KNWA, in this first of a two part interview, sat down with the governor -- who's going into his last year and a half in office -- to recap the session, including: the "private option" plan, the infamous vetoes, the lieutenant governor, and more.
The "part one" transcript with Governor Beebe is below. To view/read part two, click HERE.
J.R. Davis: For those who aren't familiar with the private option taht passed this session, explain what went on there.
Governor Mike Beebe: Well, you know, the whole Obama care issue, which was so heavily opposed, I think, by most Arkansans, uh, was fought in the courts. There's two ways to overturn it. One is, uh, congressionally or legislatively, and obviously that wasn't done. The other is all the lawsuits through the courts.
Ultimately, the Supreme court upheld it, but there was one portion of it that they said, uh, was optional, and that's whether or not states would accept that portion that expanded Medicaid coverage. Now, that's not for folks that traditionally are on Medicaid. This is for working people who work for folks that don't carry insurance but make, like for a family of four, $31,000 - $32,000 a year or less. It was 138% of the federal poverty level. And so states were given that option as to whether to expand. The federal government pays a 100 percent of it for three years, and, ultimately, it changes to where it maxes out [at] the 90:10 ratio. The federal government pays 90 percent.
Part of it [Obama care] was paid for by reducing Medicare, not Medicaid, but reducing Medicare payments to hospitals. So, Arkansas hospitals were taking a hit. Whether we accepted it or not -- (pause). The only way to offset that hit to Arkansas hospitals was to expand Medicaid. So, what the Supreme Court said -- allowed -- didn't encompass anything else that had to do with the payment for all of this, so our hospitals were going to get hit. So, one of the reasons for expanding it was to make sure that the hospitals didn't get destroyed, particularly some smaller and rural hospitals -- but really all hospitals. I think it was a $28 million hit to you UAMS alone, if we had not accepted it. In addition to that, all of us who do pay insurance are paying what I call a "hidden tax" for uncompensated care for folks who show up to the emergency room and don't pay anything -- don't have insurance -- don't pay anything. The hospitals end up shifting costs because they can't run at a negative or a deficit without -- very long -- without closing their doors. So, that hidden tax on the rest of us that carry insurance ends up getting passed on in higher costs to us to offset that uncompensated care.
This Medicaid expansion, or "private option", would do a lot towards alleviating the burden on the rest of us, and, so, there are a lot of reasons for it. But the biggest one, I think, that ultimately hits folks is -- one part of the whole federal healthcare thing that everybody detested the most was the penalties it was going to put on businesses. So, this alleviated that penalty on those businesses for those individuals that would be eligible. [An] estimate by an independent group was that it was, uh, a $38 million savings to Arkansas businesses, particularly small businesses. So, anybody who effectively voted against this -- I mean it could be argued they were voting for a $38 million dollar tax increase on Arkansans. I think that's what swayed many of the people, ultimately, to vote for it.
And in Arkansas, because of the way the constitution is -- (pause) A quirk in our old constitution requires a three-fourths vote on appropriation bills -- other than education -- so, it took three-fourths of the Senate and three-fourths of the House. That's 75 out of a 100 in the House; 27 out of the 35 in the Senate to be able to vote for this. That's a hard bar. That's a very high bar to be able to overcome, and, so, even on something that's noncontroversial, sometimes it's hard to get 75 percent. With something as controversial as this, it was very, very difficult. So, it took a bipartisan effort of Republicans and Democrats. Everybody deserves a lot of credit on that. The Speaker of the House [and the] president of the Senate both deserve credit -- [Davy] Carter and [Michael] Lamoreaux. [John] Burris really kind of led the way in the House with being informed and coming up with this compromise -- this private option approach -- for folks to be able to take the Medicaid money, but instead of just expanding traditional Medicaid, purchase insurance through the exchange with it -- regular insurance. And then, in the Senate, the two leaders on that were David Sanders and Jonathan Dismang.
But all 49 Democrats, uh, deserve a lot of credit, too. They kind of kept their powder dry when it could have been politically, uh, flammable, uh, if they got into a fight about it. So, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, particularly business Republicans, working together helped fashion what we were able to do.
