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Perry Not Backing Off Opposition to Medicaid Expansion

Perry Not Backing Off Opposition to Medicaid Expansion

By Scott Conroy - February 22, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry, who authored the memorably titled book “Fed Up!” before launching a presidential run in 2011, is again demonstrating his skeptical view of a federal government that comes bearing gifts for his state -- even as many of his Republican colleagues have changed their tune.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott became the latest GOP governor to say he will accept a provision in the national health care reform law that expands Medicaid dramatically in his state. But Perry remains steadfast in his refusal to accept the federal funding.

Proponents of taking the money have characterized Perry’s decision as reflecting an unreasonable obstinacy. Texas has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured residents, after all, and the proposed Medicaid expansion would cover more than 1 million additional people.

But during a speech in Washington on Friday that was intended to draw attention to his state’s economic strength, Perry was repeatedly heckled by organized groups of protesters -- to no avail, however, as the nation’s longest-serving governor drew a clear line in the sand on the issue.

“Let me go on the record here for a moment: We’re not going to be expanding Medicaid in Texas,” he said to cheers from the partisan Republican crowd on hand, according to the Houston Chronicle. “The reason is because it’s a broken system. It’s moving our state -- and I’ll just speak to our state -- towards bankruptcy if we expand the current program.”

Earlier this week, protesters outside the Texas State Capitol waved signs and gave speeches decrying the governor’s refusal to accept the funding -- a decision that the Supreme Court ruled last year was up to individual states to make.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion in Texas have questioned Perry’s motives in declining to make what they consider to be an easy decision that would boost revenue in the state, in addition to getting more people insured.

“From a public policy position, and for investing in the future of our state, there has never been a more obvious decision,” said Matt Glazer of the liberal-leaning group Progress Texas. “That being said, Rick Perry is clearly running for president again, and he’s doing everything he can do to make that possible.”

Perry aides dispute vigorously the notion that the governor’s reluctance is based on anything other than concern for the state’s fiscal health. Texas already spends more than a quarter of its budget on Medicaid, and opponents of the expanded funding argue that the state ultimately would have to pony up more in the coming years, which could imperil spending for other critical statewide needs such as infrastructure and public education.

“The governor always compares the expansion of Medicaid to putting another thousand people on the Titanic,” said Perry spokesperson Josh Havens. “It’s just reckless and not fiscally responsible and [it’s] why the governor’s holding the line here in Texas.”

As emphatic as the governor has been, many supporters of Medicaid expansion here remain optimistic that he eventually will cave on the issue amid mounting pressure from business groups and Republican state lawmakers who -- though on the fence at the moment -- might be swayed by the shifting GOP tide nationwide. (A half-dozen Republican governors preceded Florida’s Scott in changing their minds about the funding.)

But with a likely re-election campaign on the horizon next year and a potential second presidential bid looming in 2016, Perry could pay a political price if he were to yield on the issue after once being so emphatically against it.

“I think his motives are essentially ideological as well as wanting to strike others in his party as someone who says what he means,” said Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas, a close observer of the Lone Star State’s politics. “He hasn’t taken the lesson that a lot of Republicans have, [which is] that attitudes like his are a barrier, rather than a facilitator, to electoral success.” 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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