The bill was the latest salvo in the increasingly combative relationship between the conservative governor and the Republicans in control of the legislature. Lawmakers in Topeka nearly overrode Brownback’s veto earlier this year of legislation that would have reversed the steep tax cuts he enacted during his first years in office. Brownback’s popularity in Kansas has sunk as deficits in the state have ballooned, and at least one poll suggests his latest veto won’t help lift his support: The survey funded by the American Cancer Society, which backs expansion, found that 82 percent of respondents in the state favored accepting additional Medicaid money from Washington.
In a veto message, Brownback said the cost of expanding Medicaid was “irresponsible and unsustainable” at a time when the state is dealing with an ongoing budget crisis. He cited a study finding that it would cost Kansas $1.2 billion in the coming years, while supporters of the Medicaid bill have said the state is giving up an even higher amount in federal support without expansion.
Brownback, who is staunchly opposed to abortion, also denounced the legislation for facilitating an increase in Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood, the women’s health nonprofit that performs abortions. Federal law already prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion, but conservatives have called for cutting off money to the organization nonetheless. “From its infancy, the state of Kansas has affirmed the dignity and equality of each human life,” he said in a statement. “I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life.”
Finally, the governor argued that because Republicans in Congress are still discussing legislation that would repeal Obamacare, Kansas would put itself at risk by expanding Medicaid if that effort was successful. “Attempting to overhaul our current system while these changes are still being worked out is potentially harmful to our state,” Brownback wrote.
Yet the threat of repeal was exactly why many Republicans wanted to move forward with expansion. “There's the potential for this to go away,” David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, told me. “We're much better served by getting in under than being left behind, than being one of the have-not states.”
Brownback’s veto ensures Medicaid expansion in Kansas won’t happen immediately, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen at all.