This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 2, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Republican some conservatives love to hate, from this week's Medicaid announcement to his CPAC snub, is he laying the groundwork for his November reelection or shutting the door on 2016?

Plus, the Supreme Court takes up a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the left is crying foul. But would striking it down actually signal racial progress?

And President Obama's preschool predicament. He's pushing for a free universal program, but does it really work?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

New Jersey's Chris Christie this week became the eighth Republican governor to support the expansion of his state's Medicaid program under President Obama's Affordable Care Act. That decision won't do much to mend fences with conservatives, many of whom are still smarting from the governor's pre-election embrace of the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and his subsequent criticism of GOP leaders for their delay in bringing up a pork-filled storm relief bill to the House floor. Christie's name has been notably left off the invitation list at next month's Conservative Political Action Conference despite the governor's 74 percent approval rating in his very Democratic home state.

Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

So, Jason, just a couple of years ago, Chris Christie was a Republican hero, going to be widely mentioned as a possible presidential nominee in the last election, so what's the issue here? Is it that Christie has changed or conservatives are the problem?

JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: Well, Christie is running for reelection in a very blue state. Obama carried New Jersey by at least 17 point.



GIGOT: -- increased his margin in 2008.

RILEY: I mean, so you have a Republican running in a very blue state and doing what he needs to do to get elected. He cannot be Rick Perry in New Jersey. And so I think that's what you're seeing here.

Now, you know, I'm not with Christie on a lot of his issues, gun control and global warming and issues like that, but again, you know, this is similar to what Scott Brown was doing --


GIGOT: You've got to do --


RILEY: You've got to do what you've got to do to win.

GIGOT: So the snub, CPAC snub reflects Christie's record in New Jersey, or are you --

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, certainly, his recent record. And CPAC is a conservative gathering, not an official Republican Party event. If they want to invite people they think are going to carry a conservative message and are consistent with that, they should. There's no obligation to invite people who are more in the center or moving to the left.

And I think it's the recent trend where --


GIGOT: What would you single out?

FREEMAN: To me, the most disturbing thing about the recent Christie history is the Medicaid expansion, because he made reform of entitlements really the centerpiece of his arguments in the state and talked about it nationwide, and really helped build a reform case. And this -- this is not a massive expansion, but it is an expansion. And that's what I think you have to be disappointed if you're a federal taxpayer and a New Jersey taxpayer that he's now expanded --


GIGOT: But he would now say, look, it's free money from the feds at least for a while. They're going to pay 100 percent of this. We need the money. What are you going to do? And eight other governors are doing it.

FREEMAN: OK, we're all federal taxpayers, so this is money going out the door. And despite what he said this week, if he does to the take that money, it doesn't automatically go to New York or Connecticut.

GIGOT: That's right.

FREEMAN: This is an entitlement program. On the state level, what he's doing -- well, it appears to be a good deal, and he can explain that. Long-term, it's building liabilities for the state. And the history of entitlements is they get more expensive over time.

GIGOT: Mike Pence, the Indiana governor, calls it -- Medicaid, the classic case of the gift of the baby elephant. They say, here, free, how cute. And when it grows up into an adult, you're paying for the hay.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes. Great that you bring up Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, recently elected governor of Indiana. The reason we talked about Chris Christie is because two years ago he was talked about in the context of becoming a presidential candidate. At that time, Chris Christie was a strong figure in a really pretty weak Republican field, the people who were up there debating in the primaries. Next time around, Chris Christie is going to be up against a very strong lineup, a lot of them who will be at CPAC, Governor Scott Walker of Milwaukee, former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, of course, Marco Rubio. This will be a different group of people that Chris Christie will be the competing against and he'll be competing as a governor from the liberal northeast. I think it's an uphill battle.

RILEY: I still think right now Republicans should be taking a big-tent approach. This is one of the most popular governors in the country. Democrat or Republican, he's forcing some people to take another look at the Republican Party, Independents in particular. This is not the time to be putting in place litmus tests about who is viable presidential material. We're three years away from Iowa.


