Florida Gov. Rick Scott is unique in that his entire political career has been centered on his opposition to Obamacare, and that made it surprising when he announced Wednesday he would accept federal funds to expand Medicare. But if you look at the realities that might have pushed him toward that position, he's not unique at all. Of the seven Republican governors who've embraced the Medicaid expansion, four are in states with very large Latino populations.
There are a lot of reasons governors might embrace the Medicaid expansion, which gives coverage to people making up to 138 percent of the poverty line. With the Surpeme Court upholding it and President Obama reelected, Obamacare is the law of the land. It's a pretty sweet deal, too — the federal government pays for 100 percent of the expansion for three years, then 90 percent after that. But it's hard not to notice a pattern among those who've betrayed the anti-Obamacare cause: Scott, New Mexico's Susana Martinez, Nevada's Brian Sandoval, and Arizona's Jan Brewer all changed their position, and they're all in charge of states that rank in the top seven in the country by percentage of Latino population. (Two of the other top seven have Democratic governors; the real outlier is Texas's Rick Perry, who has stayed true to his brand and refused the Medicaid expansion.)
What's the connection between Latinos and Obamacare? In his New York Times Magazine story this week about the young conservatives trying to save the Republican Party from obsolensence, Robert Draper includes this fascinating statistic from President Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe:
"Let me tell you something. The Hispanic voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico don’t give a damn about Marco Rubio, the Tea Party Cuban-American from Florida. You know what? We won the Cuban vote! And it’s because younger Cubans are behaving differently than their parents. It’s probably my favorite stat of the whole campaign. So this notion that Marco Rubio is going to heal their problems — it’s not even sophomoric; it’s juvenile!
And by the way: the bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos."
"The greatest appeal that the Obama campaign had for Hispanic voters turned out to be ObamaCare. And they ran a tremendous amount of their advertising appealing to Hispanic voters. It was the only place in their advertising where they talked about ObamaCare, was into -- in it -- to the Hispanic community, because an extraordinary percentage of Hispanic voters are uninsured.
And that was smart politics. They did it well. The party was also known as the party that was against ObamaCare and that hurt us."
And suddenly Republican governors are talking about Medicaid beneficiaries as pretty swell people. Look at how these Republican governors have justified their acceptance of the Medicaid expansion using the very same reasoning Obama used: that we have a moral obligation to help the poor and vulnerable who get sick.
It's not that Republicans campaigned on hating poor people, something Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pushed back against in his response to President Obama's State of the Union address when he said Obama's "favorite attack of all is that those who don’t agree with him — they only care about rich people." But in the fight against Obamacare through the 2012 election, the health of individual poor people always was a lesser concern than preserving freedom from "socialized medicine," not creating incentives to be lazy, and protecting the country's fiscal health. Mitt Romney said 47 percent of Americans are dependent moochers. Paul Ryan said it was even worse. "Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes," Ryan said. "So we're going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They'll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves."
Most of the Medicaid-loving Republican governors do not merely make some kind of budgetary case for taking the federal money. Instead, their hearts bleed for the suffering poor. Florida's Scott, for example, talked about his mother in his announcement Wednesday. "I remember my Mom's heartbreak when she could not afford to give my younger brother the treatment he needed when we learned he had a hip disease," Scott said. "She eventually found him a Shriner's Children's Hospital hundreds of miles away… where my brother would go back and forth for treatment." Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, famous for sticking her finger in Obama's face, reminds voters that she still opposes Obamacare, but! "Let’s face it — uninsured Arizonans get sick just like the rest of us..."
New Mexico's Martinez explained that she made her decision on the basis of math, as well as that "We have an obligation to provide an adequate level of basic health care services for the most in need of our state." She said New Mexico would end the expansion if the federal government cut funding for it. But she justified that in touchy-feely terms. "In the event that we are faced with such a decision, we cannot allow our children who are most in need to go without health care services. If the federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid expansion is cut, we must protect our kids and protect our budget by ensuring that the most recent additions to the Medicaid program are the first ones moved off," Martinez said. Watch out: some of these bleeding hearts could be "the future of the GOP."