By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Hey, remember “Healthy Wisconsin”?
Don’t worry if you missed its first incarnation, when state Senate Democrats introduced the proposal shortly after capturing the chamber in 2006 elections. A truly universal health-care proposal, Healthy Wisconsin went farther than Gov. Mitt Romney’s similar-sounding plan in Massachusetts and well beyond President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In the name of providing coverage for every man, woman and child in Wisconsin, it would have created a massive health-care bureaucracy for the Badger State.
You’ll soon hear a lot about it — especially if you live in the state’s 7th Congressional District where it’s the subject of an attack ad produced and paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s targeted at former state Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Chippewa Falls, as he tries to unseat first-term U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-District 7.
Kreitlow didn’t author the bill — that was state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton — but, as the attack ad makes clear, Kreitlow was responsible for selling it. Along with state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, Kreitlow held a series of town halls in support of Healthy Wisconsin sponsored by such groups as Citizen Action Wisconsin, while also attending forums opposed to the program sponsored by Americans for Prosperity to debate opponents.
The chief problem with Healthy Wisconsin was that its costs were off the charts for most state programs. The price tag was $15.2 billion annually. To pay for it, a new payroll tax was to be enacted. Individual employees would have been charged $140, while their employers would be charged an additional $370 per employee for a total of $510 a worker every month.
If passed, it would have been the largest tax increase in Wisconsin history.
Eventually, Democratic demands for the program’s inclusion in the 2007-09 biennial budget produced a months-long standoff in the Republican-controlled Assembly. The stalemate ended when former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle voiced his displeasure with the program and said he wished his fellow Democrats would focus on getting a budget completed and on his desk.
State Senate Democrats dropped the plan in September 2007. A month later, the proposal was declared dead for the rest of that legislative session.
It was so dead that, during the 2009-10 legislative session — when Democrats controlled both chambers and the Governor’s Office — it was never brought up for a committee hearing, let alone a vote. By the 2010 election, the program had become an immense political vulnerability and was one of many factors that helped Republicans re-capture the chamber.
And that’s why NRCC revived the issue in the campaign against Kreitlow: It’s like a political cyanide tablet he takes before every run for office.
In a statement on the ad, NRCC deputy communications director Andrea Bozek said: “Wisconsin families fired Pat Kreitlow once because they couldn’t afford his drastic tax increases on families, and they will do it again.”
In response, the Kreitlow campaign issued a statement on the ad, focusing on Duffy’s campaign contributions from the insurance industry.
“It’s no surprise that Congressman Duffy and his allies want to attack Pat Kreitlow for supporting comprehensive solutions to health care that reduced costs and increased access to healthcare,” wrote Kreitlow campaign manager Tom McDonald.
“All of the attack ads in the world can’t erase Duffy’s record of being a shill for the insurance industry while putting seniors at their mercy. Congressman Duffy has taken at least $120,562 from the insurance industry, and the investment has paid off. He has voted to protect private insurance companies’ record profits and against accountability.”
The Duffy campaign did not respond to calls for comment.
Author William Faulkner said the past is never dead; it isn’t even past. Healthy Wisconsin haunts Wisconsin liberals and Democrats to this day.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.