CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich praised the New Hampshire Legislature on Wednesday for expanding Medicaid under the president's health care overhaul law — a rare move for GOP presidential contender — saying that the decision saved lives.
"I took $14 billion dollars over the next two years back to Ohio from Washington to meet our challenges, and you did it here. I want to compliment you for it," Kasich told the 400-member body. "Lives have been saved; people have some hope."
New Hampshire's legislature passed Medicaid expansion in 2014, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats led the House. Kasich accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid in his home state of Ohio last year — a decision he has staunchly defended since the start of his White House bid.
While Kasich hasn't shied away from his decision to expand Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low income people, it's also left him vulnerable to attack by rival Republicans. The super PAC backing Jeb Bush, for example, hits Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for expanding Obamacare, the nickname for the health overhaul law.
In New Hampshire, the bipartisan-crafted program will terminate at the end of 2016 if lawmakers don't reauthorize it. Both chambers are now controlled by Republicans, and the debate over continuing the program is poised to face an uphill battle in the House.
New Hampshire's House speaker has invited every presidential candidate to address the body prior to the state's Feb. 9 primary. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also delivered speeches.
Each of New Hampshire's 400 House members is paid $100 per year and represents roughly 3,000 people; it is the largest state legislative body in the country. Both Rubio and Kasich promised to return more power to legislatures if elected and praised New Hampshire's form of citizen government.
"You feel your successes in your neighbors' lives, in your child's schools, in your household budget," said Rubio, who previously served as Florida's House speaker. "As president, rather than telling state leaders like you to place your faith in Washington, I will tell Washington to place its faith in you."
Christie, meanwhile, focused his address on drug addiction, a topic that comes up frequently from candidates campaigning in New Hampshire. Officials estimate more than 400 people died from drug overdoses here in 2015 and the Legislature just passed bills aimed at addressing the crisis. In New Jersey, Christie has focused on treatment over incarceration for drug users.
"We need to raise our voices and make this a movement across the country that will save lives," Christie said.