The prediction from most involved is that the legislature will go along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s gimmick to win passage of continuation of the Medicaid expansion financed by Obamacare, a boon to both the 260,000 or so covered and to the governor’s proposed budget.
The gimmick is that the legislature will give super majority approval to an appropriation bill with enough money to pay for Obamacare, but with a provision explicitly preventing implementation of the insurance program the governor now calls Arkansas Works. The governor will then issue a line item veto of that provision. The legislature will fail to override the veto and all will be well. Obamacare will live.
Helluva way to run a railroad. If it works, it will be because at least two of the Terrible Ten Republican senators who’ve been a roadblock to approval of the appropriation say they will go along with the ruse. Sens. Bart Hester and Blake Johnson have proclaimed with straight faces that they will go along because, hey, they will be able to vote their “conscience” against Obamacare. If the governor undoes them with a veto, what can they do?
Never mind that the Democrats in the legislature must vote AGAINST their conscience to mollify the Terrible Ten. Never mind that the math remains the same — if Hester and Johnson truly were principled, they could continue to band with the Terrible Ten and vote against the appropriation bill because it is clearly designed to enable the thing they abhor.
My point: It is impossible to believe that Hester and Johnson aren’t getting other considerations from the governor for allowing this scam to be pulled off. So I have two questions. I put them to the governor’s office. It did not respond.
Q: Can the governor give assurance that he hasn’t made any side deals with Hester or any of the other 10 to get their acquiescence to the plan?
Q: Would the governor at least provide assurance that any side deals cut with the 10 don’t include agreements that would be sure to be opposed by Democrats?
It’s one thing if the governor promises Hester a local sewer grant or promises Johnson to appoint a buddy to some government post or another. That’s political horse trading. But if he’s made a commitment to something much bigger, something that might be anathema to Democrats — think more anti-gay or anti-abortion legislation from Hester — it will make chumps of the Democrats who’ve been gracefully carrying the governor’s baggage, even though they weren’t brought in on the scam until the very last minute.
Democrats already know Republicans will reap the rewards from this bill but use the issue strategically to continue to try to beat Democrats. Sen. Bobby Pierce, for example, faces a general election challenge from a Tom Cotton acolyte, Trent Garner, who proclaims his intention to replace “the Private Option, aka the Obamacare of Arkansas.” When Pierce votes FOR a bill nominally AGAINST “Arkansas Works,” the extension of the private option, Garner can take his choice. He can say Pierce voted against a “replacement” of the private option. Or he can say that Pierce effectively voted for the continuation of Obamacare. The successful Republican legislative insurgency in recent years has been built on just such situational ethics.