The governor loves a good game of basketball and the sport provides an appropriate metaphor for his legislative week that included the special session on Arkansas Works.
Early in the week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson backed off his plans to include managed care in his call for a special session after legislative leaders warned him the votes weren’t there for his plan. Hutchinson wants to save an estimated $1.4 billion by having private companies manage certain aspects of the state’s Department of Human Services. Some lawmakers are floating an alternative plan called Diamondcare that achieves about $1 billion in savings but through a different administrative solution that the governor doesn’t support.
On the surface, the warning letter from House Speaker Jeremy Gillam and Senate President Jonathan Dismang and the governor’s acquiescence to alter his strategy appeared to be a major defeat for him. Some have speculated that Gillam and Dismang truly undermined Hutchinson through the public call, but in fact, they did him a huge political favor. Hutchinson was able to make his adjustment to the special session by responding to legislative leadership not the cabal of lawmakers who oppose his managed care plan. It still was a setback and a stumble for the governor who, despite a year’s worth of health care hearings, has not built consensus for the managed care plan he hopes to achieve.
But just as in basketball, Hutchinson lives to fight another day. His managed care plan didn’t go down in voting defeat and he will have another chance to present it (although I contend he could do most if not all of what he wants through executive order).
So back to our basketball metaphor. The governor started the week down a few points and with many of his fans complaining about his game performance.
Then, the special session began – the equivalent of the second half of the game. Hutchinson made some clutch shots. His Arkansas Works plan passed both chambers of the state legislature with 70% majorities, better than everyone expected. Democrats came along wholesale and a majority of Republicans approved of the plan. The governor even said the results “exceeded our expectations.”
But he’s still short of the 75% threshold he needs to garner funding approval of Arkansas Works, which will be part of the Department of Human Services overall budget. Lawmakers can still make a last stand to kill Arkansas Works by voting against that budget bill, but getting the handful of additional votes needed to get over the appropriation hurdle seems doable.
Here’s proof: Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs, who voted against Arkansas Works and has adamantly stated her opposition to Obamacare, posted on her Facebook page after the session. She outlined arguments against the program and then said voting against the larger DHS budget would only hurt other programs such as ARKids, foster care, and those with disabilities.
“The vote in the House Chamber for Arkansas Works was 70 in favor and 30 against. The people have spoken. I was in the minority, but it is not my place to grandstand. It is my job to do what the people of Arkansas have entrusted me to do,” she said declaring her intention to vote yes on DHS funding. “You can love me, you can hate me. But I am doing what I feel the people of this state have said they wanted to happen.”
If this were still March Madness, Gov. Asa Hutchinson would be very much alive in his side of the bracket. He’ll need a few more big-time performances such as getting his 75% vote threshold in the fiscal session (which now seems possible) and then he can focus on the game to follow: the managed care debate.
Asa’s strong second half performance this week gave him a critical “W”. Will he win more in the future? You have to like his chances, but as his conservative critics will say, that’s why they play the game.