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The governor of Ohio believes its time to force the federal government to balance its budget and he's encouraging states to take the first step in making that happen.
Gov. John Kasich, a possible presidential contender, hit Utah on Thursday as part of a six-state tour. He met with state legislative leaders and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, urging them to back a state resolution, sponsored by Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, that supports the creation of a constitutional convention of the states.
The states have not taken this step since the signing of the Constitution and some, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been critical of this idea in the past. But Kasich said it's time to act.
"The fact of the matter is the longer we wait, the higher the debt grows," he said.
Kasich, a former House member, is among a large field of potential 2016 GOP hopefuls, and his visit came on the same day that other Republican prospects Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush met privately in Utah. Kasich told reporters he is not "taking any option off the table," when asked about a White House run, and he described Romney and Bush as "great guys," before refusing to comment any further about presidential politics.
Utah is the fifth state Kasich has visited so far on a trip bankrolled by Balanced Budget Forever, a nonprofit political organization that he backs. His trip also includes stops in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota and North Dakota.
So far 24 states have passed resolutions calling on a convention to support a balanced budget amendment. He needs 10 more. Utah's Legislature has considered, but not passed, such a proposal in recent years. Utah House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser expressed their support for Powell's resolution.
Every amendment to the Constitution has started in the Congress and then been ratified by the states. But Kasich said he doesn't believe Congress has the will to act on this issue.
Lee has sponsored a balanced-budget amendment ever since he joined the Senate in 2011, though has found it difficult to gain the support of his Democratic colleagues. During a 2014 forum in Salt Lake City, former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also suggested that it is time for the states to organize a constitutional convention. Lee disagreed, worrying that it would open the door to a whole raft of amendments, some of which he may oppose.
"Maybe that is a lack of trust in the ability of states to make good judgments," Kasich said. "I don't know. I don't know Senator Lee."
On a similar stop in Montana, Kasich got into a debate over Medicaid expansion, telling state lawmakers there: "I gotta tell you, turning down your money back to Montana on an ideological basis, when people can lose their lives because they get no help, doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
Ohio is one of the 28 states that has expanded Medicaid as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act. Montana and Utah are among the states that are still debating that action, which has been unpalatable to the state's conservatives.
Kasich said he didn't see it as inconsistent to expand an entitlement program and at the same time calling on the federal government to balance its budget. He said if the constitutional amendment passes, many federal programs, including Medicaid, may need to be reconsidered, but that doesn't mean the destruction of the social-safety net.
Monday is the start of Utah's legislative session, where Powell's resolution and a form of Medicaid expansion supported by Herbert will be among the proposals up for debate.