Obamacare Backlash: Arkansas Senator Bravely Defends Law That His Constituents Can't Stand

Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is having trouble justifying his vote for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This is made obvious because in the wake of low public support for the law and one of Obamacare’s authors, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), calling it a “train wreck,”, Senator Pryor recently said that successful legislation in Arkansas justified his pro-Obamacare vote three years ago. However, the Arkansas legislation Pryor claims to support was very transparently intended to avert Obamacare. Now many, including a key proponent of the Arkansas legislation, are calling Pryor out.

Senator Pryor stated, “[The Republican state legislature] enacted the linchpin to the Affordable Care Act, which was the expansion of Medicaid in Arkansas.” He emphasized, “That’s the Republican state legislature did that. Both houses had to pass it by a three-fourths vote. So that really affirms that this Affordable Care Act is not all bad, if you can get Republicans to say yes to it.”

While he was touting the bipartisan “support,” he didn't mention that the Arkansas legislation was not as he describes it. Rather, it is an alternative to Obamacare which received immense bipartisan support in Arkansas. Obamacare proposes to add those in Arkansas who earn no more than 138% of the federal poverty level to the state Medicaid rolls. The Arkansas legislation averted this by approving “using federal Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance for that population.”

The Obama administration unofficially allowed this, though Arkansas must “apply for a waiver granting formal approval.”

Senator Pryor claimed, “It really affirms that the vote I cast ... was the right vote, because they joined me in that. When the chips were down, the Republicans in Arkansas joined me.” However, this is an obvious fallacy when considering Arkansas’s law seeks to avert Obamacare. It is possible he may have misunderstood the intention of the legislation in his own state.

Arkansas State Rep. John Burris, a leading advocate of the private option, replied to Senator Pryor’s statements by saying that Pryor's claim Republican state legislators have “joined” him is “a huge stretch on his part.”

Rep. Burris went on to say that Pryor "voted to add 250,000 Arkansans to a failing government system, and all he did was vote for legislation that put in place a lot of the harmful policies that I believe the private option helped to negate.” He also contrasted Obamacare with the Arkansas legislation by explaining expanding state Medicaid rolls and penalizing small-business employers who do not provide affordable health insurance for their employees is detrimental. The Arkansas option would avoid over $30 million in employer penalties.

Michael Tilley of The City Wire agrees, saying in reference to Pryor’s statements, “That’s disingenuous and the good Senator knows it.” He goes on to say, “He’s left his senses if he thinks anyone with an ounce of understanding of what happened with the Arkansas Legislature equals an endorsement of Obamacare.”

For a senator who claims “No one in Washington tells me what to do. I listen to Arkansas,” Pryor doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of knowing what is going on in his own state legislature.