Does Calling Kentucky’s Obamacare ‘Fine’ Disqualify McConnell?

Undebatable: Grimes and McConnell in Kentucky, Warner in Virginia, and Cotton in Arkansas offer wince-worthy moments.

Caption:WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly policy lunch of the Republican caucus November 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. McConnell spoke on continued problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act during his remarks.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
Oct. 14, 2014, 5:23 a.m.

What’s more dis­qual­i­fy­ing? A Demo­crat who re­fuses to say wheth­er she voted for Pres­id­ent Obama, or a Re­pub­lic­an who waffles on Obama­care and es­sen­tially calls it “fine”?

That ques­tion lingers like spoiled milk the day after a clash of cyn­icism in Ken­tucky — Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes versus Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Sen­ate cam­paign de­bates in Arkan­sas and Vir­gin­ia were equally dis­pir­it­ing to voters grow­ing tired of crass and cor­rupt polit­ics.

In Ken­tucky, Grimes in­ex­plic­ably stuck with her days-long re­fus­al to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. A strong ma­jor­ity of Ken­tucky voters dis­ap­prove of the pres­id­ent’s job per­form­ance, and none are stu­pid enough to think that Grimes voted for GOP can­did­ates.

Yet, she in­sisted that if she answered the ques­tion, it would “com­prom­ise a con­sti­tu­tion­al right” to cast a secret bal­lot. That’s pre­pos­ter­ous. While all Amer­ic­ans have a right to a secret bal­lot, Grimes can’t ex­pect Ken­tucky res­id­ents to give her a vote in the Sen­ate if she won’t tell them how she voted in 2012.

Mc­Con­nell at­tacked Grimes, then pro­ceeded down his own rab­bit hole. Once again, he stumbled over the Obama­care is­sue by er­ro­neously sug­gest­ing that Ken­tucky’s ver­sion of the re­form is a mere web­site. A half-mil­lion Ken­tucky res­id­ents have been in­sured by Ken­tucky health care ex­change, Kynect.

“The web­site can con­tin­ue, but in my view the best in­terests of the coun­try would be achieved by pulling out Obama­care root and branch,” Mc­Con­nell said.

Pressed re­peatedly to say wheth­er he was en­dors­ing the con­tinu­ation of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a web­site.”

He can’t have it both ways. Up­root­ing Obama­care upends Kynect. The Ken­tucky ex­change was cre­ated with $252 mil­lion in fed­er­al grants provided through Obama­care. A crit­ic­al as­pect of the Af­ford­able Care Act — and, by ex­ten­sion, the Ken­tucky plan — is the re­quire­ment that Ken­tucky res­id­ents se­cure health in­sur­ance. A full re­peal of Obama­care would elim­in­ate the grants, place a bur­den on Ken­tucky to fin­ance the ex­change (read: high­er taxes), and scuttle the man­date.

As Glenn Kessler of The Wash­ing­ton Post wrote in his fact-check column, Ken­tucky tried in­sur­ance re­form without a man­date in the 1990s and found it to be a dis­aster.

“The his­tory of in­di­vidu­al state ex­changes shows it is not cred­ible for Mc­Con­nell to sug­gest that the state ex­change would sur­vive without the broad health-care sys­tem con­struc­ted by the Af­ford­able Care Act, such as an in­di­vidu­al man­date and sub­sidies to buy in­sur­ance,” Kessler wrote in May. “Giv­en the pop­ular­ity of the state ex­change, Mc­Con­nell ap­pears to want to of­fer out hope it would con­tin­ue even in the un­likely case the law was ac­tu­ally re­pealed. That’s likely not a ten­able po­s­i­tion, and we will pay close at­ten­tion to Mc­Con­nell’s phras­ing on this is­sue in the fu­ture. The sen­at­or is clearly try­ing to straddle a polit­ic­al fence; when do­ing so, it’s easy to lose your bal­ance.”

Mc­Con­nell is ped­dling a dis­tinc­tion with little dif­fer­ence. He’s play­ing with the health of 500,000 Ken­tucki­ans. He’s mis­lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives who don’t think Obama­care is “fine.” He’s a hy­po­crite.

In her ham-handed at­tempt to duck Obama, Grimes is show­ing a lack of cour­age, con­vic­tion and polit­ic­al smarts. “I think she dis­qual­i­fied her­self,” my friend Chuck Todd said. Tough ana­lys­is. If run­ning away from Obama is dis­qual­i­fy­ing, play­ing both sides of the fence on Obama­care might be worthy of re­tire­ment.

Monday was a bad day for all but the most mas­ochist­ic voters. In Arkan­sas, an am­bi­tious, un­der­achiev­ing first-term House mem­ber reached for the Sen­ate by link­ing Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent Mark Pry­or to Obama. “A vote for Mark Pry­or is a vote for more of Barack Obama’s policies,” Tom Cot­ton said. It was an es­sen­tially ac­cur­ate quote, but Pry­or pounced with a charge that cast Cot­ton as an ex­ample of what’s wrong with mod­ern polit­ics.

“He hasn’t passed any­thing since he’s been in the House,” Pry­or said. “Even though he was there for one month, and he ran a poll on the Sen­ate race — didn’t even know where the bath­rooms were, but non­ethe­less now thinks he’s en­titled to be in the Sen­ate…. Con­gress­man, you don’t have the repu­ta­tion, abil­ity, or the de­sire to walk across the aisle to get things done in Wash­ing­ton.”

In Vir­gin­ia, Re­pub­lic­an chal­lenger Ed Gillespie at­tacked Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner for dis­cuss­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of a fed­er­al judge­ship for the daugh­ter of a state sen­at­or, Phil­lip P. Puck­ett. The chat con­veni­ently oc­curred as Demo­crats were try­ing to per­suade Puck­ett to stay in the Sen­ate so their party could re­tain con­trol of the cham­ber.

“I would nev­er play polit­ics with re­com­mend­ing ju­di­cial ap­point­ments,” Gillespie said.

Warner replied that he simply called Puck­ett’s son to “brain­storm” po­ten­tial jobs for the sen­at­or’s daugh­ter. If he’s telling the truth about his motive — and that’s a big “if” — the con­ver­sa­tion was still out­rageously in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Vir­gini­ans will de­cide wheth­er it’s dis­qual­i­fy­ing.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.