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GOP senators block Arkansas Medicaid funding

Arkansas Capitol.jpg
Arkansas Capitol.jpg
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A spokesman says Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is prepared to use his line-item veto authority if lawmakers send him a budget bill that defunds the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion.

Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said Thursday the governor has told Democrats and Republicans he would use the authority if lawmakers approve a Medicaid budget bill without the program's funding.

A legislative panel deadlocked over a plan to strip out the expansion's funding with the expectation that Hutchinson would use the line-item authority to reinstate the program. The move came after a Medicaid budget bill including the hybrid expansion fell two votes shy of the 27 needed to win approval in the Senate.

Hutchinson, a Republican, has warned lawmakers that ending the program would lead to significant budget cuts for state agencies.

The governor said in a statement that he would work with Democrats and Republicans to resolve the budget standoff over the expansion.

House and Senate leaders on Thursday said they're recessing until Tuesday afternoon. The announcement follows the Medicaid budget bill funding the hybrid expansion failing to win the 27 votes needed in the Senate.

An alternate plan aimed at allowing the governor to reinstate the program if it's not included in Medicaid's budget has also stalled, and House Democrats say they don't want to vote on any other budget bills until the impasse is resolved.

The Arkansas House has failed to pass an appropriation to fund the auditor's office, expenses for lawmakers and judges and a handful of other items after many Democratic members either voted "Present" or did not vote.

The General Appropriation Act failed 68-0 Thursday, with Democrats stalling the bill shortly after members of the Joint Budget Committee failed to approve an amended version of a Medicaid budget bill that would have let the governor provide funding for Arkansas' hybrid Medicaid expansion.

Several Democratic representatives asked before the House floor vote if the General Appropriation Act included health benefits for lawmakers.

Rep. Lane Jean, a co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said the Legislature no longer votes on its salaries or benefit package. He said the Independent Citizens Commission, which was set up to set elected officials' salaries, addresses lawmaker benefits.

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The vote comes less than a week after lawmakers approved Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to keep and rework the hybrid expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. More than 250,000 people are on the program, which was created three years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law.

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