Once the bill arrived in the Senate, Steele and Fallin were both surprised when Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the Senate would not hear it. Bingman indicated that in doing so, Oklahoma might become tied to Obamacare.
Fallin appeared unruffled when she declared the next day that it would become part of future negotiations. Conservative grassroots activists became suspicious that Sen. Bingman might not be serious, and as such, similar wording might appear in another piece of legislation.
I had conversations with several senators who indicated the educational information provided by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs think tank had convinced them that in taking the federal grant, Oklahoma would indeed become wed to Obamacare.
Therefore, Senate leadership became more strident in its opposition, and they began to look for an alternative that would stave off a threat from the feds. Some senators indicated Oklahoma would be forced to accept a federal exchange designed by the feds in 2013 if we don’t have a plan in process by then.
About this same time, opposition to HB 2130 came from another direction. In my 30 years of observing Oklahoma government, I have never seen a fresh man class of lawmakers band together to take a stand, especially in opposition to the speaker. However, on April 13, 12 Republican freshmen issued a joint press release expressing their opposition to taking the $54 million from the feds. Their reasoning was hard-core conservative.
Therefore, with the Senate firmly against HB 2130 and several freshmen disgruntled in having been pressured to vote for something they didn’t fully understand when it was first voted on, Speaker Steele and Gov. Fallin were caught in the middle. It became apparent it was time to change their minds and save face by getting on board with the Senate’s alternative.
Therefore, the next day there was a joint press conference with Bingman, Fallin and Steele, announcing that they would reject the $54 million and thus Oklahoma would create the Health Insurance Private Enterprise Network with state and private funds.
While state leaders have agreed in principle to the alternative, the legislation must still work its way through the process. No doubt lawmakers are trying to buy time, hoping things change in Washington and Obamacare is rolled back. Grassroots conservatives are still concerned the Oklahoma Network is too similar to Obamacare’s ideals, so there will be some effort to see the alternative killed.
Readers will have to decide if educational information caused leaders to change opinions, or did they feel the heat and see the light? Frankly, Oklahomans shouldn’t give a hoot. Fallin and legislative leaders should be praised for not taking the $54 million from the bankrupt federal government, which doesn’t have money to give in the first place.
Meadows is chairman of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee.