LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The incoming president of the Arkansas Senate says he believes lawmakers can find common ground on proposals to expand the state's Medicaid program and cut taxes, despite partisan divisions in the Legislature.
Sen. Michael Lamoureux, the Russellville Republican who will lead the chamber in the 89th General Assembly, said he believes there will still be room for compromise on two of the most contentious fights looming in the Legislature.
Lamoureux, 36, will be the first Republican to lead the chamber in 138 years, after an election where Republicans won a majority in both chambers. He said questions about Medicaid's funding shortfall and the proposal to expand its eligibility under the federal health care law will be the biggest issue facing the Senate in 2013. Lamoureux said it's possible for a deal on Medicaid expansion, even though many Republicans were elected to the Senate on a vow to fight the federal health care law at the state level.
"There are conservative reforms that one side wants that the other side maybe wouldn't support independently, and I think the opposite is true of the other group that would not support expansion independently," Lamoureux said in an interview at the state Capitol recently. "It may be a Pollyanna dream that you could sort of merge those two together and come up with something that both sides can live with, but that's been my goal the whole time in hoping that we can achieve that."
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe supports expanding Medicaid, but has noted that it'll require the support of three-fourths of the House and Senate. The GOP has a 21-14 edge in the House and holds 51 of the 100 House seats. Beebe has said a Medicaid expansion could help the state avoid cuts in nursing home care that his administration has proposed to help fill a $138 million shortfall in the program.
Lamoureux said he doesn't believe a partial expansion that would add fewer people to the state's rolls than envisioned under the health law is off the table, despite federal officials telling states that they must commit fully to the expansion to receive full federal funding for the first three years.
"We've been told three or four times that there's some looming deadline and if we didn't do this, the sky was going to fall, but we didn't panic and we didn't buckle to that false cry of 'Wolf' and it turned out to be the prudent thing to do," he said.
On tax cuts, Lamoureux said he thinks it's possible to find an agreement on competing proposals from Beebe and Republicans in the House and Senate. Lamoureux said he believes they can find a compromise similar to one made in 2011, when lawmakers approved $35 million in tax cuts.