In a unilateral disarmament of his best campaign issue, Gov. Kasich seems to have given up entirely on his Medicaid program.

If Kasich really wanted to expand Medicaid, he would give a press conference saying:  “I will veto any budget bill that doesn’t cut income taxes by 10% and expand health coverage to the working poor.”

That would put him in a very strong position moving into 2014.  By protecting his income tax cut, he would outflank the House on the right; by expanding Medicaid, he would take away a slam dunk issue for the Democrats.

Instead, he’s left the door open for Democrats to run on the same message–or better yet, to send the savings to school districts.

The governor must be aware of how the following three facts will make it much harder to win a second term, yet he’s ceding the issue to Democrats.  That indicates to me that his original plan was nothing more than a ploy to win some good press.

1.  Medicaid is the only popular aspect of his budget.  As analyzed in Plunderbund, Kasich’s budget was underwater in every category except Medicaid and the severance tax.  HB 59 strips out everything that Kasich can use for leverage in his reelection campaign.

2.  The Medicaid plan has a budgetary impact saving over $1 billion.  As enumerated here, the Medicaid plan frees up $926 million in the biennium.  HB 59 adds another $100 million in spending on mental health and addiction, which is duplicative if Medicaid is expanded.

The income tax cut in HB 59 amounts to $1.5 billion.  Kasich could add another billion to that by expanding Medicaid, but they’re settling for a smaller tax cut.

More importantly, the press is signaling that they won’t let the GOP run on a 7% cut.  The PD calls this tax cut “nugatory”, whereas they said the original proposal “would slash income taxes”.  Since there’s only a $140 difference for the median household, this framing is a very big deal.

3.  Kasich has lost control of his party.  If the governor has no say in the education, health care, and taxation elements of the state, then what good is he?  The longer this tension is protracted, the more Bill Batchelder will become the face of the GOP.

With HB 59, the House GOP has stripped Kasich of every populist path to reelection.  They’re doing this because they’re afraid of primaries from the right.  The fact that the Ohio Republican Party is more concerned with job security for its House members than with reelecting Kasich is quite the tell.