Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Walker’s Dreadful Dilemma on Health Care

Why is he so vague on Obamacare? Because its repeal could kill his reelection.

By - Jul 6th, 2017 11:57 am
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Gov. Scott Walker at a Gundersen Health System facility in La Crosse.

Gov. Scott Walker at a Gundersen Health System facility in La Crosse.

The silence is deafening.

Republicans in Washington have been talking about almost nothing but replacing Obamacare since taking power in January. And what has been Scott Walker’s stance on this?

This is a hugely important issue for any governor, as the proposed GOP plan could eliminate coverage of up to 24 million people and cause 24,000 deaths per year. Walker, moreover, is not just any governor, but one with a national profile, who ran for president in 2016 on a platform opposing Obamacare. So does he favor the proposed House or Senate replacement? What is his policy prescription?

He’s never really said. Walker has been consistently inconsistent, urging the House to repeal Obamacare when talking to the conservative Washington Times, yet declining to say whether he supported the House bill doing just that and spearheaded by Walker’s pal, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan. Just a week later the governor again refused to give his position in a speech to the local Rotary Club.

He was just as inconsistent on the Senate bill to replace Obamacare, playing the conservative firebrand to the Washington Times and urging Senators to take action to repeal Obamacare, yet offering the opposite position to a Wisconsin radio station: Walker said he actually backs Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnsons opposition and is pushing him for changes in the bill, though he wouldn’t reveal even one example of a change he favors.

To dramatize the excruciating vagueness of Walker’s position, Outagamie County Executive and Democrat Tom Nelson ambushed the governor at a press conference regarding tourism, as the The Hill reported. During this “heated exchange” on health care, the publication noted, Nelson could be heard asking Walker: “What is your plan?”

Walker’s answer? “The plan is I’m going to wait for what the Senate and the president do, and we’ll see from there,” he responded, adding yet another layer of nothingness to his position.

Why all the inconsistency and vagueness? The problem is that Walker boxed himself into a no-win position by refusing the federal dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Walker argued at the time it was better to turn down this funding because the federal government might later decide later to end this program. But more than a quarter of the entire state biennial budget — some $12 billion — comes from federal dollars, all of which could some day be cut. Why pick only this program to resist?

The obvious answer was noted by conservative commentator and Walker supporter Brian Sikmawhose column for RedState.com explained that Walker’s stance would help him in the presidential election of 2016, by proving to conservative voters that he was more opposed to Obamacare than possible GOP candidates like John Kasich and Chris Christie, who “opted to call for an expansion of Medicaid… Walker has possibly secured for himself a unique front-runner spot among his fellow Republican governors and rumored 2016 presidential contenders on the issue of healthcare,” Sikma concluded.

But none of that mattered once Donald Trump entered the GOP primary, and Walker suffered a quickly humiliating defeat, while leaving himself with an indefensible position on health care. Walker’s decision has already cost taxpayers in this state more than $500 million, and by the end of the 2019-2020 year (when any possible reduction in Medicaid funding under GOP plans would begin) the total dollars lost to Wisconsin will hit $1.3 billion, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

And even if the Republican-led Congress manages to pass a plan cutting Medicaid, it will still lock in a difference between states that accepted the Medicaid expansion and those like Wisconsin that did not. The loss to Wisconsin could exceed $2 billion by 2022 and keep growing from there.

Which explains Walker’s squirming and contradictory stance on Obamacare repeal. Walker once let the cat out of the bag, explaining his true position: The governor “wants to ensure” that states who rejected the Medicaid expansion dollars “won’t be punished for going that route,” his spokesman Tom Evenson once told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein.

So this is the crucial change Walker wants Johnson to push for in the Senate bill. As Johnson disclosed to the Hometown News in Sun Prairie today, “he is attempting to address the disparity penalizing Wisconsin for not accepting Medicaid expansion so that the disparity is not locked into the bill.
‘I just got off a conference call with a group of governors, organized by Governor Walker,’ Johnson said. ‘So we’re having those discussions.’”

