As the Arkansas Times prepared to publish on Tuesday, it appeared that, after months of bluster, Arkansas lawmakers would reauthorize funds to cover the state's private option to Medicaid expansion. That's good news. For weeks it seemed that Obamacare opponents would stop the program before it really got started, leaving more than 100,000 low-income Arkansans uninsured only months after they'd received coverage.
It's more than a little maddening that the state even found itself in such a position. A majority in both the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate supports the private option. A majority of Democratic and Republican legislators support the private option. The legislative jockeying in recent months has been all about securing a supermajority, 75 percent support in each chamber. That meant that 26 of 100 House members or nine of 35 senators could derail the plan. As Arkansas Times columnist Ernie Dumas has pointed out in recent weeks in these pages, Arkansas is unique among states for its requirement that three-fourths of both legislative chambers approve all appropriations. Minorities have taken advantage of the quirk in the past, usually to deleterious effect. Same song, new verse: This go-round we have Republican Rep. Nate Bell of Mena introducing special language amendments to the private option appropriation that will kill funding for spreading the word about the private option and require copays of Arkansans making as little as $6,000. Bell is candid that he wants to kill the policy as soon as possible, but says he doesn't think it's currently possible. The appropration with the amended language appeared likely to pass as we went to press, not because House members agree with Bell's position, but because they believe not supporting it might encourage a minority large enough to block the funding for the private option altogether. That's patently undemocratic.
It's probably for the best that lawmakers came up with a deal to preserve health expansion, but we'd almost hoped that a minority would block funding, and perversely spawn a court challenge. As Dumas has written in the paper and on the Arkansas Blog, there's good reason to think a supermajority isn't required to pass an appropriation, especially in the case of federally funded programs, like the current private option.
By some means, it's time to end minority rule.