Talk isn't cheap.

It's a valuable commodity when the clock is ticking down on the long session of the Legislature.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Legislature spent a lot of words -- 10 hours and 20 minutes worth -- on Medicaid expansion. But it went away empty-handed, without even a vote on an amendment on the bill (LB577).

Will the bill come back for more debate and a vote?

"Not necessarily -- unless there's votes rounded up. We've got to move on," Speaker Greg Adams said.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, who introduced the bill that would require the state to participate in Medicaid expansion to cover an estimated 54,000 more Nebraskans, said proponents didn't have the 33 votes needed for cloture, which forces a vote.

"That just became daunting," she said.

If a cloture vote fails, debate ceases. And the fate of the bill, in terms of rescheduling, is up to the speaker.

Adams took a wise course in ending discussion on the bill for now, Campbell said.

"It's better to step back, take a pause," she said. 

But it's not the end, Campbell added.

The opposing sides need to work through the issues, she said, and answer the questions that kept coming up throughout the debate.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford had pleaded with senators to not let the bill die on this first round of debate.

After two days, he said, he had not heard one reason -- other than it was the federal government putting money into a program -- why the state shouldn't expand Medicaid.

"To not have these people insured when there's an opportunity to have them insured, I think, is just crazy. … It's absolutely nuts," he said.

"As someone who pays a high price for insurance, why do I have to do that when we have 54,000 Nebraskans that we could insure in a very well-managed program?"

Rural hospitals are in trouble and need the resources that would come with expansion, Ashford said. 

On Wednesday, debate focused on an amendment offered by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney that would sunset the bill after three years. That means the Legislature could address the question of whether to continue Medicaid expansion after that time.

That didn't persuade Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse.

"It's still the same thing. It talks about creating an entitlement program," he said. "Nothing has changed with this bill. Period."

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said Wednesday was not the day to allow Medicaid expansion to go forward, especially without having thought about the issue with all options on the table. 

"I'm telling you, we don't want to take on something that only looks like a cliff and a black hole up ahead," he said.

If more time is taken to explore the issue and its long-term budget, economic and health implications for the state, the state would benefit, Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy said.

A structure could be put together under a study resolution (LR22) that combines the Health and Human Services and the Banking, Commerce and Insurance committees, he said. The chairmen of those committees -- Campbell and Sen. Mike Gloor -- are two of the most knowledgeable on Medicaid.

But as senators moved on from the debate, Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue predicted the next few weeks would be excruciating.

Not only because of all the weighty issues that have to be dealt with -- including the budget -- he said, "but because without this getting done those considerable forces (lobbyists) that were on the other side of the glass, those emails will continue to pour in. …

"I hope the best for all and for our legislative institution and processes."

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or Follow JoAnne's tweets at