Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin spent last week trying to round up support for his proposal to send Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion to the ballot later this year, but not enough lawmakers were willing to go along with it.
Nobody seems to know whether Tobin will continue to stall this week or whether he'll allow the Medicaid expansion (which would bring billions of federal dollars to the state in order to provide Arizonans below 138 percent of the federal poverty line with health insurance through the state's AHCCCS program) and the rest of the budget passed by the state Senate to get a hearing in the House.
Tobin could assign the budget package to the Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. John Kavanagh, who would likely try to torpedo the Medicaid expansion. Or he could assign it to the Health Committee chaired by Rep. Heather Carter, a Republican who is supporting the expansion.
But no matter which way it goes, Rep. Bruce Wheeler, a Tucson Democrat who serves as minority whip in the House, told The Skinny last week that he's confident the Medicaid expansion will eventually come up for a vote in the House—and he's of the belief that there are enough votes between the Democrats and crossover Republicans to get the proposal across the finish line.
A SICK RESPONSE
It's clear that opponents of Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion plan are stirring up the fringe elements of the GOP base with warnings that providing low-income Arizonans with health insurance threatens our very way of life.
Last week, House security opened an investigation into a threatening voicemail message received by state Rep. Kate Brophy McGee. The Phoenix Republican said she wants to know who the caller is and what inspired his seemingly inebriated menacing.
"I'm not sure what kind of grassroots work is going on here," Brophy McGee said. "I don't know if this is an intended consequence from someone who heard something and took it as 'Go do something to her.' But it is irresponsible of whoever is organizing this initiative to not craft their message in such a way that people can focus on the issue and not the legislator. It's wrong."
The voicemail came after Rep. Bob Thorpe sent out an email urging people to "especially put the pressure" on six representatives, including Brophy McGee, to oppose Medicaid expansion. The Flagstaff Republican asked people to be polite and steadfast and urged recipients of the email to forward it to "every Arizonian" they knew.
Thorpe sent out an apology for the email after Tobin suggested that the email wasn't the best idea. Thorpe wrote in his email that, upon reflection, he "screwed up" and that he wasn't trying to be unkind.
"I was very disheartened when I watched our 6 Republican Senators repeatedly vote against our caucus while I stood on the Senate floor last Thursday, something that I truly do not want to see repeated in the House," Thorpe wrote.
Brophy McGee brought up the issue to the House as a reminder that everyone needs to keep their rhetoric in check and take caution when firing people up about politics, particularly if those people aren't usually politically engaged, she said.
She said she isn't singling out Thorpe's email as the cause for the vitriolic voicemail, but that his email was a dumb move.
"I'm so tired of the 'Oh gee, I'm sorry,'" she said. "Think it through."
The caller, who sounded male, indicated that he had voted for Brewer a couple of times. The gist was demanding Brophy McGee vote against Brewer's push for the Medicaid expansion or else, Brophy McGee said.
"The things that he called me were horrible," she said.
She said since former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot, she's more aware of the dangers of things getting out of hand.
"Think about that," she said. "What did she ever do to anybody? People are just crazy."
The calls increased after the Senate passed the budget and really ramped up Wednesday, she said.
"We are being singled out," Brophy McGee said. "I understand that there are concerns and disagreements but this is making it very personal and I shouldn't feel afraid to come to work."
Tobin said he doesn't have to work to keep members civil because lawmakers are adults that have been in public service and lived "exemplary lives."
"This is a pressure-filled place," Tobin said. "I don't think that surprises anyone. None of the members here are going out of their way to harm anybody. People are passionate on both sides. I think they're all professionals.
"Occasionally the passions get a little out of hand but we're also human beings and they're acting professionally in my view and I try to stay very close to them."
Although not a lot of actual business happened in the House last week, those passions were palpable.
For example, Rep. Steve Smith insisted on offering two prayers on Wednesday, May 22, because he felt the prayer offered on the previous day by atheist Rep. Juan Mendez was an affront to the Lord.
Mendez had offered a plea that lawmakers recognize that, although many had different ideological beliefs, they all wanted to work to create a better state.
"There is, in the political process, much to bear," Mendez said. "In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our constitution and for our democracy. And let us root our policy-making process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or non-belief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona."
We can certainly see how God might have been offended.
Several House Republicans also railed against the budget plan passed by the Senate—despite the speaker pointing out that members would get a chance to officially debate the budget.
It kicked off with Rep. David Livingston, a Peoria Republican, saying that he needed to sound the alarm because the budget is out of control.
Majority Leader David Gowan of Sierra Vista joined in saying that the budget had been hijacked.
Rep. Lupe Contreras saw an opportunity to aesk the GOP what it feels like to have a taste of their own medicine.
"You guys are now in our shoes," the Avondale Democrat said. "How does it feel? How does it feel to go, to put your vote, to cast your vote everyday but fail? Regardless of how we feel we keep failing. Why? Cause we're the minority. Well welcome to our world. That's what we've been going through everyday."
In the meantime, it appears that Gove. Jan Brewer isn't bluffing about refusing to sign any bills that come her way until the Legislature passes a budget.
Brewer vetoed five bills the Senate sent to her desk last Thursday, May 23.
Two weeks ago, Brewer said she didn't want to see any more bills until the Legislature resolved the budget and the plan for Medicaid.
"It is disappointing that I must demonstrate that the moratorium was not an idle threat," Brewer wrote. "The Arizona Legislature has now been in session 130 days. We have just five weeks until the end of the fiscal year, by which time it is necessary that the State of Arizona have a new budget in place in order to assure there is no suspension of critical services or programs."
To come back from the dead, the five bills vetoed by Brewer would need to start from scratch or be tacked on to a bill that's still relevant.