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Morning Plum: Mitch McConnell effectively abandons Obamacare repeal

Today we have a big break in the Case of the Pathologically Dissembling Senate Minority Leader.

As you know, Mitch McConnell has been struggling to articulate his position on the Affordable Care Act, ever since he laughably declared that the fate of Kentucky Kynect — the state exchange that has signed up over 400,000 people for coverage and is more popular than the hated Obamacare — is “unconnected” to his push to repeal the law. His subsequent clarification only obfuscated matters more.

Now, however, the McConnell campaign has issued a new statement to Post fact checker Glenn Kessler that, in effect, abandons his commitment to repeal. In the statement, a McConnell spokesman suggests he might largely retain the Medicaid expansion, which has expanded coverage to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians.

The crux of this dispute revolves around McConnell’s blatant attempt to mislead his constituents by suggesting Kynect could remain in place even if Obamacare were repealed “root and branch,” as McConnell continues to advocate. But the real question is whether McConnell is claiming that those who have gained coverage through the exchange would be able to keep it. Obamacare repeal would theoretically roll back the funding for that coverage, particularly the Medicaid expansion, but also subsidies. Yet McConnell seems to be hinting people would somehow remain covered anyway.

Kessler pressed campaign spokesman Jesse Benton on this point and elicited a breakthrough:

The Fact Checker expressed puzzlement about what would happen to the 300,000 people who joined the Medicaid rolls in Kentucky if the Affordable Care Act was repealed. “The ACA greatly expanded Medicaid — and provided the money to do it,” we noted. Reading between the lines, it appeared that McConnell was saying he would support the funding for the expansion of Medicaid even if Obamacare is repealed, and we asked if that was correct.
Benton responded: “Medicaid existed before Obamacare and will exist if we are able to repeal it. Obamacare loosened eligibility requirements for Medicaid recipients, and in the process, helped find many who were already eligible but not enrolled.  These people would remain eligible even after a repeal.  The federal government does allow states flexibility in setting requirements and Kentucky could be able to keep many of the newly enrolled in the program if we decided to.”

Well, there you have it. McConnell seems to be suggesting Kentucky could keep people on the Medicaid expansion. His position is still gibberish: He still hasn’t taken a position on whether he would actually support doing that, but barring further clarification, let’s just say he wants Kentucky residents to think he would, or that he might. This provides an opening for Alison Lundergan Grimes to continue putting McConnell on the spot, should she choose to. Either way, for all practical purposes, this is a significant political concession.

McConnell here joins multiple other GOP Senate candidates who refuse to say whether the Medicaid expansion should or shouldn’t move forward in their states, including Scott Brown, Tom Cotton, and Terri Lynn Land.

This once again raises the question: If Obamacare is the epic long term political disaster and decisive repudiation of liberal governance Republicans claim — an assertion that is the centerpiece of McConnell’s entire campaign to build and lead a new GOP Senate majority — then why can’t he forthrightly state whether it should continue benefitting hundreds of thousands of people in the state he wants to continue representing? If he and the American people agree that obliterating Obamacare from the landscape is crucial to securing the future of the republic, then this question should be an easy one, no?


* POLITICS OF OBAMACARE NOT A SLAM DUNK FOR GOP: Brian Beutler has an excellent piece explaining what McConnell’s gyrations over Kynect really tell us about the politics of Obamacare:

The real political bombshell here is that the senator feels compelled to dodge accountability for his position at all. This simple observation—perhaps subjoined by six or seven exclamation marks — shatters the conventional wisdom that Obamacare politics are simple, straightforward, and winning for this year’s Republican candidates. And the many Democrats who adhere to that wisdom will blow a huge opportunity to capitalize on the opening McConnell just created, if they fail to set it aside for now….As much as voters might despise Obama, and Obamacare, and the endless fighting over Obamacare, I’m quite confident they prefer all three to unpopular incumbents who condescend to them and play them for fools. 

