Brewer forces special session for Medicaid expansion, budget

2013-06-12T00:00:00Z Brewer forces special session for Medicaid expansion, budgetHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Tired of waiting for action, Gov. Jan Brewer forced lawmakers back to the Capitol late Tuesday to approve her budget and Medicaid expansion.

Brewer used her constitutional power to call a special session starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to deal solely with those issues. It will run concurrently with the regular session, which continues.

The governor's power play came on the heels of the House shutting down until Thursday with no action on the budget or Medicaid. Senators already had recessed until next week.

Initiating the session Tuesday night opens the door to getting something approved by Thursday.

The Arizona Constitution requires all measures to be read three times, on consecutive days. With a first reading of bills late Tuesday, the budget package could be on Brewer's desk by Thursday.

Her maneuver, coordinated with Democrats and a handful of Republicans who support her Medicaid plan, blindsided House Speaker Andy Tobin. He said he was prepared to bring Brewer's Medicaid plan to the floor on Thursday.

But gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said that wasn't good enough.

What appears to have been the breaking point is on Tuesday, after plans for a possible vote on Medicaid fell apart, Tobin shut the House down until Thursday. Benson said with the Senate already planning a long weekend, and needing to concur with any House changes, that would have caused further delays.

Beyond that, Benson pointed out that the House has yet to even have a single hearing on the rest of the governor's $8.9 billion spending plan.

Benson said the governor has been trying for five months to get the Legislature to move on the Medicaid proposal and the budget.

"It's time to move forward," he said, while pointing out it has been known "for many weeks" there were the votes in both the Senate and House for approval of Medicaid.

"That bipartisan coalition is anxious to get things finished," Benson said. "No game-playing. No more stall tactics. No more gimmicks. It's time to get the people's business done."

Part of the delay was to let the House consider a Tobin alternative for expanding Medicaid, which would have required a public vote. He conceded there were not enough votes to approve his plan. But the governor's proposal still remained stalled until Monday, when the House appropriations Committee voted to kill the bill.

That forced supporters to work to find an alternative method of getting it to the floor, which floundered Tuesday.

While a special session means starting from scratch with an entirely new bill, it still could expedite the process.

The maneuver drew a sharp reaction from Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, one of the biggest foes of the Medicaid expansion plan.

Seel acknowledged that Brewer has the votes for approval and that there is little he and others can do to stop the plan. But he said the governor's "extreme political maneuvers to implement Obama's socialized medicine" means "Brewer's legacy will be not as a Republican but as the most effective Democrat in Arizona history."

But Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, one of the Republicans working to adopt Brewer's budget - and who was aware ahead of time of the special-session plans - said the governor did what she had to do.

"We are part of a legislative body elected to do the people's work," she said. "And, constitutionally, we're required to pass a balanced budget."

Even Tobin, while saying he still won't vote for Brewer's plan, was philosophical about Brewer's maneuver.

"I guess she's just run out of patience," he said. "It happens."

Brewer has opposed the federal Affordable Care Act, even joining with other states to have it declared illegal. But she said once the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the key provisions, she had to consider the more practical question of Arizona finances.

Brewer said that means accepting $1.6 billion in federal health-care money the state would get by opening Medicaid enrollment to 300,000 new recipients, added to the current 1.3 million. She said the $240 million first-year costs to the state will be paid not by taxpayers but by an assessment on hospitals, an assessment most hospitals have agreed to pay because it means they will be treating more people with insurance, and fewer people walking away because they can't afford to pay their bills.

Tobin, however, said one reason he continues to oppose Brewer's plan is there is no real safeguard to ensure that if hospitals have fewer patients unable to pay they will reduce their bills for everyone else.

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