Next Monday could be the most important day of the rest of Gov. John R. Kasich's political life.
Whether he can win a second term as governor in 2014, or ever again be considered worthy for 2016 national politics, will rest on whether he can get one of four Republicans who sit on a seven-member legislative panel to join two Democrats and the panel's chairman, a Kasich appointee, to expand Medicaid.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the Affordable Care Act, including its controversial "individual mandate" to purchase healthcare insurance, was constitutional, it also reserved to each state the option to participate or not in expanding Medicaid to a potentially eligible population, which in Ohio is estimated to range from as few as 275,000 thousand people to as many as a half-million or more, if 133 percent of poverty remains the standard.
Kasich needs a vote for his kingdom
In the intervening months, many states have opted in while many have opted out. Ohio is among the states that have yet to decide its course of action.
Just a couple months ago, in July, Gov. Kasich said he was prepared to do whatever it takes to expand Medicaid in the state. "It’s going to happen. It's just a matter of when. This is inevitable," he said.
Medicaid is the United States health program for families and individuals with low income and resources.
Gov. John Kasich, a 61-year old elected by a small margin in 2010, the year anger and energy from Tea Party activists pushed him and many other Republicans at the state and federal levels into office, has gripped that the ACA is terribly flawed. But as a big government Republican, as some of his former allies now turned critics call him, Kasich, now campaigning to be rehired by Ohio voters next year, has said Ohio will benefit from the approximately $13 billion in funds from Washington that will be spent in the state in the coming years, creating health industry jobs in the process.
The high drama takes place Monday, when three senators and three representatives who constitute the legislative members of the Controlling Board take up the issue. Kasich's administration will ask the board to approve spending $2.5 billion over the next two years that Washington has agreed to send to Ohio to pay for expansion of Medicaid.
One man, one vote needed
One Republican member of the Controlling Board said he prefers to see the General Assembly act on it. "My perspective is I have not been for Medicaid expansion," House Rep. Cliff Rosenberger told an Ohio newspaper. "I’ve looked for avenues in Medicaid reform," he said. "I’m concerned about the impact that it will have by taking it to the Controlling Board and not giving every member of the General Assembly the option to place input into it," said Rosenberger, who has eyes for the speakership, as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Another GOP panel member, Bill Coley of Butler County, near Cincinnati, said his chief concern is whether Ohio will be "stuck with a bill" if federal support erodes over time.
At the same time, aspiring House Speaker Ron Amstutz [R-Wooster] said he had "grave concerns" about expansion by the Controlling Board. In the Ohio Senate, President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina in northwest Ohio who has shown himself as a solid lieutenant in the legislature for Kasich, said he would be surprised that the governor would go forward if he didn’t have an idea where the votes were, one published report noted.
In another report, current House Speaker William Batchelder told reporters recently that he questions whether Kasich's strategy to get his way through the Controlling board violates the Ohio constitution. Batchelder, now term limited, said he's signed a letter along with more than 30 other representatives that expresses those concerns.
Ohio Tea Party activists who supported Kasich in 2010 but who have now turned against him, based on several issues, the most important being his support for expanding Medicaid, wrote in a newsletter this week that expanding Medicaid through the Controlling Board is a "questionable maneuver on the part of our increasingly obstinate governor."
Tea Party lays blame on Faber
The OLC newsletter said "Ohioans have a right to be concerned that fundamental checks & balances are being overlooked in favor of a scheme to pass what could not be passed under the normal course of constitutional governance."
The group, which claims about 45,000 engaged activists across the state, says Sen. Faber has the authority to replace senators who might vote for the expansion of Medicaid with senators who will vote no. Faber staffers who have been fielding calls, say the senator has made his feelings known to his two members on the Controlling Board, but that he won't replace them as previous presidents have done to guarantee their appointees vote in a certain way.
"Senator Faber has the tools available to stop Obamacare Medicaid Expansion in Ohio. Faber has been an opponent of Obamacare in the past, now is the time for him to act and put a stop to Governor Kasich’s effort to bypass of the legislature and, thereby, the people of our state," OLC wrote.
If Kasich wins his vote Monday, it's likely that a Tea Party sympathetic lawyer will file a lawsuit alleging the Controlling Board acted improperly, based on its mission to act consistent with the intensions of the General Assembly.
Gov. Kasich finds himself in an awkward position as he prepares for the political fight of his life. First, he has an announced Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald of Cleveland, who in one poll leads the governor by three percentage points, even though the Cuyahoga County Executive is not well known outside his home turf.
Second, Gov. Kasich faces third party candidate Charlie Earl, who will run on the Libertarian Party banner. Earl doesn't have to garner that many votes to deliver a blow to Gov. Kasich, who won by only two percentage points in 2010.
Third, Gov. Kasich faces dogged opposition from Tea Party activists, who seem content to have FitzGerald as governor if that means Kasich is defeated, based on his budget spending, the largest in state history, his hike in taxes and the poor performance of JobsOhio, his pet project to privatize job creation, which has been hobbled from the outset by controversy over its secrecy, lack of public scrutiny and documented conflicts of interest among its members, handpicked by Team Kasich.
If Gov. Kasich does win a second term, he's expected to jump into the national limelight as a potential Republican presidential or vice presidential candidate. The governor served in Congress for 18 years before retiring in 2000, when he made a short-lived attempt to be a candidate for the White House.
When he abandoned his campaign after all eyes focused on Texas Governor George W. Bush, citizen Kasich went to work for six years at Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street investment banking firm whose failure triggered the economic meltdown that became known as the Great Recession, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, a sitting member of the Ohio House, loves to lambast Kasich at every opportunity. Picking on Kasich's aspirations to run for president, Redfern said, "How do you expect to run for president of the United States when you can’t get 11 votes in the Ohio General Assembly?"
In Shakespeare’s play "The tragedy of King Richard III," the famous bard from Stratford-upon-Avon, England, has the king saying, ""A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
For Gov. John Kasich, the reigning king of the Buckeye State, the 2013 updated version for him is, "A vote, a vote, my kingdom for a vote."
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