MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers told Republicans in a closed-door Capitol meeting Tuesday that he will push for accepting a federal Medicaid expansion, even though GOP leaders said the issue was a "nonstarter" for them.
Evers said he also reiterated his decision not to pursue organizational changes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a reversal from what he campaigned on, while he will push for more transparency for the Foxconn Technology Group project.
Republicans, meanwhile, praised Evers for reversing his campaign promise to propose disbanding WEDC, with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald calling it a "huge victory." But Republicans said they would fight Evers on expanding Medicaid or greatly reducing a corporate income tax break program in order to cut income taxes for the middle class by 10 percent.
"The request was don't pick things you have no chance of passing just to score political points," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said at a news conference after the meeting with Evers.
The rare joint caucus for Senate and Assembly Republicans gave their 83 members a chance to meet with Evers privately just a week after he took office . Evers and Republicans have talked about trying to find common ground to work together on a variety of issues, but Medicaid expansion is one area where their positions clearly do not align.
Evers told reporters after the meeting that he told Republicans he would prevail on expanding Medicaid to cover an estimated 75,000 more people, at a savings to the state of about $180 million a year. Evers said he expects Republicans will ultimately feel the pressure from health care providers and others across the state who favor the expansion.
"We will continue to fight for that, and we feel very confident we will win that fight," Evers said.
Republicans have long opposed Medicaid expansion despite the influx of federal dollars, saying they don't support covering people who earn more than the poverty level. Vos told reporters that he wouldn't consider a deal to expand it even if provider rates would go up as well, saying he was comfortable only offering Medicaid to people who earn up to the poverty level. Accepting the expansion would cover people who earn up to 138 percent of poverty.
On WEDC, Evers campaigned on disbanding the private-public economic development agency created under then-Gov. Scott Walker. Evers' position on WEDC led the Legislature, in a lame-duck session after he won election, to take away his ability to appoint a new leader of the agency until September and increase the number of legislative appointees to the board.
Evers, shortly before he took office, reversed himself and said he would not propose disbanding the agency.
"We will continue to fight for that, and we feel very confident we will win that fight." — Gov. Tony Evers, speaking about Medicaid
"(Republicans) impressed upon us how important WEDC is and that while it had a shaky start it is now being successful," Evers said. "It is highly audited, as they said, so they feel comfortable with how it is."
Fitzgerald said Evers committed to them to "leave WEDC alone."
The meeting came just before a legislative committee was to hold a public hearing on a bipartisan bill that would enact a state law to guarantee insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Evers said he would only support a bill that gives equal or greater protection to what is already in federal law. Republicans oppose the federal law and passed a state law preventing Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking its repeal.
Also Tuesday, Democrats outlined their priorities for the session that include nonpartisan redistricting reform, forbidding unlimited campaign donations, barring lame-duck legislative sessions in between elections and the start of a new session and placing open meetings and open records requirements for the Legislature in the state constitution.