Is Ohio Governor John Kasich the Chris Christie of the Midwest?
Governor John Kasich rode to victory on the 2010 Tea Party wave, campaigning as a budget hawk, promising to cut taxes and balance the budget. He raged against Obamacare and out-of-control federal spending. Speaking to Bill Cunningham a few months before his election, Kasich said of Obamacare:
It’s all taxes, it’s smoke and mirrors, it’s always tomorrow, it’s never today, it’s always tomorrow. ... What they’re doing on this health care bill and everything else they’re doing is just spending like there’s no tomorrow. Big government, big debt. And look, everybody’s worked up about it. And the country doesn’t buy these political types down there yapping about how this is going to be so great....
No one could accuse Kasich of being an Obama fan-boy like slobbering New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who infamously snuggled up to the president just days before the November election.
Even before taking office, Governor-elect Kasich informed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that he planned to cancel the high-speed rail project in the state, asking the federal government to "make provisions for the $400 million to be used to support other vital transportation infrastructure projects in Ohio." Kasich boldly asserted that if the money couldn’t be used for other Ohio projects, he wanted it used to help pay off the national debt. Back then, he thought Ohio should have a say in how federal tax dollars allocated to Ohio would be used.
In his first term Kasich and the Republican legislature balanced the budget, eliminated the death tax, and made the state more business-friendly, improving the unemployment rate. A year into his first term, Kasich joined other states in suing the federal government, challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare as Tea Party and other liberty groups in the state mounted a successful effort to pass the Healthcare Freedom Amendment, a grassroots attempt to protect Ohioans from forced participation in Obamacare.
Unfortunately, Kasich overreached on a union reform effort, failing to anticipate the backlash from the national union movement. Voters rejected it soundly in a repeal referendum even though polls showed that voters supported many parts of the bill, such as right to work and common-sense teacher evaluation measures.
At last year’s Republican National Convention, Kasich talked about his horror at the country’s credit downgrade and national debt:
And you know I watched in horror as we saw the Italians and the French and the Spanish and the Greeks have their credit downgrade and I remember the night I watched America’s credit go downgraded. But in Ohio, instead of our credit going down the drain, our credit outlook has been improved because it’s been recognized that we are managing our finances and creating jobs...
...But you know what? The wind is in our face. The president has given us headwinds. President Obama has doubled the national debt. You know, I was chairman of the Budget Committee when we balanced the budget in ‘97 and I look with horror at that clock that shows $15 trillion in the national debt. That’s the Sword of Damocles hanging over our children's head and the president is doing nothing about it. In fact each year he’s increasing that by $1 trillion.
It’s understandable that many conservatives thought they had an ally in Kasich. For two years he spoke their language and moved the state in a conservative direction. But careful observers saw troubling signs of a big government statist percolating beneath the surface.
Shortly after Kasich assumed office, outgoing governor Ted Strickland said that Ohio’s share of Race to the Top education funding, which came with significant federal strings attached, would be in jeopardy if Kasich implemented his planned education reforms.
Kasich wasn’t concerned. He made overtures toward Obama by flirting with his education secretary. He had a first and then a second date with Arne Duncan and said the federal grant money was not in jeopardy:
“I had what I can only describe as a great conversation with the secretary,” the Toledo Free Press reported, “And I told him when it comes to accountability, choice, and high standards, where do I get in line? He said, look, you’ll have your money and we’ll be great partners. And I said, could I tell the media that, he said absolutely.”
The Toledo Free Press also reported that:
[Kasich spokesman Rob] Nichols said Kasich saw Duncan again Dec. 2 on a visit to Washington and Race to the Top did not come up. He said they spoke about overall education reforms, and Kasich is convinced the two see eye-to-eye on many education issues.
Then late last year, the governor of Ohio signed a directive mandating that all private insurance companies in the state cover treatment for autism. The “conservative” governor, apparently frustrated that the autism coverage bill stalled in the General Assembly, decided to go the executive fiat route.
In defending his decision, Kasich winked at Dear Leader Obama—for the children! :
When we have the chance to do the right thing, we better do it because we don’t want to live life with any regrets. We’re doing the right thing today. Helping kids with autism get the services they need, and helping their parents get the financial lifeline of insurance coverage, that’s something I support. ... We’re not going to turn our backs on them. In fact, we’re extending them our hands and are going to bring them along.
