Jeb Misses Mount Everest

Sure has been a bad week for Jeb Bush. He’s getting pounded from the left and center for releasing a book (apparently written back during the Nativist-Fest of the 2012 GOP presidential nominating contest) on immigration policy that undercuts his supposed protege Marco Rubio, not to mention the efforts of his very own brother. He’s getting pounded from the right for the heretical suggestion that maybe Republicans could support new revenues as part of a budgetary Grand Bargain.

And now he deserves a pounding from every direction for exhibiting ignorance about the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, per this CNN report (via TPM):

Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush isn’t in alignment with the Sunshine State’s current Republican executive on the issue of accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage to more lower income residents.

Asked by CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper about Rick Scott’s recent decision to accept the funds, which are included as part of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care law, Bush said he had reservations about the Medicaid expansion, which will be totally funded by the federal government for the first three years. After that, federal funding will be phased down.

“I have doubts because I think if three years from now, as I understand it, three or four years from now, the deal is that the fed match goes from 95 back to what it is now, which is about 55 in Florida,” Bush said.

Whoever wrote this anonymous piece must have savored a brief pause before dropping the hammer:

While Bush is correct that federal financing for Medicaid expansion phases down, the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates the federal matching level would remain at 90% for “2020 and beyond.”

So is this just one of those little math glitches that even smart pols commit, for which only his blood enemies could possibly hold him accountable?

I don’t think so. Jeb Bush was a two-term governor of a large state with a large Medicaid population. Medicaid represented the second-largest item in the state budget (after education) then as now, and far and away the largest federal program directly affecting Florida’s budget (the late, great National Governors’ Association lobbyist Jim Martin used to say often: “The governors have three priorities in this year’s federal budget debate: Medicaid, Medicaid, and Medicaid.”).

Beyond that, the Medicaid expansion has been far and away the hottest political issue in Florida this year, and a subset of what has been the hottest political issue for Republicans everywhere–Obamacare–since the moment it was created in 2010.

So no, I don’t think Jeb Bush deserves to be cut any slack for so fundamentally misunderstanding the financial terms of the Medicaid expansion. It’s like a Nepalese mountain-climber missing Mount Everest. Maybe it was just a senior moment–Lord knows I have them–but certainly a poorly timed one for a guy who seems determined all of a sudden to remind us all of why two Bush presidencies might have been more than enough.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.