Arizona healthcare fight aligns Obama with ex-rival

Arizona

Arizona healthcare fight aligns Obama with ex-rival

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Legislature has begun debate on a state budget and proposed Medicaid expansion that has divided the state's Republican leadership.

A newly formed coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates pushing the Medicaid overhaul introduced new budget bills late Wednesday and refused to answer questions from opponents.

Conservatives proposed more than 50 amendments but don't appear to have the votes to stop Medicaid expansion or the budget deal.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called lawmakers into special session Tuesday evening and ordered them to focus just on those two issues.

Brewer shocked many by announcing she was embracing a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in January after years battling against it.

The Medicaid plan would add about 300,000 people to the state's coverage.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The Arizona Legislature is on track to pull an all-nighter and work into Thursday to finish a state budget and approve Medicaid expansion despite outrage from conservative Republicans who have been cut out of the process by a newly formed coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates.

Frustrated by delays, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called lawmakers into a simultaneous special session late Tuesday, allowing moderates to take over both chambers by voting to suspend normal rules and to limit debate on the budget and Medicaid.

Brewer shocked many by announcing she was embracing a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in January after years battling against it. She has support from the business community, hospitals, health care workers and patients, but tea party groups that once rallied behind her have since labeled her a traitor.

Republicans control the state Legislature and all statewide elected offices, but the Medicaid fight has highlighted internal fractures between those who want smaller government and others who believe with Brewer that expansion is good for the state.

The Senate and House met Tuesday night to introduce a new package of budget bills worked out in a deal with Brewer and the new majority coalition. They plan to debate the bills and more than 50 hostile amendments from conservatives starting Wednesday afternoon.

Although it appears they can't get their amendments onto the bills, conservatives they still vowed to battle.

"Hey, if they want a floor fight, I'm here," Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said Wednesday. "I've got 10 years of Army training I haven't used in a long time."

The Medicaid plan would add about 300,000 people to the state's coverage, called the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. It would cover people making between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level and restore coverage to more than 100,000 childless adults who lost Medicaid coverage because of a state budget crunch. About 1.3 million Arizonans already are covered by the state's plan.

The Legislature also is taking up the $8.8 billion Senate-approved budget but will shift some money around. It will not include a big "economic development" tax-cut plan House Speaker Andy Tobin wanted to add.

"We have a huge economic incentive in this budget - it's called Medicaid," democratic Minority Leader Chad Campbell said. "That's a $2 billion economic incentive program right there."

Brewer called the special session after Tobin announced that lawmakers would wait until Thursday to consider the budget bills and her contentious Medicaid expansion plan. The Senate approved a budget nearly a month ago with the Medicaid expansion, over the ardent opposition of GOP Senate President Andy Biggs and other conservative Republicans.

"We've been waiting five months to complete work on Medicaid and the budget, and it's time to move forward," Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said. "No more game playing, no more stall tactics, no more gimmicks."

Biggs and Tobin both believe the federal government is likely to go back on its promise to fund the Medicaid expansion and worry about Washington's huge debt.

After adjournment Tuesday, Biggs and Tobin released an angry statement rife with insults toward Brewer: "We are frustrated and bewildered by her overt hostility and disregard for the budgetary process which was already well under way."

A calmer Tobin on Wednesday took some of the blame, saying he let his efforts to change Brewer's Medicaid proposal linger too long before dumping them.

"I probably should have reached a conclusion that my option for Medicaid was not really being taken seriously a lot earlier," Tobin said. "My mistake was I probably overestimated that there was a chance to really come to an agreement on the Medicaid that was more acceptable."

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said the moderates had no choice but to act after Tobin delayed action on the budget and Medicaid for weeks and then adjourned the House until Thursday. With the Senate already planning to be off that day, and state agencies needing funding in place before the budget year starts July 1, he said the governor's power was needed to get the Legislature to pass a budget.

"They can't spend money they don't have, so critical services could actually fall prey to deliberate delay," Robson said late Tuesday. "I don't know what else to call it when you shut down right smack in the middle of the most important time. Every day matters with respect to essential services."

House members railed about the special session after the Legislature was summoned back to work Tuesday night.

Republican Rep. Adam Kwasman admonished Brewer on the House floor for refusing to "wait two more days to pass Obamacare."

"Shame on the members of this House and shame on the governor for calling this session," said Kwasman, of Oro Valley. "We will not stand for unnecessary special sessions."

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