And then Kasich climbed up into Obama’s lap and planted a wet, sloppy kiss on his cheek. The Toledo Blade reported:
[Kasich] also sent the Obama Administration a written “comment” on proposed federal rules for implementation of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Ohio that his office said have the effect of including autism spectrum disorder as part of the minimum coverage private insurers would have to provide under the law.
The new mandate likely violates three substantive provisions of the Health Care Freedom Amendment, which is now enshrined in the Ohio Constitution. Responding to criticism that the mandate violates the state constitution, Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols gave Obama a bear hug of his own, saying, “[We] just don’t have common ground for discussion with anyone who opposes providing this kind of help to a child with a disability.”
In other words, anyone who disagrees with Kasich’s imperial fiat would leave kids with autism to fend for themselves. Interesting and familiar strategy.
It's not the only time the governor acted like King John Kasich. He violated the Ohio Constitution when he made a backroom deal with casino owners to exempt them from the commercial activity tax, simultaneously expanding the lottery (again, in direct violation of the Constitution) by placing video lottery terminals at racetracks. Kasich justified it by saying he was getting "a better deal" for the state.
On the heels of these decisions and with the other signs of trouble, it probably should not have come as a surprise to anyone that Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget included something considered to be a first degree heresy by many conservatives in the state: an expansion of Medicaid as part of the Obamacare debacle.
The federal government claims it will fund the expansion scheme for the first three years, reducing their share to 90% thereafter, covering an estimated 684,000 Ohioans. According to a report by the Buckeye Institute:
[A]ll Ohio citizens with income under 138 percent of the federal poverty level would become eligible for Medicaid. In return, Ohio would receive enhanced federal funding for these new enrollees. Such an eligibility change would transform Medicaid from a safety net into a much broader-based welfare program for able-bodied adults—something that it has never been—thereby fundamentally changing the size, scope, and role of government in providing health insurance.
Kasich surely knows this is a ploy to add more Medicaid recipients to the rolls while completely ignoring the question of who will ultimately have to pay for their care. He said so during a Coffee and Markets podcast last August:
Now, when it comes to Medicaid expansion the government tells me, "Well, we’ll pay 90% and you pay 10." Well I’ve been in Washington, unfortunately, and today it’s 90 and tomorrow it’s 80 and the next day it’s 70.
Nevertheless, Kasich kissed Obama full on the lips and defended the expansion, saying that,
Covering low-income individuals — many of whom have significant behavioral health problems or chronic diseases — will vastly improve the lives of some of the poorest and most severely ill Ohioans. In combination, the expansion should relieve providers, businesses and the privately insured of most of the cost of uncompensated care, making complex and dysfunctional cost shifting a thing of the past.
No mention of the "dysfunctional cost shifting" involved in borrowing (or printing!) the money to pay for this Medicaid expansion and forcing future generations of Americans to pay for it.
Again Kasich snuggled up to Obama, explaining that other states should follow his example and get on the Obamacare Love Train (when you’re in love, you want everyone to be this happy). The Plain Dealer reported:
The [Kasich] administration’s effort to reach out to the Obama administration to explore covering a portion of the newly-covered through subsidies to private insurance is a groundbreaking alternative that might set an example for other states that are reluctant to move forward with the Affordable Care Act.
[Take note: Federalizing private insurance companies was suggested by a Republican governor.]
It appears Kasich pushed for allowing those between 100 percent and 138 percent of poverty to buy into private health exchanges with federal subsidies. Kasich announced that he worked with President Obama's closest adviser:
“I want to thank Valerie Jarrett today for being willing to work with us,” Kasich told reporters.
And that wasn’t all.
Kasich also climbed into bed with socialized healthcare lobbyists to help implement his plans for the Medicare expansion:
Governor John Kasich worked with the far-left Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio (UHCAN Ohio) to build his case for Medicaid expansion, a central piece of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Washington Post blogger Sarah Kliff detailed Kasich’s strategy in a February 6 Wonkblog entry.
“Rather than having to convince the governor, Obamacare supporters were asked to focus their efforts on convincing businesses and legislators,” Kliff explained in her story, which was titled, “How Ohio’s Republican governor sold the state on expanding Medicaid.”
