Medicaid expansion likely to be a big GOP primary issue

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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When Republican Vance McAllister won a special election in Louisiana recently, much was made over the fact that he supported Medicaid expansion. Never mind the fact that a quirk in Louisiana’s election law meant Democratic voters had no other option but to vote for McAllister as the lesser of two evils, the narrative — that backing Medicaid expansion was smart politics — caught on.

The only problem? It was a weird race. Most Republicans who back the expansion won’t have the benefit of Democrats voting for them. What is more, candidates who backed the expansion months ago (including incumbent governors like Ohio’s John Kasich and Florida’s Rick Scott) may find that, in the wake of the ObamaCare rollout debacle, Republican voters around the country are even less favorable than they otherwise would have been.

This seems to be at least one takeaway from the closer-than-expected gubernatorial race in Virginia, where Ken Cuccinelli narrowly lost to Terry McAuliffe earlier this month (the disastrous ObamaCare rollout probably helped Cuccinelli close the gap. In fact, Cuccinelli ran ads attacking McAuliffe for wanting to “expand ObamaCare.“).

With Virginia behind us, the issue is now making its way into Idaho’s Second Congressional District — where what looks to be a brutal primary between Rep. Mike Simpson and a conservative challenger named Bryan Smith is already shaping up.

In a press release earlier today, The Club for Growth, a powerful fiscally conservative group, pointed out that a super PAC backing Simpson has also endorsed expansion. (It’s not clear where Simpson stands on the issue, and that’s sort of the point.)

“Does Mike Simpson support or oppose expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare in Idaho, just as his supporters in the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry do?” asked Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller in the release. “Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers billions and stick future generations with the bill. Conservatives across the country are rejecting ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, and Mike Simpson should have to answer if he joins with the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in supporting ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in Idaho.”

If Idaho is a harbinger of things to come, expect Medicaid expansion to be a huge issue in Republican primaries — a sort of litmus test for true conservatives. Supporting it — with the allure of “free money” — was, no doubt, seductive. But as political winds have changed, this issue seems more likely to hurt those who embrace it.

Simpson’s office did not immediately respond to my request for a comment. I will update this post if and when they do.

UPDATED: Rep. Simpson responds:

“My position is very clear, I would like to see Obamacare repealed in its entirety and that includes repealing the provisions that expand Medicaid,” Simpson said in a statement. “If our efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare continue to fall on deaf ears in the Senate and White House, then I believe each state should make its own decision on whether or not to reject Medicaid expansion. It is worth noting, however, that given the federal budget crisis no one should be real confident that the federal government will be able to fund it’s commitments indefinitely.”