By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell used the Kentucky Farm Bureau breakfast Thursday at the State Fair to duel over the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” as its critics refer to it.
Beshear has implemented the law in Kentucky, establishing online exchanges for people to shop for low-cost health insurance and expanding Medicaid to cover about 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians.
McConnell, on the other hand, tells every audience he faces that “we need to pull out Obamacare, root and branch.”
So when Beshear addressed 1,600 or so gathered for the annual breakfast, McConnell sat stoically two chairs away while the governor said implementing the law “is a historic opportunity to change the future of the commonwealth.”
Beshear said implementing the law “is not only the right and moral thing to do,” but will provide an economic boon to Kentucky by creating 17,000 jobs, creating a positive economic impact of $15.6 billion and ultimately boost state revenues by a net of $800 million.
He told the crowd, “These aren’t my numbers,” but represented the conclusions of two independent, outside analyses.
Beshear recalled for the audience — and perhaps specifically for McConnell — that the same form of health care reform was successfully implemented in Massachusetts under Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and it didn’t cause employers to leave in droves and more people in that state now enjoy health insurance coverage.
He said it is time for Washington put away political posturing and bickering and work across partisan lines to solve national problems.
It didn’t take McConnell long to respond when he followed Beshear to the podium.
After ticking off some of his standard lines about the national debt and what he calls a “war on coal” by the Obama administration, McConnell turned to Beshear’s comments.
“I was interested in the governor’s observations about Obamacare,” McConnell said. He pointed to news accounts published Thursday that UPS, the state’s largest employer, announced it was dropping spousal coverage from employee health plans.
The company said it’s doing so to lessen the costs of implementing the ACA.
“So, governor, the solution to Obamacare is to pull it out root and branch,” McConnell said. That produced louder applause than that Beshear received when he said the law is the right and moral thing to do for Kentucky.
McConnell’s Republican colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, also addressed the crowd. Although he spent much less time on the ACA than McConnell, Paul did ask the crowd to consider “where’s the money coming from” to implement the program in Kentucky and across the nation.
Later the two answered reporters’ questions and Paul expanded on those remarks to say the national deficit and debt mean the money “won’t be there” in the future when the federal government is supposed to pay for 90 percent of the Medicaid expansion.
Health care wasn’t the only issue that produced jousting between Beshear and McConnell.
Beshear called on the Congress to stop its “political excuses” and “political posturing” long enough to pass a farm bill to help Kentucky’s agricultural community — a line which drew loud applause. He went on to say if critics of the ACA spent as much energy on passing a farm bill as they’ve expended trying to kill health reform, it would be of greater benefit to Kentucky.
McConnell assured the largely agricultural group at the breakfast that “we will get a farm bill.” But he said it must be “the right farm bill.”
McConnell, who is minority leader in the Senate and has a seat on the Agriculture Committee, opposed an earlier version of the farm bill.
In addition to representing their two opposing parties, McConnell and Beshear have had a frosty relationship since they faced off in the 1996 U.S. Senate race won by McConnell.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.