After mulling over this morning’s post about how Kasich ally, Speaker-elect Bill Batchelder declared that it was “inevitable” that the Republicans would cut Medicaid eligibility to, in most cases, half their present levels, I do what I used to do all the time when I worked in the Statehouse: I started counting the votes.
When Ted Strickland won in 2006 with over 60% of the vote, there was relatively little change in the State House which continued to be controlled by then Speaker Jon Husted. Despite having both chamber controlled by the opposition party, Strickland’s mandate was so strong that his first budget passed unanimously, being the first Governor in over eighty years to get his budget passed unanimously.
Kasich comes into office with no such mandate. He got less than 50% of the vote in an election in which less than half the registered voters voted. A massive statewide drop in turnout since the last midterm in which something like 56% of registered voters voted in 2006. His budget, if Batchelder is to be believed (and he should be believed as the presumptive Speaker), will call for massive cuts in Medicaid eligibility, among other things like cuts in school funding. Republicans cynically attacked Democratic incumbents for “cutting” school funding because the state’s share dropped even though that drop was exceeded by an increase in the federal share of the State budget. Come 2012, the Ohio House Democratic Caucus will be able to use those very same lines of attacks against the Republicans during a presidential election year where turnout won’t like favor the Republicans nearly as much as it did in 2010.
Batchelder has 58 of the 99 members of the Ohio House in his Republican caucus. Meaning he can still pass pretty much anything they want so long as he doesn’t lose more than eight members of his own caucus. I cannot believe that many, if any, of the 41 Ohio House Democrats will vote for a budget that actually cuts school funding and reduces the income eligibility for Medicaid by half. But that doesn’t necessary foretell that the budget will even pass on a strict 58-41 party line vote.
While one of the most conservative members to ever to serve in the House, Batchelder is also incredibly shrewd politically. He knows that in the end, it’s not politically worth jeopardizing certain seats that make up his majority coalition over this budget since it really won’t matter in the long-term if it passes by 50 or 58. So, I predict Batchelder will release (and if not, they might just revolt anyways) some of the potentially more politically vulnerable members of his caucus from being expected to vote for this Medicaid change.
Members like incoming freshman like Dr. Terry Johnson of Scioto County who is taking over State Representative Todd Book’s seat. For an Appalachian district like Johnson’s what we already know about the likely Kasich budget is enough to say that Johnson could be committing political suicide to support such changes. This Medicaid vote will be a true test of whether such freshmen members are nothing more than partisan rubber stamps, or truly representative of their constituents. I expect Batchelder will release Johnson, or Johnson will oppose this Medicaid change anyways.
Another example, the Dayton Daily News reports that incoming State Senate freshman Bill Beagle of Dayton (who defeated 2009 Democratic appointee/former State Rep. Fred Strahorn) has already announced his skepticism about enacting the last over $800 million in tax cuts passed in 2005 during the first budget as Governor-elect Kasich has vowed to do:
Beagle has separated himself from Gov.-elect John Kasich, not fully supporting Kasich’s announcement to support the 4.2 percent income tax cut halted by the legislature last year.
“I want to get more information and see the whole budget before making my decision,” Beagle said. “If we can protect and deliver services and cut the tax rate, I am for it. But I am not jumping on the bandwagon and say we should cut taxes if we can’t afford it.”
Although Beagle has four years and will have a new district in which to run, chances are that Beagle won’t be able to support this kind of change in Medicaid and expect to be re-elected come 2014.
Anyway, Batchelder knows that the Ohio House Democrats were able to take over in 2008 despite the fact that the Republicans drew the legislative district map; he’s not fool hearted enough to believe it couldn’t happen again.
We saw in several instances in the last budget fight that Senate President Bill Harris would engineer just a handful of GOP Senators to get the barest of majorities to pass a tax freeze that was unpopular with his base. We’ll see, on occasion, Batchelder doing the same thing, I predict.
Because it is in his caucus’ own self interest to allow a handful of its most vulnerable members to act in their own political self-interest, I predict its far more likely that Kasich’s first budget barely passes the House over bipartisan opposition than it does to have any chance of passing by large (or even bipartisan) majorities.
If you see any of your General Assembly members in the media discussing these budget proposal, let us know. We’ll keep a tally to see just how many, if any, defections we’ll see on these radical cuts to pay for tax cuts that have failed to stimulate the economy in Ohio.