My position: It can be true that Obamacare is, on balance, a net negative for Dems even as it’s also true that the GOP position is deeply problematic and could allow Dems to mitigate the political damage the law does to them. The fact that the GOP position is, indeed, fraught with political pitfalls of its own is revealed by the conduct of McConnell and other GOP Senate candidates.

And all of that can be true even as it’s also true that Republicans very well may take control of the Senate anyway, thanks to the makeup of the map.

* NEW PUSH FOR TRANSPARENCY ON DRONES: Today Dem Rep. Adam Schiff and GOP Rep. Walter Jones will offer an amendment to an intelligence authorization bill that would require the administration to produce an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed in drone strikes, a measure identical to a bill they introduced earlier this year.

The question is whether this can generate the kind of left-right civil-libertarian alliance that helped force action on NSA surveillance. The administration’s recent decision to release the drone memos is cause for a glimmer of optimism that more transparency (which Obama claims to want) is coming, but there’s a long way to go.

* WHITE HOUSE PLANS AMBITIOUS CARBON RULES: Coral Davenport has new details on what Obama’s use of executive authority to combat climate change will look like:

President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, and will force industry to pay for the pollution it creates through cap-and-trade programs across the country.

Jonathan Cohn has already published a definitive guide to making sense of all of this. My immediate sense is this is pretty ambitious.

* WHITE HOUSE TO PUSH NEW CLIMATE PUSH: The Associated Press has the latest on how the White House will handle the looming political battle over new EPA rules:

Setting the stage for upcoming restrictions on coal-fired power plants, the Obama administration is making a concerted effort to cast its energy policy as an economic success that is creating jobs, securing the nation against international upheavals and shifting energy use to cleaner sources. In a 42-page report to be released Thursday, the White House argues that significant increases in the domestic production of natural gas and reductions in oil consumption have better positioned the United States to advance its economic and environmental goals.

Republicans are set to characterize the new EPA regs as more Obummer Big Gummint regulations smothering the economy, and red state Dems are mulling how to deal with it. It’s unclear whether they, too, will cast the White House’s overall approach to energy as an economic success. But it’s good that climate is being debated!

* NEXT FRONTIER IN BATTLE OVER GUNS: In the wake of the shooting of six young adults in California, state legislators are moving forward with a measure that would allow a judge to issue a restraining order against gun purchasing or ownership if a family member or friend reports a risk of violence. NRA opposition, naturally, is all but certain.

The move is another reminder that, even as national action in the wake of mass shootings remains impossible, the battle has shifted to the states, where similar measures are being debated elsewhere, too. This hasn’t always worked in favor of gun control, as many states have actually loosened restrictions in the wake of Newtown.

* OBAMA SLAMMED OVER DEPORTATION REVIEW: The New York Times has a blistering editorial hammering Obama for delaying unilateral action to ease deportations in the hopes of giving House Republicans one more chance to act legislatively:

It is hard not to be skeptical of the president’s oft-repeated, oft-failed strategy of waiting for Republican legislators to do their jobs. Theirs is not a party that seems ready to embrace immigrants, to hand a domestic-policy triumph to a president they hate, or to put the country and the will of the people ahead of narrow political interests.

At a certain point, if nothing happens in Congress, it will be time to declare the current strategy — leaning hard on enforcement to persuade Republicans to act — a failure.

* AND AUTO-BAILOUT RESURFACES AS AN ISSUE: Terri Lynn Land, the GOP Senate candidate in Michigan, defended Mitt Romney’s opposition to the auto-bailout and described GM as “Government Motors.” Now the Michigan press is trying to get her to clarify her stance:

“I’ve always supported auto workers,” Land said. “Detroit put Michigan on wheels. They’re the backbone of our economy here in Michigan. It’s great that the autos are doing well. I support the autos, and what I want to do is go down to Washington D.C. and make sure we have a competitive environment here in Michigan and that you don’t over-regulate, you don’t overtax and you don’t over-burden Michigan families.”

Okay. Now how about clarification of her stance on climate change and the Medicaid expansion?