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Conservatives blast Brewer for proposed Medicaid expansion

Deep split among GOP lawmakers to AHCCCS expansionFrom the state Capitol to Washington, D.C., to New York, conservatives are reprimanding Gov. Jan Brewer over her Medicaid expansion plan.

For the governor, this is hostile but familiar territory. In 2009, she earned the ire of conservatives across Arizona in 2009 when the opening gambit of her tenure turned out to be a temporary sales tax.

But while that battle was primarily a local one, Brewer’s embrace of one of the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act has gotten national attention.

National Review, a bedrock of conservative though since the 1950s, said Brewer was “bought off with a truckload of money from Washington.”

“We now know Jan Brewer’s price; as it turns out, it’s not even that high,” National Review Online’s editors wrote.

The Wall Street Journal said Brewer committed a “spectacular flip-flop” when the Arizona hospitals “cooked up a spending scheme to rip off national taxpayers.”

And though Americans for Tax Reform said lawmakers can vote for Brewer’s plan without breaking its famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the organization vehemently opposes the governor’s plan to expand Medicaid in accordance with the ACA.

“Gov. Brewer is shamelessly gaming the federal matching fund system, with a federal government that is $16 trillion in debt mind you, in order to do the White House’s dirty work in implementing this costly new entitlement,” ATR’s Patrick Gleason wrote in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.

Locally, Brewer is drawing no less fire from conservatives than she did during the yearlong battle for a sales tax hike. The Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity is leading the charge against it, and the Goldwater Institute has taken aim as well.

Tom Jenney, the head of AFP’s Arizona chapter, blasted Brewer’s proposal in an op-ed in The Arizona Republic calling expansion the “wrong choice for Arizona.”

“According to Gov. Brewer’s projections, the Medicaid expansion would also cause the federal government to spend $3.6 billion in Arizona over the next three years. The people who will pay those taxes include most of the people of Arizona and — thanks to the federal debt — our children and grandchildren,” Jenney wrote.

In late January, Brewer met with county and legislative district GOP chairs, urging support for her plan. For many, the call fell on deaf ears.

Pima County GOP Chairwoman Carolyn Cox and Mohave County’s Ron Gould – a frequent nemesis of Brewer during his years in the Senate who helped scuttle a deal for her sales tax hike in 2009 – are staunchly opposed.

“I just think it’s ridiculous to do anything like what she’s talking about,” said Cox, who criticized Brewer’s plan on conservative blogs.

Some GOP lawmakers are also steadfast in their opposition to what they view as Brewer’s abandonment of a conservative principle. Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrooke, said he’s opposed to her plan, in large part because it will force the debt and deficit-ridden federal government to borrow even more money.

“It’s not a good plan of hers. We really need good leadership here and we’re not getting it,” Melvin said.

If Brewer is taking national flack for her Medicaid plan, she at least has allies across the country as well. So far, six other Republican governors have announced plans to expand their Medicaid programs to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, including North Dakota’s Jack Dalrymple, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Ohio’s John Kasich, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, Nevada’s Brian Sandoval and Michigan’s Rick Snyder.

The host of GOP governors who are now embracing a law they once opposed did not escape the Wall Street Journal’s notice.

“Thus does modern government create the carrots and sticks of ever-larger government,” the Journal said.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson, who criticized National Review Online’s criticism as lecturing by  “tut-tutting magazine editors in New York City,” said the situation is much different than in 2009.

“It’s a little bit of a different dynamic. Obviously, that was a tax increase. This is different. From our perspective, the fiscally conservative choice is to reduce the pressure on our general fund, tax the federal government. How often do we get the opportunity to do that?” Benson said. “This is an opportunity to boost business growth and jobs in this state while at the same time helping shore up the safety net for people in this state that need it.”

Benson said Brewer may soon go on cable news shows to make her case on a national level.

“I think you’ve seen the Medicaid issue take the national stage here,” he said.

Brewer herself seemed un-phased by conservatives’ criticism at both the state and national levels. She said she has a strong case to make, and she hopes to have an opportunity to make it to each of her critics.

“The bottom line is, do the math. Do the math. It’s the law of the land. Why would I want to punish the people of Arizona and other pieces of Arizona government because I wouldn’t do the right thing? Doing the right thing means almost always doing the hard thing. It’s hard. But I’m willing to talk to whomever it is whenever I can to tell them why. I’m committed,” Brewer said.

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