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Capital City Sunday: Johnson defends BLM comments, GOP lawmakers set to again reject Medicaid expansion

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Senator Ron Johnson drew national attention when he told a radio host he would've been more concerned for his safety on January 6 had the group breaching the U.S. Capitol been affiliated with Black Lives Matter.

Johnson has defended those remarks in subsequent interviews, citing the amount of protests that turned violent over the summer.

"I was comparing the level of destruction in 570 riots versus the one Capitol breach, which I also condemned," Johnson said. "I'm very consistent this way. I condemn all rioters, all violence."

Johnson pulls that 570 figure from a report produced by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Johnson, in the interview with 27 News, acknowledged that 570 figure was out of more than 7,700 protests.

According to the report itself, that 570 figure was in the context of more than 10,000 total demonstrations and about five percent of them turned violent.

Johnson has also said in recent interviews he was defending the majority of Trump supporters who have not engaged in violence, let alone the January 6 Capitol riot.

"By and large, they were people that respect law enforcement, that would never even think of rioting or breaking the law and that's just the point I've been trying to make," Johnson said. "I've been trying to push back on the broad brush that 74 million Americans are somehow suspected terrorists."

When asked to clarify, Johnson did not cite any instances of mainstream political or media figures who've accused all Trump supporters of participating in or encouraging terrorism.

The ACLED also took issue with Johnson using its report to buttress an argument that right-wing actors present less of a violent threat. The group issued a report last fall finding that militant right-wing groups pose a serious threat to the safety of American elections.

As for whether the Capitol disruption, which intended to disrupt the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, was a more serious offense than the summer riots, Johnson said he was comparing the quantity of violent incidents as opposed to their relative scale.

"I'm not gonna start getting in here from a relative standpoint, other than sheer numbers," Johnson said. "We had one Capitol breach and one riot at the Capitol, again shameful, I condemn it. We had 570 riots during the summer."

Familiar question, new twist

If it seems like every two years in Wisconsin, there's a debate over whether the state should accept a full Medicaid expansion, that's because there is. Going back to 2014, Wisconsin Republicans in charge of the legislature have refused to accept the additional Medicaid funding.

A recent memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found the state would have received a total of $1.6 billion from the federal government had it accepted the full expansion seven years ago.

"That's our money," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point). "There's a lot of money at stake but more importantly, with Republicans, it's time to do the right thing."

To qualify for the federal money, Wisconsin would need to commit to provided ten percent of the Medicaid coverage costs to childless adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

In 2014, the state expanded funding for that group to cover those individuals up to 100 percent of the poverty line, a partial expansion that only has 40 percent covered by the federal government as opposed to the 90 percent offered through full expansion.

Wisconsin is one of 12 remaining states to not adopt the full expansion; Missouri and Oklahoma have adopted the expansion but have yet to implement it. In essence, the state has been paying more money since 2014 to cover fewer people.

Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) said the calculation is more complex than that. He said not expanding Medicaid meant the state's health systems were dealing less with the government and more with private insurers covering working class adults through the exchanges.

"We've got people right now covered on private insurance through the exchange here in Wisconsin and we know that private insurance gives them better coverage and better payments to our health systems," Born said.

Jason Stein, Research Director for the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, said the debate has taken on a different look this year because more than 200,000 new enrollees have signed up for BadgerCare during the pandemic.

"We've had an enormous expansion of the program just because you've had higher unemployment," Stein said. "More people have met the income threshold and are now able to receive coverage."

Earlier this month, the forum released its full biennial budget brief.

Budget complications

While the process of the legislature reworking the governor's budget can be inherently rocky amid divided government, the challenge only grows with complications caused by the pandemic and the subsequent federal relief.

Stein noted lawmakers would still have to sort through Wisconsin's share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan approved earlier this month by Democrats in Congress. With the state and federal tax deadlines pushed back into May, Stein added that could also delay when the Joint Finance Committee has a clearer picture of the state's near-term revenue outlook.

"You want to see what the income tax numbers are in April so this year, that may be even further delayed," Stein said. "I think it may be even more important for people to keep their powder dry and wait and see what the full picture is."

The forum's budget brief noted Governor Tony Evers's budget includes the biggest imbalance between proposed spending and projected revenue in 20 years. Erpenbach defended the proposal to draw down much of the state's reserves, citing the robust rainy-day fund, which is a separate stash.

"Between transferring from one pot of money to another pot of money, we'd be able to balance things at the end of the day," Erpenbach said.

Born and legislative Republicans have been much more skeptical of the plan's calls for increased taxes, borrowing, and spending. Born noted, however, the more immediate task for the finance committee was sorting through the incoming federal money and how it could be spent before proceeding any further.

"We're also, you know, waiting for some federal guidance on some of that language because there are things that are very specific," Born said. "Where money is funneled directly into K-12 education and some very specific areas."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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