Democrats at the Wisconsin Capitol are hammering home the notion of fiscal responsibility – not because of the $6 billion more they want to spend in the new state budget, but because of the $1 billion more that Wisconsin Republicans don't want to spend.
Democratic lawmakers, including state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Republicans lawmakers are wasting money by not expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin.
"It was a morally reprehensible choice, it was a fiscally irresponsible choice, and it once again ignores the will of the people," Taylor said at the statehouse Wednesday.
Taylor and his fellow Democrats claim Wisconsin is losing out because the state did not expand Medicaid to cover low income, able-bodied, mainly single men who don't have children.
"They're refusing to cover 82,000 low income Wisconsinites," Taylor said. "These are people who make less than $18,000 a year. Most of them, if they are not individuals with disabilities or seniors, are working. They are the working poor."
Taylor says Wisconsin could reap $1.6 billion in federal matching dollars by expanding coverage. The state could then turn that $1.6 billion into $324 million in state savings.
"That's a lot of money that could have been invested in other areas," Taylor said. "It's a really bad choice not to expand Medicaid. It hurts the people of the state. It hurts people in [Republican] districts."
But Republicans in the legislature have said for years that expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin would actually cost money.
A report from February put the price tag for the state's match and eventual costs at $1 billion.
State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said at the time that Democrats ignore that part of the equation.
But as the state budget heads toward its final stops in Madison, Democrats are trying to make Medicaid expansion at least part of the conversation.
"We are here after Republicans in the State Assembly refused to accept the Medicaid expansion proposed by Gov. [Tony] Evers, and flushed $1.6 billion down the toilet," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler said. "The Republican Party made a breathtakingly fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible decision by refusing these funds."
Evers has an incredibly broad power to veto and change whatever budget Republicans deliver to him. But he cannot add programs or spending to the budget, so Medicaid expansion is almost certainly a dead idea for the next two years.