John Kasich tries to have it both ways on Obamacare

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When it comes to making the case for Obamacare???s persistence, few Republicans have been as insistent as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is in a bit of hot water after talking it up recently to the Associated Press:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he doesn???t think there will be a repeal in Washington, even if Republicans win a Senate majority and consolidate their hold on the House in next month???s election.

???That???s not gonna happen,??? the Republican governor told The Associated Press during a recent re-election campaign swing.

Kasich called The Associated Press Monday night to clarify that he was speaking specifically about a repeal of Medicaid expansion and not of the entire Affordable Care Act ??? although opponents in Washington don???t usually draw such distinctions.

He said he believes the ACA ???can and should??? be repealed, but that opposition to the Medicaid expansion ???was really either political or ideological,??? adding, ???I don???t think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people???s lives.???

He has cast the Medicaid expansion in Ohio as a moral choice to help the poor.

What???s important about the distinction between what Kasich is saying here and what some squishy Republicans have said in other venues is that he is making a case for Obamacare???s Medicaid expansion not merely as something it is politically unfeasible to roll back, but that it will persist as an affirmative good thing. Which is strange, given Obamacare???s overwhelming unpopularity ??? and it???s one reason why Kasich is insisting the AP got his quote wrong.

Kasich said AP got it wrong, and he called POLITICO Monday night to correct the record. He said he was talking specifically about repeal of the expansion of Medicaid ??? which Ohio has implemented ??? and not of the Affordable Care Act more broadly.

???From Day One, and up until today and into tomorrow, I do not support Obamacare,??? the Republican governor said on Monday evening. ???I never have, and I believe it should be repealed.???

Except for the Medicaid expansion part ??? which wouldn???t exist without the law. Kasich thinks there ought to be a way to save it.

???I have favored expanding Medicaid, but I don???t really see expanding Medicaid as really connected to Obamacare,??? he said.

If Republicans take the Senate, Kasich said, ???you better believe they???re gonna repeal Obamacare and I agree with that.??? But, he added, ???there???s got to be an accommodation??? for Medicaid expansion.

Of course, the idea that the Medicaid expansion is divorced from Obamacare is a little odd ??? albeit an idea the Supreme Court willingly accepted given its methodology. As Jason Millman notes, it actually accounts for half the coverage expansion under Obamacare. At the Washington ExaminerPhilip Klein has more:

Kasich, an enthusiastic backer of the law???s Medicaid expansion, has consistently tried to hold the dishonest position that supporting one of the key components of Obamacare was somehow consistent with opposing Obamacare, an untenable distinction I slammed him for last year. But what generated headlines this time was that, as originally quoted by the AP, he appeared to be breaking from his long-held dishonest effectively-pro-Obamacare position into an openly-pro-Obamacare position. One of my first thoughts after reading his initial comments was that he cannot be serious about running for president in 2016, because there???s no way he could win a primary with such a stance.

However, Kasich subsequently took to Twitter to reiterate that, no, he really meant to continue being dishonest about Obamacare and the AP misquoted him by suggesting he now wanted to be open about his support for the law ???

The real chance for Republican governors to stand up for limited-government principles was to reject the money coming from Washington to expand the fully government-run Medicaid program. And Kasich embraced the big government position and has defended it strenuously. If he actually supports repeal, it would mean getting rid of the expansion of Medicaid that he still holds is making ???real flesh and blood and real improvements in people???s lives.???

Acceptance of the Medicaid expansion places Republicans in the position of embracing a belief that a welfare program ought to put childless able-bodied adults ahead of the truly needy and condemns them to a ghettoized form of health care. It also puts future citizens on the hook for tax increases to fund the state???s share of the program, which is assured to grow. It is unjustifiable as a fiscally conservative idea, and Kasich???s defense of it should render him toxic for anyone who values fiscally responsible government.