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Government and Politics

Republicans may sue over plan to expand Medicaid in Ohio
Two-thirds of the 60-member Ohio House supermajority says the maneuver to put iexpansion before the Controlling Board may violate Ohio’s Constitution

Karen Kasler
Gov. John Kasich wants the Controlling Board to approve spending $2.5 billion federal dollars to expand Medicaid to approximately 275,000 low income adults.
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In The Region:
A showdown at the Statehouse is expected today, when the governor asks for permission to spend billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. But Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, that may not be the final word on the issue.
LISTEN: Taking Medicaid expansion to the Controlling Board may violate Ohio's constitution (short)

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LISTEN: Taking Medicaid expansion to the Controlling Board may violate Ohio's constitution

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With a critical vote to expand Medicaid on the horizon, Gov. John Kasich took his final arguments supporting the expansion today to one of Ohio’s most prestigious medical facilities – the Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s Ohio money. This is not like somebody else’s money. It’s our money. Bringing Ohio money back to Ohio citizens to address our problems is just a fantastic idea," Kasich said. "It’s just something that just makes so much sense.”

Kasich wants the six lawmakers and his appointee on the Controlling Board to approve spending $2.5 billion federal dollars to expand Medicaid to about 275,000 very low-income adults. His administration has said, since the federal government will pay the costs of Medicaid expansion in full for three years, and 90 percent after that, Ohio could bring in $13 billion federal over seven years.

Stalled in the Statehouse
Kasich is taking the request to the Controlling Board because the Republican-run Legislature has indicated that Medicaid expansion isn’t something members will support. House Speaker Bill Batchelder has been among the most vocal in expressing his concerns. And during his remarks supporting the expansion, Kasich called out to the speaker by name, saying more Medicaid would help needy Ohioans, including military veterans.

“And I know Speaker Batchelder feels very strongly about this, about the need to help our veterans, and I do as well. This is critical for us.”

Not buying it
But two-thirds of the 60 member House supermajority disagrees, and signed on to a letter asking Kasich to reconsider Medicaid expansion. The group maintains the maneuver to put expansion before the Controlling Board may violate Ohio’s Constitution.

Supporters of expansion have noted that other requests to spend federal money have gone through the Controlling Board with no problem. But the conservative think tank the Buckeye Institute says this isn’t a comparable situation.  Greg Lawson points to lines in the budget that passed the Legislature that forbid the governor from expanding Medicaid;  Kasich struck those words with his line-item veto power.

“I don’t know of anything where the Legislature has previously voted explicitly to prohibit an action, a governor subsequently vetoed it, and then seeks to appropriate funds. That is different. “

Litigation likely is coming
Lawson says the move will invite a lawsuit. And that certainly seems to be the plan by the tea party-backed 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. Maurice Thompson says there is a very strong legal argument against the authority of the Controlling Board to implement a major public policy that the General Assembly tried to prohibit.

“We never promise lawsuits; we never talk about what we’re going to do. We just do it and talk about it afterwards as a matter of internal policy. But we’re going to be prepared to go ahead if the Controlling Board goes ahead.”

The two Democrats and Kasich’s appointee on the Controlling Board are expected to vote for expansion, with the two House Republicans voting no. The Senate Republicans are predicted to split their votes, with the lone Republican "yes" vote likely coming from Sen. Chris Widener of Springfield; he is term-limited.

It seems likely that the makeup of the Controlling Board -- to try to swing the vote one way or the other -- will not change before the key vote on Monday.  A spokesman for Speaker Batchelder says there’s no news to report. But a spokesman for Republican Senate President Keith Faber is much more firm. He says, “We will not be making any changes to the Controlling Board. “
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