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Ohio Governor John Kasich announced his surrender to Washington spending gimmicks on February 4, calling for the expansion of Medicaid eligibility as part of his biennial budget proposal. Kasich, a Republican elected in 2010 and known as a fiscal hawk from his time in Congress, seeks to sell a key component of Obamacare as the pragmatic choice for Ohio.
In a February 6 RedState post defending his embrace of a law he has long spoken against, Kasich wrote, "Now I’ve proposed extending Medicaid health coverage to low-income and working poor Ohioans, in part, to limit further damage from Obamacare."
Obamacare was designed to push millions of Americans into one of the nation's most expensive and least effective entitlement programs, coercing states into compliance by making all federal Medicaid funding contingent on expanded eligibility. The Supreme Court's June 2012 ruling on the bill forbade Washington from cutting off existing funding to states that refuse to expand Medicaid, but Governor Kasich now aims to grow the program anyway.
"Without this move Obamacare is likely to increase health insurance premiums even higher in Ohio," Kasich continued. "Worse, it takes $13 billion of Ohioans’ federal tax dollars out of our state and gives it to other states—where it will go to work helping to rev up some other state’s economy instead of Ohio’s."
In short, Governor Kasich is promoting Medicaid expansion using the language and logic of socialized medicine advocates, treating bureaucratic cost-shifting as actual savings. Kasich even suggested Ohio must claim its "fair share" of Obamacare spending, demonstrating no regard for the fact that DC has run annual deficits exceeding $1 trillion each year since President Obama took office.
Prior to Kasich's February 4th announcement, conservative think tanks Opportunity Ohio and The Buckeye Institute both published critiques of a joint Health Policy Institute of Ohio / Urban Institute study which framed federal spending as free money. Kasich and his staff have cited the study as proof Ohio would come out ahead by expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Not only has the governor failed to address any of conservatives' substantive concerns - instead waving off disagreement as unreasonable ideology - he actually worked with the far-left Universal Health Care Action Network to develop talking points for Medicaid expansion.
In no way does Kasich's current rhetoric square with his past protestations against deficit spending.
"Instead of letting states develop innovative solutions to their respective challenges, new federal mandates will require more Medicaid spending and stick states with large and unsustainable costs," Governor Kasich wrote on March 22, 2010.
"Government shouldn’t be making promises it can’t keep – especially when it’s more than $14.5 trillion in the hole," Kasich said in his August 20, 2011 Weekly Republican Address.
Nearly $2 trillion in national debt later, Ohio's governor has allied himself with lobbyists for socialized medicine, the ultimate promise the government cannot keep. Kasich's abdication of his former fiscal hawk role will make it more difficult for conservative leaders to make a consistent case against entitlement spending and for market-based reforms.
Should the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly choose to support Kasich's Medicaid proposal, the state would "save" money by taking billions in federal funds to cover 100 percent of the expansion for several years. Though federal funding would quickly drop to 90 percent of Ohio's new costs even assuming Congress can borrow forever, care providers are pushing for the change because of numerous perverse incentives built into Obamacare.
Governor Kasich is widely expected to run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, but first faces reelection in 2014 in a state that went for President Obama last fall. However politically expedient it may be in the near term to help expand the entitlement state, history tells us how difficult it is to unring that bell.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jasonahart