PHOENIX - Conservative Republicans in the Arizona Legislature are outraged but now powerless to stop a coalition of moderate GOP members and Democrats from enacting a new state budget and Gov. Jan Brewer's proposed expansion of the state's Medicaid health care program.
Frustrated by delays during lawmakers' regular session, Brewer called them into a simultaneous special session late Tuesday. The moderates took over both chambers by voting to suspend normal rules that require committee hearings and will allow them to limit debate on the budget and Medicaid.
The package of budget bills that includes Medicaid will be debated Wednesday and final passage is expected Thursday. Plenty of fireworks are expected first.
House minority leader Chad Campbell tells ABC15 he expects political games and rhetoric, but at the end of the day Medicaid expansion will pass.
"You're talking billions of dollars in healthcare for hundred of thousands of people," the democrat said. "Thus us the biggest issue we have debated and dealt with in decades in this state."
Conservative Republicans call it an expansion of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.
"This is bankrupting and destroying us," said Republican John Kavanaugh who represents Fountain Hills.
Brewer acted after House Speaker Andy Tobin announced that lawmakers would wait until Thursday to consider the budget bills. 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."
After adjournment Tuesday, Biggs and Tobin released an angry statement ripe 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."
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."
At one point, members supporting the governor debated whether to replace Tobin and Biggs with lawmakers who backed Medicaid expansion, but decided against it after Biggs and Tobin indicated they would not block action during the special session. Still, the debate underscored the shifting power dynamics in the Legislature under Brewer's maneuvering.
"This is a building of 60 people, there's a lot of people here who can be speaker of the House," said Tobin, of Paulden. "I have no intention of resigning, but if I ever felt, whether it was tonight or another night, that it was in the best interest of the state, I wouldn't hesitate to leave."
Brewer shocked many by announcing she was embracing a signature part of the President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law 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 Brewer's candidacy have since labeled her a traitor.
The plan would add about 300,000 people to the state's Medicaid plan, 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.