Tea Party Ten blocks Medicaid budget in Senate, but procedural maneuver could break impasse | Arkansas Blog

Tea Party Ten blocks Medicaid budget in Senate, but procedural maneuver could break impasse


As expected, ten senators voted against the Medical Services appropriation this afternoon, the budget that includes the private option Medicaid expansion (as well as the entire Medicaid budget, including children on ARKids and the aged, blind, and disabled). The appropriation will now head back to the Joint Budget Committee, which will meet at 2:15. 

"Arkansas Works," the governor's plan to continue the private option, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities last week, but a rump group of ten Republican senators are threatening to shut down the entire Medicaid program unless the majority caves and lets them kill the private option. 

The Medicaid appropriation, under the current prevailing understanding of the law, demands 75 percent supermajorities in both chambers, so the Medicaid budget is stalled for now. However, the governor's office and Senate leadership are pushing a plan to allow the Tea Party Ten to attach a Special Language amendment to the appropriation that would end "Arkansas Works." Under the governor's plan, the legislature would then pass the appropriation with the Ten's amendment, but Hutchinson would use his line-item-veto authority to kill the amendment (and save "Arkansas Works"). It takes a simple majority to override the governor's veto; because the overwhelming majority of the legislature supports "Arkansas Works," the veto would stand and Medicaid expansion would continue. The Tea Party Ten would get to vote for their own appropriation, but the governor and the majority would get their way on policy. 

It's a neat trick, but it takes a lot of coordination, buy-in, and trust (and it takes at least two of the Ten agreeing to surrender on the actual policy question).

There are already rumblings that senate Democrats aren't ready to commit to the plan — they want more time to consider the approach. That could be risky, however. Groups like Americans for Prosperity will be turning up the heat on the Ten over the next few days. The position of AFP and hardliners like Rep. Bob Ballinger is that, given the governor's intention to line-item veto, the Ten should vote against their own appropriation. Then we're back to square one: The Ten insisting that everyone cave to their demands, or they will shut down the Medicaid program and unleash a humanitarian disaster. 

The debate on the senate floor was brief: 

Sen. Bryan King, who will oppose Medicaid expansion no matter what, said the appropriation was being "rammed through" and that he had not had enough time. 

Sen. Alan Clark got choked up explaining that even though senators had strong disagreements on this issue, he valued working together with them. He said that he was "not giving up" but the speech had the ring of a Lost Cause Benediction. 

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

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