COLUMBUS - Republican lawmakers failed to vote to override Gov. John Kasich's latest major veto, keeping Medicaid intact for 500,000 lower-income Ohioans and giving the governor another victory over his own party.
After Kasich rejected lawmakers' proposal to halt future enrollment in Medicaid expansion, GOP lawmakers vigorously debated whether to override that veto. In the end, on Thursday, they didn't try. The Ohio House's 66-member GOP caucus lacked the 60 votes it needed to send Kasich a message on Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, lawmakers said.
But lawmakers did vote to override 11 of Kasich's vetoes – marking the first time they have counteracted his veto pen and the most substantial repudiation of a governor's vetoes in decades. The move underscores the divide between Kasich and GOP lawmakers on how the state should pay for health care.
Some Republicans worried a veto override on the Medicaid expansion change would have been for naught. To stop enrollment in the program next year, Kasich would have had to seek permission from the federal government. Their plan didn't give Kasich a deadline, and the governor has ignored their requests in the past. So, the argument was: Why upset people back home over a Medicaid freeze the governor could easily ignore?
Others were persuaded by 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 longtime supporters of Medicaid expansion – pleaded with legislators to keep it, even as many GOP voters railed against the Obamacare program.
Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, worked late Wednesday and early Thursday to get his 66 members to reach a consensus on overriding the veto, knowing he could not count on any votes from Democrats.
Rosenberger insisted he has the votes to override Kasich's veto "if we feel it is necessary," but decided to wait to see what changes Congress makes to Medicaid.
Other lawmakers' accounts disagreed. Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, said on Twitter: "Medicaid freeze override fails. ... Failed. We took a vote count."
Lawmakers, worried about the cost of Medicaid and changes in Washington, could still override Kasich's veto at any point before Dec. 31, 2018. That's not an idle threat, Rosenberger emphasized with reporters and lawmakers. Still, it's difficult to say if more time will mean more support for curbing Medicaid expansion.
The override votes the House did take were aimed at wresting control from the governor on Medicaid spending and the state Controlling Board, a seven-member panel that helped Kasich enlarge Medicaid in the first place. One item would allow Ohio to charge premiums to certain Medicaid recipients if President Donald Trump's administration approves the change. The same proposal was rejected by the President Barack Obama's administration last year.
Taken together, the overrides send a strong rebuke how Kasich has handled of Medicaid.
"I applaud those legislators and all who held off a misguided push to strip health care from hundreds of thousands of Ohioans – for now. However risks remain," Kasich said in a statement. The governor also warned House overrides would impede access to health care. "As the saying goes: if you break it, you own it."
House lawmakers also voted to restore a request for $207 million a year for counties and transit authorities. That also would require federal approval. Kasich had vetoed the provision in part because of worries over the federal request. His staff says it doesn't want to jeopardize state money secured to offset a sales tax the federal government no longer allows.
All overrides will need approval from a three-fifths majority of Ohio's GOP-controlled Senate to take effect. The Ohio Senate isn't rushing back to vote on the changes.
Overrides are extremely rare because of the three-fifths margin in both chambers. 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.