This story has been updated to reflect a response from Appropriations Committee Director of Communications John O'Brien.
After weeks of grueling budget hearings in Harrisburg, it’s to be expected that tensions are running high in the statehouse. But Democratic state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky says Rep. Stan Saylor, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, went too far by shutting down her questions about the impact of a possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act on Pennsylvania in one recent hearing.
Late on Tuesday, after a round of questions between Krueger-Braneky and Acting Secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Jennifer Smith, on the impact of an ACA repeal on the state opioid crisis, Saylor told the committee he was fed up.
“I’m warning members again, as I’ve done before, that we’re not going to guess on ACA until something happens in Washington. We’re not wasting the time of this committee to discuss something that is not in the Legislature,” he said, in yesterday’s session. “No more questions or I will go over that member for (the) future. This is the fourth time I’ve warned members about it.”
Smith had told Krueger-Braneky prior to the warning that repeal could cost the state billions in funds that contributed to addiction services.
Kreuger said she felt “silenced” by Saylor’s attempt to bar any future discussion of the repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. She called his actions “shortsighted.”
“The job of the Appropriations Committee is to have oversight of the state budget,” she said. “If Trump has said he wants to repeal something that could cost us billions of dollars, we have a responsibility to ask those questions.”
In an email sent to City & State Thursday afternoon, John O'Brien, the Appropriations Committee's communications director, wrote that "The story that was written was distorting of the facts," and included a link to a video of the proceedings to back up his assertion.
"As you can see after viewing it, no one was hushed or shut down," O'Brien wrote. "As you can see when watching the entire clip, the Representative was allowed to ask and have answered all of her questions. The Chairman then made his announcement that the hearings are to focus on the governor’s proposal and not to be getting off track by speculating what may or may not happen in Washington."
Saylor’s brief reproach were the only fireworks during otherwise staid budget hearings that have dominated Harrisburg for the past month or so. On Monday, Saylor – who declined multiple calls for comment – also rapped Democratic Rep. Kevin Boyle over a similar line of questioning during a hearing on elder care issues.
“It is clear the Republican Party doesn't want to deal with the negative ramifications of the false rhetoric of “repeal and replace,’” Boyle said, referring to a frequent GOP talking point. “That's why they are trying to prevent debate on this issue.”
Of course, time during budget hearings is often in short supply for complex issues, especially those yet to be decided upon by higher chambers of government. But the PA GOP has also recently been stung by public outcry over the possible repeal of the ACA.
Krueger-Braneky said it was hypocritical for Saylor to issue warnings to his fellow legislators simply because a concrete plan had not emerged from those same Congressional Republicans who had talked up repeal for years.
“There are questions in these hearings for PennDOT on how infrastructure proposals could affect Pennsylvania. There were questions for (the Department of Environmental Protection) secretary on the Clean Power Plan. It’s very common for people to ask about pending federal legislation,” she said. “Something just struck a nerve.”