HENNINGER: You know what, Jason, he has never come to the CPAC conference in Washington. He's been invited before and never shown up. And there's nothing new this year except they disinvited him.

GIGOT: But the Christie record is mixed. He's got 9.6 percent unemployment in the state, one of the worst records in the country. He did impose a tax cap, no question about that, on property taxes. And he hasn't endorsed a tax, which is better than Bob McConnell, the Virginia Republican governor, who is much loved by conservatives, just did that.

So I guess the question would be, how much has the Christie record done to be able to sell himself, James, to primary voters in 2016.

FREEMAN: Well, you've got some nice reforms. 2010, you mentioned the property tax cap. 2011, he got a pension reform. Didn't get rid of the unfunded liabilities on pension and health care, but made a big dent in them.

I think the problem he's going to face going forward is it's a slow growth, high unemployment in New Jersey. He can't fix it. After redistricting there, it's basically a Democratic lock on the legislature.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: So I'm worried that the Christie reform era may be over there. Let's hope not. But he's going to have a tough time getting any more reform through that legislature.

GIGOT: All right.

When we come back, the Supreme Court takes up a challenge to a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the left is crying foul. But would striking it down strike a blow for racial progress?


GIGOT: The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama, to a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of that act requires states with a history of denying blacks the franchise to get pre-clearance or advanced permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before they make changes to their election law. Such federal enforcement was responsible for sweeping away poll taxes and other obstacle to voting in the past. But critics say it's no longer necessary. Are they right?

We're back with Dan Henninger and Jason Riley. And Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy, joins the panel.

So, Collin, what is the core issue in this case?

COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Paul, the core issue is that Section 5 as you mentioned has historically had a successful way of equalizing, you know, basically black and white turnout --

GIGOT: Right.

LEVY: -- and voting, and addressing that in the south. Basically, just - - there isn't a need for it anymore. What happened was the 1965 Voting Rights Act said that a number of southern states, nine southern states and parts of seven others, needed to basically get pre-clearance for any changes?

GIGOT: Right.

LEVY: And those changes, if they happen -- you know, the problems in those southern states just aren't existing anymore, so.

GIGOT: It applies to -- the Section 5 applies only to some states, not others. And the question is, is it right under the Constitution to still apply that kind of scrutiny to only some states, if their record isn't any worse than any other state?


RILEY: And the record is it has been a tremendous success story. It's one of those rare federal pieces of legislation that has the -- that turned out exactly --


GIGOT: Mark this down --


-- Riley says federal law works.

RILEY: It's also important to realize, if this section is found obsolete and you think that an election law is discriminatory, there's real resource now. And others are permanent.


RILEY: -- are not coming back.

GIGOT: Let's be clear on this. This is not about repealing all of the Voting Rights Act.

RILEY: Exactly.

GIGOT: This is about repealing only one part of it that applies only to some states.

RILEY: And just to reiterate how successful it's been, in 1964, the year before it passed, black voter registration in Mississippi was less than 7 percent, the lowest in the south. One year after this law passed, it was 60 percent, the highest in the south. And today, black voter registration rates are higher in states than they are in states not covered by Section 5.

GIGOT: What about the argument you hear --

LEVY: That's right.

GIGOT: -- from the people who still want this supported? Who say, look, if you do away with the pre-clearance requirement, you'll get last-minute attempts by states or localities to move polling places or impose some things that liberals don't like, like voter I.D., which might restrict -- they can play some games, in other words, before elections if you don't have the Justice Department supervising this in advance.

HENNINGER: In those states.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: I mean, this came out so clearly in the -- no, those six states, not the north, the south. Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi were mentioned in the oral arguments. And the argument is that those southern states might discriminate.


HENNINGER: As Justice Breyer put it, it was a terrible disease in 1965, it's a little bit better now, but the disease of discrimination in the south might come back.

GIGOT: Right. But what's your response to that?

HENNINGER: My response to that is that you cannot, shall we say, discriminate against seven states if you're not going to apply the law equally to the rest of the states in the union.

