Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Today, for the fourth day in a row, the Arkansas House failed to approve funding for the Obamacare “private” option. At this point, you must begin to wonder how many times Speaker Davy Carter will continue to call votes — on the exact same bill — and continue to fail to reach the necessary 75 vote threshold. Or, to put it another way: how long will Speaker Carter try to do the same thing, over and over, and hope for a different result?
In addition, Carter conceded in post-session remarks that one of the holdouts — Rep. Les Carnine — is now a “solid no.” In fact, Carnine went from “non-voting” for the last few days to a “no” vote today.
(It’s hard to imagine why; it’s not like the Speaker has been sending the state police after members who left the chamber to go to dental appointments, accusing members of “giving campaign speeches” instead of casting principled votes, or accusing them of wanting to “shut down the government.”)
Is there a path forward for Medicaid expansion funding in the House? Probably not. At least not in its current form. Let’s look at the numbers: while the expansion bill got 71 votes today, there were 2 pro-expansion legislators who were outside of the chamber when the vote was cast. (The House had been in the middle of a 10-minute recess so state police could retrieve Rep. Payton, but Speaker Carter gaveled the House back into session quickly and had the vote; the House officially recessed three times before the vote was ultimately taken.) So let’s assume the total yea votes are at 73. In order for Carter to get the 75 he needs, he will have to either 1. Peel off two of the 26 no votes (which seems unlikely, given that they’ve held this long) or 2. Pick up one of the 26 “nays” and the only member who’s still in the non-voting column — Rep. Mary Lou Slinkard, who has shown very little sign of bending. Regardless, Speaker Carter needs two more votes — and he doesn’t have them.
So what happens from here? Well, if Speaker Carter wants a Medicaid budget before the end of the fiscal session, it looks like he’s going to have to *gasp* negotiate with the majority of his own party that doesn’t want to fund the “private” option. Of course, this puts Speaker Carter in a difficult position: as beloved liberal columnist John Brummett told me on Twitter, once Carter opens the door to negotiations “the floodgates open.” I suspect that’s exactly what the people of Arkansas want.
But the choice is Carter’s: does he want to leave session without a budget — “shutting down state government,” as he describes it — or does he want to make an honest effort to reach a compromise with the majority of his own party? If you’re wondering what this type of compromise might look like, take a look at the Hendren-Ballinger proposal; I suspect you’ll be hearing more about it in the coming days.