UPDATE: The appropriation passes with 27 votes, the needed supermajority. Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat who expressed hesitance about the procedural process, voted Aye. As expected, two of the Tea Party Ten — Sen. Blake Johnson and Sen. Bart Hester — voted for it. Sen. Missy Irvin, rumored to be the third member of the Ten planning to go along with the governor’s scheme to pass the Medicaid budget, was reportedly at a funeral and not on the Senate floor. 

Sen. Bryan King and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe voted No. The other five in the Tea Party Ten voted Present. 


The appropriation will now head to the House tomorrow. Most believe it will pass easily. If so, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will use his line-item-veto to preserve the Medicaid expansion and sign the appropriation into law, likely also tomorrow. 

It appears that the private option Medicaid expansion will live on. 


The governor issued the following statement: 

I am pleased with today’s vote in the senate. This, of course, is just one step in the overall process, but I am confident that the bipartisan approach that achieved success in the senate will provide momentum for this strategy for funding Arkansas Works as it heads to the house floor tomorrow.


Sen. Terry Rice spoke against the bill. He said that the “process we are using” would “damage the public’s confidence.” He said that the private option program was “conspired in back rooms.” He said that the “Arkansas Works” program’s conservative bells and whistles didn’t do what they claimed. “We are called obstructionists,” Rice said. “So be it.” Rice told a story about a bus driver he met while he was vacationing in Puerto Rico. The bus driver who was poor but happy, Rice said. He said that welfare ruined everything. Rice said that he gives to lots of charities. “I’m not mean, I’m not harsh,” Rice said. “You’ll never get to conservatism by embracing socialism.” 


Sen. Gary Stubblefield also spoke against the bill. He said that he had looked up what the word “catastrophic” means in the dictionary: “utter devastation.” He said people were trying to intimidate him. 

Sen. Alan Clark also spoke against the bill. He said that the procedural maneuver being used would be the legislature giving up power to the executive, “a historic mistake.” 

Sen. Joyce Elliott spoke for the bill. She said she was uncomfortable with the procedural shenanigans but “my discomfort is nothing compared to the people who live every day with the discomfort of not having health insurance.” An emotional Elliott, fighting back tears, said that she had grown up poor and would have hoped that someone would vote to provide her with the health coverage she needed. 

Sen. Jason Rapert spoke for the bill. He said he didn’t like Obamacare. He defended the integrity of all of his colleagues. 


Sen. Linda Collins-Smith spoke against the bill. She said, “I was viciously attacked in my district.” She said she wished she could have voted on the Medicaid budget without “Arkansas Works” in it (technically that’s what the appropriation does, but it’s all a setup for the governor to use the line item veto to continue Medicaid expansion). She said “Arkansas Works” was “the worst legislation in Arkansas history.” She said that everyone was voting for the morning after pill (she thinks that’s a bad thing). 

Sen. Linda Chesterfield spoke for the bill. She defended Obamacare, noting the ban on insurance companies discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions and other features of the health care law. Describing the strange procedural trick used to pass the appropriation, she said: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Sen. Jim Hendren spoke for the bill. “We need to be careful about throwing around the word ‘deceive’ and ‘lie,'” he said. He was upset at the notion that other senators might suggest he was being deceptive. He said that it was not a “trick” because the governor had been transparent about his plans to line-item veto. “I don’t know how much more clear it can be,” he said. He said that line item vetoes had been “around for decades” and was a “constitutional right of the governor.” He noted that some were unhappy with the tactics of the Tea Party Ten, using the appropriation process to threaten to shut down government agencies unless they got their way on policy. 

Sen. Bryan King spoke against the bill. “We’re supposed to have a debate process,” King said. He said that things were being rushed. “We want to ram through an $8 billion bill?” he asked. “Where is the process?” He said it was Gov. Asa Hutchinson, not King, that wanted to cut funding for senior centers. On Medicaid expansion, he said, “we are spending way too much.” King’s speech was extremely long. 


The Senate will convene at 2 p.m. and is expected to pass the Medical Services appropriation with the needed 75-percent supermajority. Via some procedural wrangling, this will eventually lead to the re-authorization of the Medicaid expansion private option, which provides health insurance for more than a quarter million low-income Arkansans.

At least three of the Tea Party Ten who had been forcing a budget standoff will reportedly surrender and go along.

However, there are two hiccups right now: Sen. Stephanie Flowers, a Democrat, still isn’t comfortable with the deal. And one of the three aginners playing along (most likely Sen. Missy Irvin) is now balking. Whole lot of talking going on. 



1:45 I just saw Flowers and she declined to comment. 

1:50 Gov. Asa Hutchinson just came into the senate to meet briefly with Flowers. He declined to comment until after the vote. 

The House finally passed the general appropriation today (98-0), so all systems are go to move ahead on the Medicaid budget — if they have the votes today. 

2:00 The Senate just sang “God Bless America” together so perhaps the mood will be warm. 

Lot of huddling going on. Most on the senate floor believe that it will pass in the end but it’s certainly looking a bit dicier that it will actually happen today than it was this morning.

2:21 The little birdies are telling me that it will get passed today. We’ll see!

2:24 Sen. Joyce Elliott just left the chamber with Sen. David Sanders. Could they be working to give comfort to Flowers on the plan?

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