Governing vs. campaigning: Montana expands Medicaid

By Bill Kaplan

The Montana GOP-led legislature passed Medicaid expansion this weekend, making Montana the 29th state to expand Medicaid. Over a dozen GOP House members joined Democrats in voting yes on a final vote Saturday. Earlier, 8 GOP senators voted with Democrats to pass it in the Senate, despite opposition from the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock will sign the bill. And, in other states Republicans are opting for governing over campaigning.

To date, 10 GOP-led states have adopted Medicaid expansion. Moreover, GOP legislators are working with Democrats and Alaska Independent Gov. Bill Walker, Tennessee GOP Gov. Bill Haslam as well as Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to expand Medicaid. Compromise, leadership, negotiation and working across party lines differentiate all these states from Wisconsin, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker is running for president. 

As front-runner Walker campaigns across the nation he is doubling down on his extremist ideological positions to appeal to the Tea Party base of the GOP. Wisconsin has become a campaign prop for: 

* Draconian cuts in funding for schools and the UW System; 

* Passage of a so-called right-to-work bill; 

* More extremism on social issues; 

* Line-in-the-sand opposition to Medicaid expansion. 

It's campaigning and theater over governing and common sense. It shouldn't be. 

The Wisconsin nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that the state could save over $345 million over the next 2 years by expanding Medicaid. And, over 80,000 Wisconsinites could have been covered by BadgerCare (Medicaid) if Walker had taken the federal funding (initial 100 percent funded, later declining to 90 percent). Moreover, a just released Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study said: "States expanding Medicaid see significant budget savings and revenue gains." No wonder Wisconsin GOP state Sen. Luther Olsen exclaimed: "We (turned down the federal Medicaid expansion) when we had money. Now we don't (have money), so everything changes." 

There is another road. Look at GOP-led Michigan. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder led the way in: 

* Passing Medicaid expansion; 

* Hiking the state minimum wage; 

* Supporting a May ballot initiative that would raise $1 billion for roads / other infrastructure projects by increasing the state sales tax, as well as other revenue for schools; 

* Speaking out against bigotry, disguised as religious objections, aimed at LGBT folks. 

Walker, campaigning for president, is on the wrong side of all of these issues. And, he keeps saying that he is like Ronald Reagan. Memo to Walker: President Reagan "signed off on tax increases 11 times" and raised the debt ceiling "17 times", according to the Washington Post. Enough theater. Govern. 

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009

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