Legislators push retrograde action


As is now widely known, a bill to appropriate $915 million in federal funding for the so-called private option failed Tuesday in the Arkansas House of Representatives in a 70-27 vote. The measure needed a three-fourths majority vote, or 75 votes, in the 100-member House, to pass.

While opponents of the measure can cast this vote in all the pseudo-patriotic gilt and alleged fiscal conservancy they want, at the end of the day this is little more than another attempt to grouse about Obama’s legacy legislation, the Affordable Care Act. There is a small but very vocal faction within the Republican party who just can’t countenance the fact that this bill is federal law. So blinded by their gall, this faction will stop at nothing to undermine a president they just don’t like. (Perhaps they are hopeful of growing up and going to the U.S. House, where many Republican members have this practice down to a fine art.)

If one needed evidence of this, House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, provided it. In urging a “no” vote, Westerman asked members of the House, “Is Arkansas going to be an enabler for Obamacare?”

“Enabler”?

In positioning the Affordable Care Act as though it were drug addiction, Westerman exposes the folly of his stance. He also casts out the wrong demon.

While a lot people like to gripe about “Obamacare,” the facts just don’t support their ire. To this point, the ACA has enabled young people to stay on their parents’ insurance; it eliminated exclusions based on preexisting conditions; it mandated prescription drug coverage; and it expanded insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of people who lacked it.

To be fair, it isn’t a perfect piece of legislation. We’ve seen ample proof of this all over America. Did Obama over-promise and under deliver? Yes, to an extent, but instead of working to improve on the legislation, Republican efforts have all been aimed at dismantling it.

As minor cogs in that much larger system, many of the legislators in Arkansas have been unwitting shills in this effort. To vote for the private option might be construed as a vote in support of the Affordable Care Act — even though to vote against the private option is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face to the tune of $915 million.

As a frustrated-sounding House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, told reporters, if the opposition against the private option holds, there will be no appropriation for the Department of Human Services. “If some of the members want to oppose this through the fiscal session, then they’re going to own it.”

With all that, the narrow-minded and less contemplative in the Arkansas legislature allow themselves to be led down a convenient path. Unfortunately, it’s not all that convenient for poor mothers with sick babies, the chronically ill or many other vulnerable populations.

Fortunately, not all in the Republican party are so willfully blind. Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, one of the architects of the private option, said it has been successful so far, with nearly 100,000 Arkansans enrolled and premiums lower than projected.

“Let’s see if this experiment that we voted to try works,” he said.

Other Republicans, like Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, has said she will support the program. Her support gives the private option the needed 27 votes in the Senate.

As reported by the Arkansas News Bureau, English agreed to change her vote from a “no” last spring to a “yes” vote this week after she and Gov. Mike Beebe’s office agreed to a plan to restructure work force and education training in Arkansas.

English, Burris and others of a more conciliatory and metered approach understand that this is how government makes progress. Any dope can mount the podium and rail against caricatures. Real statesmen understand compromise and the necessity to change in the face of mounting evidence.

Carter said he remains 100 percent sure the private option bill will pass. We hope he is right.