Democrats should run on ‘affordable health care’

Mitch McConnell (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Mitch McConnell (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky — where Obamacare is expanding health coverage every day in a red state – met privately with House Democrats this morning. According to a source in the room, Beshear repeatedly urged them not to get distracted by short term political skirmishes over the website, and said they should keep focused on the big picture, which is that Democrats stand for expanding affordable health coverage, and that this would cover more and more people over time. He predicted the law would transform Kentucky.

Democrats gave Beshear two standing ovations during the session, the source tells me.

After the meeting, Beshear held a press conference, at which he told reporters:

“You know what Democrats ought to run on next November? The idea that we want every American to have affordable healthcare.”

It looks increasingly like Democrats are going to do that. Sure, you can still find instances of Democrats expressing skittishness about the law. Senate Dems remain nervous about how the botched implementation will impact them, and 39 House Dems did run from the law by voting for the GOP “fix.”

But the big picture seems to be that if the law’s implementation goes reasonably well, Republicans could ultimately run out of ways to attack it.

Kentucky is an interesting test case. It’s a deep red state in which the incumbent GOP Senator has probably done more than anyone in the country to frustrate the Obama agenda. But it’s also a state in which large numbers of people are getting new health coverage. The Democratic governor is aggressively hammering Mitch McConnell for threatening to take all those benefits away from his own constituents, and note how McConnell responded today:

“I have a U.S. senator who keeps saying Kentuckians don’t want this. Well, the facts don’t prove that out,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters.

Beshear said more than 550,000 people have visited the state’s Obamacare enrollment website since it launched on Oct. 1. More than 180,000 have called into the health care call center and about 69,000 people have signed up, or about 1,000 Kentuckians per day. Of those who have signed up, he said, 41 percent are under the age of 35. The governor also boasted of the law’s economic benefits to the state. Over the next eight years, he said, it will generate $15 billion for Kentucky’s economy and create 17,000 new jobs.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart responded by citing an article about 280,000 Kentuckians being forced to give up their current insurance policies as a result of Obamacare requiring stricter guidelines for coverage.

The attack on the law’s disruptions is obviously a potent argument, and Obamacare — and its namesake — are of course deeply unpopular in Kentucky. McConnell opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes will not campaign on Obamacare, instead making the race about his long time in Washington and failure to deliver for Kentucky. She has already embraced a mandate delay (though she has not called for repeal).

Still, if Beshear is right, McConnell’s response won’t hold up forever, as the number of newly insured continues to climb. And beyond Kentucky, Beshear is setting an example for Dems, reminding them that, depending on their circumstances, they can, broadly speaking, campaign in 2014 on the idea that Dems want to expand affordable health coverage to as many people as possible.

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