Walker: The cost of presidential ambitions

By Bill Kaplan

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker is running hard for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: 

* Putting together a campaign juggernaut; 

* Calling for "big and bold" conservative policies before a hard-line GOP crowd in first-up Iowa; 

* Pitching to rich campaign donors (Koch brothers) in California. 

But Wisconsin is in Walker's rear-view mirror as state budget and transportation shortfalls pile up, rural and urban public schools are grossly underfunded and federal funding for Medicaid expansion is rejected on the basis of ideology and politics. 

However, other GOP govs. have prioritized governance over the permanent campaign. About eight GOP govs. are supporting tax increases to fund public schools, pay for bridge and road repairs and shrink budget deficits. And, three GOP govs. have strongly endorsed Medicaid expansion since the GOP wins in the November midterm elections (joining nine other GOP-led states who had previously expanded Medicaid). 

And, more GOP govs. are sending supportive signals. 

Newly-elected Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson finally ended his campaign silence and called for an extension of the existing state "private option" (using federal Medicaid expansion funds for private health care coverage) while reforms are considered. With the campaign over, reality intruded. Turning down 100 percent federal funding, bankrupting hospitals (uncompensated care) or heartlessly dropping 200,000-plus from health care coverage made no sense. GOP-led Iowa also adopted the "private option" for Medicaid expansion. Memo to Walker: the Arkansas and Iowa programs provide a roadmap for a conservative expansion of Medicaid in Wisconsin. 

Then there is Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder who has embraced both Medicaid expansion and tax increases for other spending. He said: "It's not based on partisanship; it's based on common sense and good government" (Snyder was urging Michigan voters to approve a tax increase referendum to fund education and transportation spending). What is the Walker plan? Finally, Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich is touting Medicaid expansion: "I brought (federal) money back to Ohio....to solve problems." There's more. 

Kasich said: "When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor". Surely, Walker, the son of a preacher, can hear compassionate religious teachings. It's long past time to embrace the Social Gospel and expand Medicaid. You are after all still gov. of Wisconsin. 

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

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