And I -- (pause) You know, Kathleen Sebelius, the federal secretary of Health and Human Services, granted us this flexibility to be able to go forward in a little different mode. Now Tennessee's trying to adopt, uh, our approach to it, and several other states are looking at our approach, like Louisiana and Texas. So, it is pretty unique, and it will provide health care coverage for about 250,000 Arkansans and save about $38 million in penalties or taxes that our businesses would have been stuck with. And, it saves a bunch of hospitals.
JRD: You've been doing this for a while now. What was -- what was different and unique about his session, in that it wasn't Democrats versus Republicans on this big issue. It really was Republican versus Republican.
GMB: What was different is that the rolls were reversed. In the past years, it was Democrats versus Democrats on some of the controversial issues (chuckling) -- different wings, if you will, of the Democratic Party. On this issue, the same thing in reverse occurred with the Republicans. It was Republicans versus Republicans, because it took a three-fourths vote. [There were] a lot of strong feelings about it. A lot of people who voted against it, and I don't want to call any names -- but some of them were more public in terms of their names being quoted, said they knew it was the right thing to do. They knew that it was in good policy to do this because of the tax savings on business and because of what it does for hospitals and people, but they couldn't vote for it because their people didn't understand it, or their people were against it, or they ran against Obama care as part of their platform, and they just -- even though they knew they should do it -- they couldn't do it. We even had them say that in front of the television cameras.
Uh, so, I mean there was a lot of that going on as well. And then there were some people that were just against it for just -- they just hated Obama care so bad that they couldn't bring themselves to understand that this was different, and this was actually trying to make something better out of something that they thought was bad, and they just -- philosophically -- couldn't get there. But it was interesting to watch.
JRD: From what I understand, basically, some say that they were hesitant to vote for something like this because, again, you're depending on the federal government for something that four or five years -- six years down the line --
JRD: -- may not [be there] anymore.
GMB: Right, and that's one of the reasons why there were a lot of triggers put in there. You know, Steve Womack is a good friend of mine. We've been friends a long time, before he went Congress. We've been friends since his army days as a colonel with the National Guard, and he and I talked on the phone, and that was some of his concerns.
Some of the concern -- he said, "Don't trust us. Don't trust the federal government." I said, "We don't. We don't." And, so, we built in triggers, triggers that if the feds don't do what they say they're going to do, that this stops. It doesn't take another vote. Triggers that if the federal government doesn't maintain their share, or their part, of the deal, that Arkansans, uh, are not stuck with it -- that it automatically stops. So, uh, he referred to that as "exit ramps", which I've taken to use his term. He said, "If you're satisfied -- if y'all are satisfied that you've got sufficient exit ramps to get off if we don't" -- meaning "we", the federal government -- "don't do what we say we're going to do", he said, "that's fine." And so, his approach was "don't trust us". I agreed with him, and we had a lot of Republicans and Democrats who expressed that same concern. We actually got some of these ideas initially from Arizona. Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, who was such a -- I mean, you remember -- she was pounding her finger in Obama's chest on the news --
JRD: Yea, the famous picture.
GMB: The famous picture, yea. She was one of the first people to approach the whole idea of an automatic cutoff if the feds changed anything, in terms of what they agreed that they were going to do.
You know, it's one of those deals where you've got to look out for Arkansans first. We've got to take care of Arkansas. We can't depend on the federal government to take care of us. We're going to take care of ourselves, and if they breach any part of the agreement, we're through.
JRD: What happens politically, and -- say 10 years down the line you have 250,000 Arkansans, or what have you at that time -- if a trigger were to be in place to just stop that, what does that do politically? Is that doable? Does it put you in a weird place financially [and] politically, as well?
GMB: I think it puts the federal government in a weird situation politically. I think members of the Arkansas General Assembly can say "don't blame us." "It was the folks folks in Washington that messed this up." Uh, so, uh, you know there's always some risk involved in that, but that's one of the reasons the triggers were put in there in a fashion that you don't -- that the legislature does not have to vote to undo anything. It would be a fete de compli, if you will, based upon what happens in Washington.
