LITTLE ROCK — The state Legislature’s fiscal session hit a snag on its second day last week, and the leading strategy that has emerged for resolving that snag is somewhat counter-intuitive.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Legislature’s fiscal session hit a snag on its second day last week, and the leading strategy that has emerged for resolving that snag is somewhat counter-intuitive.


In a nutshell, supporters of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to continue and modify Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program are being asked to vote against funding the plan to save it.


Hutchinson is asking the Legislature to approve funding for his plan to replace the program known as the private option with a similar program called Arkansas Works, which has new features like a referral to work training for unemployed recipients. Created in 2013 as an alternative to the expansion of Medicaid rolls proposed under the federal Affordable Care Act, the program provides government-subsidized private health insurance to low-income Arkansans.


The Legislature approved Arkansas Works during a special session earlier this month, but the program still needs to be funded. A bill to appropriate funding for the overall Medicaid program, including Arkansas Works, needs at least 27 votes in the 35-member Senate to pass under Arkansas’ three-fourths majority threshold for budget bills, but 10 Republican senators who oppose Medicaid expansion stand in its way.


After the appropriation bill failed in a 25-10 vote in the Senate on Thursday, the House voted down the General Appropriation Act, an appropriation bill for legislative and judicial-branch expenses that the state constitution requires the Legislature to pass before it passes any other bills in a session.


House supporters of Arkansas Works say they have the votes to pass the appropriation there. House Democrats say they blocked the General Appropriation Act because they are waiting on the Medicaid bill to get out of the Senate — effectively blocking the session from moving forward until the standoff is resolved.


A possible path forward was offered Thursday in the form of an amendment by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, that would strip the funding for Arkansas Works from the Medicaid bill. Hendren said he expected the governor to veto the amendment if the bill reached his desk, which he said would restore the funding and keep Arkansas Works alive.


A motion to adopt the amendment failed Thursday in the Joint Budget Committee, but Hutchinson said Friday he supported the strategy and believed that another attempt at it in the session’s second week could succeed. The strategy would allow the funding to be approved without the opposing senators having to vote against their consciences, he said.


"This path is logical, it is something that can be done very quickly with the cooperation of both parties, and without violating conscience," he said.


Hutchinson also said the strategy has been vetted with lawyers and said he is confident it would withstand a legal challenge. The state is more likely to be sued if it does not continue Medicaid expansion and terminates health coverage for hundreds of thousands of people, he said.


Most Democrats on the Joint Budget Committee voted against Hendren’s amendment Thursday. They questioned how they would explain a vote against funding Arkansas Works to their constituents, and why a majority of legislators should bend over backward to accommodate 10 senators.


"They’re are asking us to do them a favor by doing it this way, but they don’t have to be responsible for what they’re doing," Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, said last week.


Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said, "I am out of patience with making it possible for folks to be ideologues."


Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said other governors have been able to get appropriations passed without resorting to procedural maneuvers.


"I would hate to think that instead of continuing to press those that are opposed, we just took the easiest way out," he said.


The 10 senators opposing Arkansas Works are Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers; Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale; Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas; Scott Flippo, R-Bull Shoals; Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs; Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View; Blake Johnson, R-Corning; Bryan King, R-Green Forest; Terry Rice, R-Waldron; and Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch.


Clark said last week he doesn’t like the veto strategy any more than the Democrats who voted against it. He said he is concerned about the precedent that would be set by ceding legislative power to the executive branch.


"It doesn’t matter if Hutchinson is governor or (Democrat Mike) Beebe is governor. It’s a bad idea," he said.


Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who supports Arkansas Works, defended the strategy.


"Legislative procedures are used ever single day in the Arkansas Statehouse to either further legislation or stop legislation. That’s just how the process works," he said.


Hutchinson said he urged Democrats to think about the larger picture.


"We need to keep our eye on the 250,000 Arkansans that are watching very carefully what happens here as to whether they’re going to have health care or not," he said.