Kasich, Scott and Reagan, sitting in a tree…

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Popular Ohio Governor John Kasich and Florida’s more besieged Rick Scott walked the same chancy line during their state’s respective legislative sessions, backing the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare to the chagrin and resistance of party hardliners and legislative leadership.

But in the mind of Kasich in a Sunday op-ed to USA Today, the two conservative governors are not alone. They are joined by … well, Ronald Reagan, in spirit.

Kasich describes the litmus test that Americans still apply to political decisions even two decades after the Republican icon left office: “What would Reagan do?”

Countering the assumption that a modern-day Governor Reagan would have rejected federal funding for Medicaid expansion simply for being anti-tax, Kasich points to the multiple instances in which Reagan expanded Medicaid.

“For example, in 1986, President Reagan let states add poor children and pregnant women to Medicaid,” Kasich writes, “And after learning that disabled children could receive Medicaid care only in hospitals and nursing homes, he let states provide them care at home also… Reagan was fiscally responsible, but he was also pragmatic and compassionate.”

Kasich goes onto charge that while there are serious, ongoing concerns with federal health care reform — namely the federal takeover of the insurance market — Medicaid expansion is also consistent with efforts to preserve state flexibility and limit the economic impact of the various other changes under Obamacare.

“As the debate continues,” Kasich sums up,” I urge those who esteem Reagan to consider the principled, big-picture perspective at the core of his decisions.”

And maybe Kasich is right… Maybe a governor Reagan, faced with the unwinnable conundrums born by the federal control of health care, would ultimately accept federal dollars in the short term. (Think Sen. Negron’s alternative, which accounted for various contingencies).

But Kasich should also consider a second question — one that plenty of pundits have posed — in asking whether Reagan could be elected today.

Both Kasich and Scott chipped off support from their base for the unthinkable act of doing at least as much as they could with the options given.  An Ohio Tea Party took Kasich’s proposal as a “slap in the face”, and Scott’s announcement received no shortage of head shakes.  Reagan, under today’s scrutiny, would probably be seen to color a little too much outside these impossible lines. 

Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.