Kasich Tours the West While Keeping His Options Open

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sitting with about a dozen Montana lawmakers in the second of six capitals he visited this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich was part budget hawk and part preacher.

The second-term Republican told legislators they should back a federal balanced-budget amendment forcing Congress to control spending. Kasich, who expanded Medicaid under Democratic President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul to bring money back to Ohio and help the poor, the mentally ill and the drug addicted, also said government should help those who can’t help themselves.

“It is in the conservative tradition to make sure that we help people get on their feet, so they then are not dependent,” said Kasich, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. “I’m not a strict ideologue.”

While Kasich, 62, will say only that “my options are open” about a presidential bid, he’s traveling the U.S. pushing for the Constitutional amendment that he said will improve the culture in Washington and the economy. He’s also calling for a return to “foundational” American values while not ignoring people who live “in the shadows.”

His brand of fiscal conservatism and concern for the weakest may distinguish him from so-called establishment figures, should he run. Potential candidates include Massachusetts governor and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, along with Tea Party favorites such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and others with conservative credentials.

Kasich’s Travels

Kasich, who won last year with 64 percent of the vote in a state that has helped determine the winner in past presidential elections, would be a formidable candidate, said Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman.

“That’s the kind of thing we ought to offer because it would be good if the country followed that example,” Barbour said.

Kasich is making stops this week in South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho after a trip last month to Arizona to encourage lawmakers to pass the balanced-budget resolution. He’s also been invited to Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The governor flew on a charter jet to cover the distances between capitals this week, visiting six cities in four days. He typically spent a couple of hours at each stop, holding strategy sessions with legislators, speaking at receptions and holding press conferences before flying off.

Patriotic Cheese

Besides calling for the balanced-budget measure, Kasich is emphasizing the themes of his Jan. 12 inauguration speech. He said then that the most serious problem facing the U.S. is “the erosion of basic values that made our nation great”: personal responsibility, resilience, empathy, teamwork, family and faith.

In an jet-cabin interview between stops at Pierre, South Dakota’s American Legion Post No. 8 (trays of cheese cubes with small American flags on toothpicks) and the Montana Capitol in Helena (depictions of explorers Lewis and Clark), Kasich said he has no timetable for a decision about 2016.

“I’m not closing any doors,” he said.

While Kasich was barnstorming through the West, Bush was in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday speaking to lobbyists and potential donors, while Romney has been meeting with contributors and spoke at a Utah investment management conference on Wednesday. Christie plans to travel to London next month for an official visit, allowing him to burnish his credentials on foreign policy.

Nation’s Good

Kasich, a former Fox Television host, said his tour to push for the amendment was about having an impact, not presidential politics.

“This is something that I think would be a giant contribution to the country,” he said. “Now, I have a platform to try to work on it more effectively.”

Twenty-four of the 34 states needed for Congress to call a convention to consider the amendment have acted, according to Balanced Budget Forever, a non-profit group in Columbus funding Kasich’s efforts.

Kasich said he’s confident the amendment could pass and that he’s the ideal advocate. He voted on budgets as a 26-year-old Ohio legislator, was a nine-term congressman and U.S. House of Representatives budget committee chairman the last time the national budget was balanced in 1997. He addressed a shortfall of about $8 billion after being elected governor.

Final Bequeath

Without the amendment, Congress won’t have “a backstop” to make difficult choices to cut spending that’s pushing the national debt beyond $18 trillion, Kasich said.

“No mother and father want to leave their kid, at the reading of the last will and testament, a big pile of bills,” he said. “Why are we willing to do it through our government?”

The amendment isn’t needed for many reasons, including because Kasich proved the national budget could be balanced without one, said opponents including Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve vice chairman and economics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. The deficit has fallen more than 60 percent during the past few years as the economy improved, Blinder said.

Some legislators on Kasich’s tour also suggested it’s inconsistent to seek an amendment to control spending while also expanding Medicaid, which Kasich did over the objections of the Republican-controlled legislature.

“I find it to be somewhat hypocritical, to be perfectly honest,” Montana Senator Scott Sales, a Republican, told him.

Affording It

Kasich said programs can be changed through innovation to cut costs while reducing dependency and not affecting benefits. He commended to lawmakers the Book of Matthew, where Jesus tells the righteous, “As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Medicaid expansion won’t hurt Kasich in North Dakota, booming from oil and gas drilling, and Republicans there who plan to pass a balanced budget resolution on Feb. 5 haven’t forgotten his days in Congress, said Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple.

“People remember the period of time in which progress was last made on the federal budget-deficit issue, and I think he’s known as a guy that has carried that flag,” Dalrymple said.

Kasich said he has “a right to be able to define conservatism as much as anybody else.” He said Republicans can win in 2016 if they demonstrate values that will get “America back on track.”

“It’s about restoring the ability of people to know that they can climb the economic ladder, that no one is left out,” he said.

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