WASHINGTON – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday threatened to sue to stop a congressional proposal that would free New York's counties from having to pay a share of the state's Medicaid costs.
“I believe it is unconstitutional and we're seriously considering a lawsuit on behalf of the people of the state of New York to prove what a scam and a fraud this delegation is trying to perpetrate on the people of this state,” Cuomo said of the proposal, which House leaders included in the Republican legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare.
Short of the votes needed to pass the larger health care measure, the House GOP leadership Thursday postponed action on the legislation.
Still, the battle over that controversial Medicaid amendment – which would affect New York State and New York State only – continued to rage for a third day.
On a conference call with reporters, Cuomo said he agreed with Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who said on the House floor Wednesday that the controversial amendment may be unconstitutional.
Cuomo said Congress had no right to pass an amendment that essentially bars one state and one state only from collecting revenue as it sees fit.
“There’s no justification as to why you’re targeting New York,” he added. “States are sovereign.”
Rep. Chris Collins, the Clarence Republican who sponsored the Medicaid amendment along with Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, seemed unconcerned about Cuomo's threat to sue.
"Anyone can sue anyone, so I don't really have a comment," Collins said.
Collins noted, though, that Cuomo would not even have standing to sue to stop the Medicaid amendment, just because it is not yet law.
"I don't think you can sue in anticipation of a bill passing," Collins said.
The Collins amendment would bar the state from imposing any Medicaid costs on upstate and Long Island counties. The measure threatens the state with the loss of federal Medicaid funds if it tried to do so.
That would upend New York's 50-year tradition of forcing counties to pay for as much as 25 percent of the cost of Medicaid, which offers health care to poor people and nursing home care to seniors without resources.
After becoming governor six years ago, Cuomo imposed a 3 percent annual cap on Medicaid cost increases in the state and passed the savings along to counties, cutting their share of the program's cost to 13 percent.
But Medicaid costs still eat up a huge share of county budgets, especially in poorer, urbanized areas like Erie County, where nearly 84 percent of the tax levy went to Medicaid last year.
Collins has said that by eliminating Medicaid costs at the county level, an Erie County homeowner with a $200,000 home would be able to save $1,000 in taxes a year.
But Cuomo, in his conference call with the press, insisted yet again that the maneuver would place the state in an untenable position.
"The choice they are giving us is decimation of health care or a massive increase in state taxes," Cuomo said. "And I’m not going to increase state taxes, and I’m not going to decimate our health care system."
Collins and Faso got the amendment added to the bill not just because they have long advocated for the state takeover of Medicaid costs.
They also did it, Collins said, because it solidified several additional Republican votes from New York State lawmakers for the GOP Obamacare replacement, called the American Health Care Act.
That fact has prompted the Collins/Faso amendment to earn the derisive nickname "the Buffalo Bribe," which Cuomo used in his call with reporters.
“It’s outrageous, quite frankly, that Collins and Faso were buying votes and giving the IOU to the state of New York,” the governor said, adding that if Congress wanted to relieve New York counties of Medicaid costs, they should have had the federal government pick up the tab.
The amendment only affects upstate and Long Island counties. Collins said the measure did not cover New York City because it has its own income tax revenue to cover the Medicaid costs, and because adding New York City's $5 billion in annual Medicaid costs to the state budget would be too much for the state to handle.
Collins said the proposal is something of a magic elixir for upstate county budgets. "This helps 57 counties," he said. "It fixes decades of unfunded mandate issues in one fell swoop."
Noting that many upstate counties suffer financial problems because of the Medicaid burden, Collins added: "So the governor, who's running for re-election next year, is not going to be able to run and claim that he supports upstate."
Cuomo told reporters that the Collins/Faso amendment could complicate the state's upcoming budget process. But Collins was less than sympathetic to the state's possible loss of county Medicaid revenues, which would not take effect until 2020.
"He'll have to come up with $2.3 billion in savings," Collins said of Cuomo. "It's there for the taking. Christ, I could find it in 30 minutes."
Collins, who briefly contemplated a run for governor while serving as Erie County executive in 2010, said he was "absolutely not" planning to run against Cuomo next year.
Still, the battle between Cuomo and Collins took on a bit of the look of a political race, as the National Republican Congressional Committee – which aids Republican House members running for re-election – sent out a press release Thursday attacking Cuomo.
“As soon as Andrew Cuomo is done throwing his public temper tantrum, he should get to work cutting wasteful spending from his bloated $154 billion budget," said Chris Pack, an NRCC spokesman. "Upstate and Long Island residents deserve property tax relief, not a governor who bullies middle class taxpayers.”
Asked for a response, Cuomo's office replied with a statement from his chief of staff, Melissa De Rosa.
"Governor Cuomo turned a $10 billion deficit into surplus, while the federal deficit projection for 2019 is $601 billion," she said. "You know what, NRCC, Chris Collins and John Faso? New York is fine without your advice."