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Archive for the ‘Arkansas Government’ Category

High drama on private option? Line in sand by Democrats?

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With Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View continuing to say it’s not all up to her and that she is a “no” on re-upping the private option for which she fashioned an all-about-me dramatic “aye” vote late in the regular session — though it apparently is indeed all about her — I’ve had very recent discussions with insiders suggesting the prospect for high drama in the fiscal session beginning Feb. 11.

This is insiderly and procedural, but it raises the possibility of high-stakes brinksmanship, which sounds positively Washingtonian.

To begin: The Medicaid appropriation to be introduced in the fiscal session is a mere continuation of the existing Medicaid appropriation. This it contains the hundred-percent federal money for the expanded population under the private option.

Presumably, the Republican minority seeking to obstruct continued existence of the successful and popular program — nine or so voters in the Senate and 25 or so in the House — would need to excise the private option money from the appropriation, and then, by the requisite three-fourths vote, pass old Medicaid with the federal-state match for a tiny segment of the very poorest.

That would require amending the continuing-level appropriation with special language in the Special Language Subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee. The special language would affirmatively excise the private option money.

Amending the measure that way would require only a majority vote, but I don’t readily see how a narrow extremist minority barely able to stop a three-fourths vote could be expected to get a simple majority vote to take out the program that nearly three-fourths of the Legislature favors.

By that scenario, the appropriation would proceed to the chamber floors in full private option form, starting in the Senate because the House went first last time and wants the Senate to go first this time. And Irvin votes no and we’re stuck.

Presumably, then, faced with that logjam, legislators would concede to the tragic reality of the know-nothing obstructionist minority and amend the measure to take out the private option money to get something passed and get on home.

But now get this: There are some infant discussions — just that, at this point — that the Democratic caucuses of the House and the Senate might declare preemptively that they will vote only for a Medicaid appropriation containing the private option.

That’s 48 votes in the House and 13 in the Senate and plenty to prevent a three-fourths majority.

High drama. Private option or no Medicaid at all. Private option or we go home without any appropriation at all for Medicaid.

Here’s the question:

Is that politically advantageous high ground for these Democrats, drawing a line in the sand for an innovative national program for the working poor and for hospitals and for the state budget’s money for prisons and higher education?  Didn’t that recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll show a strong plurality of respondents favoring the continuation of the private option?

Or is it political quicksand for Democrats, introducing Washington-style apocalyptic politics like that? Would they get blamed for dysfunction rather than nobility?

That’s such a good question. I think I know the answer. But let’s let the idea percolate for a bit while we think on it a little longer.

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

January 31st, 2014 at 9:26 am

Private option looking great except politically

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There are developments regarding the state’s innovative Medicaid private option — developments beyond the potentially tragic political signals sent by the Jonesboro area in the special election Tuesday.

First: The state has compiled the demographics on the tens of thousands of persons below 138 percent of poverty who have been enrolled so far, and they show most of them are younger.

That is the full opposite of the state and nationwide experience in the non-Medicaid health care exchange — where few young people have enrolled so far, but plenty of folks my age have, leading to concerns about “adverse selection” and “death spirals” by which Obamacare rates might be expected to explode to unaffordable levels,  causing the entire reform to collapse under its own weight.

The remarkable thing in Arkansas, then, is that we are using our federal Medicaid expansion money to deliver poor folks to private insurance and produce a more actuarial credible risk pool for Blue Cross and Qual Choice. Our rates conceivably — conceivably — could remain at or near current levels in the second year if not beyond.

That is to say — just to put it in clear individual terms — that my own Obamacare options to be unveiled in October might remain relatively reasonable thanks totally to our state’s private option.

Furthermore, the preponderance of younger folks in this PO pool means they’ll pay relatively lower premiums — to the extent, it seems, that we are going to tap less federal money than previously estimated.

All of that is to say our private option is unfolding as a smashing success just in time for know-nothings to kill it in the budget session beginning Feb. 10.

Second: The Joint Public Health Committee will meet at 3 p.m. today to hear the state’s star consultant, former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Republican, testify about the personal health saving account component of the private option on which Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View insisted on the next-to-last day of the session before casting her vote.

I am advised to expect a bold proposal. It will require getting the federal government to approve an amendment to the waiver by which we’ve done the private option. It ought to be enough to hold Irvin’s vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux is quoted today as worrying about several more senators than Irvin.

One Republican legislator favoring the private option told me the only way it survives in February is if something really conservative is put into it.

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Written by jbrummett

January 16th, 2014 at 10:49 am

Darr’s two minds, and the one he’ll follow

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My best reading is that Mark Darr is currently of two minds and goes back and forth between these minds with great speed and dexterity and frustration.

