BOBBY HARRISON: History will determine Medicaid victors

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – More parliamentary maneuvering was going on in last week’s two-day special session on Medicaid than there is anticipation by Ole Miss fans about their upcoming football season.
The difference is that it is easy to measure success or failure on the athletic field at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Sometimes it is much more difficult to measure success in the Mississippi Capitol. Games are played out over months, years, decades and even centuries – especially in Mississippi where sometimes old ways and old beliefs do not go silently into the night or end when the final whistle blows – like at Vaught-Hemingway.
It is easy to say Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was a winner. In the midst of the state’s political leadership – all of the same party by the way – spending half a day figuratively staring at each other, Reeves said enough is enough and demonstrated some fairly innovative parliamentary maneuvering.
Reeves took the proposal that everyone was waiting on Gov. Phil Bryant to expand the special session agenda to consider – essentially taxes on health care providers to fund the Medicaid program – added it to a bill before the Senate, adjourned the Senate, basically telling the House and the governor to accept his work or else.
The “or else” was the possibility of Medicaid shutting down.
Was what Reeves did proper? Was it constitutional?
Unless someone challenges him, which is not going to happen, the point is moot.
Truth be known, the rules of the Senate – as far as what amendments can be offered to legislation – always have been much more liberal than those in the House. An argument can be made that what Reeves did would have been proper in any circumstance.
The result is that Medicaid is funded and operating for the just-started fiscal year.
An observer might proclaim that the 644,000 people on the Medicaid program – poor pregnant women, poor children, the disabled and the elderly – won.
It is important to remember the actions that led to last week’s special session.
During the regular session, House Democrats wanted a vote on expanding Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This expansion, offered through a controversial new federal law, could cover as many as 300,000 Mississippians, mostly the working poor.
Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, showing a little parliamentary maneuvering of his own, was able to keep the expansion vote from happening during the regular session. But in a tit-for-tat scenario, House Democrats blocked passage of the regular Medicaid program.
Thus, the special session. Not sure who won by forcing the special session except for the Jackson eateries that got the unexpected business from lobbyists wining and dining legislators en masse in June.
In that special session, Democrats did get a vote on Medicaid expansion – sort of. House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, offered an amendment to the Medicaid funding bill saying money could not be expended until the House voted on Medicaid expansion.
The amendment was perfectly proper so Gunn had to allow a vote on it. Gunn won on the vote, primarily along party lines.
Over in the Senate, Democrats offered and lost a similar amendment.
But Moak said that all the Democrats had asked for was a vote on Medicaid expansion. He said voting on the amendment placing the condition on the Medicaid expansion was close enough so Moak and most Democrats voted to fund and to reauthorize the existing program for the new fiscal year, which started Monday.
Does that count as a victory for the Democrats?
Republicans, it appears, got the bigger victory. They were able to block Medicaid expansion.
So in a larger sense the Republicans won, unless you believe turning down more than $1 million per day in federal funds to provide health care to working Mississippians is a bad thing.
If you believe that the federal law known as Obamacare is government overreach that will eventually cost the state more than it can afford, then you won.
History will tell whether that victory is long-lasting or if the political will of the state finally yields based on the fact that Mississippi taxpayers are contributing to Obamacare but not getting the benefit of the Medicaid expansion while other states are.
Will political leaders, who have vowed to fight Obamacare with every fiber of their being ever have to eat crow and opt the state into the program? Or will history prove those political leaders right?
That game won’t be decided for a long time.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.