By Mary McCleary
On Monday, Governor John Kasich finally succeeded in his quest to expand Medicaid in Ohio, although not by ordinary measures. It is clear to everyone who has been paying attention that the end goal has justified the means as the intent of the state legislature and a majority of Republican and independent voters have been openly defied.
Governor Kasich first attempted to pass Medicaid expansion in the state budget in June. Wisely, the Ohio House of Representatives rejected Medicaid expansion at that time. When it became clear that stand-alone legislation to enact expansion would also fail, Governor Kasich used his power of executive order to expand Medicaid to 138% of the federal poverty rate and turned to the state’s Controlling Board to secure the federal funding for that expansion.
The Controlling Board, a little known entity prior to the Medicaid debate, is “a mechanism for handling certain limited day-to-day adjustments needed in the state budget” according to the Office of Budget and Management’s website. Based on the Board’s design, its seven seats are determined by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President.
While Governor Kasich has been vocally supportive of Medicaid expansion all along, Senate President Keith Faber and Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder have been on the record opposing Medicaid expansion. In fact, just last week Speaker Batchelder signed an official protest along with 38 other members of the House against the Governor usurping the legislature’s power and undermining Ohio’s system of checks and balances.
Either the Speaker’s actions and words were insincere, or he had a politically motivated change of heart over the weekend. Monday morning came with announcements that Representatives Ron Amstutz and Cliff Rosenberger, the two men whose seats on the Controlling Board Speaker Batchelder controls, were going to be replaced. Both men planned to vote to reject the funding request for Medicaid expansion. Representative Ross McGregor, one of the replacements, as planned, cast a vote for Medicaid expansion, which sealed the deal.
Likewise, Senate President Faber had the power to remove Senator Chris Widener, who was all but a guaranteed “yes” vote for expansion, from the Controlling Board. Thus, expansion passed with a 5-2 majority.
Disappointingly, because Rep. McGregor and Sen. Widener are term limited, as are Senate President Faber and Speaker Batchelder, and these men will not be accountable to voters for their decisions in the next election cycle. Isn’t it ironic that term limits are the problem here? Unlike many other members, none of these men will be susceptible to a primary challenge unless they seek another office.
Polling shows that Ohio Republican and independents voters overwhelmingly are against Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and the additional deficit spending that comes with it. These four men have nothing to lose except for their legacies. Though Speaker Batchelder spent his career fighting big government and Great Society programs, that’s not how he will be remembered. His legacy, unfortunately, will be forever tarnished as Ohio’s state budget increasingly gets swallowed by Medicaid’s growing costs.
Like the four legislators facing term limits, Governor Kasich won’t be around to deal with the repercussions of his decision. Even if Governor Kasich wins a second term, he will not have to deal with the budgetary consequences in store for future governors as Medicaid swallows more tax revenue and leads to future deficits.
If Medicaid expansion for Governor Kasich was a politically calculated move to enhance his chances of reelection, he has traded a perceived short-term victory for Ohio’s future. Aside from a purely budgetary standpoint, it should be noted that 75 percent of Medicaid recipients in Ohio self-identify as Democrat voters, while only 13 percent are Republican voters. This statistic should serve as a warning as Republicans further the culture of government dependency fundamental to liberal-progressive policies. Maybe this time around Governor Kasich will be able to siphon off some independent and Democratic votes with his progressive policies, but future Republican gubernatorial hopefuls shouldn’t count on it.
While this whole process and the outcome have been deeply disappointing to conservative groups and activists, there really was little any of us could do once Governor Kasich resorted to executive order and the Controlling Board. Yes, there will likely be a legal challenge, as there should be. However, at the end of the day, it certainly isn’t likely that Ohio’s Supreme Court will defy the wishes of the Governor. Additionally, the 5-2 split further undermines a legal challenge, as the case can no longer be made that the Governor’s appointee cast the deciding vote.
What does the reality of Medicaid expansion mean for Ohio’s conservative movement? It was enacted with a Republican Governor, a Republican controlled House, a Republican controlled Senate, and Republicans in each of Ohio’s state-wide elected offices. With Democrats in charge, could we have done any worse? No wonder voters are becoming increasingly skeptical about politics.