One mind: Yes, I made errors and I was wrong. But, darnit, it’s not serious thievery and I could be given a hall pass to make amends except for this raw political partisanship that is at work against me. The best thing I can do is be strong and take a stand against this criminalization of politics. To resign would be to concede to that criminalization of politics, even encourage those in my party who tell me they resent what’s being done to me and will counterattack some Democrat for retribution.

The other mind: My resignation is the practical thing. It would save the state the nonsense of distracting impeachment. It would relieve those of my party of whatever burden my predicament places on them. What I should do is put my own interests aside and gracefully bow out. I should do so with a statement declaring my innocence of truly impeachable offense, but couching my action as a personal sacrifice for the sake of our state, and pleading with those of both sides to cease and desist this kind of politics of personal destruction.

I think he bounced from one mind to the other yesterday.

I believe he will bear the inconvenience of regretting following either mind, of taking either action, but will choose, at some point soon, to offer himself in sacrifice and resign while making that plea for a less toxic political climate.

It’s the better of bad options, and I think he knows that.

As soon as he takes it, he’s going to be mad at himself. But that’s the nature of his dilemma. A little time away with family might be good.

 

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Written by jbrummett

January 10th, 2014 at 10:56 am

Clubbing Tom Cotton with John Burris

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The employee-employer relationship between state Rep. John Burris of Harrison, a responsible Republican state representative, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, an irresponsible congressman seeking undeserved promotion to the U.S. Senate, is indeed a delicate one.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, whom Cotton presumes to seek to replace, has no regard for that delicacy. He simply sees a wedge. He sees an exploitable opportunity.

This morning Pryor’s campaign press relations agent, a smart and tough and diligent former prize-winning newspaper reporter, has been poking me to exploit this relationship. And, indeed, here I stand — manipulated into writing about this matter. But I’m not sure I’m writing about it the way the Pryor people would have me write about it.

Burris is an elected state representative practicing by constituent responsibility his own direct form of politics and public policy at the state level. He also has hired on as  Arkansas “political director” for Cotton, a campaign-funded position that has him in service not to himself, directly, but to Cotton.

An uncommonly bright and politically able young man, far more impressive in my view than Cotton, Burris was one of the primary GOP architects of the so-called private option form of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. By that mechanism, the state got a federal waiver to take the federal money for the expansion but to use it to buy private insurance for poor people on the Obamacare health care exchange, and to impose other privatizing conservative principles — co-pays, premiums, centers of excellence and so forth.

Cotton wants to repeal all of Obamacare and won’t take a position on the private option because it’s a state issue that would go away if he and others successfully repealed Obamacare at the federal level.

So the other morning Burris sent out a mass email to Republican legislative backers of the private option telling them he was convinced more than ever of the private option’s wisdom and hoping everyone would stay the course against a few critics, some of whom seem to want to use the state legislative process as a “playground.”

Aha, said the Pryor campaign. Lookie here, it announced. Here is Tom Cotton’s political director touting the benefits to the state of a program that his boss, the Senate candidate of primary fealty to the Club for Growth, wants to end.

They want to use Burris’ responsibility against Cotton’s irresponsibility.

Burris’ private option is the “Ford” delivering health care to poor people in Arkansas, the aforementioned campaign agent told me. But the Affordable Care Act is the “fuel.” And Burris is touting the Ford while the man for whom he works is trying to dry up the gasoline.

OK. Fine.

What the Pryor campaign wants to do is pick up poor ol’ responsible John Burris and use him as a club to pound irresponsible Tom Cotton.

And I’d rather beat up Tom with some other weapon. There are so many. He is so dreadful, opposing even the recent budget deal, and the farm bill, and college student loans, and disaster aid and food stamps.

What I would like to do is explain Burris’ own independent state legislative position, going like this: He believes — like Cotton, actually — that Obamacare is bad and ought to be repealed. He hopes for that. But, meantime, the reality is that Obamacare is the law and there is a pot of money available for Arkansas. He believes in the wisdom of the state’s availing itself of that money to provide a national laboratory for reforming Medicaid into a privatized system. If Obamacare collapses or is repealed and the federal Medicaid manna goes away, then Burris would want the expanded Medicaid coverage in Arkansas to go away. But he would favor continuing the private option or at least its principles in a new form of basic Medicaid.

Please understand all of this is at risk in the fiscal legislative session in February.

If the private option doesn’t get re-upped by arduous three-fourths votes in the House and Senate, barely achieved last time, then its funding authority goes away and the state’s income tax cuts are no longer paid for — since the private option uses federal dollars to produce state taxpayer savings.

