All Eyes on the Tea Party Ten

All Eyes on the Tea Party Ten
Nick BrothersThe Free Weekly Managing Editor

Nick Brothers
The Free Weekly Managing Editor

Republican obstructionism is so hot right now, especially so for 10 Arkansas Tea Party senators.

As no surprise to anyone who has followed politics throughout the past eight years, most Republicans kinda hate the Affordable Care Act and many have pledged to repeal it. That mission is glowing white hot in the eyes of 10 Arkansas senators right now, who are threatening to vote against a Medicaid expansion bill financed by Obamacare that’s been proposed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. If the program, named Arkansas Works, were to fail — it’s otherwise very popular among the state legislature — it would cause a $150 million deficit in the state budget, leaving many crucial government services and health care for children, the blind, disabled and elderly to face steep budget cuts across the board.

To pass, the bill needs approval from 75 percent of the Senate, or 27 of 35 votes.

Hutchinson has been doing his best to convince the “Tea Party Ten” that their political move would do damage to the state’s highway building program. Monday, Hutchinson released a statement appealing to the senators sense of decency for the young.

“To say I am concerned with some of these reductions is an understatement,” reads the statement by Hutchinson. “One such reduction includes a proposed $10 million cut to our state’s foster care system.”

Sen. Bart Hester, one of the 10 senators, in an interview with THV11 in Little Rock said he thinks Hutchinson is making a bluff. He said there is “plenty of money out there in surplus, and if there’s a budget cut to the foster care system it’s because the Governor wanted it, not because we had to.”

He was later quoted in the Democrat-Gazette.

“We’re playing some pretty hard chicken right now with both people’s feet on the accelerator. I think the only thing that’s going to bring resolution to this is a crash.”

More than 250,000 Arkansans are enrolled in the Private Option, which is now being called Arkansas Works. Because of that, Arkansas’s uninsured rate fell from 22.5 to 9.1 percent since 2013. Still, Hester and the other members of the “Tea Party Ten” are willing to bring this to a “crash” in a game of chicken. Politics, y’all.

That crash would end all medical coverage for 400,000 Arkansas children, more than 100,000 adults, and 60,000 elderly.

Y’know, political moves like this really shouldn’t baffle me anyone. I’m young, I guess I have that naive fire in me that gets mad at silly things like kicking vulnerable, needy people out in the street to fend for themselves. Things like ignoring the very people senators were elected to serve their better interests for.

Ah, but it gets better. If the Tea Party Ten get their way, the proposed budget cuts could increase the Arkansas Department of Corrections expenses by as much as $8 million a year. So yeah, while we’re abandoning the medical needs of foster children and the elderly, we’ll instead raise money spent on criminals.

In this disaster scenario, the senators believe there will be other avenues to make up the deficit and continue to fund government services. Some of Hester’s ideas include proposing to sell War Memorial Stadium and AETN. Even the governor has said those aren’t realistic.

The Arkansas Works bill itself isn’t a slam dunk, either, but perhaps it’s realistic for the state that voted Hutchinson in, who campaigned against Obamacare in the first place.

According to the proposal, Hutchinson says participants who make at least 100 percent of the federal poverty level should pay a premium equal to 2 percent of their income. People who are 21 and older will have to enroll in their employer’s health insurance, if available and if the employer agrees to participate, with the program paying for premiums and co-pays. The bill would also require that unemployed participants be referred to the Department of Workforce Services for job training and job search programs.

The senate has until June to figure out a compromise, or bow to the whim of 10 senators and the defunding Medicaid. Hutchinson only has to convince two to vote in favor of Arkansas Works, however.

This was written on Tuesday, April 12, so things may have changed by the time you read this in the paper.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: Commentary