The Times West Virginian

Headline News

June 16, 2013

2014 Senate Democrats stress health care support

ATLANTA — Far from reversing course, Senate Democrats who backed President Barack Obama’s health care law and now face re-election in GOP-leaning states are firming up their support for the overhaul even as Republican criticism intensifies.

Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina will face voters in 2014 for the first time since voting for the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — three years ago. They aren’t apologizing for their vote, and several are pursuing an aggressive strategy: Embrace the law, help voters use it and fix what doesn’t work.

“I don’t run from my votes,” Begich told The Associated Press. “Politicians who sit around and say, ‘That’s controversial so I better run from it,’ just ask for trouble. Voters may not always agree with you, but they respect people who think about these issues and talk about them.”

That means, Begich said, reminding voters that as a candidate in 2008 he called for prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on existing health problems, ending lifetime coverage limits and making it easier for workers to leave a job and still have insurance, an option they’ll have under new exchanges that consumers can begin using to buy individual policies this fall.

“There’s a lot of good that people will realize as this all comes online,” the first-term senator said.

Republicans argue just the opposite — that there’s a lot of bad in the sweeping law. More than a year before the elections, they use the law to pummel the four Democrats, three of them from the conservative South and all from states that Republican Mitt Romney carried last fall.

Begich highlighted that Senate Democrats have voted to repeal parts of the law: paperwork for businesses and a tax on medical equipment. And he promised aggressive outreach to help constituents use the exchanges and other consumer benefits.

Landrieu has gone on the offensive, too, criticizing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and her state’s Legislature for refusing federal money to broaden Medicaid insurance for more low-income Americans. Along with the exchanges, the optional Medicaid expansion anchors the law’s insurance coverage extension.

With those contentious parts slated to begin next year, Obama’s signature legislative achievement is all but certain to be central in the 2014 midterm campaign as Republicans look to hang onto power in the House and gain the six seats they need to win control of the Senate for the final two years of the Democratic president’s second term.

A Republican-aligned outside group already has aired a TV ad in Arkansas deriding Pryor as “the deciding vote for Obamacare” — a label Republicans can apply to any Democrat since the bill passed with the exact number of votes necessary to avoid a GOP filibuster. The North Carolina GOP regularly hammers Hagan on her choice. And Louisiana Republicans recently tried to link Landrieu to comments from the state Democratic Party chairwoman, who suggested that opposition to Obama’s law stems from the fact the president is black.

Initially, the law’s 2010 passage roused tea party activists, who propelled Republicans to a House majority and Senate gains that fall. The lagging economy and anger over bank rescues, stimulus spending and budget deficits also played a role. Reprising the health care critique as part of their 2012 strategy, Republicans couldn’t replicate their success: Obama defeated Romney decisively, and every Senate Democrat who voted for the health care law won re-election.

Public support for the law as a whole has never consistently reached a majority, according to most polls; opposition in Romney-won states exceeds 50 percent. Yet many individual provisions already in effect, like those Begich mentioned, have more support in polls.

The GOP bets that voters’ displeasure will intensify in 2014 as more provisions take hold. Besides exchanges and Medicaid enlargement, businesses with at least 50 full-time employees will have to provide insurance coverage and state insurance regulators will enforce coverage minimums. Many market analysts predict premium increases for individual policies.

“It’s not accidental that President Obama scheduled the most popular provisions to be in effect for his election year,” argued Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the national GOP’s Senate campaign arm. “He’s left a lot of 2014 Democrats hanging out to dry with the unpopular provisions.”

Democrats say Republicans need Obama’s health care overhaul only to rally their core supporters, who are particularly important in midterm elections in which the electorate typically is older, whiter and more conservative.

Dayspring said the issue wins independents.

John Anzalone, a Democratic campaign consultant and pollster, retorted: “What happens when the boogeyman that’s promised never comes?”

Anzalone, who counts Hagan among his politician clients, said the best counter for vulnerable Democratic incumbents is to use their office actively to help constituents take advantage of the law. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi outlined the same approach in a 78-page memo to her caucus members last month.

Democrats also argue that Republicans ignore their own vulnerabilities and individual state dynamics that could complicate a GOP effort to run a national campaign.

