Democrats are lining up behind the line-item-veto plan to continue the Medicaid expansion | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Democrats are lining up behind the line-item-veto plan to continue the Medicaid expansion

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 6:34 PM

GRAY: Democrats are ready to move forward.
  • GRAY: Democrats are ready to move forward.
It's been a harried few days at the Capitol, but it looks like Democrats are on board with the governor's scheme to fund the private option Medicaid expansion via an elaborate procedural gambit (see here for details). 

Unless something crazy happens (like the governor firing someone!) it appears that lawmakers have found a way out of the budget impasse: the Medicaid program will be funded and the private option will live on. 

The Medicaid appropriation, which passed by a voice vote in Joint Budget Committee today, will head to the Senate tomorrow and could be in the House on Thursday. The dummy amendment included to allow the governor to save Medicaid expansion via the line item veto was significantly revised based on suggestions from Democrats, helping to get buy-in from Democratic lawmakers. All of the Democrats I spoke with said they are voting for the appropriation. 

Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram said that he thought that the caucus would back the appropriation and it would pass in the senate tomorrow. "I think it was very wise that we waited," he said. "We've come up with something that's a far better piece of legislation. I think people are comfortable with it now. They understand the process. A lot of people quite honestly last week had questions just about the process." Ingram said that the vast majority of the caucus would back it (Medicaid expansion backers probably can't afford to have more than one Democrat balk, but Ingram sounded confident about passage tomorrow).  

House Minority Leader Michael John Gray
said that he thought that the appropriation would pass the House. "We're going to follow the leadership of the governor," he said. "If the governor truly thinks this is the only way to get this out, we're not going to be unreasonable. We're not going to let politics get in the way of what is ultimately the best policy. There are a lot of us that have some real reservations about the precedent and everything else. But as it stands now, we're [ready] to be reasonable and move on."

Gray said that he expected Democrats would vote for the general appropriation tomorrow (they blocked it today because the Medicaid budget was still in limbo). The general appropriation would then head to the Senate on Thursday, while the Medicaid appropriation would head to the House. And off we go. 

Sen. Joyce Elliott said that while she didn't love the governor's procedural ruse, "it would be a travesty if it doesn't pass. This is the only way to get it done. I certainly am not going to allow ten people to stand in the way of the people of this state having health insurance."

Sen. Bobby Pierce, who faces a tough general election challenge, said he was on board with the line-item strategy. "The way we got to word this differently: it's a lot cleaner and it gives you more security in what you are voting for," Pierce said. "At the end of the day you're going to have to do what's right for Arkansas — 267,000 people are going to get to keep their insurance and we're going to save the state of Arkansas a bunch of money." Pierce said he thought it would pass tomorrow. On the weird trick to pass the appropriation, which Pierce was initially critical of, he said he now thought it was the best way to deal with the Tea Party Ten. "We could have stayed up here three more weeks and found out [whether the Ten would ever cave], but what's the point? What are we going to do — waste taxpayers' money?" 

Rep. Clarke Tucker said he was feeling much better about the legal foundation of the line-item-veto scheme after the changes made to the amendment this morning. He also said that, legal issues aside, he was more comfortable with the new language (which says nothing about limiting funding of Arkansas Works, instead simply saying that the program will end — the governor will veto this one line). 

Rep. Deborah Ferguson said, "I think it's a good compromise. This is a much better amendment as far as I'm concerned than the amendment they brought forward last week." 

One Democrat voted present on the amendment today: Sen. Stephanie Flowers. I was not able to reach her for comment. 

"Sen. Flowers talked to me this morning about the process," Ingram said. "I respect her concerns." He said that he wasn't sure how she would vote tomorrow.  

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

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