Reports have emerged for a path to approval of continued appropriations for the private option expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. It’s a sop of some sort to Sen. Jane English, until now a rigid Tea Party-style opponent of bigger government. She’s been persuaded to make a billion-dollar exception in the name of winning a workforce initiative dear to her heart.
UPDATE TO WHAT’S WRITTEN BELOW: English has announced her intention to support the private option, after more than a year in opposition and election with Tea Party support. She and a grateful Beebe administration will say she traded for some sort of jobs/training initiative. But the key word is “traded.” I thought Tea Partyers were principled in opposition to growing government.
Here’s her interview on her sellout with Roby Brock.
* David Goins on Arkansas Matter last night said a pivotal vote in the Senate would
be provided by an agreement to send the private option legislation to a statewide referendum. Would the legislature punt its solemnly elected duty to a multi-million-dollar special election? Bad idea. Bad precedent. But doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Correction: I’ve misread the story Goins informs me. The “statewide initiative” referenced there is not an election, he said. What is it? Some kind of coordination of programs? More to come. But it perhaps more resembles than diverges from another path mentioned below, a joining of a holdout senator’s idea with the private option. UPDATE: Indeed, a reliable source says both reports refer to the same solution, as yet hazy in specifics.
* Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett writes today that the condition for Sen. Jane English’s pivotal vote to approve the private option are unspecified demands in workforce education. English is one of nine senators currently forming a roadblock to approval under Arkansas’s uniquely perverse constitutional requirement for 75 percent votes on most appropriation bills. (Or at least that’s the generally understood meaning of the Constitution.) She’s been at the center of speculation as a likely swing vote.
It’s more (or simply still) bad governance. Arkansas’s workforce education might need improvement (or not, the Beebe administration says), but we certainly need some improvement in a system of governance that allows a single member of a tiny minority to hold the fate of health care coverage for a quarter of a million people hostage to his or her pet project.
Maybe this is just cover for Jane English, a fig leaf by her and the administration to appear to be doing something, actually of not particularly great substance, so she can get out of the way of an enormous financial benefit to medical institutions and people in her district in northern Pulaski County. The Tea Party, which provided an enthusiastic portion of her base in a very narrow win over Democrat Barry Hyde, won’t be much mollified.
Workforce training is a former vocational interest of English, who’s worked as a lobbyist for manufacturers, in industrial development and, in the Huckabee administration, as head of the Workforce Investment Board. Her campaign platform included this in 2008, when she ran for the House:
“I will propose legislation to identify all education/workforce training dollars, federal and state, and the positive or negative results of every program. I will also propose legislation to establish a commission made up of members of business and industry that will work to identify the skill gaps and recommend system instructional programs.”
A search of bills she sponsored as a new senator in 2013 doesn’t turn up much in the workforce/career education area, except for a $200,000 appropriation bill for adult education grants. Brummett writes that she has some ideas on coordinating workforce training more effectively through government and private sector agencies, that she isn’t interested in financial windfall for her district. Sen. David Sanders yesterday said flatly, “Nope,” in response to my question of whether a surplus money handout was part of the deal for English, as has been widely rumored. I’ll credit her solely with high-mindedness when it’s revealed which private sector agencies would receive how much for doing what in the workforce training area to obtain English’s vote.
PS — To watch for today: Will a backbencher teabagger do some similar extortion for a vote flip?
PPS — Will the English extortion be more meaningful than the eyewash given Missy Irvin for her vote in 2013?
HOW OTHERS SEE US: PBS Newshour featured the coming big vote last night. Watch it here.