Obama, fighting to regain traction, calls out McConnell on health care; Kentucky senator replies, and president does it again

White House file photo

President Obama called out U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell two days in a row in speeches defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an example of the administration’s efforts to help the middle class in a time of increasing economic inequality.

“As people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they’re proving they want that economic security,” Obama said in a speech Wednesday. “If the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to
repeal this someday, he might want to check with the more
than 60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have
coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin.”

Washington Post columnist and Georgetown University professor E.J. Dionne Jr. used the quote in a column he wrote from Louisville after interviewing journalist-author Chris Matthews Tuesday night at the latest Kentucky Author Forum sponsored by the University of Louisville. Dionne said the issue of inequality “could be joined in a particularly stark way” in Kentucky because Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear “has turned his state into a national model for how the law can be made to work — and because polls suggest that McConnell is facing a serious Democratic challenge next year from Alison Grimes, the secretary of state.” McConnell also faces a primary challenge from more conservative Republican Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman.

Dionne called up Audrey Haynes, secretary of the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and got some “figures suggesting how expanding health coverage can dent
inequality: Among Kentucky’s uninsured, 61 percent have a high-school
education or less; only 7 percent are college graduates. Underscoring
Obama’s point in his address that inequality is not simply a matter of
race, 88 percent of the state’s uninsured are white.”

Obama’s first call-out of McConnell came Tuesday, as the president began a concerted effort to defend and sell the health-reform law in the wake of its troubled website and insurance companies’ cancellation of millions of policies, putting the lie to Obama’s promise that people who liked their plans could keep them. That has put him at “a new low in his presidency,” the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote.

Obama said, “Just the other day, the Republican leader in the Senate was asked what benefits people without health care might see from this law. And he refused to answer, even though there are dozens in this room and tens of thousands in his own state who are already on track to benefit from it. He just repeated ‘repeal’ over and over and over again. And obviously we’ve heard that from a lot of folks on that side of the aisle.

Look, I’ve always said I will work with anybody to implement and improve this law effectively. If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me. Let’s go. But we’re not repealing it as long as I’m President and I want everybody to be clear about that. We will make it work for all Americans. . . . If, despite all the millions of people who are benefiting from it, you still think this law is a bad idea, then you’ve got to tell us specifically what you’d do differently to cut costs, cover more people, make insurance more secure. You can’t just say that the system was working with 41 million people without health insurance.”

In reply, McConnell issued this statement: “Another campaign-style event won’t solve the myriad problems facing consumers under Obamacare. Consumers didn’t need another 20,000 pages of regulations and higher premiums and deductibles to let a 25-year old stay on his parents’ plan — and they really didn’t need Obamacare’s cancellation of millions of plans that people already have and like in order to provide help to those with pre-existing conditions. The American people have been learning about the impact Obamacare will have on individuals and families in the form of higher premiums, disrupted insurance, and lost jobs—more broken promises from the administration. And they’re becoming increasingly aware of the fact Obamacare is broken beyond repair. The only ‘fix’ is full repeal followed by step-by-step, patient-centered reforms that drive down costs and that Americans actually want.”

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