Democrats continue to block general appropriation until Medicaid issue is resolved | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Democrats continue to block general appropriation until Medicaid issue is resolved

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 2:04 PM

click to enlarge NO KUMBAYA: Gray and Gillam argue on House floor.
  • NO KUMBAYA: Gray and Gillam argue on House floor.
Democrats have said that they do not want to take up any appropriation until the Medicaid budget impasse is resolved. They once again made good on their promise, with Democrats voting en masse to block the general appropriation, which pays expenses for the House, Senate, and the judiciary. 

Democrats also blocked the general appropriation last Thursday. The general appropriation must be passed by both chambers before any other bill can be passed by both chambers. 

Strategically and logistically, it makes sense to get the general appropriation passed in the House once the Medicaid budget deal is actually ready to come out of the Senate. The bills can then flip flop, the Senate can pass the general appropriation into law, and then the House can pass the Medicaid budget. 

But until the Medicaid budget deal is actually done, there's hardly any point in passing the general appropriation. House Republican leadership seems very invested in getting it done. They have not provided me with a compelling reason why. On the other side, it also doesn't particularly matter that Democrats are blocking it. It would be fine to pass it. But given that the Democrats are very adamantly making this harmless ask, it seems pure strategic buffoonery for House Republicans to pick this fight with them and insist that we have these doomed votes. Letting the Dems hold out for a few more days is the world's easiest give. Especially since Republicans and Democrats are trying to work together as a coalition to pass the Medicaid budget via a weird trick that is heavily reliant on trust across the aisle.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Minority Leader Michael John Gray had an animated argument on the floor before the vote. The whole thing is silly, and a shame. 

Rep. Kim Hendren is very, very, very bummed out about Democrats blocking the general appropriation. In an almost psychedelically tedious trolling excercise, he began by one by one asking about various line items of expenses that would theoretically be blocked by the Democrats' maneuver. 

Hendren spun some yarns. He said he tried these shenanigans in 1979 and learned his lesson. He told a story about funding for a dog track or something. It was confusing. 

"This has nothing to do with [the Medicaid debate]," he said.  

Rep. Mary Broadaway urged colleagues to wait on the general appropriation until the Medicaid issue was resolved. "I believe real progress has been made toward passing Arkansas Works," Broadaway began. 

Rep. Nate Bell interrupted, "Point of order! I don't believe that this is relevant to the bill we're fixing to vote on."

Broadaway carried on, saying of the general appropriation, "I am not against the appropriation but I am against the timing of it today." She said it would be inappropriate to move forward "while our budget hangs in the balance. With all due respect to leadership I ask you to join me in voting no today until an appropriate time."

Presumably they'll try again soon, perhaps after the Senate has actually made progress on the Medicaid budget (while there have been various roadblocks over the last few days, we appear to be pretty close to a final deal). 

If Gillam insists on more votes before there is progress on the Medicaid budget, we'll have more Kabuki theatre, House Republicans and Democrats sniping over procedural quibbles while the real show — with health insurance for 267,000 people at stake — happens down the hall. 

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

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