Thursday, August 21, 2014

Grimes, McConnell show some big differences in the closest thing yet to a debate in the race

By Megan Ingros and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Sen. Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came the closest they have yet to a debate at the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum Tuesday, and their clearest differences on big issue were on health care and immigration.

Grimes was the most detailed she has been in a public discussion about health-care reform. Grimes indicated that she supports Kynect, the state health-insurance exchange, created by Gov. Steve Beshear and funded by Obamacare, where people sign up for Medicaid or buy insurance.

“For the first time ever, because of our governor, 500,000 Kentuckians are able to go to the doctor, their kids get checkups before school, and many of them are farm families in rural Kentucky,” she said. “The law isn’t perfect but we have to work to fix it. . . . We have to work to streamline the Affordable Care Act, to make sure there aren’t over-burdensome regulations on our businesses, especially our small businesses.”

Grimes endorsed President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate and suggested that he should also live up to his promise that “If you like your doctor, you can keep it.”

She actually appeared to be referring to keeping old insurance policies, because her next words were, “We should be working to extend that grandfathering clause so we live up to that promise that Washington politicans made to Kentuckians. . . . It requires a senator, though, who doesn’t want to repeal root and branch the access to health care that Kentuckians just got for the first time.”

McConnell answered, “She won’t use the words, but she supports Obamacare, he single worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last half-century.”  He said Obamacare is going to cost jobs and it “ought to be pulled out root and branch and we ought to start over.”

McConnell said what should have been done is “truly national competition among health-insurance companies to keep prices down and quality up,” as well as “a national medical malpractice standard to bring some sanity to the litigation lottery that’s confronting every health-care provider in America; and thirdly, we need to allow small businesses to form groups for the purpose of more purchasing power on the open market.”

Citing a study by the Congressional Budget Office, McConnell said the law will only cover 10 million of the 40 million people who were uninsured, and will “cost 2.5 million jobs.” The study says the predicted reduction, through 2024, will come “almost entirely because workers will choose to provide less labor,” not because jobs will be eliminated.

McConnell said Kentucky will not be able to afford its expansion of the Medicaid program, which covers about three-fourths of the newly insured. “She applauds it,” he said. “It’s fine for the governor because the first three years the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the tab, but after that, the state’s going to be in serious financial problems.”

On immigration, Grimes argued that if McConnell hadn’t “stood in the way” of a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate but died in the Republican-controlled House, ”We might not see the crisis we see at the border today,” with unaccompanied minors streaming across.

Grimes endorsed the bill’s “pathway to citizenship,” but McConnell said only legal residency is needed to attract needed workers and “We shouldn’t do comprehensive; I think we need to bust it up,” into separate bills. “Obamacare was pretty comprehensive.” “We need to make changes, more merit based, to people who can immediately help our country, he said.

Grimes started out by saying McConnell had broken a promise to pass a farm bill last year, and said farmers were disadvantaged by the lack of a law for several months. McConnell said, “No one was disadvantaged by any of that.”

Grimes, who stood at a lectern to answer each question, repeatedly jabbed at McConnell for being a no-show at Senate Agriculture Committee meetings. McConnell, who remained seated while speaking, cited his awards from Farm Bureau for legislative accomplishments and said afterward, “She doesn’t really understand the legislative process,” in which party leaders “have more consequential things to do” than attend committee meetings.

In her opening statement, Grimes said if McConnell, “Never has a senator been paid so much to do so little for the people of Kentucky and it’s come at the expense of our farm families.” She ended her statement by saying, “It requires, members of the Farm Bureau, putting out to pasture a senator of the past.”

The candidates alternated answering first to a series of questions posed by Farm Bureau directors.

Asked about international trade and marketing, Grimes said, “I believe in free and open trade but it must be fair trade.” McConnell cited the lack of action on trade agreements under Obama and said, “The biggest winners of trade agreements are American agriculture and her supporters are totally opposed on everything you believe in on trade.”

When asked about fiscal policy and how they plan to balance the budget, McConnell said “The best answer to the deficit is to get the economy growing,.” and said that could be done by reducing the regulatory efforts of the Obama administration, which he said constitute the main reason that the economic recovery has been slow.

Referring to our national debt, Grimes said “There are 17 trillion reasons why Kentucky needs a new senator.” She said the country fought “two wars on credit cards” in Afghanistan and Iraq, referring to the deficits and debt built up after the tax cuts of the George W. Bush administration.

On tax policy, McConnell said he was responsible for getting a $5 million exemption in the estate tax, and then for making it permanent. Grimes said she is in favor of an additional $5 million exemption for agricultural estates. McConnell said he would “like to get rid of the death tax entirely.”

Both candidates said they are against expanded water regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, but McConnell said Grimes would enable those efforts because she would vote for Harry Reid as majority leader if she is elected.

Referring to Republican prospects of taking over the Senate, McConnell said he has a good chance of becoming majority leader. He made the case that he gives Kentucky “a distinct advantage” by being one of the only two Senate party leaders Kentucky has ever had, and can increase that as majority leader.

Grimes, slapping McConnell and Obama in the same passage, said "Washington isn't working for us. . . . He's the reason the mess exists. He's the reason the president is wrongly using executive orders."

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