Pence Backing Away From Medicaid Expansion?

The most important data point for those who believe Republican governors will all eventually stop posturing and go along with the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion has been the apparent decision of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to joint the parade. Pence, after all, is a former chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, and a darling of movement conservatives, many of whom hoped he’d run for president in 2012 or 2016.

But the heralds of a deal between Pence and the Obama administration may have been a bit premature, as a trio of right-wing wonks writing at Forbes report happily if tentatively:

Earlier this year, Pence promised to walk away from his Obamacare expansion plan if the federal government failed to grant all of his requests for “flexibility….”

While nothing is certain, Gov. Pence’s recent actions on pre-K funding and food stamps could provide insight into his next steps on Obamacare expansion. Last week, Pence made a last-minute decision to reject $80 million in extra federal pre-K funding.

But that decision could have impacts far beyond a modest $80 million grant from the federal grant. Pence’s rhetoric rejecting pre-K funding highlights a philosophy that applies equally to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, laying a foundation for walking away.

“It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state’s mission and programs. More federal dollars do not necessarily equal success, especially when those dollars come with requirements and conditions that will not help — and may even hinder — running a successful program of our own making.”

Pence’s frustration in negotiations with the Obama administration are clearly starting to build. Although these comments were made about federal pre-K grants, it’s easy to see how this same philosophy could set the stage for Pence calling it quits on his Obamacare expansion plan, which would save taxpayers roughly $3 billion per year.

Gov. Pence’s recent actions on food stamp eligibility may provide another hint that Pence is slowly coming to his senses on Obamacare. He announced earlier this week that Indiana would reject a federal waiver to allow able-bodied childless adults to continue receiving food stamps without working.

These are the same childless adults who would become eligible for Medicaid under Pence’s Obamacare plan.

If Pence does please these wonks by just saying no to Medicaid expansion, it will, these wonks believe, stop any creeping momentum for cooperation in extending health coverage among Republican governors and legislators:

If Gov. Pence were to walk away from his Obamacare expansion plan, it could send shockwaves across the political establishment. Such a move would no doubt benefit him politically, but the decision is much bigger than Pence himself.

Backing away from his Obamacare expansion plan could initiate a domino effect against expansion in red states across the country. Pence himself has claimed that “several” states could follow his lead on Obamacare – states where Pence had been, up to now, working to promote his plan.

It would also expose the flanks of John Kasich in next-door Ohio. And it would make Mike Pence a viable conservative champion for 2016. What’s not to like, if you don’t care about your needy citizens?

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.