Earlier this month, Gov. Scott Walker declined federal funds to expand Wisconsin’s Medicaid coverage to more of the state’s citizens. The exact details of the expansion and Walker’s alternative proposal are not important — suffice to say that, as compared to Walker’s plan, expanding coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act would provide more Wisconsinites with insurance while costing the state less.
Now, I realize there are many complicated, unresolved issues of public policy. This is not one. When you have the chance to save your state money AND expand health care coverage — two things almost always mutually exclusive — you do it. You don’t play politics with people’s health. And you don’t use people’s health as a way to jockey for a political advantage.
Part of Walker’s reasoning — or at least the reasoning he’s chosen to share with the public — is that he “[cares] too much about the people of this state not to empower them to control their own destiny.”
While this reasoning is a little ridiculous, given I could easily rephrase that to “I care too much about the people of this state to let more of them have healthcare,” it’s at least consistent with Walker’s broader ideology. While I personally don’t feel forcing government-provided insurance on someone is an egregious assault on his or her liberty, I can understand valuing freedom over security. I’ll give Walker the benefit of the doubt on this count.
However, Walker also claimed he was uncertain the federal government, with its accumulating debt, could afford to keep its funding promise. This claim has no basis in fact and is nothing more than fear-mongering and political jockeying. There is no evidence the federal government will have any trouble maintaining its fiscal obligations — indeed, demand for treasuries, including 30-year bonds, has remained robust.
Walker may not like that the federal government is borrowing money, but if that’s how he feels, that is what he should say – not that he doubts the government’s ability to fulfill its obligations. Walker’s claim is particularly ridiculous because the state could reverse its expansion at any point if the federal government reneged on its promise.
Other states have had to make similar decisions. Surprisingly, several staunchly-conservative governors chose to accept the Medicaid expansion, including Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.
In the case of Scott, the decision to accept federal funds was most likely a result of his comically-low approval numbers, which are barely more than 30 percent. He has already exhausted most of his political capital and knows he must do something different to avoid being humiliated in his bid for reelection – although it’s probably too late.
Christie’s decision, on the other hand, does not seem politically motivated. His statewide approval numbers continue to remain remarkably high — over 70 percent — and he should have no trouble burying whichever unfortunate Democrat runs against him. What, then, was his reasoning? Is it possible Christie made the decision simply because it was the right thing to do? Occam’s Razor would certainly suggest it.
Interestingly, the careers of Christie and our own governor have some similarities — both were swept into governorships of traditionally Democratic states as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010. Now, both Christie and Walker are frequently mentioned as potential contenders for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016.
If the 2016 Republican primary is anything like 2012, the candidates will be trying to prove how, in the words of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, “severely conservative” they are. If Walker is indeed eyeing a presidential run, this decision sets him up quite well for it. The Affordable Care Act will likely still be a favorite rhetorical target in 2016 — at the expense of the state’s greater good.
Christie’s approach to governing, on the other hand, appears to be to do what he considers best for his state. This is further evidenced by his praise for Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, which earned him the ire of many prominent Republicans. He said what he said because it was true, not because it would earn him political points in the future. While I’m not a huge Christie fan, I’ll trust the 74 percent of New Jersey residents who approve of him. Walker could stand to learn a thing or two about how to be a conservative governor of a blue state from Christie.
Walker’s decision to spurn federal funding for Medicaid was foolish, regardless of his reasoning. If he had rejected funding out of simple incompetence, that would have been one thing. But it appears he cost the state money and reduced the number of Wisconsinites who have healthcare for his own political advantage, and that is entirely another.
Joe Timmerman ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in economics and math.