John Kasich's Obamacare circus: GOP governor wants to repeal ACA but keep all ACA's money

Ohio governor doesn't think his Medicaid expansion is connected to Obamacare. That's not what he said last year

Published October 21, 2014 2:31PM (EDT)

  (AP/Tony Dejak)
(AP/Tony Dejak)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is making a strong play to unseat Mitch McConnell as the Republican with the most flat-out ludicrous position on repealing the Affordable Care Act. McConnell, you might recall, is in favor of repealing the law “root and branch,” but also wants to leave behind his state’s popular and effective health insurance exchange (which would cease to function without the ACA). That makes no sense.

But it’s the very picture of sensible policy compared to the position Kasich staked out yesterday. Kasich styles himself as an Obamacare opponent, and declined to set up a state health exchange for Ohio. But he was one of the few Republican governors to sign on for the law’s expansion of Medicaid. Not only was Kasich on board with taking Obamacare money to expand government-provided health coverage in his state, he was so enthusiastic about it that he defied the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s votes against the expansion and pushed it through anyway – a move his Republican critics said was illegal.

Anyway, yesterday the Associated Press reported that Kasich told them that Obamacare, despite what Republicans say, very likely won’t be repealed:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he doesn't think there will be a repeal in Washington, even if Republicans win a Senate majority and consolidate their hold on the House in next month's election.

"That's not gonna happen," the Republican governor told The Associated Press during a recent re-election campaign swing.

That’s an entirely sensible position to take, especially for a governor who embraced one of the law’s most important features. But a Republican with ambitions to higher office (as Kasich is rumored to have) can’t just come out and say that Obamacare won’t be repealed. And so Kasich called around to various news organizations to say that the AP got it wrong and to offer a “clarification” of his remarks that actually transformed his position into incoherent gibberish. Here’s what he told Politico:

“From Day 1, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare,” the Republican governor said on Monday evening. “I never have, and I believe it should be repealed.”

Except for the Medicaid expansion part — which wouldn’t exist without the law. Kasich, however, thinks there ought to be a way to save it.

“I have favored expanding Medicaid, but I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare,” Kasich said.

That is outright nonsense from start to finish. You can’t sign your state up for one of Obamacare’s most important provisions and then say, “I do not support Obamacare.” You also can’t repeal Obamacare and argue that the Medicaid expansion created by Obamacare will somehow survive. The incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage was that the federal government would pick up the vast majority of the cost for the new enrollees. Kasich is arguing that the ACA should be repealed, but the hundreds of billions of dollars of federal spending it authorizes shouldn’t be affected. That doesn’t make any sense.

What’s even less credible is Kasich’s claim that “I don’t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare.” As a basic factual matter, that’s false. It’s like saying you don’t really view your heart as part of your circulatory system.

It’s also contradicts what Kasich has said in the past about expanding Medicaid. Here’s a video Kasich produced in February 2013 laying out the vision for his “Jobs Budget 2.0.” In it he said that while he’s a critic of the ACA, it’s still “the law of the land” and Ohio should “get the most out of it as possible,” which meant expanding Medicaid in the state:

In his budget, the case Kasich made for expanding Medicaid was that they had to embrace Obamacare to ward off the negative effects of Obamacare:

In June 2012, the United State Supreme Court made it optional for state to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults making $15,415 or less per year, with the federal government paying 100 percent of the cost for three years, decreasing to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. The Governor has weighed the options and has chosen the path that is best for Ohio. The budget will offer coordinated coverage for low-income Ohioans, most of whom have jobs, creating a vibrant workforce that is attractive to job creators and further mitigating harmful effects of the federal government’s Affordable Care Act.

“We’re going to get ours while the getting’s good” isn’t the most principled stance to take, but at least it makes sense. And it was good policy! The argument Kasich is peddling now about the Medicaid expansion being separate from Obamacare is contradicted by the actual policy, his own words and his own budget. But this is the ridiculous spin Republicans have to indulge in to maintain the fiction that the Affordable Care Act’s days are numbered.

By Simon Maloy

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