An Obamacare plan succeeds, and a top Republican squirms

     Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell addresses the media during a press conference following McConnell's victory in the republican primary Friday, May 23, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo)

    Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell addresses the media during a press conference following McConnell's victory in the republican primary Friday, May 23, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo)

    Remember when conventional wisdom decreed that ’14 Republican candidates would cruise to victory by hammering Obamacare? Turns out, life isn’t that simple.

     Case in point, Mitch McConnell.

    The Senate Republican leader can probably qualify for the 2016 Olympics solely on the basis of his twisty verbal gymnastics. Only a seasoned master of senatorial BS can support the full repeal of Obamacare – while simultaneously insisting that his state of Kentucky should keep its popular and successful health exchange program. A program that wouldn’t exist if not for Obamacare.

    McConnell, who’s imperiled this year by Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes (if he loses, the GOP can forget about winning the Senate), is practiced at the art of deception. He said the other day that Obamacare should be swept off the books (“pull it out root and branch”). But reporters asked the obvious follow-up: What would happen to Kynect, the state-run health insurance exchange that has already signed up 413,000 Kentuckians, and has already cut the percentage of uninsured Kentuckians by 40 percent?

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    McConnell’s response: “I think that’s unconnected to my comments about the overall question.”

    See, this is what happens when right-wing ideology collides with the brick wall of reality. The only option, apparently, is to lie. Kynect is not “unconnected” to Obamacare; it is fully intertwined with Obamacare. It is a roaring success because of Obamacare. Which is why the Lexington Herald Leader, the state’s top newspaper, eviscerated McConnell in an editorial yesterday:

    Nothing could be more connected – or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator – than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible. Repeal the federal law, which McConnell calls ‘Obamacare,’ and the state exchange would collapse.

    Kynect could not survive without the ACA’s insurance reforms, including no longer allowing insurance companies to cancel policies when people get sick, or deny them coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as well as the provision ending lifetime limits on benefit payments….Kentucky’s exchange could not survive without the federal funding and tax credits that are helping 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians gain access to regular preventive medicine….Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare.

    Hence McConnell’s quandary. He’s compelled to call for full repeal of Obamacare (a delusional fantasy that’s still catnip for the conservative base); at the same time, he has to finesse the reality that Kentuckians are benefiting from Obamacare. So what’s a Republican to do? Simple: Just pretend that Kynect has nothing to do with Obamacare.

    His stance is incoherent. It’s like if the Philadelphia Phillies said, “We’re gonna get rid of Cole Hamels, root and branch, but still keep his potent left arm.” Problem is, the potent left arm ain’t worth a damn without the big leg kick.

    For Republicans, this Kentucky episode demonstrates that Obamacare is a trickier midterm issue than originally envisioned. Nuance is their enemy. “Repeal” isn’t necessarily a winning mantra, not when it would hurt the folks back home.

    In other words, McConnell has now exposed himself to the charge that he seeks to imperil the health coverage of 400,000 Kentuckians. Alison Lundergan Grimes, his opponent, basically said this yesterday: “McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect – and he has said he will do it again.” She has also said, “I am not, and will not, be for taking away insurance that 400,000 Kentuckians just recently got access to.” If Grimes, a top Democratic recruit, can’t run wild with this issue, she franky doesn’t deserve to win.

    One question lingers: Why would McConnell make such a stupid remark, insisting that Kynect and Obamacare are “unconnected?” Surely he knows better.

    The answer is obvious. McConnell is cynically, but perhaps shrewdly, exploiting voter ignorance. According to numerous state polls, lots of Kentuckians support Kynect but oppose Obamacare – failing to realize that the former is the product of the latter. Nuance may be the GOP’s enemy, but ignorance is definitely a friend. If McConnell can sustain the fiction that Kynect is not connected to the dreaded president, he’s potentially home free in November.

    Which reminds me of a news story that ran last summer. It’s self-explanatory:

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare. The man is impressed. “This beats Obamacare I hope,” he mutters.

    Yup, that’s the kind of voter McConnell is banking on.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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