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Published: 3/9/2013

Kasich’s political health worsens with about-face on Obamacare

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in deep political trouble. It’s his own fault.

The Republican ran for office in 2010 as a fiscal conservative who was big on small government. This year, he broke ranks with the people who elected him. His about-face on accepting Obamacare funding to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program dismayed those who thought he was one of them.

After railing against President Obama’s health care plan with other GOP governors, Mr. Kasich embraced a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. He said the optional move under the new health-care law — intended to insure an additional 30 million Americans — made economic sense.

How could you walk away from $13 billion over seven years, according to Kasich administration calculations, to cover low-income and uninsured people in the state? How could you say no to the pressure from churches, hospitals, business groups, and advocates for the poor?

How could you not be charitable to “the least among us,” asked the Bible-quoting governor. His estranged base had different questions.

They might ask the alleged fiscal hawk they put in Ohio’s top job by two percentage points: How could you cave in to hospital lobbyists and other health-industry players? How could you incur the wrath of conservatives whose wave you rode to victory three years ago?

“This [Medicaid] money comes right out of the entitlement pipeline that’s bankrupting our country,” said Ted Stevenot, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition. “It’s stealing from our future generations. That’s immoral, that’s inefficient, that’s ineffective. It’s insane.”

His point to Mr. Kasich: Enjoy your job approval ratings, but don’t count on re-election — at least not on the backs of your erstwhile supporters.

There’s a tempest brewing over Mr. Kasich’s decision to accept money for an expanded entitlement program. Conservative bloggers say they feel betrayed by a governor who is an opportunistic politician, a turncoat, someone they can’t trust.

Tea Party groups are sending a message to other Ohio Republicans who would think about advancing Obamacare by voluntarily expanding Medicaid.

“We expect legislators to try to do the right thing,” Mr. Stevenot said. “We expect them to vote for smaller government, to vote for a more efficient government, to vote for greater prosperity for the people of Ohio and our country.” Those who fail to meet expectations could lose their primaries next year, he suggested.

“Since the [Tea Party] movement began three or four years ago, we’ve learned so much about how to be involved and understand the levers of political power,” Mr. Stevenot said. “We have plenty of people who can knock on doors, produce material.”

He added: “People who understand the fundamental elements of who votes and who doesn’t vote, who can handle primary elections where 80 percent of districts are one-party because of gerrymandering — that’s actually opened up an opportunity and we will make use of it.”

Jeff Lydy, treasurer of the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, echoed his compatriot.

“There are [state] representatives, maybe Barbara Sears [R., Monclova Township] is one that comes to mind, who are on the fence, struggling with that [Medicaid expansion] issue and whether they’re going to support Kasich or not, “ he said. “ And I think her candidacy for re-election would be in jeopardy as well.”

The Sylvania conservative added that the governor may have gambled that “there are enough Republican legislators who are not going to pass it, not going to vote for it, and he can say, well, I tried, I gave it my best.” But political expediency or no, “I think this Medicaid expansion will not soften in the minds of conservatives over the next year and a half,” Mr. Lydy said.

Few critics are moved by the Kasich tactic of invoking the Good Book as argument for right and compassionate. “How is compassion going to work in three years when the program runs out of money?” Mr. Lydy asked.

“I don’t care about the downtrodden because my answer isn’t more government, more debt?” Mr. Stevenot wondered.

Watch for the fireworks to begin around mid-April, when the state House Appropriations and Finance Committee moves the governor’s proposed budget to the floor for a full vote.

It could be ugly. But Mr. Kasich courted the trouble.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade. Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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