Political Maneuvering is the Preferred Pragmatism*

Arkansas health care reform word cloud“Boo! Booooooo! Boo, you Arkansas Republicans!” That is the message distinguished Arkansas News Bureau columnist John Brummett has for the six (6) Arkansas GOP lawmakers who stood firm this week against efforts of Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration to set up an Obamacare health insurance exchange in the state.

In a column published Saturday under the uncommonly compelling, informative and evocative headline “Obstruction is the preferred conservatism” (“Great headline writing! Nailed it! Time to call it a week.”—Arkansas News Bureau headline writer), Brummett takes those six (6) Republicans to task for “playing politics” on the issue of health care reform. The six (6) lawmakers took the extraordinary step of sending a letter to the governor politely explaining that they don’t think it’s a good idea to apply for federal grant money to plan the exchange.(Full letter here, PDF)

Of course, Brummett notes in his column that Beebe is also playing politics on the issue, since, as he reports

I’m told that Beebe believes the politics of all this could play to the benefit of Democrats and to the detriment of Republicans.

He thinks “local control” could resonate, especially when sought by the relevant and affected private sector, including, tentatively, the powerful lobby known as the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

But that’s different, you see. In BrummettWorld, Beebe’s political play does not offend, because the governor is a acting on calculation to achieve an advantage, rather than principle. The horrifying thing about these Republicans is they might actually believe what they espouse. “Why, I was so appalled I almost dropped my mustache comb!” Brummett declares.

Brummett

Downplayed in Brummett’s dissection is the fact that the six (6) Republicans involved don’t actually have the power to stop Beebe moving forward with planning the insurance exchange. If the governor thinks pursuing federal funding is the way to go, he can do so.  That’s because the authority to request a federal grant to continue with the planning rests with the Arkansas Insurance Department headed by Jay Bradford and with the governor, not the legislature. (This point is ably made by our friend Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report as well.)

Here, don’t take my word for it—let’s just look at the application materials on the Arkansas state web page dedicated to the exchange. Go ahead and scan to page 11 of this PDF grant application and let’s see what’s required under “Eligibility Information”:

No legislative approval is necessary. By the standards of “obstruction,” the letter from the six (6) Arkansas lawmakers expressing their opposition to the exchange is pretty weak tea. If this is all the “obstruction” it takes to get Beebe to call off the hunt for a $3.8 million federal grant, then he’ll be reduced to a quivering mass of jelly, cowering in a corner of his office, should these Republicans actually take control of one or both legislative chambers in the 2012 elections.

The Red Arkansas blog offers a more pungent take on the contretemps. Poke him with your long sharp stick, Red Arkansas!:

From our perspective, it appears Mr. Beebe was looking for some political cover for his own legislative minions in 2012 by putting Republicans publicly on the spot to support this grant application. After all, if Republicans supported this grant application to fund ObamaCare’s health exchanges, they couldn’t really use Democratic support of implementing ObamaCare in Arkansas as a campaign issue, right?

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Governor Beebe was playing politics with health care in order to bolster his party’s chances to control the General Assembly in 2012. 

Say, just where ARE those legislative Democrats on the question of this grant and the planning of the exchange, anyway?

*”Another great headline! Nailed it! Time to call it a week.”—David Kinkade

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