Among the nation’s 29 Republican governors, Indiana’s Mike Pence (R) seemed the least likely to disappoint far-right activists. The Hoosier State governor is a conservative’s conservative, taking a hard-right line on, well, just about everything.
And so when Pence announced a plan last week in which Indiana would accept Medicaid expansion funds through the Affordable Care Act, it not only raised eyebrows; it also caused some double-takes. After all, the governor had repeatedly gone out of his way to oppose “Obamacare” and every possible provision therein. What made him come around?
The Indiana governor talked to Dana Milbank yesterday, following Pence’s appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, where he delivered a speech complaining quite a bit about the Affordable Care Act – a law he still wants to see repealed.
Pence, a former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, was a tea party Republican before there was a tea party. But running a state has given him an elevated perspective.“Debates that happen in Washington, D.C., pretty easily get far afield of the real-world impacts on real people,” he told me in an interview Monday afternoon.
Pence added that “we’re talking about real people, working people who deserve a better way.”
I’ve been following Pence for quite a while, and unless Milbank took his comments spectacularly out of context, it would appear the Indiana Republican is evolving.
He’s also making other GOP governors who refuse to consider Medicaid expansion look pretty ridiculous.
Simon Maloy had a good piece on this yesterday, noting that Pence “is not the first conservative leader to ask for Obamacare funds to expand health coverage in his state,” though the Hoosier is “different.”
When a committed and high-profile Obamacare foe like Pence indicates he’s going to find a way to work within the new reality of the Affordable Care Act, he’s doing two things. First, he’s making the die-hard “repeal Obamacare” crowd look unreasonable. If Mike Pence can learn to live with the ACA, then anyone can. Second, he’s sending a message to Republican leaders in other states that it’s possible to take advantage of the law’s benefits while saving face as a small-government conservative. As the New York Times’ Aaron E. Carroll put it: “If Mr. Pence can find a way, it’s likely some of the 23 holdout states will eventually follow.”
Of course, that’s exactly what the right is afraid of. It wasn’t surprising, then, to see both National Review and the American Conservative publish pieces yesterday criticizing Pence for his new policy.
In the meantime, however, if Pence’s proposal is approved by the Obama administration, 350,000 low-income Hoosiers are poised to have access to affordable medical care.