Republican governors and likely 2016 presidential hopefuls Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and former Republican governor Jeb Bush traveled to Las Vegas this weekend to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting at top donor Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian resort.
The annual event, deemed the “Sheldon primary” by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, is an important litmus test for GOP presidential contenders. But out of the four big-name governors vying for legitimacy in Vegas, only one of them in their capacity as governor rejected federal Obamacare money for Medicaid expansion: Walker. And Bush advised Florida lawmakers to reject Rick Scott’s onetime plan for expansion.
Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Obamacare’s mandate expanding Medicaid eligibility to all adults below 138 percent of the federal poverty level must be ratified individually by each state, a fierce pressure campaign has been waged on the state level by left-wing groups like MoveOn.org and hospital interests who stand to gain from the expansion. Nineteen states have opted out, 26 states are opting to expand, and now only five states remain, including Utah and Pennsylvania, where moderate Republican governors Gary Herbert and Tom Corbett are caving fast, and Virginia, where Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe’s battle with the Republican-controlled House of Delegates could lead to a summer government shutdown.
Liberal rhetoric aside, two of the Republican governors currently in Vegas are playing the kind of politics that results in more poor people becoming dependent on the state, while Walker is making some compromises in an effort to lessen dependency.
Christie accepted full Medicaid expansion under Obamacare late last month, saying, “Accepting these federal resources will provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income New Jerseyans, help keep our hospitals financially healthy and actually save money for New Jersey taxpayers. Expanding Medicaid… is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health.”
The Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs, criticized Medicaid expansion as “even more Obamacare” in an ad playing in South Carolina, despite Christie’s own decision to accept even more Obamacare and increase government dependency in New Jersey.
Kasich, who served as House Budget chairman during Newt Gingrich’s speakership no less, accepted Medicaid expansion in Ohio. The health professionals industry was Kasich’s second-largest source of campaign cash during his congressional career between 1989 and 2000 and his largest source of PAC money during that time. The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic hospital, where Kasich spoke last year to push for Medicaid expansion, is making more than $100 million in budget cuts this fiscal year as a direct result of Obamacare. In a classic example of Democratic “starve them and then sell them some crumbs” politics, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will restore some of the money hospitals have lost.
Walker rejected full Medicaid expansion under Obamacare in Wisconsin, stating, “our goal is to get more people out into the workplace, more people covered when it comes to health care and fewer people dependent on the government, not because we’ve kicked them out but we’ve empowered them to take control of their own destiny.” Walker also accused the federal government of previously “reneging” on Medicaid funding in ways that cost his state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Wisconsin’s generous BadgerCare Medicaid program covered everyone up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Walker plans to cut that to 100 percent and to move people between 100 percent and 200 percent into subsidized private Obamacare plans: a move that could cost Wisconsin taxpayers about $460 million through 2020 but also gives Walker the ability to finally cut one of the country’s biggest-spending Medicaid programs while rejecting federal Obamacare cash.
Bush, meanwhile, privately advised Florida lawmakers last year to oppose Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to accept Medicaid expansion. The Florida legislature rejected federal Obamacare money for the program and Scott, who is up for re-election in November, has backed away from his original plan. As governor prior to Obamacare’s passage, Bush proposed to accept federal money from Washington in exchange for the ability to cap Medicaid enrollment costs.