Betting they can't handle the 'truth'

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius must have seen “A Few Good Men.” Her most recent move against the nation's Republican governors looks like a maneuver from Col. Nathan Jessup's playbook.

In case you haven't seen it, the film is about the trial of two U.S. Marines accused of murdering one of their comrades. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) is a hard-as-nails base commander working his way up the chain of command. He is irked that the Navy is investigating what he considers an internal discipline matter. He partially reveals his frustration when a Navy investigator (played by Tom Cruise) asks for the deceased Marine's transfer orders.

Jessup replies that he can have the orders, adding: "But you have to ask me nicely." He goes on in a salty way to explain that he deserves some courtesy, and repeats, "You gotta ask me nicely."

The not-so-subtle message here is that if you want to play hardball, you've come to the right place.

Which brings us to Sebelius. After listening to GOP governors rail against the cost of a $16 billion state-relief package, she's doing a Jessup-style payback. Last week, she sent a poison-pill letter to state executives. The correspondence notes that governors will have to explicitly ask for their share of the newly available funding. She didn't say they have to ask nicely, but the message is pretty clear.

Sebelius is giving Obama administration dissenters a tough choice. They can either miss out on getting tons of free money, or the right to hold to a so-called ideological truth (that the extra federal subsidy is a bad thing).

Given the tough economic climate most states now find themselves in, it would probably be political suicide for any GOP governor to pass up these additional dollars. But it's going to be hard for them to stump later on principle when they specifically asked for a handout from Uncle Sam.

Sebelius has pulled off a nifty political move. But you can bet that as soon as they can, Republicans will find a way to pay her back.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.