GIGOT: Under the Constitution.

HENNINGER: Under the Constitution.

GIGOT: An equal footing --


HENNINGER: And that was Justice Kennedy -- that was the question that Justice Kennedy raised in those arguments.

RILEY: The left wants to pretend that this is really about black voter access or ballot access among minorities. It isn't, Paul. Section 5 allowed racial gerrymandering, creating safe black and Hispanic seats in Congress. That is the power the left wants to preserve by continuing Section 5. It no longer has anything to do with black voter disenfranchisement.

GIGOT: Collin, you followed the oral arguments and the reporting on it was that the conservative justices were very critical, skeptical, and looked to be maybe near to overturning it. How did you see it?

LEVY: Yes, I think that's right. Dan mentioned obviously that Justice Roberts questioned very closely whether or not that racism still exists in the south. But also, notable was that Justice Kennedy said at one point that these far formulas may have been appropriate at one time, but times have changed, and that's the key take away from the oral arguments, was the justice's awareness that those formulas may no longer be appropriate.

GIGOT: Collin, do you think that this decision will hang on what Justice Kennedy does, as so often so many of these cases do?

LEVY: I think so. I think the justices pretty much stayed true to character all the way across the board during the oral arguments. So people will be watching Justice Kennedy. But he's indicated in the past, in 2009, Northwest Austin (ph), he joined that overwhelming -- overwhelming hints the Supreme Court dropped that they were interested in revisiting the constitutionality here.

GIGOT: So this could be 5-4 in the conservative direction, or 4-5 in the other direction. Is that how you read it?

LEVY: Yes, it could. You know, there's also a possibility here that the justices could look at changing the formula, but not getting rid entirely of the pre-clearance requirement. That's another possibility.

GIGOT: One of the ironies here, Jason, you brought up the racial gerrymandering point. If this is overturned, this could help Democrats in the House because the Republicans have been able to dominate congressional seats in the House, because of the racial gerrymandering, which pushes so many minority voters into a few districts --


GIGOT: -- and makes Democrats less competitive across the entire south.

When we come back, a closer look at President Obama's universal preschool push. Some states tried it. So does it work? We'll look at the evidence, next.



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Every dollar, every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime. Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works. If you're looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it.


GIGOT: That was President Obama earlier this month in Decatur, Georgia, making his case for a universal public preschool. It was a center piece of his state of the union address. And since 1995, Georgia has subsidized free preschool for families regardless of income. So, does this benefit really work as well as the president claims?

We've asked Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Joe Rago, to take a look at the evidence.

I know in politics nowadays evidence doesn't count for much, Joe, but let's give it a try. $7 return for $1 investment? What's the real story there?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Right. What the president is relying on is two classic social science papers from 40 and 50 years ago. It's very intensive pre-school projects, they were known as the Perry Project and the ABC project.

GIGOT: Involving how many children?

RAGO: Involving 111 children in one project and a dozen infants -- a few dozen infants in the other.

GIGOT: And did this -- were the returns what he says in those cases?

RAGO: They were even a little higher than what he said. Vast returns from these. But the problem is these were very small, very intensive. They involved parental counseling, health care services --

GIGOT: So, multiple intrusions into the household and the families and the children. How expensive were they?

RAGO: Right, Well, in some cases $40,000 a year, which is comparable to Ivy League education. If you look at Georgia, the spend about $4,000 per child on their individual -- on their universal --


GIGOT: Georgia only spends $4,000. And these cases the president cites at a minimum spent at least four times that and, in some cases, 10 times -- 10 times that. Is that replicable around the country?

RAGO: Right. It's not replicable. And if you look at preschool in Georgia, what happens is any academic gains, any social gains from these programs fades out as the children progress through elementary school. So there really isn't any lasting effect from this investment.

GIGOT: Jason, what about the Georgia and Oklahoma experiment? These are two states that, not normally identified as liberal states, the president is citing as examples.