Asa Hutchinson, should he get elected governor, would confront an imbalanced budget as he seeks to impose his hundred million dollars’ worth of additional income tax cuts.

So all of this approximately enormous.

 

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Written by jbrummett

December 17th, 2013 at 12:15 pm

What the heck happened on UA audit Friday?

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I’ve been nosing around trying to make sense of the nonsense occurring Friday at the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee on the audit of the University of Arkansas Flagship Campus at Fayetteville (UAFCF).

I have concluded that media accounts of UA strong-armed orchestration and legislative whitewashing are overstated.

Fayetteville campus officials learned only Thursday, the day before the meeting, that Sen. Bill Sample, Republican of Hot Springs, intended to make a motion to accept the critical audit of the school’s fiscal mismanagement in the chronically deficit-ridden advancement operation.

They did not actively lobby for that, surmising from their discussions that what was happening had as much to do with internal legislative issues as with the university. That is to say they had determined that there was sentiment in the committee that the co-chairmen, Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton and Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest, both Republicans, had over-politicized and grandstanded the matter.

Meantime, Johnny Goodson, the rich Mr.-Fix-It class action lawyer from Texarkana who Gov. Mike Beebe made the mistake of appointing to the UA Board of Trustees, had gone to Senate President ProTem Michael Lamoureux of Russellville to ask what the board might be able to do to try to get the issue put to bed so that the Fayetteville campus could move on.

Lamoureux’s advice was that Goodson, who knows how to settle a case, go before the committee and gather up all the tactical or genuine humility of which he was capable and admit the UA’s egregious errors and vow that lessons had been learned and would be diligently applied forthwith.

Lamoureux said no one with the Fayetteville campus administration seemed capable either of exercising or feigning humility.

Goodson said he could do that, and would, and was given the opportunity to do so in opening remarks at the meeting Friday.

Moments before that, I’m told, Goodson had remarked to other UA officials that there was no chance in the world that Sample’s motion would pass.

But then Sample made his motion to accept the audit and Sen. Linda Chesterfield of Little Rock, a progressive Democrat, seconded it by explaining a few basic facts: (1) The committee accepts unfavorable audits all the time without acquitting anyone; (2) the commitee is not a court and a prosecutor had already decided not to file charges, and (3) the acceptance of the audit would not preclude hearing the planned testimony of the two sacrificed employees of the advancement office — Brad Choate and Joy  Sharp.

So the  motion passed, 21-13.

By this time, Hammer, presiding, had got entirely out of sorts about this apparent rebuff by his committee. So he said the committee would proceed to hear from Choate and Sharp unless there was any objection. So Sample said, “I object.” and then Hammer huffed, essentially saying to heck with it, matter closed, no more discussion.

Several in the 21 majority votes had not intended or known that their vote would deny the testimony.

Lamoureux tells me it is now likely that Choate and Sharp will be invited to give their testimony to another legislative committee, perhaps the Joint Performance Review Committee.

That would be appropriate. I hope that it happens. And surely it will, if, as I am advised and assert here, the university did not strong-arm legislators into a whitewash.

I will seek to develop this further for my column Thursday, unless something else comes up.

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Written by jbrummett

December 16th, 2013 at 8:11 am

UA student gives the paper what-for

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The public information operation of the University of Arkansas (the flagship one at Fayetteville) distributed last night a pugnacious statement from Bo Renner, student government president, in which Renner declared that the Razorbacks finished  the regular season 12-1 and will play Florida State for the national championship.

No. Wait. That wasn’t it.

What the lad said was that the university is doing great — growing, attracting stellar students, retaining those students, engaging in vital research and earning national academic acclaim. And he said the Democrat-Gazette ignores this good story, this real story, to harp on chronic multi-million-dollar overspending in the fund-raising office that has produced an unfavorable state legislative audit and led to a prosecutor’s investigation.

The university Mr. Renner accurately describes is indeed to be celebrated. But the inability of the young man to compartmentalize issues, to separate the general success of the institution from pockets of budgetary misfeasance and FOI law resistance, suggests that he needs to mature if ever-so-slightly so that he can keep unrelated matters in an emotionally detached perspective. I’m sure his fine university can help him with that maturation.

It’s not a precise comparison, but it’s close enough to be instructive: Take the case of Bobby Petrino. He misbehaved egregiously and was fired. All of that was legitimate news. But, at the same time, the UA football team had been highly successful under his coaching. It had just finished a season of 11-2 after one of 10-3. So was the media at fault for reporting his misbehavior? Or should it simply have reported the successes of the two most-recent seasons and ignored motorcycle wreckage and girlfriend-hiring and public misrepresentation?

