by Max Brantley
Not much to report this morning. The two dominant stories — the Arkansas Medicaid expansion debate and the Boston Marathon bombings — are fodder primarily for speculation at this point.
I predict this because the measure had 72 sure votes yesterday and, among the 28 remaining, at least three understand and fear that the consequences will be on them if the measure isn't approved. Consequences? A loss of $1 billion in federal economic stimulus; 250,000 people who need health care who won't be covered; a body blow to the state's health industry and dependent businesses; millions in new payroll taxes for businesses in the form of insurance premiums; a crippled state budget that will require cuts to absorb a growing Medicaid cost; no tax cuts for the wealthy that otherwise are on a fast track for approval.
The political calculus: Even the lame Democratic Party of Arkansas can craft a winning message if a tiny minority of extremist ideologues deprives 3 million people of the manifest benefits of adopting the so-called private option.
The political calculus is all in the Republicans' favor. The shape of the plan was driven by Republican legislators. It will ultimately be popular in execution. Though it will amount to ratifying the hated Obamacare, the spin will be that it is dramatically improved, market-based Obamacare. Better still, if the federal support does crater — as the tiny band of nutty naysayers insist will happen — Arkansas's plan has an opt-out. Plus, if this happens, Arkansas will be left with a dramatically reduced conventional Medicaid program in a state that is already miserly with what it provides poor people. (I'm still not convinced this isn't part of the grander plan; take the money while we can, plan for the slow strangulation of Medicaid in the process.)
Anyway, write that prediction down. I can eat it along with the one in which I said earlier Obamacare expansion was deader than a dodo in Arkansas. And also, if it happens, pencil in House Speaker Davy Carter's name for governor in 2014 if he drives this tough deal through. Will it really be a detriment to him in a Republican primary to have championed a pragmatic, good-for-Arkansas plan shaped by the smartest and most practical members of the Republican caucus? Against a thrice-beaten retread Republican candidate? I don't think so, except maybe in Oelke-land, otherwise known as Bart Hester's Senate District, and other pockets of teabaggery. Any chance these folks could annex themselves to Oklahoma?
* THE BOSTON MASSACRE: I won't speculate about anything here except to guess that the Fortress America reaction to 9/11 at transportation hubs now seems likely to spread even further than already evident at similarly incalculable cost to mass spectator events after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. I also want to pick up something from the New York Times' comprehensive coverage related to a scrap of reporting I mentioned yesterday:
It was unclear Monday evening who might be responsible for the blast. Although investigators said that they were speaking to a Saudi citizen who was injured in the blast, several law enforcement officials took pains to note that no one was in custody.
... Officials stressed that they had no suspects in the attack. The Saudi man, who was interviewed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, had been seen running from the scene of the first explosion, a person briefed on preliminary developments in the investigation said on Monday afternoon. A law enforcement official said later Monday that the man, was in the United States on a student visa and came under scrutiny because of his injuries, his proximity to the blasts and his nationality — but added that he was not known to federal authorities and that his role in the attack, if any, was unclear.
* GUBERNATORIAL FRONT: Mike Ross is dotting every "i" as he prepares for the Wednesday fly-around, including a Capitol rally timed for evening TV at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, to announce his Democratic candidacy for governor. I got a robocall from him last night inviting me to join the throng. He promises to continue Gov. Mike Beebe's style of governance with a focus on education, jobs and Arkansas values. It's that last one, particularly, that worries me about a Ross candidacy. His public record to date suggests his assessment of those values is a pinched and intolerant view indistinguishable from what you'd get from, say, Asa Hutchinson, the leading Republican contender so far. Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter is already in the Democratic race. Businessman and Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter is lurking. .... oh, and OK, former Republican candidate Sheffield Nelson, who'd hinted at potential interest in an independent candidacy told friends yesterday that, at 72, he was too old to consider the race and he'll be backing Asa! Given Nelson's recent (praiseworthy) advocacy for a tax increase on gas producers, his endorsement might be one Asa doesn't trumpet too loudly.