It’s been a very unusual night as Republicans and Democrats fight over a proposed cigarette tax. That fight could lead to the underfunding of Medicaid and the closing of hospitals and nursing homes across the state.
Republicans in the House of Representatives presented a bill to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by dollar fifty to fund Medicaid, but when they realized they didn’t have the votes needed to pass the measure they suspended everything leaving the bill open for hours.
Republicans didn’t have enough votes by themselves, so they needed Democrats, and democrats won’t back the plan until Republicans agree to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in Obamacare money.
“You will see our caucus stay lock step in our opposition to the cigarette tax until they use a portion of that money to bring nine hundred million dollars home,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader.
House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R) District 58 said, “So if that’s the position they’re taking that without Obamacare coming into the state and full expansion of Medicaid and they’re willing devastate the rest of state government for it then they’re going to have to answer at the ballot box.”
In an unusual move, Governor Mary Fallin worked the floor of the house and talked with the media. She said accepting Obamacare dollars isn’t that easy for political reasons. “You have to deal with political realities. So what I’m saying is let’s get the money on the table from the cigarette tax.”
The governor said democrats have to cave. “We’re waiting for them to come to the table. The legislators are very prepared to stay here as long as they need to.”
But that’s not true. After republican house members made their comments to the press, we followed them as many attended an end of the session party at an Oklahoma City ranch, nowhere near the Capitol.
“But instead of negotiating in good faith as they should do knowing that they need our support they simply put a vote on the board and demand we vote for something without any particular cost or thought to how we could expand healthcare coverage,” said Inman.
The vote could have stayed open until midnight, but with most representatives not returning to the Capitol, leaders gaveled out just after 10 p.m. Wednesday.