But the only way to do that would be to pass a bill that punishes most states, who accepted the added Medicaid dollars, by giving them a bigger cut in future Medicaid funding than Wisconsin and the 18 other states who turned down the money. That would mean hurting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, which was a leader in expanding Obamacare, and 30 other states, many with at least one Republican senator. That would pretty much assure the bill never passes.

In short, it’s very difficult to imagine any scenario under which Wisconsin is made whole for Walker’s politically self-serving decision to reject federal funding.

Which leaves Walker asking Wisconsin voters to elect him to a third term, through 2022, by which time he would have lost $2 billion for Wisconsin. That’s a pretty tough platform for his reelection.

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9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Walker’s Dreadful Dilemma on Health Care”

  1. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Baloney, best thing fro Wisconsin is repeal and send the money to use for Badgercare.

  2. Observer says:

    No Hippocratic Oath for pharmacists I see.

  3. KP says:

    Wisconsin Conservative Digest,

    I don’t understand your point. It sounds like you’re saying that the best thing for Wisconsin would be to repeal the Medicaid expansion, then take the money saved and give it to Medicaid, but I know that’s not right.

    I understand:
    Repeal the ACA and the medicaid expansion saving the fed government money
    Use some money for badgercare

    What money would go towards Badgercare? I assume the money saved from the repealing the ACA.
    But then why would Wisconsin be better off with spending ACA repeal money on Badgercare instead of ACA Medicaid expansion money on Badgercare? Just because there’d be more money if we repealed the ACA?

  4. tim haering says:

    Bruce, Walker is plainly invertebrate. He probably tucks his thumb under his fingers when he makes a fist. That’s all ok. But when you say Walker and Ryan are pals? Yeah, like Pinky and the Brain. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, PInky? I think so, Brain, but if JImmy cracked corn and nobody cared, why’d he keep doing it? Hope you had fun at Summerfest!

  5. Duane Snyder says:

    One thing that doesn’t seem to get mentioned much, personal bankruptcy filing are down since the ACA went into effect.

    “Filings have dropped about 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016…..those years also represent the time frame when the ACA took effect. Although courts never ask people to declare why they’re filing, many bankruptcy and legal experts agree that medical bills had been a leading cause of personal bankruptcy before public healthcare coverage expanded under the ACA….”

    I’m sure the GOP is working hard to fix this.

  6. Tom D says:

    WCD, you say we should cut Medicaid and use the money saved to fund Badgercare.

    BUT Badgercare is Medicaid; they are one and the same.

    So you advocate cutting Medicaid funding and using that money to fund Medicaid (aka Badgercare).

    This makes no sense!

  7. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    Wow, that’s a new level of dimwittedness for Dumb Dohnal. Much like those redneck fools who hate Obamacare but love the life-saving coverage they get under the ACA.

    Can we send the old senile fool to The Home yet? Can you imagine ever being this far gone and lacking in self-awareness that you’d post such easily-disproven and laughable garbage in a public forum?

  8. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    As for Bruce’s point in the article- between this and the $341 million DOT bailout that he wants Trump to give him, it’s interesting how Walker is all about grabbing federal money these days. Is the budget that messed up and fragile, or does it have more to do with the new president being Orange instead of Black?

  9. Thomas says:

    I applaud the observation made in post # 5 on the dramatic decline in personal bankruptcies subsequent to passage of the affordable care act. The ACA provided health insurance for many millions of people who were previously without it. If the ACA helped keep 700k+ people from going bankrupt, that would be another feather in the hat of the affordable care act.

    Walker’s partisan posturing at turning down fed money for Medicaid expansion has cost WI taxpayers 500 million dollars plus so far. Add that to the 800 million he declined in federal funds for faster rail from Milwaukee to Madison and it appears clear that Walker could not care less about WI taxpayer’s return on taxes paid to the federal government.

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