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January 21, 2014 11:48 AM Pure Meanness

By Ed Kilgore

Commenter lehighvpa alerted me to this story yesterday, and it’s a potentially big one: In Arkansas, the state that pioneered the strategy of cutting a deal with the Obama administration to secure conservative “reforms” of Medicaid in exchange for agreeing to a federally funded expansion, the rock may be about to roll back down the hill. Here’s WaPo’s Reid Wilson with a report:

A Democratic state senator forced to step down last year over ethics violations will be replaced by a Republican after a special election Tuesday that dealt a serious blow to Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) push to expand Medicaid.
Republican John Cooper defeated Democrat Steve Rockwell in a northeast Arkansas district based in Jonesboro in a race that had centered on whether to expand Medicaid to cover those making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Cooper opposes a so-called “private option” the legislature passed last year, which would use Medicaid dollars to purchase private insurance for low-income Arkansas residents. Conservatives and moderate Republicans feuded over the expansion last year.

Republicans who oppose the private option believe they have the votes to stop it when the legislature returns next month. Advancing the proposal would require 75 of 100 votes in the House and 27 of 35 votes in the Senate; Republicans hold big majorities in both chambers.
“It was a difficult, difficult task to get three-fourths vote last time,” Beebe told the Associated Press after Cooper’s win. “It’s still going to be a difficult task to get three-fourths vote, but it’s doable and the logic is there.”
Already, 74,000 low-income Arkansas residents have enrolled in the private option, Arkansas officials said last month.

I’ve been a bit more ambivalent about the Arkansas precedent than some folks who seem to think expanding Medicaid is so important it doesn’t matter if the product resembles Medicaid anymore. But this is still an alarming development in terms of making any Obamacare reforms “stick” over time. I mean, seriously: Arkansas conservatives are fighting tooth and nail to stop a 100% federally-funded privatization of Medicaid, apparently for the pure, ineffable joy of kicking 74,000 (and counting) needy Arkansans out of their health coverage. Pure meanness is a powerful motivator.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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