Ohio Gov. John Kasich has made clear that he's seriously considering running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. If he formally announces, it will be important for conservative voters to punish him for his expansion of President Obama's healthcare law in his state.
Kasich is currently polling in the low single-digits, has no clear path to the nomination, and the grassroots aren't exactly clamoring for him to run. Yet he is being egged on by a group of Republicans who want to see the party move in a direction that's more comfortable with a larger role for government.
Though on the campaign trail he'll insist that he's a warrior for limited government, in reality not only did Kasich decide to participate in Obamacare's fiscally destructive expansion of Medicaid, in doing so he also displayed a toxic mix of cronyism, dishonesty and executive overreach. A 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court made it easier for states to reject Obamacare's costly expansion of Medicaid — as many governors prudently chose to do.
But in February 2013, despite campaigning on opposition to Obamacare, Kasich crumbled under pressure from hospital lobbyists who supported the measure, and endorsed the expansion. When his legislature opposed him, Kasich bypassed lawmakers and imposed the expansion through a separate panel — an example of executive overreach worthy of Obama.
Kasich cloaked his cynical move in the language of Christianity, and, just like a liberal demagogue, he portrayed those with principled objections to spending more taxpayer money on a failing program as being heartless.
"Why is that some people don't get it?" Kasich asked rhetorically at an October 2013 event at the Cleveland Clinic, which lobbied the administration heavily for the expansion so that it could access a stream of money from federal taxpayers. "Is it because they're hard-hearted or cold-hearted? It's probably because they don't understand the problem because they have never walked in somebody's shoes."
Kasich's defenses of his decision to expand Medicaid are built on a mountain of lies, which have been doggedly chronicled by Ohio native Jason Hart (currently with Watchdog.org) for the past two years.
One of Kasich's recurring defenses has been that he was simply making sure that money Ohio taxpayers sent to the federal government got returned to the state. That argument could theoretically pass muster if it were a situation in which money not spent by Ohio were automatically funneled to other states, as with the economic stimulus bill. But that isn't the situation with Medicaid expansion, the funding for which is only spent in states that agree to participate.
It's also worth noting that although the federal government picks up the full tab for the expansion in its first three years, starting in 2017, states will have to start pitching in and by 2020 will have to cover 10 percent of the costs. As it is, Medicaid is crippling state budgets and is everywhere among the largest state expenditures.
Kasich has also emphatically tried to claim that the expansion of Medicaid has nothing to do with Obamacare. This is ridiculous. The Medicaid expansion is one of the central parts of the law, which is why the administration is fighting so bitterly for states to adopt it. According to the latest estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, Obamacare spends $847 billion over the next decade on expanding Medicaid — representing roughly half of the expenditures in the law.
As Kasich transitions from governor to presidential candidate, his position will become even more difficult to defend. It's one thing to argue to state residents that he's taking free money from the federal government (however misleading this line of argument is), but it will become much harder when he's running a national campaign seeking the votes of federal taxpayers, many of whom are not happy about the increased federal Medicaid spending that has been exacerbated by Kasich.
Republican voters made a terrible miscalculation when they chose so-called compassionate conservative George W. Bush as their nominee, as he went on as president to push the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society in the form of the Medicare prescription drug plan.
In 2012, Republican voters nominated Mitt Romney, letting him get away with his signing of a mandate and subsidy-driven healthcare law as governor that became a model for Obamacare. The result was an intellectually shallow general election campaign that neutralized an issue that has proven otherwise toxic for Democrats — having cost them the House and the Senate in two mid-term election cycles.
During this presidential primary season, Republican voters will have much better options than they did last time. They don't have to settle for another champion of big government.
By punishing Kasich for expanding Medicaid, conservative primary voters would be sending the message to state-level Republicans everywhere that if they choose to advance big government healthcare solutions, there will be consequences — and they will have no chance of rising to higher office.