Walker’s Dreadful Dilemma on Health Care
Why is he so vague on Obamacare? Because its repeal could kill his reelection.
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.
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 Sikma, whose 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.
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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