JRD: So you're saying it's out of their hands?
GMB: It's out of their hands.
JRD: Obviously there was more to this session Than just that.
JRD: You kind of had the crescendo at the end, but --
JRD: Um, let's talk about the vetoes.
JRD: I know that's something you haven't had to do a whole lot of --
GMB: No. Usually we could convince them beforehand if they've got something that's, uh, suspect in whatever fashion. But they had a couple of abortion bills that really are constitutionally suspect.
JRD: The 12 and 20 weeks?
GMB: Yeah, uh, and you know most Arkansans are, uh, pro life. Well, I say that. It may be relatively equally divided on whether or not you ought to restrict it completely, or whether you ought to, uh, let a woman and the doctor make that decision. But for whatever reason, it's federal law on what restrictions can be put on there. It's federal Supreme Court law. And so we've got some pretty serious -- had some pretty serious restrictions already as far as what the courts would allow you to do in Arkansas. These bills went beyond that. I don't know if they're trying to test the limit. I don't know what they're trying to do, but I have an obligation -- and everybody says they're for the constitution, except (laughing). They're for the constitution, unless the constitution is doing something they don't like, and then -- they're for the constitution except for that.
I don't have that luxury. My job is, uh, you know, when you -- when you swear on that Bible you're going to uphold the constitution, it ought to mean something. And, so, both of these bills that I vetoed, uh -- one was clearly in violation of existing constitutional law, and the other one is, uh, sufficiently in violation, that I felt the need to veto and did. They overrode them. In Arkansas, the old, uh, the old constitution goes back to a throwback on post Civil War Reconstruction. A lot of southern states wanted to decentralize power, so a veto override in a lot of those states, constitutionally, are only a majority. And, so, they overrode them with a -- I think with a 51-49 vote, and, uh, we'll see. I just hope it doesn't cost us a lot of money in attorney's fees and court battles.
JRD: Another one, I believe, was the voter ID bill, and that's something --
GMB: Yea, I said -- they were looking for a problem -- or they had a solution, looking for a problem that didn't exist. We already require IDs, and if there's something that's suspect, they segregate ballot. This is just going to cost more money and put another layer on people voting. There's a question of constitutionality there to, as to whether we've added a qualification. That's a closer question constitutionally, but beyond that, you know, it was just a -- it's adding another layer of bureaucracy and another problem for folks to vote. I didn't see the need.
JRD: There was a situation with the lieutenant governor when you left the state.
GMB: Yeah (chuckling).
JRD: He came in to sign a bill that was already going to go into law. Explain to me -- I haven't had the chance to talk to you since then, but it seemed every week there was something else to this legislative session. This happened to be one of the many highlights. Tell me what exactly happened.
GMB: Under Arkansas law -- and again, it goes back to the old constitution before we had communication devices and the ability to be able govern from afar. When the governor leaves the confines of the state, the lieutenant governor assumes those duties. So, if I fly across the Mississippi River for anything, the lieutenant governor becomes, "officially", the governor. Now, normally [for] lieutenant governor, it's ceremonial. They bring their family into the office. They take pictures. They may go make a speech. And...we've seen lieutenant governor intentionally go away so that the president of the Senate, who's next in line, can have a ceremonial day as governor -- and then the speaker of the House. Usually it's just ceremonial. No lieutenant governor tries to do anything weird.
We had a bill that I was going to let become law on guns, and it was sitting there. It becomes law in five days -- one way or another -- unless I veto it, and I had no intention of vetoing it, and he [Lt. Gov. Mark Darr] took advantage of the opportunity to sign the bill. You know, I thought it was kind of -- I thought it was inappropriate. The last time we saw a lieutenant governor do something like that, we changed the laws -- when Jerry Jewell actually pardoned somebody when the governor was out of the state, and that created a huge furor and uproar. He signed it. It would have become law anyway. It was just kind of superfluous. It brought some publicity to him. Some good -- I guess -- for him and a lot bad.
Beebe also gave advice to all the candidates looking to fill his seat, sharing with them his mantra of "under promise and over deliver". calling it He talked about his involvement