You see?

So let’s go forward by walking and chewing gum at the same time — praising the general performance of this flagship while reporting as well on the big Legislative Joint Auditing Commirtee meeting on the budget woes taking place tomorrow morning.

And, most of all, we must never yield.

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Written by jbrummett

December 12th, 2013 at 10:25 am

Beebe moves to have UA monitor hog farm

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Gov. Mike Beebe tells me this morning that his office has formally asked the Legislative Council to approve at its next meeting his release of $250,000 in rainy-day funds to contract with University of Arkansas specialists to intensify normal water-quality monitoring in and around the C&H Hog Farm and the Buffalo River.

Beebe confirms there has been a little resistance to this enhanced monitoring from Cargill Foods, which contracts with C&H and other area landowners, but that, essentially, he doesn’t care.

He says Cargill is not a party to the state’s dutiful consideration of how it might beef up in this case the normal  regulatory oversight provided by the state Environmental Quality Department.

The normal procedure is for DEQ to do periodic checks of the Buffalo itself and to require the landowner to submit samples and stand for on-site inspections.

In this extraordinary case, Beebe says, that simply didn’t strike him as sufficient.

What these UA scientists would do is set up monitoring wells, and then keep those wells checked frequently, at points chosen by the experts above and below the Buffalo.

The idea, Beebe says, is to arm the state with plenty of authoritative scientific data should it see a need to move to restrict farm  operations to protect the Buffalo.

 

 

 

 

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Written by jbrummett

August 14th, 2013 at 9:07 am

Cotton on a shutdown — UPDATE/UH-OH

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I am at work on an online-only column for Wednesday about this crazed right-wing Republican notion to shut down the government after Sept. 30 unless spending on Obamacare is taken out of any continuing budget.

But I’ll go ahead and tell you this much: I saw that 71 House members had said they would not vote for continued funding if Obamacare was contained in it, so I asked Caroline Rabbitt, press secretary to our ultra-rightist Tom Cotton, if he was among the 71.

She replied: “Well, since you didn’t send me the story you’re referencing it’s a bit difficult to comment on it…. I would assume you mean 71 signers of a letter to leadership about defunding Obamacare. If I am correct then your answer is that he generally prefers consulting with colleagues in person, rather than joining letters. But he strongly supports all efforts to defund, delay and ultimately repeal Obamacare, regardless the legislative approach.”

So what one might surmise — what seems clear — is that, yeah, Cotton would shut down the government — that presumably covered by “strongly supports all efforts … regardless the legislative approach” — which even Paul Ryan says is misguided because all it would do is stop discretionary spending, not entitlements, including Obamacare.

A gaggle of Republican governors pleaded just today with Republicans in the House not to do this.

But Rabbitt responds to say I couldn’t reasonably come to that conclusion from what she said. She wrote in followup, “I am not sure how you can make that claim based on my answer. I think you are inferring something based on what you want to be true, not what I actually said.”

I do not want anyone to support a government shutdown.

Perhaps she means she thinks I want Cotton to take an outrageous position. Make that — another outrageous position.

So let’s conclude here: Rabbitt stopped short of specifically declaring Cotton’s support for a shutdown.

I’m just honored she replied. Usually she ignores me.

UPDATE-UH/OH: OK, Ms. Rabbitt emails again to say, and I quote:  “Congressman Cotton doesn’t want a government shutdown, nor does anyone else in his party. Only Barack Obama is threatening a shutdown. They’ve talked about not voting for a CR that funds Obamacare — the shutdown is just inferred, like you did to me earlier.”

Alas, she and I can’t seem to get clear on this, because now I infer that she just told me sure-as-shootin’ that Tommy gonna vote with Cruz, Paul and the other extremists for a shutdown unless Obamacare taken out, as of course it won’t be on account of being the law.

More to come between now and Nov. 4, 2014.

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Written by jbrummett

August 5th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Report on that Beebe, Burris, Sanders confab

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I got so many visits yesterday for the rare blog post that the least I can do is follow that one up.

Gov. Mike Beebe, state Sen. David Sanders and state Rep. John Burris had their meeting in the governor’s office on this overblown matter of whether Planned Parenthood, which is going to promote the heck out of Obamacare either way, gets money for five or six or seven $12-an-hour navigators to explain to people who come in how to access their new health insurance opportunities come Oct. 1.

They agreed on an underlying point: All of them want the private option on adapted Medicaid expansion to work.

