Federal Medicaid Aid Boost Becomes Issue In Kansas Governor’s Race

TOPEKA – A bill in the U.S. Senate that would extend for six months richer federal Medicaid assistance to states and spare Kansas a potential $131 million hole in its budget has now become an issue in the Kansas governor’s race.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tom Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, issued a campaign broadside today against U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, the Republican who is thought to be the frontrunner, saying Brownback’s expected, second vote against the so-called “FMAP extension” would hurt Kansans who rely on Medicaid and force more cuts to social services.

“He’s helped destroy our federal budget and now he’s wanting to do the same for Kansas,” Holland said in a telephone interview after issuing the press release that said, among other things: “Is Sam Brownback going to keep playing the partisan games in Washington that cause real problems here in Kansas? His record indicates that he will.”

The fierier portions of the statement you can read for yourself here.

The Medicaid money in question is contained in H.R. 4213, which is currently before the U.S. Senate where Democratic leaders are trying to muster the 60 votes needed to get the bill to the floor without a filibuster.

Both Kansas U.S. senators are Republicans and both voted against the bill which included the additional Medicaid assistance to states on March 28.

The aid was stripped from the bill before the U.S. House approved it on May 28 because fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans were concerned about the measure’s price tag.

But more than 30 states, including Kansas, have already built the money into their approved budgets and Senate leaders reinserted $24 billion for the Medicaid initiative. The bill likely will be voted upon next week.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, met with Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., in Washington earlier this week urging their support for the aid and at a press conference said that without the money as many as 4,000 Kansas teachers could be laid off.

State Senate Pres. Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican co-signed a letter with Parkinson and the Legisalture’s Democratic leaders asking the senators to support the extra funding. House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson, didn’t sign the letter and wasn’t asked to because it was assumed he would not, according to the Governor’s Office.

No Plan B

It was conservative Kansas House Republicans who produced the first budget bill that counted the federal dollars as certain before they were. But most House conservative later voted against the final budget bill after it was coupled to a sales tax increase and more spending for public schools and state employees than conservatives had called for.

Kansas has no contingency plan, if the FMAP money isn’t approved by Congress, so it remains unclear what revisions would be made in the fiscal 2011 budget, which begins July 1, 2010. Additional Medicaid assistance initially approved in the federal economic stimulus of 2009 is scheduled to run out Dec. 31 and the extension in the bill before the Senate would carry the extra matching dollars forward another six months.

The next governor, presumably Brownback or Holland, likely would have to deal with the problem of stabilizing the 2011 budget, if the money doesn’t come.

Brownback said he will vote for the extension, if the spending for it is offset by reductions in other federal spending.

“We had a good meeting with Gov. Parkinson and I appreciate his time,” Brownback said. “We are all in agreement that Medicaid funding is vital to Kansas. With our debt out of control, we need to be fiscally responsible. I will support FMAP extension as long as it’s offset and paid for, which can easily be done by the White House and Congressional Democrats by using existing stimulus funds.”

Roberts didn’t respond directly to the question of how he would vote on the proposal but said:

“I appreciated the discussion with Gov. Parkinson about the difficulties facing state governments in our struggling economy. With the national debt reaching an all time high of more than $13 trillion, which will outpace GDP in just two years, I cautioned the governor not to count on funding until it has been signed into law. The governor and I agree that Medicaid funding is vital to Kansas, but we must be able to pay for it without going further into debt. I consistently hear from Kansans who want the federal government to reduce, not increase the federal debt, and to spend less, not more of their tax dollars. Critical questions remain about how we will pay for this $24 billion extension in additional Medicaid funding and other obligations given that we already have spent the money of the next three generations of Kansans.”