Under pressure from Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ), who is refusing to sign any laws until her party expands Medicaid under Obamacare, Arizona’s Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin surrendered his fight to block the governor’s expansion proposal on Tuesday. Tobin was pushing for a more conservative plan that would have put a time limit on how long poor Arizonans could qualify for the expanded Medicaid pool.
Now, the governor’s preferred proposal — which passed the state Senate in May — will proceed through the committee process in the House, with a full vote possible as early as next week.
Time is an important factor for passing the expansion. Arizona’s state constitution requires a budget to be finalized by July 1st — an outcome that was in question as tensions flared over the Medicaid issue. Tobin said that he relented after realizing how much daylight there was between his alternative proposals and Brewer’s far more expansive plan.
“The counteroffers that we heard from [Brewer’s] staff were so far away from where I was at, that it just became apparent that because you have to have Medicaid with the budget that the time was running out. I didn’t think there was enough room to negotiate a closer deal,” said Tobin in an interview with the Associated Press.
Brewer is far from the only Republican official to endorse expansion. But the combative governor’s tenacious — and often aggressive — pursuit of expanding Medicaid has taken many political observers by surprise.
While promoting Medicaid expansion in March, Brewer warned that the “human cost” of failing to expand the program “can’t be calculated.” At another rally, she sounded defiant in the face of Republican political blowback. “This is a fight worth fighting for. Are we going to win? Darn right, we are going to win,” she told a cheering crowd.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that expanding Medicaid would cut Arizona’s uninsurance by almost a third. That means that about 50,000 poor Arizonans would have access to basic and specialty health care, including diagnostic and clinical services, as well as care for the disabled and the mentally ill.
Brewer has followed up on her tough rhetoric with action. She recently vetoed five bills in quick succession to show her displeasure with the legislature’s inaction, following through on a threat she made to shut down lawmaking until Medicaid and the budget issue was resolved.
The arm-twisting appears to have worked, despite sharp criticism from conservatives in her own party. The chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee called Brewer a “rogue governor” in a letter warning Republican state senators not to buck the traditional party line on Medicaid. Tea Party activists have dismissed her actions as “tyranny.”
Although expansion is not quite a done deal yet, Republicans opposed to the measure admit that it’s likely to pass. “I don’t know if we have the numbers to stop it. But we are going to continue to fight,” said state Rep. Bob Thorpe (R).