^ tandem rivals : Senator Liz Warren (l) speaks with Governor Charlie Baker (r) at Warren’s 3rd Annual Business conference recently

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The headline in today’s Boston Globe says much :

“Baker enters fray on Senate health bill… Joins Obama in backing legislation criticized by Warren.” 

This isn’t the first time that Governor Baker has supported initiatives that President Obama wants. Charter school expansion, a welcome for Syrian refugees, and the Trans Pacific Trade Treaty have all enjoyed support by both men, President and Governor. This despite partisan divisions perhaps too well documented.

As is my usual practice, I will link you to the legislation itself, as it reads as passed by the House last year (there have been several changes since then), so that you can study the exact words being argued over between our state’s two most popular politicians:

Much that is in the bill, which may be hard for readers to spot in the text I linked above, is explained clearly here :

Note that the “21st Century Cures Act” passed the House by a vote of 390 to 26. Which brings me to subject of this column : why has Senator Warren become out against the bill, and why has Governor Baker, who is said to be a Republican, weighed on in Federal legislation, something he almost never does ? The answers to these questions tell us a lot about the dividing line likely to motivate the 2018 election, in which both Baker and Warren will be seeking second full terms.

Warren criticizes the current Cures Act — which she admits she had a hand in writing — for two reason : first, the $ 4.9 billion of funding for faster and more flexible drug development, isn’t guaranteed, as in the original draft it was; and second, because she sees in it no language relieving high and soaring drug prices.

Baker, meanwhile, supports the Cures Act because it includes one billion dollars of funding to fight the opioid crisis — a top Baker priority — and because it streamlines the drug discovery and approval process. He notes that, as quoted by the Globe, “Massachusetts is a global leader in medical research and development and a strong partnership with our Federal partners is impoprtant to ensuring future advances in this field.”

Baker is right about Massachusetts, and he stands on solid ground advancing the cause of our pharmaceutical industries — one of our bedrock businesses. He’s also on solid ground supporting a 390 to 26, completely bipartisan House vote including all nine (9) Massachusetts Congresspeople. So the question is, why has Senator Warren chosen to oppose the bill passed by the House so overwhelmingly ?

Perhaps she is fighting for changes in the final wording, doing so with her usual, fist-shaking tactic. And to be sure, she has won a couple of language alterations, one of which — ensuring the Federal Government takes into account which communities suffer most from the present opioid crisis — Baker probably is glad to see included. Still, Warren’s focus on the bill’s lack of curbs on drug pricing suggests she’s attending to Bernie Sanders’s supporters (indeed, Sanders’s criticism of the bill mirrors her own) and thus keeping her political options credible as she fights Sanders for leadership;, going forward, of consumerist Democrats.

If that sounds calculating, it’s no less so than Baker’s own impression that supporting an Obama initiative looks good to our state’s voters, thus bolstering his reputation for espousing policies rather than party. That’s crucial, given that Baker’s Republican enrollment counts a mere eleven (11) percent of our voters (and probably less than that by 2018). When he was elected in 2014, almost 80 percent of his votes came from people who are not Republicans.

For Warren, the math is different. Because Democrats number about 36 percent of our voters, it’s not hard at all for her to attract an additional 15 percent — out of a pool of 64 percent — and win re-election. (She will likely do far better tan 51 percent.) Her problem is that the Democrats here are numerous, not few, and, being numerous, represent many points of view and include many politicians ambitious to “move up” and hardly deterred from moving to Warren’s left if they can in order to gain traction.

Baker is free, pretty much, to make his own decisions; Warren is not free to make hers. One day these differing political situations will test each other directly. In 2018 they will compete in tandem. We will see whose politics has the stronger Massachusetts support.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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