The law, Begich notes, established long-term coverage plans for Native Americans. “That’s important to Alaska” and lingered in Congress for two decades before finding a place in the act, he said.

Landrieu can point to bonus payments she negotiated for Louisiana’s Medicaid program to make up for money lost because of several hurricanes. Conservative commentators mocked the arrangement as the “Louisiana Purchase,” but Jindal, who asked for the extra money, gladly used it to balance Louisiana’s budget in multiple fiscal years.

Hagan and her North Carolina colleagues paid special attention to pharmaceutical companies that develop drugs called “biologics.” They negotiated 12-year monopolies for those drugs, a win for the biomedical sector that dominates the “Research Triangle” around Raleigh.

Veteran North Carolina political observer Gary Pearce, a Democrat, said Hagan also could benefit from the fact that leading GOP candidates expected to challenge her come from the new legislative supermajorities that have pursued a long list of conservative priorities, including rejecting Medicaid expansion that North Carolina hospitals wanted. A Republican primary fight among top statehouse Republicans, Pearce said, could leave Hagan “in a good position to paint Republicans in a right-wing corner.”

In Louisiana, the GOP may find its health care expert in Rep. Bill Cassidy, who spent several decades as a hospital physician in Baton Rouge and has served among leading GOP congressional critics of the law. But as a congressman, Cassidy voted with his caucus to repeal the law in full more than three dozen times.

Justin Barasky, Senate Democrats’ campaign spokesman, said those votes give Democrats fodder to argue that the GOP candidate sided with big insurance companies. The same scenario could apply in Arkansas if Rep. Tom Cotton, who’s expected to run, ends up as GOP nominee.

Landrieu also can use Jindal as a GOP counter on health care. Now chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Jindal has dismantled the state hospital system that Louisiana State University runs, closing some facilities and contracting with private firms to run others. Voters have not embraced the changes.

Arkansas Republican strategist Alice Stewart acknowledged that her party has had only mixed success using health care as a national issue, but she said Pryor’s eventual GOP opponent can make it resonate.

“It’s not just a generic criticism of Obamacare,” she said. “This is part of explaining that Mark Pryor goes to Washington and doesn’t represent the values of this conservative state.” She recalled then-Rep. John Boozman ousting Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010 after her vote for the law.

“Voters here remember that going from Blanche to Sen. Boozman was an important step,” Stewart said. “Mark’s in the same boat.”

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Study: Fist bumps less germy than handshakes

    When it comes to preventing the spread of germs, maybe the president is on to something with his fondness for fist bumps.

    July 28, 2014

  • Obama Exporting Pollu_time.jpg ‘Not in my backyard’: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

    As  the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
    This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S.: Russia fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.
    The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

    July 28, 2014

  • Plan to simplify health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.
    Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
    If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.

    July 28, 2014

  • W.Va. Judge: WVU, IMG College deal is OK

    A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to toss the media rights contract between West Virginia University and IMG College.
    Media outlets report Monongalia County business court circuit judge Thomas Evans set aside a motion for summary judgment against WVU and others.
    West Virginia Radio was seeking to void any contract entered by WVU and IMG. West Virginia Radio unsuccessfully bid on the contract, then filed a motion for summary judgment in February, claiming school officials violated state procurement laws.
    Evans ruled the code cited by the plaintiffs didn’t apply to the $86.5 million, 12-year agreement reached last year.

    July 28, 2014

  • Powerful storms rip through eastern U.S.

    Powerful storms raking across several states in the eastern U.S. on Sunday have destroyed at least 10 homes in Tennessee, and there were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, authorities said.

    July 27, 2014

  • Lawmakers say Obama too aloof with Congress

    President Barack Obama’s request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn’t get it when it comes to working with Congress.

    July 27, 2014

  • U.S. faces intelligence hurdles in downing of airliner

    A series of unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shows the limits of U.S. intelligence gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March.

    July 27, 2014

  • House approves bill to boost child tax credit for some

    More families with higher incomes could claim the popular child tax credit under a bill that won approval Friday in the House. But in a dispute that divides Republicans and Democrats, millions of the poorest low-income families would still lose the credit in 2018, when enhancements championed by President Barack Obama are set to expire.

    July 26, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads