Rep. John Burris, chairman of the Public Health committee, began the committee meeting this morning by addressing members about Charlie Frago's D-G article this morning, which uses internal e-mails to paint an inside picture of some of the communication between Burris and administration officials about the new "private option" deal for expanding health care.
Burris said that there was “context lacking” in the article. His main beef was with the article's implication that Burris was pitching the deal (and working with the administration to do so). He pointed to one sentence in particular: "E-mails between Beebe administration officials and Burris show an evolving 'talking-point' plan in an apparent attempt to collect GOP votes."
He described that as an “unfair summary of the situation.” He said that he had policy questions about the new plan that led him to confer with state officials but was not yet endorsing anything. He added that he was not coordinating with state officials to sell an idea, and said he had never used language about "talking points" or a "deal." He printed and shared full copies of all the e-mail exchanges he had with DHS — four in total — with members. "Ain't nothing to hide," he said.
The new options provided by the feds, he said, gave lawmakers the opportunity to craft a "conservative, market-based, consumer-friendly healthcare system." He used that phrase around a dozen times, and said that if they were able to pull off such a plan, he thought they could get "broad, bipartisan support." He said that questions remain, details need to be hammered out, etc.
Burris said numerous times that he respected Frago and blamed himself for not calling Frago back last night. At one point Rep. Kim Hammer suggested that Frago himself testify before the committee. Frago demurred. Good times! (UPDATE: Charlie corrects me that in fact Rep. Reginald Murdock spoke up to say there was no need for him to testify — though I was sitting next to him and predict that demurral was coming!)
I've noted Burris's "Nixon to China" style cred on this issue with wary Republicans. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Burris said, "I'm as conservative as just about anybody in this House, so I think if I'm comfortable with something — I'm not saying everybody will be, but in order for me to have a comfort level with it, it's going to be a plan that's..." Can you guess? Conservative! Market-based! Consumer-friendly! His other talking point (sorry!) is "revenue neutral or revenue saving" which is funny, because that describes the old Medicaid expansion plan. But times change, people see the light.
After the jump, Burris's thoughts on when we might see a resolution to the expansion question.
I really just don't know. The goal is not to drag it out. I would hope anybody would admit — we got this proposal last week, it's taken Andy [Allison], who's been working on this full time, a week and a half just to get some data. Pandora's box opened up. It's just a lot of questions. We're going to sort through it as quickly as we can.
I prefer good policy, whatever it takes to get that. We're not going to be penny-wise and pound foolish. It's silly to say the cost of the special session is too high. That's completely not even a serious argument. We're talking about billions and billions of dollars. The cost of a special session is thousands. That's not the goal. But we're going to get good policy. If that can happen this session it needs to happen this session, if it needs to happen in a special, it can happen in a special. But I'm not going to be rushed based on a 30-day timeline.