PHOENIX - The Arizona Senate is poised to pass an $8.8 billion state budget Thursday that includes the Medicaid expansion sought by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer as she embraces a signature part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law over the opposition of most GOP legislators.
The Arizona House passed the proposals early Thursday after working through the night, putting Brewer one vote away from a huge political victory that will expand health care to 300,000 more low-income Arizonans. Conservatives proposed more than 50 amendments and debated for more than 12 hours in an attempt to block the inevitable, but they didn't have the votes to stop the Medicaid expansion or the budget deal.
If all goes as planned, the Legislature is expected to adjourn the 2013 legislative session by late Thursday.
A newly formed coalition of Democrats and GOP moderates forced the budget and Medicaid expansion proposal to move through the Arizona Senate and House as conservative Republicans railed against the Medicaid plan and accused members of their party who supported Brewer of being turncoats. The expansion is optional under last year's Supreme Court decision upholding the law, and many Republican governors rejected it.
Brewer was one of the most vocal governors opposing the Affordable Care Act but acknowledged in January that it was the law of the land and would help Arizonans get care, lower the amount of uncompensated care hospitals must absorb and help cut what she called a hidden health care tax people who buy insurance pay in higher premiums to cover others' uncompensated care.
Her proposal was met with derision from conservatives and Republican leaders in the Legislature who argued that it was a massive expansion of government, would drive the federal government deeper into debt and that the government promises of paying for the expansion would turn out to be false.
Opponents led by the Senate president and House speaker blocked actions for months, with the Senate finally adopting it in May. Speaker Andy Tobin continued to stall as he tried to get Brewer to compromise, and she finally had enough Tuesday and called the Legislature into special session. Both chambers started afresh Tuesday evening.