Page 7 of 8
"So we have a compromise on the table," Nodler says.
The Democrats are leery. The compromise says the Medicaid funding has to be part of the Senate bill, the private insurance proposal. If the two chambers can't agree on some version of the Senate's plan, not one extra person will be added to the insurance rolls. A simple Medicaid expansion is no longer on the table.
"Would I be impolite if I were to describe this as a pig in a poke?" Kelly asks. "Or would I be impolite and accurate?"
"I feel very uneasy signing a report on a bill we haven't even made a decision on," Curls adds.
After the two sides sequester themselves down opposite, abandoned hallways for discussion, the Democrats come back still unconvinced.
"Some people are concerned that it might wander down a dark alley and never be seen again," Kelly says of the compromise bill. "Can you give me any assurance on its continuing progress?"
Icet deflects responsibility, saying it would fall to the House majority floor leader.
"Do you foresee the funds providing some coverage up to 50 percent?" Curls asks of raising the income cutoff for Medicaid. "That allows me to know if we're proceeding in good faith or if we're wasting our time here."
Icet says he'd be "reluctant to commit" to that.
The Democrats are virtually powerless. With only four of the 10 members, they don't have the numbers to swing a vote in their favor. All they can do is agree to the compromise and hope that the Republicans will play fair.
Nodler passes a yellow folder counterclockwise around the table. Each member scrawls a signature across the bottom of the page. Curls spins her red BlackBerry anxiously on the table. When the folder gets to her, she passes it on.
"I'll sign last," she says.
On the morning of Thursday, May 7, with a week left in the session, LeVota is ready to admit defeat. Slugging his first Diet Coke of the day, the minority leader sits at his desk, under a poster of Abraham Lincoln with the word "Perseverance" written in cursive under the president's face.
But LeVota has given up.
"The most frustrating thing is, these House Republicans are the most right-wing of the Republican party," he says. "I mean, it's like they have no realization that the people of Missouri want this and sent a message in the last election. Instead they're even further to the radical side of this."
An hour later, LeVota takes aim at Republicans on the House floor. Across the aisle, the carpeted gap now an ideological canyon, LeVota calls out Icet.
"I take great issue with your terminology of this being a compromise," LeVota says to Icet. "You got your way. The gentleman from Jackson County [Pratt] got his way. You rolled the Senate. Thirty-five thousand people are not going to get health insurance. Congratulations."
"Well, my way was nothing," Icet retorts. "So I think I compromised in good faith."
Finally, the budget passes. But the compromise gets twisted.
A Republican-led committee works through the weekend, churning out its own version of the Senate's health-care expansion.
The document that emerges doesn't cover working parents, as the Senate plan did. It doesn't loosen eligibility restrictions. It deals with people who make far more money but have health conditions that disqualify them from normal insurance. During debate, a Republican member attaches an amendment requiring anyone who applies for public assistance to be subject to a drug test.
Some Democrats, including Kander, continue to hope that some sliver of reform will be worked out between the two chambers. But his optimism is tempered; Kander says he has already learned about House Republicans. "They completely lack seriousness," he says. "They care about stuff that sounds good politically. They don't care about governing the state."