Jan Brewer’s eagerness to impose new taxes to help the Obama administration finance its expansion of the welfare state has gone from unwise to unseemly: The Republican governor of Arizona is attempting to force the Republican-led state legislature to expand Medicaid and is threatening to veto all legislation until she is satisfied. She is calling her gambit a “moratorium” on legislation, and she already has vetoed five unrelated bills. This is conduct unbecoming of a chief executive.
Governor Brewer’s desire to expand Medicaid is predicated on a particular kind of economic illiteracy – to wit, the belief that there is such a thing as “free money” from the federal government, as though Arizona taxpayers were not also federal taxpayers. Medicaid is an extraordinarily expensive program, and one that has been shown in study after study to produce little or nothing in the way of measurable health benefits for recipients. It is an additional indicator of the program’s low quality that nearly a third of all U.S. doctors refuse to take on new Medicaid patients. It is the definitive federal entitlement boondoggle: big cost, little upside.
In addition to elementary economics, the governor requires a remedial education in civics. We have multiple branches of government and divided powers for a reason; she is the governor of Arizona, not its viceroy. Executives are entrusted with veto power to ensure that defective bills do not become law, not to hold the entire legislative process hostage until they get their way. Governor Brewer’s shenanigans are the political equivalent of holding one’s breath and stamping one’s feet. She is the Veruca Salt of governors.
The Medicaid expansion is superficially attractive in that states are at first required to kick in only 10 cents for every $1 in new spending. They will have to pay more down the line, of course, but Governor Brewer does not seem to be looking beyond the next election. The 10 percent that Arizona will be responsible for will be paid for with a new tax on hospital services. It takes a special kind of genius to make health care more affordable by making it more expensive.
Under law, the states cannot be forced to accept the Medicaid expansion. It is up to them. Some Republicans have stood strong against it, and some are rolling over for the Obama administration. Governor Brewer is for the moment unique in that she is throwing a gubernatorial temper tantrum on behalf of expanding government-run health care. Our hope is that Arizona’s legislators will keep the Medicaid expansion out of the budget and, for the good of the state, pass the budget over the governor’s veto. Governor Brewer may not be around to see the bill for the Medicaid expansion when it comes due, but Arizona taxpayers will.