By James Hohmann
Paul Ryan phoned into a conference call with Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday evening to warn that the federal government will never follow through on its funding promises to states that expand Medicaid.
The Wisconsin congressman also joined the Republican candidate for Virginia governor in calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign over the botched Obamacare website rollout.
Whether to grow the Medicaid rolls will be perhaps the biggest decision facing the winner of the off-year election, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe has promised to make it a priority.
"I understand Ken's opponent is claiming that the Medicaid expansion is going to pay for his many promises," said Ryan. "I see it as one big empty promise. So-called free money from Washington isn't free and isn't going to come."
Cuccinelli said Medicaid is "probably one of the top issues" in a race that has drifted away from him.
"Medicaid has been one of the largest, most out-of-control parts of our state budget," he said. "And we have to balance our budget every year, and so that means once we get into this program -- there never having been a state that I'm aware of ever getting out of an entitlement program, a welfare program, like this -- we're pretty well stuck in. That's why this decision on the front end is so important."
He said all the glitches of the website the last few weeks are symptomatic of the larger problems.
"This is a failure," said Cuccinelli. "Why would be expand failure by expanding Medicaid under Obamacare?"
McAuliffe advocated for a single-payer, public option in 2009, and the Democrat previously said he would not sign a state budget unless the Republican legislature expanded Medicaid. Cuccinelli says this was a shutdown threat.
Ryan said "people should be held responsible," especially Sebelius, for the problems of recent weeks.
"If you're charged with bringing in one of the biggest laws we've had in a generation, effectively taking over 18 percent of our economy, you claim that it's going to be on time, you're given warnings that it isn't, but then you do it anyway," he said, "I think some people should be held responsible."
Mitt Romney announced Ryan would be his running mate in Virginia in August 2012.
Ryan voted against the compromise that ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling last week.
Cuccinelli has not taken a position on that vote, saying Monday that he did not have a chance to read the whole bill.
Ryan ducked when asked if, in hindsight, forcing the shutdown to try defunding the health law was a good move.
"I'm not Ken's political adviser," he said. "You'll have to talk to other people about whether it's good politics or not. I didn't like the shutdown. I wish [it] could have been avoided. I'm more focused on not pointing fingers and casting blame but on trying to put together a budget agreement and going forward. So I have no idea what it did for this candidate or that candidate in this race or that race."
Cuccinelli has often cited Ryan as a validator when the Medicaid issue comes up, including during the last debate.
On Tuesday's call, he said the potential 2016 presidential candidate is "somebody with a great future in the Republican Party."
"He knows how to talk about budget issues in particular and articulate a positive vision for America's future that's grounded in reality," said Cuccinelli.
Asked by a reporter if he will drive across the Potomac River for a rally, Ryan said he doesn't have time.
"Ken, your race is when? It's in like two weeks, right?"
"Two weeks from today," Cuccinelli said.
"Yeah, I'm a little busy doing budget negotiations right now," said Ryan. "My problem is my day job pretty much keeps me full-time busy, so I apologize."
"I'm glad to get him by phone," said Cuccinelli, "and appreciate the support."