For much of the past month, it appeared quite possible (many said “likely”) that the Legislature would fail to adopt a FY ’10 budget in time to greet the new year. Medicaid was the hangup, and seemingly intractable problems pushed all potential solutions just beyond reach.
“We’re close” was the uniform refrain recited by weary negotiators in response to increasingly skeptical inquiries. As each June day passed by, there was little evident movement and less hope. Finally, the Governor, the Senate and the House (not to mention the Mississippi Hospital Association) all gave their joint blessing to a compromise agreement, and Medicaid was reauthorized and reappropriated less than three hours from the program’s scheduled demise.
What, then, to make of the special session? Success or failure? Triumph attained, or disaster averted? It depends, I think, on whether you’re a “glass half empty” or a “glass half full” kinda guy.
HALF EMPTY – Special Session? You gotta be %#@*&+#% kidding me! The Legislature had 90 days in the Regular Session and failed to produce a budget. Then lawmakers twice extended the Regular Session, adding 60 more days, and still got nothing accomplished. The not-so-special session cost taxpayers $141,000 to do something that could, and should, have been accomplished months earlier.
HALF FULL – Forcing an ultimate special session by refusing to extend the Regular Session for a third time was a smart tactic for which House Republicans deserve credit. Strengthened by this defining move, Governor Barbour cleverly declined to call the Legislature back into session at all until an overall budget deal was pretty much in hand. The resulting three-day special session was tightly focused, and lawmakers proved remarkably productive when compelled to work under the gun. The $141,000 actually is a bargain when compared to the still greater cost to taxpayers had the Regular Session otherwise inevitably continued to drag along in aimless spurts throughout June.
HALF EMPTY – Partisan rancor continues to infect the Legislature, especially the House, where implicit and explicit accusations of racism, inhumanity and cruelty routinely have come to characterize any debate touching on Medicaid. A House committee very nearly sabotaged the delicate four-fold Medicaid compromise by offering deal-killer amendments which had no hope of becoming law. One objecting House member single-handedly caused the entire Legislature to waste a precious two and a half hours Tuesday evening by requiring the entire 70-plus pages of the compromise bill to be read aloud prior to a final vote. Had any Senator subsequently been inclined to act so irresponsibly, the wheels would have come off the Medicaid compromise altogether.
HALF FULL – Cooler heads prevailed, and cooperation trumped partisanship in the end. Oft-maligned Medicaid chairman Dirk Dedeaux ably handled the legislation in an even-handed manner on the floor, and Speaker McCoy and Speaker Pro Tempore Compretta adroitly managed the debate so as to diffuse the simmering mini-revolt within the erstwhile House “leadership” team. Ultimately, most rural white Democrats, virtually every Republican, and a few key Black Caucus members all joined together behind Speaker McCoy to muster the four-vote margin necessary for final passage of the Medicaid compromise. Although it is much too early to herald the birth of a new bipartisan governing coalition, the potential for the future clearly is there for anyone to see.
Rep. Greg Snowden’s Clarion Ledger Blog