UPDATED: Democrats team with Republicans to block budget over Medicaid expansion


(Updated to reflect comments from House majority and minority leaders. Recasts lead; edits throughout)

An $18 billion budget funding state government stalled Friday afternoon as a bipartisan coalition of House members demanded that the Kansas Senate agree to debate Medicaid expansion.

Wielding what leverage they have left as the legislative session nears an end, House Democrats along with a group of moderate Republicans refused to go along with the budget until getting a vote on Medicaid expansion across the Capitol in the Senate.

The House voted 63-61 to send the budget bill back to committee. The coalition included all the Democrats teaming with a group of moderate Republicans to stop the budget.

Among the Republicans siding with Democrats were Reps. Susan Concannon, Russ Jennings, Don Hineman and Kent Thompson — all committee chairs.

The seriousness of the Friday afternoon vote was signaled by the fact that Senate leadership — including the Senate president, vice president, majority leader and their staffs — trooped into the House speaker’s office following the debate on the House floor.

The House’s decision not to sign off on the budget leaves in doubt when the ongoing legislative session will end.

Republican leadership had been shooting to bring the session to an end by the weekend, but that was left in doubt after the House vote. Office staff has been sent home for the session.

The fiscal 2020 budget included $22.3 million for a 2.5% pay increase for state employees, $160 million for roads, $9 million to restore higher education budget cuts and $35 million to aid a beleaguered corrections agency beset by prisoner overcrowding and understaffing.

As good as the budget might be, however, Democrats believe that Medicaid expansion is imperative for protecting between 130,000 and 150,000 Kansans who need health care.

“It really is a good budget,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer. “But Medicaid expansion is a very important priority. People have waited long enough. It’s time to do it.

“Until the Senate passes it, I’m not going to be able to support the budget,” he said. “It’s the best leverage we’ve got.”

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said the House would continue to forge ahead, even if it meant working through the weekend. “We’re just going to keep working.”

He noted that the only thing appropriated for education right now is the $90 million approved to answer the state Supreme Court’s ruling on education. The budget that was sidelined included the $4 billion for the rest of education.

Hawkins questions how the Supreme Court might respond to only a $90 million appropriation for schools when it hears the case May 9. “They can go to the court and take that $90 million to spend on schools for the next year.”

The House passed a bill expanding Medicaid earlier in the session, but the legislation ran into opposition in the Senate where Republican leadership refused to let the bill out of committee.

Senate President Susan Wagle and Majority Leader Jim Denning have wanted to put off a vote on Medicaid expansion until next year, when they want to consider a better bill.

They’ve been at loggerheads with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who campaigned for Medicaid expansion and wants a vote on the bill this year.

It is believed the votes are there to pass Medicaid expansion in the Senate. But expansion supporters have been short of the number of votes needed to overcome the procedural hurdles to force a floor debate.

Democrats tried to force a vote on Medicaid expansion on Wednesday, but came up one vote short of pulling it out of committee. They still needed 27 votes to get a full debate.

The issue has been marked by heavy political activity against Wagle and Denning.

Protesters re-emerged at the Capitol on  Friday, sprinkling thousands of small fliers from the top floor of the Capitol, criticizing Denning as well as Sen. Gene Suellentrop, chair of the Senate health committee, and Sen. Larry Alley, who changed his vote on Wednesday to vote against expansion.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion also have been going door to door in Wagle’s and Denning’s districts campaigning for Medicaid expansion, as well.