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He tells Richard about his conversation with Allison. Richard tells Rep. Bryan Pratt, a boyish-looking Republican from Blue Springs given to gripping colleagues on the shoulder as he saunters the halls and aisles. But Pratt's breezy demeanor turns stoic on health care.
Pratt voted for the Blunt Medicaid cuts in 2005; this session, he has derided Democrats for trying to max out the state's credit card by "expanding welfare." What Richard tells Pratt turns the glad-handing class president into the schoolyard bully.
Allison's alleged promises are about to derail the budget debate.
Furious, Pratt charges into the hallway looking for the governor's aide. The two square off in the back gallery. Molendorp is getting a drink in the back gallery when he hears Pratt shout, "Oh, how I wish the FBI was wandering the halls today!"
As Pratt continues his outburst, the Democratic side of the floor erupts in a sea of raised fists clutching white papers, frantically trying to get the speaker's attention. LeVota barrels down the center aisle toward Richard.
Richard bangs the gavel. "I figured this was going to get a little bit testy," he says with an almost patronizing tone. "Keep it clean, or I'll clear the building and we'll vote on this thing tomorrow."
"Is he going to apologize to our governor?" LeVota yells, midway up the aisle.
Richard doesn't call for an apology, but he does ask Pratt to stick to the bill.
"OK, let's talk about this bill," Pratt says. "Is today the right time or wrong time to expand welfare in the state of Missouri? Our world is in the middle of a worldwide recession. Our country is in the middle of a recession. And in Missouri, we're facing a recession ..."
"Thank George Bush!" a Democrat yells.
"That's the question we're faced with right now," Pratt continues. "And I can hear the howls from the other side of the chamber."
A chorus of Democrats loudly draws out a unison response: "Hooowwwllll!"
The debate continues for the better part of an hour. Meanwhile, the governor's office works up a press release responding to Pratt's finger-pointing. "This baseless accusation is a weak attempt to distract from the issue of providing health care to 35,000 Missourians at no extra cost to taxpayers," the statement reads.
Just before 5 p.m., the floor leader calls for a vote. Four Republicans side with the Democrats, but it isn't enough. The bill is defeated, less than 48 hours before the budget deadline.
As the sun inches toward dusk, 72 Democrats gather outside on the Capitol steps. LeVota, with an army of grim-faced colleagues towering behind him, excoriates the Republicans for voting down free health care in favor of ideological pride.
Two members of LeVota's caucus are missing. Kelly and Curls are already back at the bargaining table for a late-night session to save the budget.
At 8 p.m., the 10 members are again seated around the table in the Legislative Library. Lobbyists and other legislators hover over them in a tight circle, further eclipsing the room's already dim light. If this group can't come up with a way to get the Republicans to swallow HB 11, the General Assembly may be forced into an expensive extra session.
Kelly stabs at the remnants of beef and broccoli on a Styrofoam plate. They've already been at it for more than an hour.