Ir­rel­e­vancy in D.C.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

To­day brings Chap­ter 3 in the re­cently un­fold­ing nar­ra­tive we might call Pro­files in Ir­rel­e­vance.

You’ve guessed al­ready, I sus­pect, that to­day’s col­umn will con­tinue our re­cent fo­cus on the va­can­cies ex­ist­ing in the U.S. Se­nate seats from Arkansas.

Those are oc­cu­pied with­out con­se­quence by tall-talk­ing Tom Cot­ton and no-talk­ing John Booz­man.

It is per­ilous to put any stock in any re­port about what Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell in­tends on the har­ried Oba­macare re­peal-and-re­place bill, or the widely ridiculed re­peal-only bill. But, at this mo­ment, he is said to be in­tend­ing to bring to a vote this week, per­haps to­day, the pro­ce­dural ques­tion of whether to ad­vance to de­bate one or the other. As of this mo­ment, he does not seem to have the sup­port on ei­ther mea­sure of the 50 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors needed to per­mit Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to cast the tie-break­ing vote.

The best out­come for ev­ery­body in Arkansas—Cot­ton and Booz­man in­cluded, as they know full well and plot cyn­i­cally—would be for the pro­ce­dural ad­vance­ment to meet the likely but not cer­tain fate of de­feat that was de­clared last week. —————— The Se­nate bill even­tu­ally would re­move 300,000 poor peo­ple in the state from our pri­vate risk pool through Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion. It would re­move the man­date to pur­chase in­sur­ance and re­duce the risk pool fur­ther and thereby raise rates for all. It would re­duce min­i­mum ben­e­fit stan­dards in a way that would per­mit econo-model in­sur­ance plans that might im­peril cov­er­ages for pre-ex­ist­ing or chronic con­di­tions. It could well raise de­ductibles to pro­hib­i­tive heights for the mid­dle class. It would close ru­ral hos­pi­tals and harm big ones.

Oth­er­wise, it’s a heck­uva bill. Oba­macare isn’t work­ing, ei­ther, but at least it’s fix­able, if any­one in this lame Congress and lamer ad­min­is­tra­tive would get se­ri­ous about that.

De­feat would be good for Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, who has said the Med­i­caid cuts would un­fairly shift costs to state govern­ment.

It would be good for Cot­ton this way: He wants to pos­ture to the na­tional con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence as a fiery Oba­macare-hater. Vot­ing that way while other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors voted more re­spon­si­bly for their states’ in­ter­ests, which would en­com­pass Arkansas’ in­ter­est, would ren­der his be­trayal of his state com­fort­ably in­con­se­quen­tial.

It won’t amount to any­thing if Cot­ton casts one of 48 or 49 los­ing “aye” votes and moves on to lament to his right-wing base that he did ev­ery­thing he could to shaft poor peo­ple. Last week Cot­ton told Talk Busi­ness and Pol­i­tics that we can move these peo­ple who are now on Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion to the pri­vate mar­ket and take care of them with tax cred­its.

A tax credit is some­thing you get taken off your tax bill based on a pro­duc­tive ex­pen­di­ture. Peo­ple liv­ing be­low the poverty level don’t have enough money to re­place the bald tires on their clunkers, much less ante up hun­dreds of dol­lars a month for a high-de­ductible health-in­sur­ance pol­icy to qual­ify for a credit on their taxes.

Why would a dirt-poor per­son liv­ing hand-to-mouth buy health in­sur­ance for the priv­i­lege of pay­ing out of pocket his first $5,000 in med­i­cal bills?

Booz­man seems to have bet­ter in­ten­tions than Cot­ton, but is afraid to say so and hap­less in as­sert­ing those in­ten­tions.

There are ker­nels of ev­i­dence that Booz­man wants to oblige his gov­er­nor and save the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion money. But there is stronger ev­i­dence that he’ll fail at that and vote for the bill any­way, be­cause he’s a quiet par­ti­san go-along.

Booz­man’s press sec­re­tary told me last week that the sen­a­tor was meet­ing a cou­ple of times a week with like-minded Repub­li­can sen­a­tors about mod­i­fy­ing the Med­i­caid pro­vi­sions of the bill. But he said Booz­man did not do his ne­go­ti­at­ing in the press.

Let’s break that down. Booz­man is meet­ing to try to mod­ify Med­i­caid, which is not to say out­right that he op­poses the bill’s cuts to Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion. And it is not ne­go­ti­at­ing in the press to speak clearly to your con­stituents about your po­si­tion on an is­sue of vi­tal im­por­tance to them.

You can tell your con­stituents of your po­si­tion and go into a ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion armed with that pub­licly de­clared po­si­tion. It’s called be­ing a sen­a­tor.

J. Wil­liam Ful­bright wasn’t afraid to say how he felt about the Viet­nam War.

But for Booz­man to state his po­si­tion pub­licly would be to force him into a public con­tra­dic­tion when he fails to get the bill changed and then votes for it any­way.

What does Hutchin­son say about this ex­pected be­trayal from his two sen­a­tors of his party? He says noth­ing, prob­a­bly ow­ing to his cal­cu­la­tion that it might be a loser for him to pick a fight in Arkansas over Oba­macare with Cot­ton and Booz­man.

Then there’s this logic: If Se­nate Repub­li­cans are likely to fail to pass a bill the gov­er­nor doesn’t like, what’s the point in bick­er­ing about that bill along the way with the two ir­rel­e­vant home-state sen­a­tors?

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