By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has gotten off easy thus far during the current Medicaid controversy.
Over in the House, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, used extraordinary parliamentary maneuvers to ensure that the lower chamber did not have an opportunity to vote on expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as is allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.
In the Senate, there was no effort made on the floor by the membership to force a vote on expansion so Reeves never had to face the issues that confronted Gunn.
If and when Gov. Phil Bryant calls a special session to reauthorize and fund the massive federal-state health care program, Reeves could find himself in the hot seat.
During the regular session, Democrats in the House blocked passage of funding and reauthorizing of the existing program as a method of trying to force Gunn to allow the full House to vote on a proposal to expand Medicaid.
In the Senate, meanwhile, members funded and reauthorized the existing program with barely a mention of Medicaid expansion.
“The Senate in a bipartisan vote already agreed to re-authorize and fund Medicaid without expanding the agency,” Reeves said. “I stand ready to work to pass similar legislation if Governor Bryant calls a special session.”
But it is of note that when House Democrats held a news conference last week and released their plan to use the federal funds to allow people to garner private insurance instead of expanding Medicaid, they were joined by several Senate Democrats.
Both Reeves and Bryant belittled the Democrats’ plan, saying it was an effort to expand Obamacare, which they oppose.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, one of the minority party’s leaders in the Senate, spoke in favor of the House Democrats’ plan at the news conference.
“If we could vote by secret ballot … something akin to what the Democrats have proposed would pass,” Bryan said. “About half of the Republicans would like to figure out a way to accept the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money.”
Thus far Sen. Billy Hudson of Hattiesburg has been the only Republican legislator to publicly say he would vote to expand Medicaid if given the chance.
The question is will anyone have the chance to vote on expansion during the special session. The governor has the authority to call a special session and to establish the subjects that will be considered.
But there could be debate about whether members could be prevented from offering an expansion amendment during a special session called by the governor to fund and reauthorize the existing program.
Essentially, it will be up to the presiding officer of each chamber to decide. Both Reeves and Gunn have gone on record against the expansion, agreeing with the governor that the state cannot afford it, though the federal government is slated to pay the bulk of the costs.
“There is no question that if you call a special session on these issues (reauthorizing and funding Medicaid) that the issue of expansion can be before us,” said Bryan.
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, agreed, saying, “He can’t tell us how to address Medicaid … We are elected. We are not doing our job if we don’t have a full and open debate on Medicaid. I know the speaker well enough to know that he would not prevent that from occurring.”
But members acknowledge that if the presiding officer ruled that a subject went beyond the call of the special session, there would be little recourse for the members to take.
Reeves refused to say whether he would allow the issue of Medicaid expansion to be debated during a special session called to reauthorize and fund the agency.
He said it would depend on the wording of the governor’s proclamation calling the special session. He said he would seek advice from Senate attorneys before ruling on such an issue.
“It is way too premature to talk about that at this point,” Reeves said, though most believe a special session will be called before the month’s end where the first-term Republican lieutenant governor could face that issue.