Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called the Medicaid expansion piece of federal health reform “fiscal coercion” and blamed “friends and allies in the conservative movement” who have embraced it, saying they have “folded in the face of federal bribery and mounting pressure.”
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Perry, who ran a failed bid for president last year, also seemed to take a shot at his party. He suggested that claims published in the media that voters had rejected conservative causes would only be true if Republicans had “actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
Americans for Tax Reform leader Grover Norquist said after Perry's remarks that the Texas governor remains a major player on the national stage, despite his presidential election flame-out.
"He's been governor of Texas for the past 27 years — that counts," Norquist joked. "He's very good on immigration. He's great on taxes. He just needs to not take the painkillers for a while."
Perry’s remarks on the Medicaid expansion — which he has vehemently opposed while some other Republican governors have sought compromise with the federal government — were some of his most expansive yet.
While he stood by his guns — “they tell us to take the money, in the case of Texas, $4 billion, because it’s ‘free,’ but there is nothing free that comes from Washington” — he also offered his most concrete suggestions for overhauling Medicaid, the joint state-federal health program for the disabled, poor children and the most impoverished adults.
He said Texas Republicans want flexibility to “innovate and enact patient-centered, market-driven reforms,” including health savings accounts, copays for deductibles and premium payments, and asset testing to ensure only those who need Medicaid are using it. (Perry echoed these remarks in a letter he sent to the state’s congressional delegation on Thursday.) If anything, Perry said, Medicaid dollars should be used “to keep people on private insurance” — a strategy that the Obama administration has used as a bargaining tool to get Arkansas to expand Medicaid.
"The best way to help states provide health care is to allow states to design better, more efficient, more effective care using Medicaid dollars," Perry said. "This will allow each state to tailor the program to specifically serve the needs of those unique challenges that those states have.
Perry drew a modest crowd at the biggest conservative convention of the year; the room was roughly half full. He walked into the room as the song “God bless Texas" blared, joking that he didn't feel comfortable when a stage hand told him to turn left to reach the lectern.
Howard "Cowboy" Wooldridge, a D.C.-based public safety lobbyist from Fort Worth, said after the speech that Perry's record in Texas is his most compelling asset and that he should run for president again in 2016.
"There's nothing better than success to demonstrate competency, and he's done well in Texas," Wooldridge said.
Count Dan Cole and his wife, Jerry, among avowed conservatives who assert Perry is on the national comeback trail. Both want Perry to run for president in 2016 and praised him on Thursday for his criticism of some fellow Republicans for not always being conservative enough.
Jerry Cole, a Dallas native who now lives near Washington, D.C., named Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as Republicans in whom she's been disappointed when it comes to consistently adhering to conservative principles.
"Gov. Perry always sticks to them," she said.
Here's video of Perry's speech: