for municipal health care reform this week, with one mayor calling health insurance plan design legislation the “granddaddy” of issues for cities and towns.

At stake is the right for municipal leaders to make adjustments to co-pays and deductibles for employee health plans without negotiating those changes with local unions. The Senate in June passed a watered-down version of plan design in its budget that both management and labor hated – as did the House – prompting members to throw up their hands, telling stakeholders “You figure it out, and get back to us.”

Hoping to reignite the issue, mayors came back to Beacon Hill Tuesday to ask again for action. But what they got was an audience with the governor’s budget chief, Jay Gonzalez, who referred them to unspecific calls for “permanent solutions” to soaring health care costs. He also drew the ire of Republicans by acknowledging a “significant” looming budget next year, after the governor stubbornly insisted during the campaign he wouldn’t speculate about the projected deficit’s size.

If those permanent health care solutions include the replacement of the fee-for-service model of payments to doctors and hospitals with something predicated on health outcomes and overall patient care – a stated goal of the governor and legislative leaders – officials couldn’t point to any tangible progress, despite years of reports, summits, conferences, conversations and hearings. Making progress on the long-discussed policy was one of the few specific policy goals offered by Patrick on the campaign trail.

Complicating matters, while the governor recharged in Sonoma, one of his top health care policy aides gave cost-control a cold shower, spilling some hard truths to an audience of employers and business groups. David Morales, commissioner of health care finance and policy, warned that a remake of the health industry’s business model could lead to “serious job losses” in the state’s largest employment sectors.

Enter Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who despite a historically frosty relationship with Patrick, gave the governor his full-throated endorsement during the campaign. Now, it appears, it’s time to collect.

Menino made clear that he’s not so inclined to wait around for Patrick to broker a truce or for the Legislature to try to play peacemaker between the unions and local government over health care.

Warning that Massachusetts is on the verge of the same turmoil that roiled other states this election year, Menino announced plans to file legislation on his own giving Boston the authority to create its very own GIC, undercutting union power at the bargaining table over insurance co-pays and deductibles. “If it's good for the state, it's good for Boston,” Menino said.

One agenda item that might be surprisingly absent from the ledger when the new House and Senate return to work in January is casino gambling. Patrick has cautioned against another protracted gambling debate that he says has the ability to “suck the air out” of the building once it starts.

Even DeLeo, incensed at the failure of expanded gambling, indicated he may not be gunning for an immediate repeat of the end-of-session drama that left three casinos sitting on the cutting room floor. After the Speaker insisted that slot parlors be included in the deal, Patrick did his best Odysseus impersonation, refusing to blink. Cornered by the Boston Globe at a Veterans Day event in Winthrop, DeLeo – who’s shunned reporters since the election – said he’s more focused on health care and budget issues.

Add to that the impatience of environmentalists who threatened a ballot drive if the Legislature refused to pass an expanded bottle bill in the first year of the session, and Sen. Robert Hedlund’s FOX25-TV plea for a toughened Melanie’s law, and we have the rough outlines of an agenda.

And what of the rejuvenated Republican minority, who gained just enough seats in the House to be noticed but not quite enough to prevent being ignored if Democrats are so inclined?

Between licking their wounds after failing to capture one statewide or Congressional seat and basking in the 17-seat pickup in the House, GOP leaders talked of hitting the reset button on their relationship with Patrick and courting moderate Democrats to their sideline. Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour may also plotting a strategy to keep her post after at least one state committeeman – despite her successful candidate recruitment effort and the most competitive election cycle in a decade – called for her ouster.

Mercifully, the appetite for election post-mortems seemed nearly sated by week’s end, punctuated by Republican Charles Baker and Patrick’s top advisors sitting side by side for one final spin cycle at MSL Boston headquarters to put the final wash on the “blame Cahill” chapter of the 2010 election.

The event also marked the beginning of the 2012 narrative. Between brushing aside potential presidential aspirations and toeing the independent line on Tea Party influence in the new Congress, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has acknowledged the bulls-eye on his back.

With no shortage of local and national retrospectives on what the Democratic sweep in Massachusetts means for Brown in two years, the junior senator can take comfort for now in watching Democrats play political pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey as they seek to find a frontrunner to challenge the popular GOP pin-up.

The list of possible contenders seems to grow by the day, this week bolstered by the addition of Menino – courtesy of the left-leaning blog Blue Mass. Group – and Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, whose legion of fans started a “Draft Will Flanagan” Facebook page and posted a YouTube video set to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: Stage setting for 2011

This program aired on November 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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