RILEY: Right. And he's talking about the outcomes in these states and trying to link them to the universal pre-k programs that they have.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: But the evident isn't there. Again, the knock on these programs is that the effects aren't lasting, that they're very short lived. And in the case in Georgia --

GIGOT: They fade out by the third grade, right?

RILEY: Third or fourth grade. You can't tell who was in the program and who wasn't. But in Georgia Florida and Oklahoma, for example, teen pregnancy rates are well above the national average. And even though math and reading test scores for black kids are above the national average, they were before the universal pre-k kicked in. So again, the causal relationship we're supposed to see from this just isn't there.

But, Paul, on its face, the current K through 12 education system doesn't do a great job of educating the kids it already has. The idea that we should add kids to the system is sort of foolish on its face.

GIGOT: But there is, Dan, this problem of really underutilized human potential in America. You see these kids and families that come out, they don't have the parents teaching them their ABC's. They don't have them preparing them the way that you were prepared by your parents and I was prepared at home in reading, even, before they get to kindergarten. What do you do with the kids to try to improve their lives?

HENNINGER: Well, that's a hard question. The source of the seven-to-one payoff is Jane Heckman (ph), a University of Chicago economist, noble Laureate, who agrees with something you said, who supports the programs that Joe just described. And was interviewed recently about all this and he said he's very cautious and skeptical about whether you can design a broad-based program to achieve these ends. It's something that's very hard to do. And the idea that now President Obama is going to throw all of this money at a program, Head Start, that's been proven not to succeed --

GIGOT: $8 billion a year.

HENNINGER: $8 billion a year.


RILEY: I love that line in the clip you played, "more educational bang." "If you want educational bang for your buck." Paul, between 1970 and 2010, 375 percent inflation adjusted increase in education spending in this country. 875 percent. Math and reading test scores flat over this period.

GIGOT: Joe, what's the lesson here though of this? Is it worth trying to invest in some of the programs, maybe for lower-income kids or try some experiments? Where do you take this?

RAGO: No, I think the evidence shows that the west programs are the ones that are targeted at the kids with the most need. And they're not universal, but they apply to the most disadvantaged in society.

GIGOT: Right.

RAGO: The problem is, with Head Start, since 1965, we've been following that approach, and it's not working. And so, what happens is, government fails and then we have to expand it. What the lesson is, we need to try something different. What we're doing right now is not working.

GIGOT: And the president wants to expand this to 400 percent of the poverty level, which is, of course, right into the upper middle class even, or at least, relatively affluent.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: It's time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Collin, first to you.

LEVY: Paul, this is a hit to veteran "Washington Post" journalist, Bob Woodward, for basically standing up to the Obama administration this week. You know, Mr. Woodward basically has criticized the White House for trying to blame the budget stalemate on Republicans and saying they were jeopardizing national security. He says that the kind of behavior he received from the administration is madness, and he hadn't seen anything like it in a while. And he should know since he covered President Nixon. So this is a hit to him for refusing to be bullied.

GIGOT: He's being excommunicated from the Beltway press corps.

All right, Joe?

RAGO: Paul, you remember Dennis Rodman, former basketball star, cross- dresser, used to --


-- used to date celebrities. Well, now, he's taken up with little Kim.


A miss this week for Rodman, who is in North Korea, amid the gulags, called Kim Jong-Un a friend for life. I think there's a reason they used to call him "The Worm."


GIGOT: James?

FREEMAN: I can't top that.


FREEMAN: But I do want to give a hit to Heisman trophy winning, Texas A&M quarterback, Johnny Manziel. And some guys from something called "Dude Perfect," they've created what is the most popular online video among the teenagers in my neighborhood. Basically, a good clean fun where they're throwing footballs from the top of the A&M football stadium and going through basketball hoops, hitting targets. There's so much garbage on the Internet, I just want to applaud these guys for creating some nice entertainment that we don't cringe at.

GIGOT: You're letting your boys watch it?

FREEMAN: Absolutely.


There's not much out there you can let them watch, so thanks to them.


And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send to us at jer@FOXnews.com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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