Thursday, May 29, 2014

Grimes hits McConnell on Kynect, and he stands his ground; will coverage go past 'She said, he said'?

In a statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the campaign manager for Alison Lundergan Grimes ridiculed her opponent's attempt to disassociate the state's health-insurance exchange from the federal law under which it operates: "Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction," Jonathan Hurst said. "McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians."

Sam Youngman of the Herald-Leader reports, "McConnell did not retreat from his stance Wednesday, noting through aides that states were free to set up exchanges before the health care law, as Massachusetts and Utah did, and would be free to do so after repeal of the law. . . . Democrats and state officials belittled that reasoning, noting that federal subsidies for expanded Medicaid eligibility and for private insurance plans bought through Kynect would vanish if the law was repealed."

Youngman writes that Grimes "belatedly seized . . . five days later" on McConnell's remarks about Kynect at a Friday press conference, and that the "back-and-forth . . . made clear the pitfalls both sides fear when discussing the controversial topic." The law "is not an easy line of attack for Grimes, demonstrated by the length of time it took her campaign to comment. Grimes has remained vague when asked about how she would fix the law, and last week, she twice refused to tell The Associated Press whether she would have voted for the law."

Asked yesterday by the Herald-Leader how she would fix the law, Grimes's campaign "referred the paper to the answer the campaign gave to The Courier-Journal for its primary election voters' guide," Youngman reports.

Greg Sargent, a liberal columnist for The Washington Post, said Hurst's statement "seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to 'fix' the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as 'Obamacare' or the 'Affordable Care Act' remains under water. Lake suggests this to Grimes:  “She could say, 'In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.'”

Lake is polling for Elisabeth Jensen of Lexington, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 6th District, who ran radio commercials in April saying McConnell and congressman Andy Barr "voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more."

Sargent writes that he understands Grimes's reluctance to make Obamacare a major issue, but "McConnell’s sudden outbreak of evasiveness and incoherence about repeal — which is supposed to be nothing but a slam dunk winner for Republicans — is still a key moment in the debate, one that amounts to a concession that the GOP’s position on this issue is also seriously problematic." (Read more)

Sargent cites a blog post by McConnell critic Joe Sonka of LEO Weekly, who writes, "I’m making the assumption that McConnell knows exactly what he’s doing, banking on voters not knowing the difference between the unpopular 'Obamacare' and the very popular Kynect that would cease to exist in any recognizable form if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and assuming the media in Kentucky will not explicitly point out that saying Kynect — and the health-insurance coverage of over 400,000 Kentuckians — can survive without the Affordable Care Act is a blatant lie. McConnell is looking for 'He said, she said' coverage on his spin, and he appears to be getting his wish inside Kentucky so far." In an earlier piece, Sonka wrote, "McConnell saying that Kynect can survive the repeal of Obamacare is like saying that the Oklahoma City Thunder can trade Kevin Durant, but keep his jump shot."

UPDATE: Alexandra Jaffe and Elise Viebeck of The Hill look at the issue under a story headlined "GOP health-care confusion" with this Getty Images picture of McConnell at the top: "Health-care experts have widely panned McConnell’s claims, with one calling him 'delusional.' But McConnell’s tap dance highlights the difficulty facing Republicans as they grapple with their message of repeal in the face of benefits the law is now delivering. Democrats have been slow to jump on the comments, a reflection of their reluctance to make Obamacare an issue, particularly in red-leaning states like Kentucky, where Obama remains deeply unpopular."

The story continues: "And if they can’t find a way in Kentucky, which boasts one of the nation’s most successful state-based exchanges, it's hard to see how they’ll manage to do it elsewhere, as a veteran state political reporter and University of Kentucky professor Al Cross points out: 'If there’s a strongly anti-Obama state in which there is a good argument for Obamacare, this is it. There is an argument to be made for the law, and the fact that the Democrats haven’t quite figured out whether to do it, or how to do it, illustrates the depth of the problem.' . . . In Kentucky, like other red-leaning states, the issue really is semantics: The law known as Obamacare polls worse than specific provisions or exchanges. 'It’s not that ObamaCare is all that unpopular; it’s that Obama is — and he’s three syllables of the four,' Cross said. 'And the number of syllables is probably indicative of the weight that his unpopularity gives to the subject matter.' . . . Democrats can argue that McConnell is at best dissimulating and at worst lying — and they have — but that requires them to draw the connection between the popular Kentucky Kynect and the unpopular ObamaCare. There, they risk wading into a debate on the Obama White House’s overreach and initial mismanagement of the law or also tainting Kynect’s popularity." (Read more)

Gov. Steve Beshear writes of McConnell on the Huffington Post, "At best, of course, his promise represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ironclad link between the ACA and Kynect. At worst, it's a blatant attempt to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit."

Both major newspapers have editorialized on the topic; The Courier-Journal said McConnell is "dodging questions" and Grimes is "excruciatingly vague," while the Herald-Leader said McConnell "has some explaining to do."

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