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Both chambers of the Arizona Legislature convened Wednesday afternoon to debate Medicaid expansion and the state budget, after hours of delay over a glut of paperwork from amendments.
The House had been poised to go into session in the morning, under the special session called by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. The session, layered atop the legislative regular proceedings, was called by Brewer after she expressed frustration at a lack of action on her Medicaid proposal and the budget.
Dozens of amendments were proposed in what was openly recognized as an effort by Republicans to bog down and kill the process of adding Medicaid expansion to the state budget.
All-night sessions were anticipated in both chambers. A coalition of all legislative Democrats and enough Republicans to make majorities in both houses remained optimistic that they would pass the budget with Brewer's Medicaid expansion in it.
A majority of Republicans opposes the expansion, taking extraordinary steps Wednesday to lengthen the debate and give a thorough airing to every aspect of the proposal.
The package passed the Senate last month in regular session, with all 13 Democrats and six Republicans voting for it. Because of the special session, a new package of bills was introduced.
The governor's call for a special session Tuesday turned what had been a simmering feud between the her and GOP leaders in the House and Senate into a political explosion, with the governor openly challenging the Legislature to get the work done and opponents calling her action "overt hostility" and disregard of the Legislature's budgetary process.
“The governor has been extraordinarily patient these last five months in working with leadership of the House and Senate,” the Arizona Republic quoted spokesman Matthew Benson as saying. “But it’s time to move forward. This will allow the Legislature to complete the people’s business.”
Brewer acted after Tobin announced Tuesday that lawmakers would wait until Thursday to consider the budget bills, including Medicaid.
Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs issued a joint statement Tuesday evening accusing Brewer of acting with "overt hostility" in disregarding the legislative budgeting process by calling the special session.
"The special session was called without any consultation with Senate or House leadership, and was designed to commence at the precise moment it was conveyed," they said in the statement. "We are disappointed and stunned that the governor and her staff would resort to such an unnecessary, impulsive and unprecedented tactic."
Brewer has said the expansion would bring billions in federal money to Arizona under the Affordable Care Act, providing health care to 300,000 poor Arizonans and be an economic stimulus to the health-care industry and a savior to rural hospitals and clinics.
Opponents have said federal debt is already too high and they fear the federal government will withdraw its financial support, leaving the state stuck with paying for the care or dropping people once again from the health care rolls.