Friday, April 8, 2016

House inches toward supermajority for Medicaid expansion, but Tea Party Ten threaten shutdown in Senate

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 6:54 PM

"UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES": Considered a swing vote, Bledsoe said she is absolutely not going to vote for the appropriation.
  • "UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES": Considered a swing vote, Bledsoe said she is absolutely not going to vote for the appropriation.
All eyes are on the Arkansas Senate. 

The House approved "Arkansas Works," the governor's plan to continue the private option Medicaid expansion, 70-30. That's five votes short of the 75 percent threshold needed for the appropriation next week but most believe that the chamber will be able to get over the hump. 

They've already picked up one: Rep. Laurie Rushing said today that despite voting against the legislation for "Arkansas Works" (she voted No yesterday and Present today), she has no intention of playing shutdown games next week.

"I plan to vote yes on the appropriation," she said. "I voted against Arkansas Works because I had a campaign promise back in my district. ... My reason for voting yes on the appropriation next week is that the people of Arkansas have spoken through their representatives. We had 70 votes for yes. There's no reason to hold up the whole DHS budget when the majority of Arkansas wants Arkansas Works. They want this to go forward and they believe in it. They believe in our governor and they believe in the system. No reason for me to try to hold up the budget. We're going to go with the majority. Because that's what we're here to do — serve the people."

Rushing is the only one I've gotten confirmation from, but a handful of others in the House are widely rumored to be open to voting for the appropriation and avoiding a shutdown, despite their opposition to "Arkansas Works." [UPDATE: Rushing herself, without naming names, told the D-G that six other House members who voted against "Arkansas Works" also plan to vote for the appropriation.]

The Senate, however, is a tougher slog. The Tea Party Ten, led by Sen. Bart Hester, is threatening to shut down the government if they don't get their way. Hester has stated explicitly that he is willing to shut off funding for the entire Medicaid program — including funding for the aged, blind, and disabled; patients in nursing homes; children on ARKids; medical services for foster children; and much more — unless the overwhelming majority of the legislature caves to the whims of just ten Tea Party senators. 

The governor must persuade two of the Tea Party Ten to vote for the appropriation in order to continue the Medicaid expansion (and avoid a humanitarian disaster in a shutdown situation). 

Among the ten, scuttlebutt is focused on Sen. Missy Irvin and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe as the best possibilities to vote for the appropriation and save the state from disaster. For the record: Bledsoe has two relatives on the state payroll and Irvin is widely rumored to have an interest in a state job for her husband.  

In the D-G this morning, eight of the Tea Party Ten pledged to block the appropriation and shut down the Medicaid program unless the Medicaid expansion is ended. Irvin and Bledsoe declined to comment. This led to lots of speculation that the governor had a way forward in the senate. 

However, when I asked Bledsoe today, she said that she was absolutely voting against the appropriation next week. "I am not going to vote for it," she said. "Under no circumstances." 

The fiscal session will convene on Wednesday, with health care for hundreds of thousands of Arkansans — not just the private option expansion population but the elderly, the disabled, and children — at stake. 

Support for special health care reporting made possible by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

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