Davy Carter’s Empty Threat Of A “Government Shutdown”

Medicaid-Arkansas4House Speaker Davy Carter, as he is prone to do, emulated Governor Beebe yesterday while speaking with the media. According to one reporter, Carter said:

If nine senators want to shut down state government, so be it.

Carter’s statement is in reference to the nine state senators who are standing tall in opposition to continuation of funding Medicaid’s Obamacare expansion in Arkansas (a.k.a. the “private” option). There are two important lessons we should learn from Carter’s scare tactics.

First — and perhaps most obviously — despite the rumors, the Senate does not currently have the votes to pass a bill that both authorizes funding for the state’s Department of Human Services and that funds the “private” option. Period. If they did (or if they thought they did), we wouldn’t see this type of statement from Carter — a statement which screams frustration that he isn’t getting his way.

Secondly, it’s laughable to claim that the government will shut down without private option approval. The entire state government, including DHS and Medicaid, is funded through the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2014). There will be no layoffs, no termination of insurance, and no “government shutdown” before then.

Now, what could happen is that the ‘Noble Nine’ in the senate could hold strong, block the DHS budget that includes PO funding, and leave the fiscal session without a DHS budget. Even so, this doesn’t equate to a “government shutdown” or even a DHS shutdown.

What would happen is exactly what happened in Mississippi: lawmakers would go home, come up with a patchwork of ideas, and the governor would be forced to call a special session in May or June to pass a DHS budget. In Mississippi, the government didn’t close; there was no rioting; Medicaid clients didn’t begin eating each other. Lawmakers came to an agreement — namely, that the state shouldn’t expand a broken Medicaid system — and they passed a clean Medicaid budget that didn’t include expansion.

Is this a hardball tactic? Maybe. Is it extreme or irrational? Hardly. Supporters of the “private” option promised us that they would allow a straight up-or-down vote on the funding of the plan. That promise, like so many other promises of private-option advocates, appears likely to be broken. If legislators aren’t given the opportunity to vote on a clean DHS budget, they should use all of the legislative tools at their disposal to make it happen.

To put it simply: governing is hard. But taxpayers expect legislators to make the tough decisions, not continue to kick the can down the road and saddle their grandchildren with billions of dollars of additional debt.

If Speaker Carter wants to pass a DHS budget, I daresay he could get a unanimous vote today in both chambers if he worked to separate “private” option spending from it. His insistence on a package deal makes the creation of this tempest in a teapot largely his choice.