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Updated Jun 4, 2013 - 5:27 pm

Speaker Tobin moving budget, no deal on Medicaid

PHOENIX — Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin on Tuesday took up the $8.8
billion state budget passed by the Arizona Senate that includes Medicaid
expansion and assigned it to a committee for hearings, with a final vote by the
full House possible by next week.

Tobin’s actions come as he acknowledged that his effort to shape Gov. Jan
Brewer’s Medicaid expansion proposal to his own liking have failed. He opposed
the governor’s plan and said he still does, but wouldn’t specifically say if he
would vote against it.

“I’ve never supported the governor’s Medicaid expansion,” Tobin said.

Minority Democrats in the House and a handful of moderate Republicans who
support Brewer’s plan to embrace a signature part of President Barack Obama’s
health care overhaul law said they believe there are enough votes to pass the
budget with Medicaid.

Tobin’s decision to call off talks with Brewer on Medicaid comes three weeks
after a similar coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate
passed the budget largely crafted by Senate President Andy Biggs over his
objections. Biggs vehemently opposed Brewer’s plan to expand Medicaid to an
additional 300,000 poor Arizonans, but supporters were able to tack it onto a
budget bill and get it passed.

Tobin assigned the package of 10 Senate budget bills to the Appropriations
Committee and expects the House to finish work on the entire package soon,
possibly by Monday. He had said in an interview last week that he wanted a clear
agreement with the governor before he moved the budget and Medicaid but conceded
Tuesday that was not possible.

“The counteroffers that we heard from her 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.”

Minority Democrats expressed confidence that Medicaid expansion will pass.

“The votes are there,” minority whip Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said. “So yes,
we anticipate it to pass. It ain’t done till it’s done, it ain’t over till it’s
over, but we’re very confident it’s going to pass.”

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, a moderate who is believed to support Medicaid but
hasn’t publically said so, said he believes a path to passage is there.

“I believe there’s an opportunity to get it out of the House,” Robson said.

With 24 Democrats in the House all on board, just seven of 36 Republicans need
to support the Medicaid bill for it to pass.

But a floor fight is expected, with maneuvering on the budget package hard to
assess in advance.

Tobin in recent weeks failed in an effort to persuade fellow lawmakers to send
Medicaid expansion to the voters for approval. He was negotiating to get
provisions in the expansion plan that would ease his fears about costs being
passed on to businesses and limit the power of the director of the state
Medicaid plan to both set hospital reimbursement rates and control a hospital
assessment that will pay the state’s expansion costs.

Tobin also believes the Senate’s budget contains too much spending and that it
doesn’t repay any of the state debt built up during the recession. He said
Tuesday there will be significant changes to the Senate-passed budget but
declined to outline them.

Medicaid still faces a significant challenge from conservative Republicans, who
are philosophically opposed to the expansion and the health care law.

“We are going to try to stop it,” said Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff.
“Whether we have the numbers is the other question. I don’t know if we have the
numbers to stop it. But we are going to continue to fight.”

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