Friday, April 08, 2016

For a Time Such as This, The Vote on Funding Obamacare Medicaid in Arkansas

In the Book of Esther in the Bible, the Jews in captivity in Persia were facing a deadly crisis. Esther was a Jewess who was the wife of the Persian King. He did not know her nationality. Her job was to please the king and otherwise stay out of his way. Her uncle Mordecai asked her to intercede with the King for her people. She was hesitant to risk the King's ire by doing so. Her Uncle rebuked her in saying that if things went south she better not count on being safe in the palace and that perhaps she was placed by God in the position that she was in "for a time such as this." Reluctantly, she agreed after asking her uncle to have her people fast and pray for her. Eventually she sucked it up and confronted the King as to the bad intentions of his closest and most trusted adviser, Haman. She won the King over and the King wound up having Haman hung before he could implement his evil plan to pillage the Jews and hang Mordeai.

That is an account which may have special relevance right now to some heroic legislators who are in a tough situation. The state legislature voted to renew Medicaid Expansion under Obamacare* yesterday under the new name of "Arkansas Works". The House Vote is here. It passed the Senate 25-10. Here are the ten "no" votes:

Clark, Collins-Smith, Bledsoe, Flippo, Hester, Irvin, Blake Johnson, King, Rice, Stubblefield.

Opponents had some reason to hope that they could stop the bill in committee. For several cycles now the people of Arkansas have been electing folks to the legislature who claimed they were against Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Some of them, like John Cooper of Jonesboro, was simply lying to get elected and flipped at the first available opportunity. Others only flipped when they saw the Republican Governor wanted to keep the program and decided that pleasing the head of their political party was of more value to them than doing what they told the folks back home they would do when they ran. But some of the most dedicated opponents had worked themselves into position to stop the bill in committee by finagling spots on the Public Health Committee in the Senate. This was the committee through which all Medicaid Expansion bills had passed since the inception of the program.

Their mistake was thinking that the Democrats and Establishment Republicans would have any respect for precedent, them or their work, the rules, or basically anything other than their own will- which is to spend every dollar they can get out of Washington no matter what. President Pro Tem of the Senate Johnathan Dismang simply ignored all that and assigned the bill to the Insurance Committee rather than the Public Health Committee. The former was stacked with those in favor of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. Meanwhile Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, the man who the Constitution of Arkansas says is supposed to be the actual President of the Senate (and thus deciding which committee should hear the bill) remained still and quiet (EDIT: People I respect have told me I am being unfair and too hard on the Lt. Governor for that statement. I have been sent some info which my crushing schedule will not allow me to look at for a while which it is claimed will show that the LTGOV could never help in a situation like this. So for now, please take my sentence above with at least one grain of salt).

Look the whole of the senate can still bring a bill out that a committee has rejected with a 2/3rds majority, and the Senate passed the bill with a 71% majority so it is very likely they could have brought the bill out despite the committee voting it down. I understand that. It would have taken two senators who voted for it yesterday to decide they were not so much for it as to over-ride the committee process and I seriously doubt that would have happened. (EDIT: I am also told that a majority vote can challenge a bill committee assignment.) But the point is if precedent matters, if the rules are stable (and precedent ought to be respected instead of us trying to follow moving goal posts all over the field) then opponents of the bill should have gotten a chance to try. Unfortunately we in our apathy have allowed ourselves to become ruled by a class of people for whom the "rules" are only tactics to get you to do what they want, but which they do not consider binding on them at all. Both of us, them and us, should repent of our moral failings.

This brings us to the next phase. The constitution requires a 3/4ths majority approval of both houses of the legislature in order to appropriate money to pay for the programs the legislature passes. This was deliberately inserted into our constitution in order to make sure that taxpayer money is not spent unless there is a broad consensus that the program in question is something that the state of Arkansas should be spending money on.

The state has long understood this to be the case. Click here for an example of how this issue came up in Arkansas history. I tell you that if ever there was a circumstance when a minority of legislators need to use this provision of the constitution to stop a spending bill then its on this one. If they don't use their constitutional power now then you might as well strip that provision out of the document, because its useless when people lack the courage to use the tools given in the constitution to stop government over-reach.

When you consider that legislators have been misleading people for years, that the people keep sending politicians to the legislature on the understanding that they oppose this program but then many of them wind up supporting it instead.... When you consider that the program is highly controversial and does not have the consensus of the public that this is something we should be spending money on; when you consider that those who favor this program have resorted to crass and underhanded tactics to get it passed to this point (including secret bribes, open bribes, and voting on the same bill over and over until it passes); when you consider that the money to pay for this plan does not exist and it is unsustainable outside of looting the next generation, then it is clear that it is right and proper to use whatever constitutional tool is legal to kill this program which by all rights should never have made it this far.

I strongly suspect that if the legislators stood their ground and refused to fund the program that the Governor and his legislators (not the legislators who represent the people in their districts I say, but rather those in his service) will ignore the constitution and find some devious means of advancing the bill anyway. That's on them, and it sets the stage for a court room showdown over the thing, as well as further exposes them to the public as oath breakers.

The shame in this is not that only nine senators or 26 representatives can block a large appropriation, the shame is that the political class has forced this thing on us for years and only nine or ten senators have enough respect for the people they are supposed to be representing to stop it. Now the Governor and his legislators have lumped a whole lot of spending on the appropriation bill that funds Obamacare. They think to accuse the legislators who refuse to approve the spending of "holding the Department of Human Services Hostage". Let me be clear. It is Asa Hutchinson and cronies who would be holding this state hostage because it is they who made the decision to lump this spending in with the appropriation for the whole department. They could have just as easily made it a separate "clean" appropriation. If this goes on long enough and the winds turn against them that is what they are going to wind up doing anyway.

It would not be a case of a minority of legislators blocking the will of the majority of the people. It would be a case of a minority of legislators protecting the will of the majority of people from a political system which is ignoring them One determined to impose more debt on their children regardless of what they want.

You might say that the Democrats would retaliate by blocking something "we" want. Who is "we"? Not me. Not the people I know. There is nothing I want from state government so badly that I am willing to consign my children to debt slavery to get it. Blocking funding is a loser tactic for THEM, not US. THEY want things from government beyond justice, we don't. One awkward bit is that THEY includes the big-government Republicans who also want to use government to loot, just for the benefit of a somewhat different group of people. The honest legislators at some point are going to have to separate themselves from these thieves unless they wish to be counted among them. That is the choice. I don't say this as if it will be my doing. I merely foretell.

But let us suppose THEY is a committed group of Democrats (which it largely will be) who retaliate by defunding something the Republicans want. Republicans either want things that most people want, or the THEYs in the GOP want something that a special interest wants. THEY can only cut off something that either a special interest wants, or the general public wants. If the former, then good. Let them consume one another, if the latter, then their position is untenable. What gives you moral authority to stand strong is that the voters have repeatedly spoken and they don't want the PO, they don't want Obamacare, and the system is trying to run over them and impose it anyway. The retaliators would not have that moral high ground to stand on

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* The question is "Should the rest of us, and the next generation, be sent the bills to pay for health insurance for the 8% of the population who are able-bodied adults who are below the federal poverty level but not the poorest of the poor?" That is really the question at stake in the Medicaid expansion vote. Those under 17% of the Federal poverty level were already covered under Medicaid. Children were covered under Medicaind (ARKids). The disabled were covered. The so-called "Arkansas Works" plan (like the so-called "Private Option" and every other Obamacare Medicaid Expansion program regardless of what it is called) would lay taxes on the rest of us, along with borrowing a large amount of money from the next generation in federal deficit spending, to pay for the insurance of this group.

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