***UPDATE: The private option appropriation got 70 votes (with 27 voting no, one present, and four not voting at all), falling short of the needed 75-vote supermajority. Most believe that the House will eventually reach the 75-vote threshold, but this first attempt fell short. See below for play-by-play coverage of the vote. See also Max’s reactions. ***
The House has convened and will vote shortly on the appropriation which includes the private option, the unique Arkansas plan using Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans.
Most Capitol observers believe the measure has the support to reach the needed supermajority threshold in the House. There were a small group of Democrats who threatened to vote present because of concerns over Blue Cross reimbursement cuts to specialists; however a deal was struck earlier today, and the Democrats will vote “aye.” The amendments from Rep. Nate Bell are thought to have picked up a few Republicans. It’s unlikely we’ll see any Democrats hold out over the Bell amendments, but we’ll see.
All that said, rumor has it that some representatives prefer to wait for Senate approval, which could leave the House short of 75 votes on this first vote. That said, eventual House approval is “only a matter of time,” one insider told me.
The Senate likely now has the votes for supermajority approval thanks to a deal struck with Sen. Jane English.
The House is now taking up the DHS appropriation, which includes the private option. Rep. Bruce Westerman, speaking against, said he challenges the notion that the state of Arkansas can’t fight Obamacare. “Are we going to hold the line in opposition against this dreadful law?” he asked. Westerman said that Obama trumpeting that Arkansas has shown a big decline in the number of its uninsured citizens shows that the state is just doing Obamacare’s bidding.
“It’s a three-year experiment, let’s see how it plays out,” Rep. John Burris said. “Let’s see if the experiment we voted to try works.” Burris called the amendments a “very important policy piece.” Burris argued that Bell’s amendment, which was explicitly designed to curtail enrollment, was prudent as the state continues to evaluate long-term costs. It’s routine, Burris said, for lawmakers to vote as part of a supermajority for an appropriation even if they oppose policies within it.
Rep. Terry Rice said that the private option was based on “an unfaithful partner” in the federal government and called it “the largest expansion of government in Arkansas history.” Practicing his stump speech for the coming primary challenge to Republican Sen. Bruce Holland, who is expected to vote for the appropriation in the other chamber.
Rep. Nate Bell said he agrees entirely with the “philosophy” of those opposing the private option but disagrees on tactics. “When we can defeat bad policy, we should do so,” but given the circumstances of the fiscal session, Bell said his goal was to influence the private option and make it “more in line with where I am philosophically.” Bell will vote for the appropriation because of the amendments he got, despite the fact that he still opposes the private option. The legislature would be stuck in endless “petty shutdown games” without a compromise, Bell said. “We’re not going to be able to pass a complete defund under even the most rosy of scenarios,” he said. “We have the votes to block the appropriation but not even close to enough votes to pass something.”
Rep. Charlotte Douglas also spoke against the bill, while Rep. Charlie Collins voted for it, both at length.