Sensing the conservative outrage against this proposal, Kasich took to RedState to double down:
Without this move Obamacare is likely to increase health insurance premiums even higher in Ohio. Worse, it takes $13 billion of Ohioans’ federal tax dollars out of our state and gives it to other states—where it will go to work helping to rev up some other state’s economy instead of Ohio’s. That’s what happens if expansion doesn’t happen in Ohio. Whenever federal resources are being distributed to the states—and there’s nothing we at the state level can do to prevent that spending—then Ohioans shouldn’t be robbed of their fair share.
Word of advice to the governor: “Fair share” is anathema in the conservative blogosphere and within hearing range of every self-respecting conservative. The words should be banned from the GOP vocabulary. Besides offending the sensibilities of conservatives, it is a weak argument. Ohio contributes tax payments to the federal pot for all sorts of programs and services it may never see its “fair share” of: FEMA, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Dept. of Homeland Security. We don’t have as many natural disasters as the coastal states. Is Kasich hoping for more terrorist threats so we can get a bigger share of the DHS pie? Does he want illegal border jumpers airlifted to Ohio so we can get in on that stash of cash? The logic is no different in demanding our "fair share" of Medicaid dollars.
In a scathing rebuttal, State Treasurer (and last year’s Senate candidate) Josh Mandel sent a letter to the president of the Ohio Senate and the speaker of the House, saying that as the state’s chief fiscal officer, he advised against keeping the Medicaid expansion in the budget. Mandel recognizes the long-term consequences:
I appreciate that you are being forced to choose between two undesirable options – because the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) was designed this way. Voting against the Medicaid expansion means that Ohio would receive less federal funding. Voting for the Medicaid expansion would, as I have described, burden current and future generations of Ohioans with even more federal debt and eventually increase the state’s funding of Medicaid.
Then Mandel adds an important point that gets to the heart of the problem with the expansion:
“There is no free money.”
(It’s really a shame this guy is not in the U.S. Senate right now.)
While expanding Medicaid may direct more federal dollars to Ohio in the next few years, in the long term Ohioans will have to repay the debt that is funding the federal government spending. The federal government has an approximate $16.4 trillion national debt, and entitlement spending alone is projected to consume all revenue by 2045. If Ohio’s leaders take the bait today, I fear that generations of Ohio taxpayers will be on the hook for the long-term costs of expanding Medicaid.
As Ohioans, we share a common fate with all Americans. Whether taxes by the state or federal government, the Ohio taxpayers will inevitably shoulder the costs of a debt-funded Medicaid expansion. For these reasons, I urge you to reject an expansion of Medicaid in Ohio.
Can I get an "amen"? (Again, I must lament that Ohio is represented by Sen. Sherrod Brown instead of Josh Mandel.)
Kasich’s State of the State address on Tuesday was nothing short of embarrassing and awkward. It was like watching your parents make out. The governor flaunted his public displays of affection with President Obama with a shameful plea right out of Obama’s playbook:
We have unprecedented opportunity to bring 13 billion of Ohio's tax dollars back to Ohio to solve our problem. Our money coming home to fix our problems. It's a unique opportunity. We've never gotten our fair share. Well, I think it makes sense to bring this money home. And this money can provide health coverage for the poor, a great number of them who are working poor individuals who make less than $15,415. They can't afford health care. What are we going to do, leave them out in the street, walk away from them when we have a chance to help them?...I don't like a lot of the programs that are going to drive insurance rates up. But in this case, extending Medicaid benefits will help us on many levels, including the positive impact this decision can have on the mentally ill, and the addicted. Some of them live under bridges, some of them live on streets, some of them are in our jails tonight. One of the sheriffs that I was with the other day told a story of a man whose life had gone really pretty perfectly. He got sick, started living in the woods. He's now in the jail. He wraps scriptures around his fingers to ward off evil. The sheriff told me, he doesn't belong in our jails. It's a chance to rebuild the safety net that we've all wanted to since we have released people from, from these mental hospitals.
I kid you not. That was “Conservative” Republican Governor John Kasich of the state of Ohio—not liberal Democratic President Barack Obama engaging in hyperbolic emotional manipulation.
