Imagine: A veteran Democrat with a reputation for bipartisan dealmaking defeats a Republican who complains about voter fraud and crusades against illegal immigration. A GOP legislative leader, recognizing the political ground shifting under him, comes reluctantly to the negotiating table. After months of talks, the two strike a compromise on health care that dramatically expands publicly funded insurance coverage.
This is former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign pitch in a nutshell—that he can tap the relationships he forged over four decades in Washington to draw Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to negotiations that will yield bipartisan breakthroughs on health care and other key issues. His rivals deride it as a naive fantasy, but Biden’s dream just came true in deep-red Kansas, a state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by more than 20 points.
Last week, Kansas’s Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, announced that she had reached an agreement with the Republican majority leader of the state Senate, Jim Denning, on a proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to as many as 150,000 people in the state. If the measure passes, Kansas would become the 37th state to expand Medicaid. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling allowed states to opt out of raising income thresholds for the program, which provides public health coverage for the poor. Most Republican-run states—including Kansas—initially rejected the money, but Democratic victories in governors’ races and in voter-driven ballot initiatives have led states including Louisiana, Maine, Virginia, Utah, and Idaho to expand Medicaid in the past few years.