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GOP guts Evers budget, rejects Medicaid expansion once more

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As they pledged to do for months, legislative Republicans tore apart Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' proposed 2021-22 budget.

In a single vote Thursday, GOP members on the budget-writing Joint Finance Commitee voted 12-4 on a party-line vote to remove more than 380 items from the governor's budget.

The items stripped out included proposals to accept federal money to put more people on BadgerCare, legalize marijuana, and raise the minimum wage.

Republicans noted a finding from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that the Evers administration included about 190 non-fiscal items that traditionally have no place in a budget. The LFB added it was the most non-fiscal items it had seen jammed into a budget in "20-30 years."

Democrats then pointed to the other 190 or so items and suggested there was bipartisan support for at least some of them, including school mental health funding and broadband expansion.

For much of the meeting, the two sides traded barbs over a Democratic motion to restore the Medicaid expansion, which in this budget cycle, would give the state an additional $1.6 billion in federal dollars.

"Taxpayers are paying for your health care, paying for my health care," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point). "Who the hell are we to say to someone making $10 an hour 'you can't be on BadgerCare because you make too much money.'"

Republican co-chair of the committee, Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) took issue with Democrats' assertion the GOP was being cruel in its refusal to expand the program, saying Republicans were sticking to a principle that opposes putting more people on welfare.

"This crap, quite frankly, that we've been hearing for months from the other side every time I say, or anyone else says this is an expansion of welfare, I will tell it like it is and that is what this is," Born said.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin was in Madison Thursday and across the street from the Capitol visiting a coffee shop to promote the American Rescue Plan. Baldwin honed in on the Medicaid expansion issue when asked about the state budget fight.

"So foolish and, you know, lacking in compassion," Baldwin said of the rejection. "As well as fiscally unsound."

Republicans said it was nonsense to characterize the Medicaid expansion as free money because the federal program traditionally reimburses hospitals at lesser rates, which then get passed onto insurance companies, who then raise premiums.

"So do the hospitals lose money? No," said Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk). "They cost-shift it to the rest of the people that are working."

The rejection will deny BadgerCare coverage to about 90,000 Wisconsinites who earn between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $17,240 a year for a couple and $26,200 for a family of four.

Wisconsin is one of 12 states, and the only one in the Midwest, to have not adopted Medicaid expansion. It is the only one of those 12 states to at least ensure Medicaid coverage for people making up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

Evers responded to the previous request from Republicans to meet over how he planned to spend about $3.2 billion in American Rescue Plan money coming to the state.

Evers said he was willing to have that discussion but asked GOP leaders to also bring their own plans for expanding Medicaid coverage, signaling the eight-year-old fight over health care would not end with Thursday's vote.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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