So Much for Heidi Heitkamp’s Bipartisanship


Senator Heidi Heitkamp at Cirrus Aircrafts' celebration Tuesday, December 20 in Grand Forks, N.D. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

A big part of Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s “centrist” brand, a part of the carefully cultivated public perception she hopes will get her re-elected in 2018, is the idea that the Senator prefers bipartisanship.

The problem for Heitkamp is that she’s a liberal, and posturing as a moderate means you sometimes have to actually work with icky Republicans.

Case in point, the Republican-backed healthcare reform. Again, Heitkamp has pledged to work with Republicans on this stuff, so when she joins her fellow Democrats in partisan condemnation of proposed policy, she has to find a good excuse.

Or even just make one up.

In a recent speech on the Senate floor, Heitkamp accused the Republicans of crafting a health care bill that would “hurt Native American families across our state and the country who are too often left out of discussions in Congress.”

“The bill would cut support for Medicaid which has been a lifesaver for so many in Indian Country, take resources from the Indian Health Service which is already underfunded, and reduce access to affordable care for some of the most underserved and impoverished in our country,” she added. Here’s the video:

Heitkamp isn’t being honest.

She’s claiming that the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill (which is probably a moot issue at this point anyway) would slash Medicaid funding tribal leaders depend on. But a provision put in the bill by Senator John Hoeven actually requires that the federal government pick up the full tab for Medicaid-eligible tribal members who go to non-IHS (Indian Health Service) facilities for healthcare.

Currently the State of North Dakota picks up 50 percent of that cost, which translates to about $50 million per year for state taxpayers. Graham-Cassidy would allow the state to stop paying for that 50 percent, but with Hoeven’s provision the bill would require the federal government to pick up the full tab.

Which is as it should be. Healthcare for Native Americans is a treaty obligation. The feds should have been paying for it all along.

Heitkamp, who is no dummy, certainly knows this. So why the Senate floor rant?

That wasn’t about policy making. That was politics. Specifically, Senator Heitkamp finding an excuse to depart from her pledges of bipartisanship.

If only Heitkamp had the courage of her campaign trail convictions.