Governor Asa Hutchinson shocked conservatives last week by directing his staff to look for a way to pass budget bills with a lower vote.[i] WHAT? He wants to make it easier to spend taxpayer money! Does that sound conservative?
Why does a Republican want to lower the vote requirement for spending? He wants an easier path for continuing the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion program under a new name “Arkansas Works.”
(The big government program is currently called Private Option.)
During the 2014 campaign the Governor remained coy about his position on Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Since the election he has worked hard to keep Arkansas as an Obamacare Medicaid Expansion state.
In his effort to continue the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, the Governor encountered three primary problems.
- First, convincing legislators to play along is much easier than convincing the public to support the entitlement program for enrollees who are overwhelmingly for able bodied working age adults with NO dependents, and nearly half of them do not work at all.
- Second, in promoting his program, the Governor is using the playbook of John Burris. In 2013 Burris sold the “Private Option” on the claim it was something new, innovative, and not Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. The Governor is promoting his “Arkansas Works” program as something new, innovative, and not the Private Option.Obviously, “Arkansas Works” is the Private Option with minor tweaks and is Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. While the Burris playbook worked well to pass the Private Option (since legislators hoped the public would buy the deception) it did not work well for Burris when he lost his bid for election to the Senate. By that time, you could go to federal websites and see Arkansas listed as a Medicaid Expansion state.
- Third, even the liberal media quickly saw “Arkansas Works” as a rebranding of the “Private Option,” which was a rebranding of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. If it is not the Private Option, then which parts of the Private Option are going away? I can’t think of any. … As for additions to the Private Option, Arkansas can’t do anything about a major complaint of voters – they want enrollees to work or enter job training. The “Arkansas Works” name was meant to convey an image of transition to work, but with no teeth to require work or work training the name “Arkansas Works” became a focal point for critics who see it as an intentional deception. Not popular with the public.
If the Governor hadn’t been busy for the last year trying to use a trick play, the debate could have been about the merits or lack of merits of continuing Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion.
Did the frustration of realizing not everyone would play along and pretend “Arkansas Works” is something new and different, lead the Governor to overreact and inform (or threaten) the public he is looking for a way to get around the three-fourths vote rule for appropriation bills.
Here are some notable episodes illustrating how we came to this point:
First: Legislation to continue Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. The deceptive SB96 of 2015 was drafted by the Governor’s DHS staff. The draft was written to give the FALSE impression it was ending Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, however, the bill itself acknowledged the bill was not cutting short the program by even one minute. The bill left nothing to chance for the task force it created, and its specificity showed it to be another trick play. The task force’s first duty was to recommend how to continue coverage for the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion population, and to make double sure the task force got the results it wanted … the bill had a majority of the appointments to the task force being made by legislator-leaders who had supported Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. [ii] And, this obviously resulted in a task force with a record of supporting Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. In addition, only two legislators who had not voted for the deceptive task force bill were added to the membership and one resigned because of the deceptions.
Second: Governor’s “Arkansas Works” plan. The Governor proposed a new plan called “Arkansas Works”. He tried to convince the public it was new and innovative, however, it is substantially the same as the “Private Option” which is Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Obamacare Medicaid Expansion still determines who must be covered by the plan, what rules and standards must be followed, and prohibits waivers that would in any way conflict with the Obamacare law or regulations.
Third: Endorsements. The Governor then endorsed Republican incumbents who supported Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in the past and who he could count on to vote to continue Obamacare Medicaid Expansion under the name “Arkansas Works.”
Fourth: Deceptive statements for campaign mailers.
- For Representative Jana Della Rosa the Governor wrote: “Representative Jana Della Rosa voted for my plan to END the ‘Private Option’… ” The statement is intended to make you think she is against Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, however, the Governor’s PLAN embraces Obamacare Medicaid Expansion.
- For Senator Eddie Joe Williams, the Governor said: “I have always Opposed Obamacare and would not endorse someone who voted for Obamacare. Sen. Eddie Joe Williams has never voted for Obamacare.” What does that mean? Since Williams hasn’t been a U.S. Congressman he never was in Washington D.C. to vote on Obamacare and therefore he can be endorsed. While the statement in itself is true (and irrelevant) it is intended to give the false impression that pro-Obamacare Medicaid Expansion candidate Senator Eddie Joe Williams is against it.
Fifth: Lunch meeting with liberal columnist. John Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and supports Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. In a recent column, he wrote about his lunch meeting with the Governor at the Mansion. The Governor complained about Brummett’s saying the adoption of Medicaid Expansion embraces Obamacare and complained about Brummett’s his characterizations of “Arkansas Works” as a “cosmetic” change to the Private Option. [iii] The meeting didn’t change the columnist’s view.
Sixth: Press conference to “debunk” the Obamacare label. Pro-Obamacare Medicaid Expansion incumbent candidates were called to Little Rock to attend the Governor’s press conference. The purpose was to “debunk” the perception his “Arkansas Works” program is part of the framework of Obamacare. With the headline “Gov. Asa Hutchinson defends plan to keep Medicaid expansion”[iv] it is apparent his effort to “debunk” didn’t go well. Even a liberal commentator said “the debunk is ridiculous.”[v]
Seventh: The hole. The Governor claimed if Obamacare Medicaid Expansion is not continued the state will have a $100 million hole in its budget.[vi] You are supposed to accept the idea – you can save money by adding able bodied people to government dependency. The $100 million figure appears to come from the 2015 Stephen Group report which by contract was REQUIRED to support Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. A major premise in the report is the liberal notion – the more you spend on big government the more tax money you will get back in return. The recent Townhall article: No, Arkansas’ Obamacare Expansion Isn’t Saving Taxpayers Money examines the budget hole claim and finds no merit to the argument.
Eighth: Democrat comments. Concerning Governor Hutchinson’s attempt to continue Obamacare Medicaid Expansion but claim it is not part of Obamacare, Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram said: “I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen somebody embrace a program and run away from it at the same time.“[vii]
Ninth: Desperation and the vote requirement. Governor Hutchinson told his staff to try to find a way to pass his version of Obamacare Medicaid Expansion with a lower vote requirement. In making this action public, no doubt the Governor is taking this preemptive move in light of his obvious fear that support for “Arkansas Works” will erode if Republican legislators see other pro-Obamacare Medicaid Expansion incumbents lose in the March 1 primary.
So what is next?
Carrot and stick? Governors have not been shy about using the carrot and stick to get legislators in line. Former Governor Beebe used the carrot to gain Senator Jane English’s vote. Actually, Governor Hutchinson is already using the stick by trying to unseat Representative Josh Miller who is one of the most conservative members of the Arkansas House of Representatives.
Crossing the aisle? In 2014, after anti-Obamacare Republicans won in the Republican primaries, Republican Davy Carter, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives, endorsed Democrat incumbents against candidates from his own party who opposed Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Meanwhile, also in 2014, a Republican Senator worked behind the scenes and made calls to urge some potential donors to not donate to a Republican Senate candidate who opposed Obamacare. Is a public or a behind the scenes effort to support Democrats a next step in the 2016 elections?
Seeing the Burris playbook of deception being used again is frustrating, but… the shocking part is Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is so invested in Obamacare Medicaid Expansion he is willing to seek a way to make it EASIER to pass spending bills.
“Hutchinson’s chief of staff, Michael Lamoureux, said the Republican governor’s administration is exploring whether the Legislature could require a two-thirds vote rather than a three-fourths vote of the state House of Representatives and state Senate in the fiscal session to authorize funding for the private-option program. The Legislature traditionally has approved appropriations bills with a three-fourths majority.”