Sanders and Burris gave Beebe this account: All in the world they wanted was to quietly excise Planned Parenthood from the list of contractors so that the Planned Parenthood/abortion issue would never come up and gum up the works on the private option. You see, they said, we have people in our caucus who will go nuts, and maybe kill the private option, if we dare let the public dialogue become all about abortion.

We’re not the ones who leaked this into the blogosphere, they said.

We’re not bullies, they insisted. We’re the ones trying to be circumspect.

And then Burris told the governor this: If you feel obliged to permit Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford to push this Planned Parenthood contract forward, that’s fine by us, but just know that the legislative review committee is 12-10 Republican and three of the Democrats are pretty conservative on social issues and it takes 11 “ayes” to give favorable recommendation

That’s not bullying, but simple vote-counting, he said.

Beebe then went way out on a limb to thank the young Republicans for coming in and to wish them a good day.

His choice is how to let this thing die. He could call Planned Parenthood and say, you know, y’all could pull this contract and save us a lot of hot-button issue folderol, and I would personally appreciate that. Or he could tell Bradford to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s applicatoin. Or he could just let it go and let the Republicans and a few Democrats give it seven or eight votes needing 11.

Planned Parenthood could then file a lawsuit, if it wanted to go thermonuclear on a gnat.

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Written by jbrummett

June 21st, 2013 at 11:06 am

Beebe in a confab with Sanders, Burris

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Let’s fire back up the long-dormant blog for a little item:

Sometime today there will be a meeting at which I would love to be fly on the wall. The three Republican architects of the private option on Medicaid expansion — Sens. Jonathan Dismang and David Sanders and Rep. John Burris — will have a confab with Gov. Mike Beebe.

Several things surely will come up, but, most prominently, they will discuss that Sanders and Burris don’t want the state Insurance Department to contract with Planned Parenthood to retain a few $12-an-hour employees to advise clients of their  health insurance opportunities under Obamacare generally and the private option specifically, beginning in October.

Background: Sanders and Burris have been riding herd on private option implementation. When Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford showed them a list of service agencies set for contracts for these “navigators,” they objected personally and strategically, fearful that Planned Parenthood’s participation — because of the organization’s role in abortions — would rile up anti-abortion Republican legislators and imperil the private option’s implementation, even its re-ratification in the next legislative session. They asked Bradford to drop Planned Parenthood. He agreed to do so for the time being. But Planned Parenthood came in with a perfectly legitimate application, and is an ideal organization for spreading this word, and the whole thing seeped into the press.

We’re talking about five hourly positions or maybe seven — I’ve heard it both ways — and very modest, inconsequential administrative earnings for Planned Parenthood.

So I wrote a column last Sunday saying, oh, heck, let’s not risk health insurance for hundreds of thousands of poor people over a few of these jobs.

And Planned Parenthood is a great organization that would help clients find newly available health insurance even if it didn’t have five or seven contracted positions.

To me you hold your nose on five or seven positions in the greater interest of health insurance for  a quarter-million people.

Getting these Republicans to pass this private option by a three-fourths vote was a miracle. Why screw up a miracle?

So then I got attacked by a liberal blog for being a no-good appeasing creep and a stenographer for evil right-wingers. It’s the principle of the thing, and the issue of what might come next, said the liberal blog.

This liberal blog — I forget its name — even speculates that Planned Parenthood ought to make a federal court case out of not being allowed to pass through a little money for five or seven hourly jobs.

I really don’t know if that’s a legal or political fight Planned Parenthood would need to wage in this state.

So you’ve got Planned Parenthood persisting in its simple, straight-forward application. You have Insurance Commissioner Jay Bradford out here on a limb with no visible support. You have a governor typically detached from his own government.

Until today, maybe. Sanders and Burris made overtures to the governor’s office for a confab, and Beebe said why don’t you just come on in.

Sometime today, I’m told.

Allow me the wild imagining of what might be said, based on my contention that I often know how this governor thinks.

Beebe might say: All right, dadgummit. You guys can have this little skirmish. I’ll tell Bradford to round-file the Planned Parenthood contract. We don’t need this fight. But in exchange I want y’all to shut the heck up. I don’t want to open up the paper every day and see where y’all are nitpicking a Health Department grant to Planned Parenthood or  hassling John Selig on some implementation detail at Human Services. Stand down, boys, because the fact is that you’ve gotten a little big for your britches. Y’all did good work passing the private option. But I’m the blankety-blank governor around here for a few months, anyway. If y’all want to destroy this thing, just keep being full of yourselves and I’ll let you destroy it. Now get our of here before I really get mad.

Or maybe that’s just what I’d say.

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Written by jbrummett

June 20th, 2013 at 8:49 am

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