Kasich then invoked the Almighty in his effort to sway legislators to vote his way, adding another sad, hypothetical strawman scenario (with a false dilemma thrown in for good measure) to bolster his argument:
My personal faith in the lessons I learned from the Good Book, they're [sic] like, run my life. I mean, I'm serious, they're very important to me. Not just on Sunday, but just about every day. I gotta tell you, I can't look at the disabled, I can't look at the poor, I can't look at the mentally ill, I can't look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them.
For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored. We can help them. And I want all of you to think about this.
I know it's controversial. I just want to take you one place. One day your son comes home, your daughter comes home, says, mom, my brain's not working right — put it in your family. Put somebody that is in your family who becomes the wayward child. They come home one day, they can't get a job — put it on your doorstep, and you'll understand how hard it is.
They say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Like his new paramour, Kasich implies that only two choices exist: Vote for the Medicaid expansion or leave people to die in the street. In reality, of course, there is a wide range of options available. But Kasich has seen Obama's successful appeals to fear and he attempts to use them to his advantage.
Tea Party/liberty groups and other fiscal conservatives in the state are not taking Kasich’s “bromance” with Obama lying down. Groups from across the state will travel to Columbus on Friday to deliver petitions and a letter signed by group coordinators to the governor, House Speaker Bill Batchelder, and Senate President Faber. Ohio Liberty Coalition is drafting plans to primary out legislators who participate in moving this Medicaid expansion through the budget process. Kasich’s decision has been almost universally panned in the national conservative media. Forbes said it would end up raising rates for everyone. National Review added Kasich to their “dishonor roll.” Mark Levin bluntly said that Kasich “sold his soul for money for three years on the Medicaid program expansion under Obamacare” and “the man has thrown away his career as a conservative in one buffoonish, gutless act.”
Rush Limbaugh had a theory about Kasich’s love affair with Obama:
There is a political reality: We lost the election. We lost the state of Ohio. Kasich is up for reelection, and he wants to win, and he is simply judging where the people of his state are. I think this is happening in a number of other places. The 2012 election is going to prove to be the most devastating election result in ways that we haven't even contemplated yet. ... There isn't any resistance to Obama anywhere, and it's going to get worse even from this point. There's no political impetus, there's no perceived upside on the part of Republicans standing in the way of Obama. The perception is that the people of this country love Obama. I mean, they cult-figure love this guy. This is the perception in the Republican Party and that there's nothing that's going to change that. So they have to bite the bullet, gnash their teeth, and go along with all this so as not to be hated...
With re-election looming, Kasich’s recent make-out sessions with Obama indicate his desire to appear bipartisan and conciliatory toward Democrats and progressives who despise him and likely will continue to do so regardless of his amorous overtures in their direction. In the meantime, we haven't heard a word about right to work, even as neighboring Michigan prepares to siphon jobs from our state with their new right to work law. While Kasich lowered the income tax and some small business taxes in the state, he wants to raise taxes significantly on fracking and he also proposed a broad-based consumption tax. While certainly innovative, some point out that it will send service-related business to the five border states, though according to the governor's own report, the tax is projected to increase tax revenues to the state by $196 million.
Kasich appears to be gambling that veering to the center-left is his best path to re-election (and perhaps even to the presidency). While Rush is correct that Kasich probably thinks the state is on board with Obamacare now, it is a serious miscalculation. The anti-Obamacare Healthcare Freedom Amendment passed by 67.7% barely a year ago and passed in every county in the state.
Instead, he is creating the perfect storm for a primary challenge and a bitter, divisive primary as well a slate of conservative 3rd party candidates in the general election. If he doesn’t change course, his historical legacy in the state will be as a big-government Obama-enabler and unremarkable moderate rather than as a champion of small government and free-market conservatism. Worse, he will contribute to the continued downgrade of America on a massive scale.
As Mark Levin said, “It’s time for the states to defy Obama and his administration the way Obama and his administration defies the American people.” Now is the time for the red state governors to stand together and as Josh Mandel reminds us,
As Ohioans, we share a common fate with all Americans. Whether taxes by the state or federal government, the Ohio taxpayers will inevitably shoulder the costs of a debt-funded Medicaid expansion.
Kasich need to break up with Obama and come back to the free-market, liberty-minded majority in Ohio who elected him.
As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."