BOISE • Ohio Gov. John Kasich was in Boise on Friday, his last stop on a six-state tour of the West spent lobbying state legislatures to support calling a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment.
Accompanied by Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, and with Idaho Republican legislative leaders standing behind him, Kasich framed the national debt as something that is going to cause problems for future generations if it is not addressed.
“We’re here because we’re in a $18 trillion in the hole,” he said. “If this continues, we’re going to see our children forced to do things that are just not right.”
Kasich has been discussed as a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. His trip was paid for by the lobbying group Balanced Budget Forever, which wants to get 34 states to adopt resolutions calling for a constitutional convention on a balanced budget amendment, which would be enough to trigger one. So far, 24 have. Kasich, whose history with the issue goes back to the late 1990s, when he was U.S. House Budget Committee chairman, has been visiting states looking for more support. He chaired the House Budget Committee during the only four years in recent history when the federal budget was balanced.
It remains to be seen whether the idea will get any traction in Boise this year. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, spoke at the press conference and appeared supportive.
However, Bedke said afterwards lawmakers must further discuss the issue before deciding whether introduce a bill. Bedke said the national debt is a problem, but that today was the first time legislators had heard specifics on Kasich’s proposal.
“It was well received,” Bedke said.
One topic that has hung over parts of Kasich’s trip is Medicaid expansion, an issue being debated in several of the western states he visited. Ohio is one of the few Republican-run states that has accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. Idaho has not, although Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has asked legislators to hold hearings on the issue this year. Otter hasn’t said whether he would back expansion if lawmakers recommend it.
Kasich’s meeting with legislators in Montana turned into a debate on Medicaid expansion, which Montana’s Democratic governor supports, but which many GOP legislators there oppose, according to local press reports. When a reporter in Idaho asked Kasich about the issue, and whether supporting increased federal spending was consistent with the idea of a balanced budget, Kasich framed expanding Medicaid as the Christian thing to do. The Bible, Kasich said, calls on Christians to take care of “the widows, the poor, the alienated, the beleaguered, the disadvantaged.”
“There was even a guy who decided to have dinner with a tax collector,” he added, referring to Jesus.
Some legislators have called for Idaho to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment in recent years, but it hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
Kasich said state legislatures could try to limit the scope of a constitutional convention to just the balanced budget amendment, although there doesn’t seem to be a legal way to stop the delegates from bringing up almost anything. And, at the end of the day, 38 states need to approve a constitutional amendment for it to proceed. This, Kasich said, is a high hurdle, and a safeguard against whatever else might come out of a convention.
“I don’t know if you could get 38 states to ratify Mother’s Day!” he said.