Tags: Health Topics | Healthcare Reform | Obamacare | expansion | highway | infrastructure | funding

Obamacare Expansion Cash Could Fill Huge Highway Funding Gap

By    |   Thursday, 21 May 2015 05:26 PM

Are Republicans willing to increase taxes or cut infrastructure spending to keep federal taxpayers on the hook for Obamacare expansion?

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman hopes not, and the freshman Republican from Arkansas is offering another option.

Westerman will introduce a bill Thursday to patch a hole in the Highway Trust Fund with money saved by reducing Obamacare expansion’s federal match rate to traditional Medicaid levels.

"My bill provides a consistent, long-term solution that is fiscally responsible and prioritizes spending," Westerman said in an email to Watchdog.org. "My solution could also help reduce deficit spending."

Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied, working-age childless adults has been implemented in 29 states and is entirely federally funded. The federal share of expansion costs is set to taper to 90 percent by 2020.

Federal funding for traditional Medicaid recipients — pregnant women, poor families, the disabled, and the elderly — is far less, as high as 74 percent in some states and as low as 50 percent in others.

Westerman estimates that if the feds quit paying extra for Obamacare expansion, $15 billion per year could be added to the Highway Trust Fund and another $150 billion would be saved over a 10-year period.

While outside the scope of Westerman’s bill, reforms cutting Highway Trust Fund spending and returning most responsibility for infrastructure to the states would save federal taxpayers even more.

Westerman’s plan would not repeal the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, but would take away a key incentive for states to participate.

"The enticement premium was put in place to lure states to expand Medicaid," he said. "Cutting the lure off the line will make states think long and hard about expanding their programs or staying in their expansion programs."

BACKGROUND: Red states still grasping at Obamacare Medicaid cash

Competing proposals to address Highway Trust Fund shortfalls would do so by increasing taxes. In April, GOP Rep. Jim Renacci of Ohio introduced a bill that would raise the gas tax.

"While it is true that a small group of Republicans have voiced support for raising the gas tax, the reality is that a gas tax just adds more revenue to the largest tax coffer in our history without exercising fiscal responsibility or taking an honest look at our spending priorities," Westerman said.

"That is why my bill is a solid alternative to the proposed increase in the gas tax."

If passed, Westerman’s bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2017, giving states that have embraced Obamacare expansion "time to find alternatives or leave the expansion altogether," Westerman said.

President Barack Obama’s signature, though unpopular, health insurance law will be taking another big hit if the coming Supreme Court ruling on King v. Burwell shuts down federally run Obamacare exchanges. How might that affect votes on Westerman’s bill?

"I do not believe that King v. Burwell will factor into a lawmaker’s support or opposition to this bill," Westerman said. "I think it simply comes down to education."

Westerman said many of the people he talks to about Obamacare expansion don’t realize federal taxpayers are picking up the full cost of Medicaid benefits for able-bodied, working-age, childless adults.

Perhaps more importantly, how might Westerman’s plan to bolster the Highway Trust Fund by reducing the Obamacare expansion’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) get past Obama’s veto pen?

"The key is reminding the president and members of his own party that he actually proposed rolling back the FMAP rates before he reversed course," Westerman said.

"And since the president has made the proposal before, I suspect that this legislation would have a good chance of being signed into law should it pass the House and Senate. Plus, he has made it no secret that he would like to see long-term infrastructure funding."

"This would be his opportunity," Westerman concluded.

The president is calling on Congress to back his $478 billion six-year infrastructure plan, which would pay for increased spending with a hefty tax on overseas corporate profits.

Jason Hart is Watchdog.org's Ohio-based National Labor Reporter. Contact him at jhart@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @jasonahart.

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Are Republicans willing to increase taxes or cut infrastructure spending to keep federal taxpayers on the hook for Obamacare expansion? Rep. Bruce Westerman hopes not, and the freshman Republican from Arkansas is offering another option.
Obamacare, expansion, highway, infrastructure, funding, gap, Bruce Westerman
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2015-26-21
Thursday, 21 May 2015 05:26 PM
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