Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush engaged in a testy argument during Saturday’s presidential debate, with Kasich defending his decision to extend health coverage to low-income people by accepting hundreds of millions of federal dollars made available through the 2010 health law signed by President Barack Obama.
Kasich said the federal money through the Medicaid program allowed Ohio to not only treat the mentally ill, but also to provide health care to the working poor who did not have health insurance coverage, saying “we leave no one behind.”
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But Bush quickly struck back, saying while he admires Kasich for spending more money on drug treatment and mental health, he said “expanding” the health law known as Obamacare “is what we’re talking about.”
Bush said “even though the federal government” is providing the dollars to expand coverage in Ohio, it is doing so with borrowed debts and “creating further debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren. We should be fighting Obamacare, repealing Obamacare, replacing it with something totally different.”
Kasich said Bush “knows that I’m not for Obamacare, never have been. But here’s what’s interesting about Medicaid. You know who expanded Medicaid five times to try to help the folks and give them opportunity so that you could rise and get a job? President Ronald Reagan.”
Kasich also suggested Bush was engaged in negative attacks, saying he did not “want to get into all this fighting tonight because people are frankly sick of the negative campaigning.”
Kasich and the other Republican presidential candidates have vowed to repeal the law, which extends health coverage in two ways.
First, it offers federal subsidies to middle income people to buy private insurance policies through state marketplaces known as exchanges. And second, it expanded income eligibility for Medicaid, the joint federal and state program which provides health care for low-income Americans.
But Kasich has been on the defensive on the issue. While he opposes setting up the state marketplaces, he has been forced to repeatedly explain why he has used the other half of the law to accept Medicaid money.
Mark Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said Kasich “disavowed the mud-slinging when he got dragged into it. It was convenient for him to try to step out of it once the questions got pointed,” adding that the fact Bush so vigorously attacked Kasich shows the Ohio governor “is at least being perceived as a threat after New Hampshire, which says something.”
The debate is the final meeting among the Republican candidates before next Saturday’s South Carolina Republican presidential primary.
They debated on the same day Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, leaving open the possibility that President Barack Obama will nominate a replacement during an election year.
Kasich urged Obama to let the next president choose Scalia’s replacement, saying “the country is so divided right now, and now we’re going to see another partisan fight take place. I really wish the president would think about not nominating somebody.
Kasich was scheduled to leave after the debate to campaign in Michigan, where his aides believe he has a good chance of connecting with Midwest Republicans. With Trump favored to win South Carolina, those close to Kasich are hoping the Ohio governor can turn in a relatively strong performance here.
“It’s not a question of winning,” said former Republican congressman David Hobson of Springfield and who served with Kasich in the U.S. House. “It’s a question of how close he comes to Trump.”
Kasich and Bush have exchanged some spirited volleys, the latest being over defense spending. A TV commercial produced and aired by a super political action committee backing Bush charged that as a member of the U.S. House from 1983 through the end of 2000, Kasich supported “massive defense cuts.”
The commercial cited Kasich’s efforts with former Democratic congressman Ron Dellums of California in the early 1990s to limit production of the B-2 long-range bomber to just 21 jets instead of the 132 originally proposed by the Pentagon.
Throughout this campaign, Kasich has boasted of “grounding” the B-2 bomber, a flying-wing type jet which is largely invisible to enemy radar systems. Although the Air Force and onetime Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., fought to buy more of the expensive B-2s, Kasich argued in the aftermath of the Cold War they simply were too expensive at nearly $1 billion per plane.
Kasich and his backers were annoyed enough that they enlisted the help of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who said in a statement that “any suggestion that John Kasich is anti-defense is simply false. I served with him for 16 years and he consistently fought for a better, more effective military.”
(Jessica Wehrman of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.)
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