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Rejecting federal money costs Wisconsin, helps Walker

Matt Pommer

The tab for Wisconsin’s rejection of federal Medicaid money as part of the Obamacare program has soared to over $560 million, according to the latest fiscal report.

Gov. Scott Walker, who says he is running for the White House on his record, didn’t mention the decision during the first Republican presidential debate. Rejecting the federal money is one of the major actions of Walker’s years as governor.

Walker has said his decision will protect Wisconsin taxpayers, suggesting the federal government may not be able to afford all the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which included the additional Medicaid money.

None of the GOP presidential candidates has a good word to say about the law, also known as Obamacare. Most are quick to say they are going to end Obamacare as soon as they get to the Oval Office.

Some suggest they would "replace" Obamacare, but the details are lacking. Some of its provisions are popular, including guaranteed health insurance coverage regardless of existing conditions. The law also allows parents to carry their adult children, to age 26, on the family policy. Those ideas are attractive to 50-plus adults.

Helping poor people get health insurance isn’t as popular. Some will suggest it is part of the "resentment" attitude afoot in America. Some citizens resent providing government benefits that they themselves don’t receive — perhaps a "where’s mine?" attitude.

Walker’s decision not to accept the federal aid should play well with those who have little sympathy for health care assistance for the poor. He could promise that as president he would sharply scale federal Medicaid aid to the 50 states. If Wisconsin can live without a half-billion dollars in federal aid, the other 49 states should do the same, he could say. Let their legislatures devise health care approaches.

Alas, Walker’s decision to reject federal money is not popular with the average Wisconsin citizen. Rejection of the federal money is a mistake, according to 60 percent of those answering an earlier Marquette University poll. It could be one of the reasons why only 41 percent support Walker’s gubernatorial record.

Wisconsin is not very good at getting federal aid. Earlier this summer, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance said Wisconsin is 47th among the states in the amount of federal money received in 2013.

"The relative dearth of federal aid is one reason Wisconsin taxes are above average," the Alliance report noted.

Walker has been steady in his approach toward federal money. Early in his first term as governor of Wisconsin, he rejected an estimated $800 million for a high-speed rail line. The developers of the rail equipment have sued the state in federal court. The case is pending.

Wisconsin also was one of only four states that implemented reductions in food stamp funds. Other affected states found ways to avoid the Congressional budget decisions. Walker could point out how Wisconsin is different than other states.

His approach clearly is not to try to capture the maximum amount of federal funds. That could make him a saint to fiscal conservatives.

Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for the Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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