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Nevada County Picayune-Times - Prescott, AR
  • Bass: GOP playing with fire

  • Arkansas Democrats have been quiet about it, choosing to display calm assurance over partisan rancor, as the danger for Arkansas Republicans grows with each failure to pass the reauthorization of the Medicaid “private option” in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
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  • Arkansas Democrats have been quiet about it, choosing to display calm assurance over partisan rancor, as the danger for Arkansas Republicans grows with each failure to pass the reauthorization of the Medicaid “private option” in the Arkansas House of Representatives.
    I do think the Republicans are playing with fire,” Dr. Hal Bass, Ouachita Baptist University political science professor, said Tuesday, as the House prepared to convene. “For one thing, they are in danger of setting the precedent that would allow nine senators or 25 House members to shut down the government.”
    Bass refers to the entirely wasted week the House spent last week locked in the failure to pass the reauthorization of the funding for the federal contribution to the state Medicaid program which will allow eligible Arkansans to purchase private health insurance with federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act, so-called Obamacare.
    It's got to get resolved fairly quickly if the legislature is going to deal with the rest of the budget issues they are there to pass,” he said.
    Without those reauthorizations, which are tied to Governor Mike Beebe's 2015 state budget plan, funding for state government simply does not exist next year. That is, after all, the purpose of the so-called “fiscal session” which is conducted on each off-year.
    I'm reassured by the confidence of the House leadership that those votes are there,” Bass said. “What Speaker (Davy) Carter has in his deck of cards to ensure that, I can't say.”
    Carter, apparently, came up empty, again, Tuesday after the House went into session at 1:30 p.m., and the vote on HB1150 and/or SB111 was promptly tabled. Carter had vowed to force a vote in the House every day until the required 75 votes for passage materialized.
    He appeared to have backed away from that rhetoric Tuesday, but the House adjourned until 1:30 p.m. today.
    Carter's stance has been the blueprint against which Democrats outside of the House have measured their response.
    Neither State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, or State Senator Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, were available for comment Tuesday or at press time today.
    Page 2 of 3 - But, State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said in an e-mail to the Hope Star on Friday that he thought the issue might resolve itself after the weekend.
    Perhaps, as soon as Tuesday,” Teague wrote. “It was unlikely that it would pass today. I think some of the members had gone home for the weekend. It will all work out when the time is right. I do believe that.”
    But, Teague said an amendment to the original bill to divert a state insurance premiums sales tax to a dedicated fund to eventually replace the federal dollars was a key to that optimism.
    I think the premium tax savings is the right thing to do,” he said. “As you know, all Arkansas insurance policies include a 2 ½ percent tax on all the premiums. The additional policies sold may raise as much as $50 million a year (in time).”
    And, while Teague agreed with the concept as a compromise, he was cautious.
    It is the right thing to put those dollars up for future expenses,” Teague said. “I don't know how much weight that carries as far as changing votes.”
    State Representative Mary “Prissy” Hickerson, R-Texarkana, confirmed Tuesday that there was no vote in the House.
    There were several members that could not attend,” Hickerson said. “I believe we will vote again tomorrow or possibly Thursday.”
    She admitted that there is confusion in the House.
    I am not sure if the votes are there to pass,” Hickerson said. “I hear 'yes they are' and 'no they are not.'”
    Hickerson expressed concern about the situation.
    If this does not pass, I am not sure what the next steps will be,” she said. “An estimated $89 million in budget cuts will be looked into; hopefully, this can be avoided. It is still very fluid. I think the next vote may decide the direction of the budget. It is not a good situation to be in this late in the fiscal session.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Bass said Tuesday that there is, now, a real danger that election season politics may take over. The filing period for statewide offices opened Tuesday.
    The main thing is we have come into an election season,” he said.
    Bass said the GOP is vulnerable to challenges from so-called Tea Party elements in the forthcoming primary elections, and House Republicans who voted in the regular session to expand Medicaid from a sense of principal, now have to guard their political flank.
    It's hard to get to the light with someone who is against Obamacare,” he said.
    Consequently, has the House GOP opened itself to the potential charge of holding Medicaid hostage?
    That is a logical argument to make,” Bass agreed. “I think there is such visceral antagonism toward the idea of Obamacare that it may overtake the rationality.
    If it doesn't pass this afternoon, I think this may be a threshold that it may never pass,” Bass said.

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