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Lawmakers negotiate Medicaid expansion behind closed doors, hit impasse on state budget

House and Senate Republicans continued to haggle over Medicaid expansion proposals Sunday, and the state budget process hit a snag after leaders couldn’t reach final agreements by a Saturday night deadline on how to spend $7 billion.

House Speaker Jason White on Sunday told his chamber that Medicaid expansion negotiators from the House and Senate had been meeting and he expected a compromise “will be filed by Monday or Tuesday at the latest.”

House Medicaid Chairwoman Missy McGee said the Senate had delivered another counter proposal on expansion Sunday evening but declined to provide details. Her Senate counterpart, Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, declined comment on Sunday. The two leaders met in McGee’s office on Sunday evening following a Saturday afternoon meeting.

READ MORE: House, Senate close in on Medicaid expansion agreement

Lawmakers have for the past couple of months been debating on how to expand Medicaid coverage for poor Mississippians and help the state’s flagging hospitals. The House initially voted to expand coverage to an estimated 200,000 people, and accept more that $1 billion a year in federal dollars to cover the cost, as most other states have done. The Senate initially passed a far more austere plan, that would cover about 40,000 people, and would decline the extra federal money to cover costs.

Since those plans passed, each has offered counter proposals, but no deal has been reached.

A group of about 50 clergy, physicians and other citizens who support full expansion showed up at the Capitol on Sunday to sit in the Senate gallery and deliver letters to key leaders who are negotiating a final plan.

“When we stand before the Lord, he’s not going to ask how much money did you save the state. He’s going to ask you what you did for the least of these,” Monsignor Elvin Sounds, a retired Catholic priest, said outside the Senate gallery on Sunday.

READ MORE: A solution to the Republican impasse on Medicaid expansion

Lawmakers hit an impasse on setting a $7 billion state budget and missed Saturday night’s deadline for filing appropriations bills. This will force the legislature into extra innings, and require lawmakers to vote to push back deadlines. Lawmakers had expected to end this year’s session and leave Jackson by early this week. But House Speaker Jason White told his chamber on Sunday they should expect to continue working through Friday, “and possibly through Saturday or Sunday.

White later said of the budget impasse, “When you get to haggling over spending $7 billion, folks are going to have disagreements.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said “things are fluid. But everybody is working.”

He looked at his watch and said “It is 5 o’clock. By 6 o’clock what I tell you will have changed.”

White said one reason for the session having to run extra innings is that when he became speaker he vowed to House members that he would not continue the practice of passing much of the state budget last-minute, late at night or in the wee hours of the morning with little or no time for lawmakers to read or vet what they are passing.

He said the House was prepared early Saturday night to file budget bills with agreed-upon numbers, but not to file “dummy bills” with zeros or blanks and continue haggling a budget late into the night.

“I made a promise that we are not going to keep them up here until midnight, then plow through all these budget bills,” White said. “We had had a gentleman’s agreement (between the House and Senate) earlier in the session to negotiate a budget by April 15. That didn’t happen … We are not going to do everything last minute with no time for our members to read things and ask questions. We are not going to do it in the middle of the night.”

READ MORE: Senate negotiators a no-show for second meeting with House on Medicaid expansion

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