$3.5 billion could go away Friday if Missouri Senate doesn't pass medical funding bill
Missouri Senate leaders are hoping to find a way to pass a critical medical funding bill, despite the chamber being all but shut down.
Senate Bill 210 is a routine piece of legislation that would authorize receipt of more than $3.5 billion in federal funds for hospitals and Medicaid programs, known as the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, or FRA. It's not moving forward because Senate Democrats are blocking anything and everything in retaliation for the Republicans forcing a vote Tuesday on the right-to-work bill.
Joseph Keaveny of St. Louis is the Democratic Floor Leader in the Senate.
"This is about a functioning Senate, and this is the conversation that (Republican Floor Leader Ron) Richard and I are going to have," Keaveny told reporters. "I'm more than willing to give him back a functioning Senate, but we have to come to an understanding how we're going to move forward."
Keaveny says his asking price is a return to "fair and balanced debate" in the Senate. If the medical funding bill isn't passed, Gov. Jay Nixon would have to call a special session for Missouri to get the money.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, accuses Senate Democrats of holding the bill hostage.
"If we are actually called into a special session, which costs about $100,000 per week, to pass a bill that everyone knows fully well is going to pass in the first five minutes if it gets up on this floor, I think that is inexcusable," Schaefer said. "We would be very hard-pressed to explain that to taxpayers."
If Democrats force a special session, Schaefer hinted that he would explore making "serious and long-term changes" in Missouri's Medicaid system, i.e., cuts.
"The bill will have to start over," Schaefer said, "and I (will) look forward to a summer-long discussion and many appropriations hearings of digging down deep into the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, how the Medicaid program works, and maybe making some serious changes that we really haven't had the political will to make."
Keaveny serves on the oversight committee for the state's Medicaid system, which is known as MoHealthNet. He says he's unaware of any inefficiencies.
"I'm not going to defend an inefficient Medicaid system," Keaveny said. "If we need to take a look at the Medicaid system, I think both sides ought to take a good look at it and see how we're going to proceed."
Keaveny also said that if Senate Republicans want to pass SB 210, they can always use the PQ motion and cut off debate again, like they did with the right-to-work bill. But Richard told reporters Thursday that he has no intention of using the so-called nuclear option twice in one week.
The PQ motion, or "moving the previous question," is a rule that cuts off debate, including filibusters, and forces the chamber to vote on whatever bill or motion is being held up. While the previous question is used regularly in the Missouri House, it's rarely used in the Senate and is considered an extreme measure that risks the Senate's tradition of allowing lengthy discussions on issues.
Richard and Keaveny were tentatively planning to meet and discuss a possible truce that would allow the medical funding bill to be brought up for a vote on Friday, which is the final day of the 2015 legislative session.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport