by Max Brantley
I'm led to expect a test vote — maybe THE vote — will be held early in today's House session at 1:30 p.m. on the appropriation bill to pay for expanding Medicaid-financed health coverage in Arkansas.
The bill requires 75 votes in the House for passage. Vote counters say the target is in reach, but ....
The bill was the first order of business, called for consideration at 1:41 p.m. Rep. Duncan Baird introduced the bill, as the House's co-chair of Joint Budget. The $5 billion piece of legislation covers the Department of Human Services. It provides spending authority, not the funding itself.
UPDATE: The vote: 69-28. CORRECTION FROM PREVIOUS: Two didn't vote — Anne Clemmer and Stephanie Malone — and Mary Lou Slinkard voted present. The bill failed, failing six votes short of the required number. All Democrats voted for the legislation. All the 28 nay votes were Republicans, meaning 20 Republicans voted aye.
Today's vote represented a gain of six votes for the measure from the 63 that voted for the enabling legislation, which required only a majority vote. Gov. Mike Beebe said there'd be another vote tomorrow on the same appropriation. If it's defeated, the expansion money will be deleted from the bill, a general budget bill will be passed and the legislature will go home with little more of substance accomplished. But guns and fetuses will have been served, if not the needs of the working poor.
The House adjourned for the day. Pressure on the six to 11 said to be potential yes votes will be immense. Vote counters had put the vote at 72 before the vote, with perhaps eight still potential votes. Afterward, you could get the 72 with the three present or not voting representatives. But are there any others? It's shameful that the measure may fall because of personal opposition from Rep. Terry Rice and some of his closest allies, notably including Rep. Jonathan Barnett, who's been happy to shake down Arkansas people for money to put in the pockets of highway contractors, but who's unwilling to help working poor with medical care. He's one vote perhaps Gov. Mike Beebe could reach, given Beebe's — and other Democrats' — for Barnett's pet highway projects. Rice had expected to be House speaker, but was upended by a surprise, Democrat-backed candidacy from Davy Carter. Carter and one of his key Republican supporters, John Burris, have championed the "private option" Medicaid solution.
David Ramsey was at the Capitol. A few notes:
• As Max noted above, Gov. Mike Beebe said that tax cuts would be a no-go without the extra room in the budget created by expansion and suggested that the session would essentially be over if the bill fails again tomorrow — "wrap up Revenue Stabilization and go home." He also hammered home the impact of employer mandate penalties that the "private option" would avoid. "People voting against this will be voting for the biggest tax increase on small businesses in the history of Arkansas," he said. "If you don't pass this private option, it's estimated that $35 million a year in tax increases are going to be imposed on small businesses. We can avoid that...it's crazy...that's why you've gotten so many of the business organizations, so many of the very conservative anti-Obamacare Republicans are for this. Voting against this bill is voting for a huge tax increase on Arkansas businesses."
• Rep. Bruce Westerman re-hashed his spiel from this morning, including trotting out his phony cover bill. He complained about the immediate adjournment after the private option: "There was a whole docket full of bills on the calendar. A lot of people have got better things to do than sit over here to vote on one bill." I asked about his political future since everyone at the Capitol assumes that he is positioning himself for a run for Congress if U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton takes a stab at a Senate seat. Westerman dodged by saying Cotton was still running as an incumbent as far as he knew. "There has been talk of that, but again my focus is on this session," he said.
• Rep. Kim Hammer said that he didn't think the weekend was a "realistic time-frame in order to get feedback from constituents." He said that he hasn't made up his mind on how to vote tomorrow but said his vote today signaled that he was leaning against. He will be hosting a town-hall meeting at Saline Memorial Hospital tonight in Benton, along with Rep. Ann Clemmer. Local DHS staff will be in attendance, as well as anti-"private option" shill Avik Roy — a former Mitt Romney policy advisor — who is being flown in from New York by Americans for Prosperity.
• Clemmer, out of the chamber for the vote today, said she wanted to make sure constituents understood the costs of doing nothing. "This extra time gives us a little bit of chance to bring the public on board," she said, though she was unwilling to say which way she was leaning.
• The Joint Budget committee was set to meet today but cancelled. Appears that everything is on pause until the healthcare question is settled.
Here are the 28 no voters, including from western Little Rock, Rep. Allen Kerr and former LR School Superintendent Les Carnine, now a representative from Rogers: