Stephens Media’s advance look at the legislative session boils down to the same simple question:
Will 26 representatives or nine senators really vote to throw 100,000 Arkansas men, women and children in working families off an expanded Medicaid program enabled by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act?
Or, the better question might be: what kind of cover do key opponents expect to be given to allow reauthorization of the program? Nothing may be good enough in the Senate. In the House, even far-right Rep. Nate Bell recognizes the political reality of obstructionism by a tiny minority:
“There are … people who were previously insured who, were we to defund this, would be uninsured and uninsurable, and that’s just simply not the right thing for us to be doing,” Bell said.
Wise words, quite similar to those spoken by House Speaker Davy Carter during lunch Friday with me and David Ramsey. It’s almost unthinkable that a handful of people would stand in the way of so much good for so many people. Except to the Kochs and their handmaidens.
We shall see. It will be important, too, to look at what conditions people like Bell demand for their vote. It may be far too much. House negotiating clout is somewhat limited, however. Most believe the votes are there for renewal. The Senate, with a new Tea Party senator from Jonesboro and drama queen Missy Irvin’s cowardly defection, is another matter.
***Quick note from Ramsey: Bell has been meeting for weeks with lawmakers on both sides, attempting to come up with a compromise way forward given the constraints of the fiscal session (for more on the tricky terrain for private option opponents like Bell, see our recent cover story, plus Bell in his own words). The idea is that if opponents can extract some concessions, they might be open to a conditional surrender of sorts during the fiscal session, with the thinking that they could come back and fight on stronger ground in the 2015 regular session. The big political question, as Max alludes to above: Bell has a strong working group in the House. But does his approach have any influence on the 9 senators planning to block the appropriation? Nobody knows, but guess who re-tweeted Bell when he explained the lay of the land? Rhymes with Sissy:
.***back to Max…
Meanwhile, who will lead us?
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross says forthrightly that he supports continuation of the private option, for all the reasons Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has cited — from the common good of Arkansas health to the boon it brings to the state budget.
What about Asa Hutchinson, the leading Republican candidate? Will he ever declare yes or no to the private option? Is he such a wuss that he can’t show a little backbone and distinguish himself from marginal Tea Party Republican opponents Curtis Coleman and Debra Hobbs. Hutchinson’s unwillingness to speak up perhaps tells us all we need to know about the Republican base voter.
SPEAKING OF THE NATE BELL CLAN: The blog’s Polk County watcher notes that Nate Bell’s wife is looking to get on the public payroll. Phyllis Bell, who’s done work for the Kochs’ political lobby in Arkansas, is asking for encouragement to enter the race for Polk County assessor. Did y’all notice Nate Bell at top of expense account recipients in the Democrat-Gazette this morning. $51,000-plus last year, including more than $10,000 in “office expenses.” At 56.5 cents a mile, legislators can pile up a lot of money driving to Little Rock. Expenses are on top of legislative pay of almost $16,000 a year.