COLUMBUS – After years of increasing tension, Ohio's GOP lawmakers finally appear poised to override fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich's vetoes – not just once, but many times.
Lawmakers want to restore several items Kasich slashed last week from the state's two-year budget – not only their attempt to end the governor's Medicaid expansion for as many as 500,000 Ohioans.
The slew of overrides is an unusual move for any group of Ohio legislators, but especially those from the same party as the sitting governor. Republicans have not tried to do so since Kasich took office in 2011.
In recent months, Kasich has fought with Republicans from Washington to Columbus over health care.
“Do you think that I like to have to fight the leaders in my own party over this? Of course not. There's no joy in that," Kasich told ABC News. "But John Kennedy may have said it best – sometimes my party asks too much.”
Kasich's growing rift with Republicans has led to disagreements with Ohio lawmakers over how to run the state. Last year, Kasich vetoed a ban on abortions after the first fetal heartbeat is detected and halted a proposed freeze on renewable energy. Lawmakers fumed and grandstanded, but didn't reconvene to overturn his vetoes.
Now, lawmakers want to prevent new enrollment in Medicaid expansion – aimed a lower-income, childless adults – after July 1, 2018. They would include an exception for those with a drug addiction or mental illness, and any changes would require approval from President Donald Trump's administration.
"At the end of the day, this is not a fight with the governor. This is about policy differences we are having," Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said on Wednesday.
Republicans were discussing challenging as many as 15 vetoes, counting the votes to see if they could pull off the three-fifths margin for any of them. Sixty-six Republicans, ranging from conservative to moderate, make up the Ohio House's majority caucus.
The "policy differences" at issue go beyond the governor and state lawmakers. Conservative voters and lobbying groups representing largely conservative constituents were demanding different responses to Kasich's veto on Wednesday.
On one side, the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity was urging legislators to stand up to Kasich. The term-limited governor has "overplayed his hand" with a "politically motivated veto,” the group's Ohio director, Micah Derry, said in a statement.
On the other side stood pro-business associations and a major anti-abortion group, which represent huge GOP constituencies. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Right to Life and Ohio Hospital Association – all long-time supporters of Medicaid expansion – pleaded with legislators to keep it. The conservative-friendly groups argued unpaid bills would skyrocket at hospitals and Ohioans would lose health care if GOP lawmakers reinstate the freeze.
Veto overrides in Ohio are extremely rare. The last time lawmakers rejected a governor's veto was in December 2006, when the GOP-controlled Legislature passed an override of Republican Gov. Bob Taft's veto of a concealed handgun license bill. It has been nearly 40 years since lawmakers undid multiple vetoes on the state budget.
Overriding a governor's veto isn't easy. Lawmakers need 60 of 99 members of the Ohio House and 20 of 33 members of the Ohio Senate – a three-fifths majority in both chambers – to overturn the governor's wishes.
Republicans will get no help from their Democratic colleagues to override Kasich’s Medicaid veto. Former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and several Democratic lawmakers attended a rally outside the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday where several hundred people chanted, “Save Medicaid. Save Lives.” That rally was sponsored by GOP-leaning groups such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Republicans did reach out to Democrats about helping them vote to restore $207 million a year that Kasich axed from counties and transit authorities. They money was intended to replace a sales tax that the federal government no longer allows.
Kasich’s administration already obtained permission from the federal government to offset the state’s losses. Officials worry they could lose that money by requesting more for counties.
Ohio House members will meet Thursday to consider overrides. Any changes would need approval from the Ohio Senate, which could meet next week. Lawmakers have until the end of 2018 to override any vetoes.