Last August, Missouri voters ignored the state’s Republican leadership and voted by referendum to approve Medicaid expansion, the sixth Republican-controlled state to do so. Now, Republicans appear out for revenge. On Thursday, the House Budget Committee rejected a bill that would have allowed the state “to spend $130 million in state funds and $1.6 billion in federal money to pay for the program’s expansion,” the Kansas City Star reported.
Republicans say the state just can’t afford the cost. The bill, state representative Dirk Deaton claims, would “give free health care, government health care to able-bodied adults who can do it for themselves.” It’s unclear how Missourians could perform their own surgeries or triage themselves in case of an accident, but Deaton did not elaborate in his public comments. Another Republican, Sara Walsh, says her own rural voters had rejected the bill. “I don’t believe it is the will of the people to bankrupt our state,” she objected.
Walsh’s constituents supposedly don’t want the bill, but 53 percent of the state does — and that’s what matters. That’s how democracy works. Missouri voters passed Medicaid expansion in a free and fair election, and Republicans are telling them that their votes don’t matter. Writing this feels a bit rote, even repetitive. “Republicans do X anti-democratic thing” is now its own genre of article. But the party has its habits. There was an election in Missouri. Republicans are defying the results, as voters once defied them.
So did Paul LePage, the former Republican governor of Maine. A vehement opponent of Medicaid expansion, LePage repeatedly tried to block expansion of the program from coming into effect. By the summer of 2018, he’d vetoed five expansion bills, and spent the last weeks of his term-limited administration filing legal action to try to stop expansion again. (His Democratic replacement, Janet Mills, promised to implement expansion “on day one” of her term, and did.) There’s an obvious thematic relationship between LePage, and Republicans in Missouri. They share an antipathy for welfare for Medicaid expansion in particular, but a secondary tendency also joins them: Power is the only force that matters. The same force is present in Georgia’s new elections bill, which makes it a crime to offer food and water to voters in line, and restricts the use of provisional ballots and drop boxes.
What Missouri Republicans are saying to constituents is really quite simple: Their votes aren’t important. So did LePage. So are Georgia Republicans, albeit in a different way; all three efforts have a suppressive character. It’s not much of a leap from Missouri to Georgia, where Republicans are taking measures to restrict the vote altogether. Why vote at all if the party that controls your state will just ignore your decision? The fate of Missouri’s Medicaid expansion may next be decided by a court; as was the case in Maine, a judge could order the state to fund the program. Even if that happens, a deeper problem would remain. The rot in the GOP runs so deep that there appears to be no immediate remedy, no compromise, no room for cooperation. Tell Joe Manchin there’s no reasoning with a political party that isn’t interested in democracy.