A vote was expected Friday in a state Senate committee on legislation to potentially expand Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians under President Barack Obama's three-year-old federal health care law.
The committee meeting was scheduled as Gov. Tom Corbett and leaders of the Republican-controlled state Legislature work to wrap up a new state budget and other high-priority legislation before Sunday night, when lawmakers plan to leave Harrisburg until the fall.
However, Democrats have provided a united front against elements of Corbett's agenda to which they object, and divisions among Corbett and the majority Republicans have left a long list of tasks still undone with time and patience in the Capitol growing short.
The actual Medicaid expansion amendment to be considered during a meeting of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee remained under wraps Friday afternoon. It had an uncertain fate in the House where 33 Republicans threatened in a Thursday letter to other House members to oppose any budget bill if it helps enable a Medicaid expansion.
The threat is significant if minority House Democrats choose to oppose a Republican-penned budget bill, which was awaiting changes in the Senate, that delivers hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts for businesses, instead of the hundreds of millions of new dollars for public schools that Democrats want.
Meanwhile, about a dozen people who would benefit from the Medicaid expansion were in their third day of staking out a Capitol hallway outside Senate offices, with organizing help from labor unions and other groups that support a Medicaid expansion.
One man, Andre Butler of Philadelphia, said he is forgoing days of work as a banquet server to spend his days in the Capitol appealing to lawmakers to agree to an expansion. Neither Butler, 47, nor most of his co-workers in the banquet and restaurant business are able to afford health insurance, he said.
"Cooks, servers, bussers, line cooks, concierge people, stewards, dishwashers. None of them," Butler said. "When you see us at the banquet, most of us don't have health insurance."
In the Senate, Republican and Democratic leaders negotiated the Medicaid expansion amendment with input from Gov. Tom Corbett's office, and were writing certain conditions into it to make it more amenable to Republicans who might otherwise oppose it.
Ultimately, Corbett would need to submit a plan that wins federal approval for a Medicaid expansion.