Impasse Over 'Private Option' Continues; House Measure Fails Again

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 11:29 am  

GOP opponents have said the compromise is no different than a full embrace of the federal health law and said the state can't afford the eventual cost.

Their frustration rising, House Democrats raised the possibility of not approving any other budget bills if the private option vote continues to fail.

"We're going to get to a point in time about Tuesday that my members are going to start taking a step back and saying ... if the only way we can get it is to leverage it, then that discussion is going to be made in my caucus," said House Minority Whip Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success.

A chief opponent of the private option said he had no concerns about the back-to-back votes, and said he'll continue urging the measure be taken out of the Department of Human Services' Medicaid budget.

"I think it would be productive to start looking at what we can all agree on," House Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said. "I believe probably 95 to 100 percent of the members are in favor of the DHS budget"

In a sign of the mounting frustration over the program, Carter ordered state troopers to find Republican Rep. John Payton of Wilburn, who had agreed to "pair" his vote opposing the private option with a supporter of the program. Pairing allows absent lawmakers' votes to be counted if they're linked to an opposing vote by a present member.

Another opponent of the program later agreed to pair his vote with the "yes" cast by Democratic Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna. Payton did not immediately return a call Friday.

"Would I have rather not had to do that? Yes, but we've got to be here," Carter told reporters. "There are some members who want to play games, but this is going too far."

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