A pair elephants are fighting in Montgomery, and as the proverb so neatly puts it, it is the grass, the little guy underfoot, that is getting stepped on.
In the past, Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner and Gov. Robert Bentley have shown little love or respect for the other, but what was largely personal rancor is now a disagreement that could affect the lives of thousands of Alabamians who simply want adequate health care and a comfortable retirement.
It is difficult to trace the feud to its origins. It may go back to when the governor was a legislator and members of his party were engaged in a war of words with Bronner over his investment strategies. However, this most recent spat seems to have originated when Bronner criticized Bentley for his decision not to expand Medicaid.
That criticism, mind you, was spot-on. Bentley’s refusal to expand Medicaid — largely at the expense of the federal government — is the height of gubernatorial bumbling. The governor’s small-government, Republican ideology has clouded his judgment, and thousands of Alabamians are paying the price for his mistake. Other Republican governors who once sided with Bentley’s opinion have changed their minds and accepted Medicaid expansion.
But not Alabama’s governor. Bronner rightly argues that Bentley risks the health of scores of residents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid as it currently stands but who do not earn enough to afford health insurance. Citing hospital officials, Bronner says that this decision will also put many smaller hospitals in financial danger, thus further limiting access to health care.
The governor dismisses these findings, arguing instead that expanding Medicaid would cost the state money it does not have. Bronner has also pointed to a UAB study that shows Medicaid expansion would result in around 30,000 new jobs in the state. Although a host of business, hospital and health-care associations around Alabama support the expansion and accept the UAB study, the governor called it “bogus.”
Bronner responded, “Hogwash.”
Behind this inarticulate exchange is something Bronner considers even more sinister. Recently, a Bentley appointee to the RSA board pushed through a change in policy that would require the board’s investment committee to approve all RSA investments. Bronner considers this a direct attack on his authority, motivated by Bentley’s desire to get even for his outspoken criticism of the governor’s Medicaid policy. Bentley denies it.
This back-and-forth between the governor and the RSA chief isn’t worth much ink. What is is Bentley’s indefensible decision to fight President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion at the expense of so many Alabamians. The spat aside, Bronner is right to point out — vociferously, constantly — how the governor is on the wrong side of this vital issue.
Bentley isn’t serving the Alabamians who are figuratively getting trampled underfoot by his decision. It’s a shameful way to govern.