Asa goes to Washington
There is no public evidence that U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton ever paid a bit of attention to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s concerns about the health-care bills that died in the Senate last week.
They voted against the state’s interest nearly every time. Cotton cast a singular throwaway vote I found agreeable, but his office refused to tell me why he did it, and I don’t think anyone else bothered to ask.
In the end, Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona, in attending to their states’ interests and their personal views, indirectly covered Arkansas’ behind.
Now it appears the Trump White House might be more interested in Hutchinson’s views than our own senators ever were.
—————— Hutchinson got a call late Saturday inviting him to get to Washington Monday morning for a healthcare meeting at the White House. To oblige, he canceled a planned appearance at an economic development conference in Northwest Arkansas, where attendees speculated that he had gone to Washington to replace retired Gen. John Kelly as secretary of homeland security. (He hadn’t and, he tells me, assuredly wouldn’t.)
He was summoned for an intriguingly intimate working session on where to go now on health care. It was attended by White House aides, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and three other Republican governors — Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
It was an interesting mix. Cassidy is a freshman Republican senator from Louisiana supportive of the Democratic governor’s acceptance of Medicaid expansion. Hutchinson and Ducey are Republican governors who inherited Medicaid expansion and wanted to retain its advantages in some form through Obamacare repeal and replacement. Bryant in Mississippi eschewed Medicaid expansion because he said the state and its estimated 300,000 beneficiaries would be out of luck if Obamacare got repealed. Walker is a frequent waiver-seeker and conservative innovator in Wisconsin, as well as current chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
President Donald Trump had pronounced over the weekend that he did not want to give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare, but to revive it, even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked of moving on.
Administration officials appeared to be looking at going all the way back to the drawing board. They seemed open to rebuilding from scratch a proposal that would come from the White House, not the Republican congressional leadership, which Trump appears to be divorcing.
And the White House appeared to be giving a prominent voice to Republican governors who didn’t get much input into what Paul Ryan’s people and then Mitch McConnell’s people drafted.
Back in Arkansas on Tuesday, Hutchinson wouldn’t tell me much about the meeting other than that it took place in the West Wing and lasted for maybe two hours and that one bit of input from him “seemed to be met with a great deal of receptiveness in the room.”
That was, as Hutchinson related, when he recommended that any new bill that might arise from renewed discussions needed to be subjected to “regular order,” meaning the normal and time-taking congressional process of referral to relevant committees for study, public hearings and proposed amendments.
A White House receptive to that would be one not trying to rush as Ryan and McConnell rushed to get a new law in place by the time the new exchange plans and premiums for 2018 get posted in the states by October.
Hutchinson said a full airing would be better for everyone.
For the record, our governor’s Medicaid-expansion position is that, whatever is passed, the costs for existing Medicaid services should not be transferred to the states, at least without new flexibility for states to vary from federal mandates to better make their programs suit their states.
The Arkansas governor would go along with Medicaid block grants or per-capita Medicaid grants if states were permitted the choice of covering at least the populations they cover now — with per-capita grants for those full populations — and if non-expansion states were given the option to begin covering an expanded population to achieve equity with expansion states.
He believes per-capita grants will work with state flexibility to find savings.
It’s important to remember that, except for Medicaid funding and its effect on the state, and his acceptance of exchanges offering subsidies, Hutchinson is doctrinaire in his conservative opposition to Obamacare. He would do away with the individual mandate and the employer mandate, meaning the mechanisms that offer the program any chance of ever working.
But he’s quite a bit better on this issue than most of his party. He’s no Susan Collins, but he’s no Tom Cotton, either.
In that regard, the governor wanted to make sure I knew he had advised Cotton and Boozman about his meeting at the White House.
How nice. If pointless.
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 email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.