- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democratic legislative leaders on Tuesday urged Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers to accept federal money to expand Medicaid coverage, saying Republicans’ “insatiable appetite for power” has blinded them to the issues that matter the most.

Walker and Republicans have repeatedly rejected calls to reverse course on using the funds for Medicaid coverage for low-income people. But Democrats tried again Tuesday, arguing that Walker should reconsider now that his run for president is over.

Walker touted his rejection of the money during his run for the White House, and unveiled a plan to replace the health care law signed by President Barack Obama that made the funds available to the states to expand coverage.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick defended the governor’s rejection of the Medicaid money, saying it protected taxpayers from the “uncertain federal funding.”

Walker tried to be the most conservative GOP presidential candidate and failed, so now he should “take some stock and say this approach is not working,” said Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic minority leader in the Assembly.

Taking the $360 million in federal funds over the next two years would fulfill the call to help those in need that Pope Francis made on his recently completed visit to the United States, Barca said.

“They’re stuck in the notion that the only thing they were elected to do was cater to the far right wing of their party,” Barca said of the Republicans. At some point, they will suffer the consequences of their agenda, he warned.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said the decision to reject the federal Medicaid money, made in February 2013, had nothing to do with Walker’s presidential bid that he began exploring late last year and officially launched in January.

Fitzgerald stands by the decision to protect taxpayers from the uncertainty of having to rely on federal funding, Tanck said.

Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the Democratic minority leader, said Republican priorities are misplaced. She cited the Republican push to overhaul the state elections board to make it more partisan, gut the John Doe law so that such secret investigations can’t be used against politicians, ban research on aborted fetal tissue and make the nonpartisan state superintendent a partisan appointee of the governor.

“They have this insatiable appetite for power and they’re overreaching,” Shilling said. “It seems like they don’t get it, like they’re taking their eye off the ball about what really matters in this state.”

Tanck said Republicans are responding to their constituents’ concerns, and that they are focused on other issues including overhauling the state’s 110-year-old civil service system affecting 30,000 state workers and preventing opiate addiction.

“We weren’t elected to take polls and do policy on what polls say,” said Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. “We were elected to fix problems. And there are problems in each of these areas that need to be addressed.”

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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