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Editorial: Collins shows he's no friend of upstate

Rep. Chris Collins betrayed his district and his state this week with his smarmy and likely unconstitutional proposal to force changes in how New York funds its Medicaid program.

He says with a straight face that it was about helping New Yorkers burdened with high property tax rates, but that was a fraud. It was about buying upstate Republican votes for a health care reform that few people want.

The House pulled the bill from consideration Friday, at least temporarily sidelining the amendment that Collins and Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, ginned up to try to secure passage of a harmful bill. With it, they jeopardized the financial stability of the state’s hospitals and, with that, the health care available to millions of New Yorkers.

It was a shameful exercise, engineered and promoted by a wealthy man who can afford to advocate for legislation that targets his own constituents. But who does that?

This was a tragi-comedy of errors from the start. The Obamacare bill that Trump and the House were trying to replace took more than a year to shape and pass. It wasn’t perfect and it produced its own smarmy moments, but it provided health insurance to millions of Americans.

In contrast, the American Health Care Act was rushed into existence. Initial votes taken even before the Congressional Budget Office could calculate its impact, providing clear evidence that policy didn’t matter. Only winning did.

Collins supported the measure, going so far this week as to help craft an amendment that would bar New York from requiring counties to pay their share of Medicaid costs. The amendment affected only upstate New York and Long Island. It had no effect on New York City or any of the other 15 states that require counties to contribute to Medicaid.

Collins blithely dismissed all objections, insisting the state could simply make budget cuts to account for the loss. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said it would be impossible to find the necessary billions in the budget, and that the impact would devastate hospitals that already operate on thin margins. The hospitals agreed.

Collins didn’t care.

Some suggested that the state compensate by taking back the sales tax authority that was given to counties when they were first required to shoulder Medicaid costs. But that’s a shell game. In the end, taxpayers would still be forking over the same number of dollars, just out of different bank accounts.

Faso said the money could come out of state economic development efforts, including the Buffalo Billion. Collins, at least, was smart enough not to push that lunacy. But he didn’t counter it, either, allowing his partner to aim the gun at New Yorkers.

It’s not that the idea of transferring Medicaid costs to the state is terrible, or that there shouldn’t be efforts to reduce those expenses. Both are worthy goals, but they require thought and planning. It’s called governance.

But that wasn’t what Collins’ gambit was about. He wanted to tempt reluctant upstate Republicans to vote for the monstrous AHCA by giving them cover to claim – disingenuously – that they had created millions of dollars in property tax savings for their constituents.

It was dishonest and likely unconstitutional. As Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., argued in the House, Congress cannot bar only one state from collecting revenues as it sees fit without documenting some compelling interest. The only interest here was unvarnished politics meant to prop up a failing and unpopular bill.

With this maneuver, Collins has shown he was willing to risk the health care of his constituents. That’s not what members of Congress are supposed to be about.

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