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Johnson County conservative groups organize opposition to proposed Medicaid expansion deal

Jay Senter - January 13, 2020 11:45 am
At a press conference at the state capitol last week, legislators from both parties announced a compromise deal on Medicaid expansion heading in to the 2020 session. Four Johnson County conservative groups have voiced strong opposition to the proposal. Photo credit office of Gov. Laura Kelly.

Four Johnson County conservative groups — including two that focus their efforts on the northern part of the county — have organized a show of opposition to the Medicaid expansion proposal deal unveiled by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park last week.

In a joint statement released Friday evening, the Northwest Johnson County Republicans, the NE Johnson County Conservatives, the Conservative Republicans of Southern Johnson County and the Olathe Republican Party said the bipartisan deal that has the support of 11 Republican Senators has “created much confusion, disappointment, and bewilderment among rank and file Republicans.”

“The desertion among 11 Republican Senators who chose to place themselves above Party, principle, and policy is disgraceful,” reads the groups’ joint statement. “Not only does their behavior demand answers, it brings to light the need to expose these renegade actions that violated the very Republican Party Platform they espoused to get elected into office, and further promised to honor while serving their respective constituents.”

In the statement, the groups say that Medicaid expansion “creates potentially the largest unfunded mandate in the history of Kansas, and sets up the prospects of pulling the rug out from under citizens that had become exclusively dependent upon the government’s care…Medicaid Expansion remains the final vestiges of the failed Obamacare scheme for our nation. It was never designed by Republicans, nor will truly dedicated Republicans in this state support it.”

Proposed compromise puts Denning, conservative groups at odds

Medicaid expansion has been topic of intense debate in the capitol the past several years, with proponents arguing that it would provided needed access to healthcare coverage for lower-income Kansans and could help shore up the finances of struggling rural hospitals. Moreover, expansion proponents point out that the state has been forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the federal government that would pay for 90 percent of the cost of the program.

But opponents have suggested that the state’s portion of the cost of expansion — estimated at about $47.5 million the first year — would burden the state’s budget, and that they are ideologically opposed to any expansion of welfare programs, particularly without associated work requirements.

Denning has played a significant role in preventing Medicaid expansion bills from advancing through the legislative process in recent years. His “pass” vote on whether to bring a bill up for debate in the Senate last session proved decisive in keeping it off the chamber’s agenda, for example.

But his bipartisan compromise with Kelly and Democratic legislative leaders this month has made him the focus of criticism from conservative groups and media outlets.

Asked to comment on the joint statement by the Johnson County organizations, Denning sought to distance their activities from the Republican party itself.

“It’s worth noting that these ‘clubs’ are in no way officially linked to the Kansas Republican Party,” Denning said. “This is their political attempt to bully elected Republicans in the House and Senate to stop coverage of pre-existing conditions and halt the effort of lowering health care premiums for small business owners and individuals.”

Denning also pointed out that the agreement had enough votes on the Senate floor to pass.

“I’d also like to add that they disagree with my ability to count a simple majority on the Senate floor,” Denning said.

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