Kelly, appearing with Denning, slams 'immoral' blockade of Kansas Medicaid expansion
Wichita Eagle (KS)
Mar. 2--WICHITA -- Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and Senate Republican Leader Jim Denning ramped up a pressure campaign Monday to break Senate President Susan Wagle's blockade of their Medicaid expansion compromise, which Kelly called "immoral."
If it passes, the bipartisan Medicaid deal would represent a signature achievement for Kelly and Denning, extending health care coverage to upwards of 130,000 low-income Kansans. But Republican opponents have for weeks thwarted action on the measure, in response to the Legislature's failure to advance an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.
Wagle, aided by the Republican chairman of the Senate health committee, has stopped expansion legislation from reaching the Senate floor, where it commands majority support. But Kelly and Denning say they are perhaps only a single vote away from breaking the gridlock.
The back-to-back joint events, in Wagle's political backyard of Wichita, featured hospital administrators and clergy who were urged to ask senators to support a procedural maneuver that would bring expansion to the full Senate for debate.
Kelly and Denning have signaled they have support from 23 of the 24 senators required to free the proposal from committee. Once on the floor, the bill needs 21 votes to pass.
"We all know we have an issue with the Senate president, who is tying this issue to the constitutional amendment and not allowing debate on either this issue or any other healthcare issues right now," Kelly said. "Talk about an immoral thing to do -- that is one of them, because the lives of the people of Kansas are really on the line here."
Kansas is one of 14 states that haven't expanded eligibility for Medicaid, the state-administered program that is largely funded by the federal government.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states that expand eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($36,156 for a family of four) pay 10 only percent of the cost. The federal government picks up the rest.
"To take the friction out of the system, I would like to pass this Medicaid bill, get it off the table," Denning said. "And then we can take the rest of our resources and concentrate on what it will take to pass that abortion amendment."
Kelly and Denning's joint appearances, at Ascension Via Christi Hospital and First Presbyterian Church in Wichita, marked an escalation of efforts by expansion supporters to pressure the Legislature to move forward. In recent days, dozens of Kansas Catholic nuns have urged lawmakers to act and proponents of the Kelly-Denning deal rallied at the Statehouse.
Over the weekend, three past Senate presidents -- all Republicans -- urged Wagle to allow debate on expansion. In a column appearing in Gannett newspapers across Kansas, Dick Bond, Dave Kerr and Steve Morris wrote that Wagle "seems more focused on personal political gain than governing -- and at significant cost to the people and future of our great state."
Wagle, who is running for U.S. Senate, has shown no willingness to change course. Since announcing her plan last month, she has contended that without a constitutional amendment, Kansas courts could strike down prohibitions on taxpayer-funded abortions. The state's most influential anti-abortion group, Kansans for Life, has taken the same position.
"Government-run healthcare isn't working. If it was, legislators would have the support to bring it to a vote without my consent," Wagle said in a statement, alluding to the 24 votes expansion supporters are seeking.
"Thankfully, a strong majority of my pro-life colleagues know a vote for this program is a vote against our most vulnerable Kansans and a vote for taxpayer-funded abortions," Wagle continued.
In her statement, Wagle didn't name Denning, instead referring to the "Kelly experiment." She vowed to not expand a "broken program with the Kelly experiment just to get the immediate applause" while leaving vulnerable Kansans "caught in the political crossfire."
Wagle on Monday received a boost from Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who won the Kansas Republican Caucus in 2012.
"I congratulate Senator Wagle for standing up to the pressure from the radical Left, the liberal media & pro-choice Republicans!" Santorum tweeted.
As the standoff over abortion and Medicaid continues, the growing focus on expansion suggests amendment supporters have made little progress in flipping votes.
When the House voted on the amendment last month, it fell four votes short of the two-thirds support needed to send it a statewide ballot. No Democrat backed the measure and four Republicans were opposed. The Senate has already passed it.
"Those four votes are not moving anywhere," Denning said.
Kansans for Life will have to renegotiate the wording of the amendment or move the date of the election, Denning said. Currently, if the Legislature approves the amendment, it will go to a statewide vote during the August primary election.
Some lawmakers who voted against the amendment said they would be more likely to support it if the vote was set for the November general election, which typically features higher turnout. Amendment supporters said it has the best of chance of passing in August. Kansans for Life on Monday reiterated its opposition to Medicaid expansion until the Legislature approves the amendment.
Kelly, speaking in Wichita, suggested failure to pass expansion by the end of March would delay implementation. Her deal with Denning calls for Medicaid to expand its eligibility on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor said her administration has indicated it might not be able to ramp-up the program on-time if the bill doesn't pass this month.
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