Asa goes to Wash­ing­ton

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.

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.

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