RICHMOND — Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli II, who gained national attention three years ago as a crusader against Obamacare, highlighted his continued opposition to the federal health-care law Friday at a gathering with small business owners.
With enrollment in the federal health-care plan set to begin Tuesday, the Republican attorney general seized on shifting start dates and anticipated enrollment glitches as evidence that the law is deeply flawed.
“Just this week, they pushed back the online enrollment for small business, which was set for October 1,” he said. “They keep rolling these things back. The people who are implementing this don’t know the rules. And if they don’t know the rules, they can’t tell us what they are.”
Cuccinelli stressed his opposition to Obamacare at a time when he is seeking a more effective line of attack against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has a small but solid lead in recent polls.
Cuccinelli was the first attorney general in the nation to sue over the legislation, dispatching aides to the courthouse just minutes after President Obama signed it into law. Touting his anti-Obamcare bona fides could not only be a way to excite his tea party supporters, but also might not alienate swing voters given the law’s widespread unpopularity.
Cuccinelli has talked about Obamacare throughout the race for governor but mostly in the context of his desire not to expand Medicaid under the law. He spoke about Obamacare more broadly Friday, using some of the forceful rhetoric that made him a tea party hero as he chatted with about a dozen small business owners at Morooka America, a heavy-equipment manufacturer in Glen Allen.
“It’s illegal unless the government does it,” he said at one point.
McAuliffe supports Medicaid expansion, which would provide health insurance to 400,000 uninsured Virginians. The Democrat contends that it would create thousands of jobs at little cost to Virginia, because the federal government has promised to pick up the $2 billion-a-year cost initially, and 90 percent of it after that. He has touted it as a financial windfall that would bankroll his wider agenda, which includes higher teacher salaries and improved K-12 education.
Cuccinelli said he does not believe the federal government has the money to make good on that promise. And he suggested that Virginia would not be able to free itself from an expanded Medicaid, even if Washington stiffed the state on the funding.
“It’s Hotel California — you never get out,” Cuccinelli said.
The Republican continued to walk a fine line in one area: He said he did not agree with attempts to kill the law by shutting down the federal government, even as the leader of that effort, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), plans to travel to Richmond next weekend to headline a Cuccinelli fundraiser.
As much as he would like to see the law go away, Cuccinelli said bringing the federal government to a halt is too extreme a way to get there.
“He has focused his career on fighting divisive ideological battles and is about to bring Senator Ted Cruz, the leader of the shutdown movement, to Virginia,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “It’s time for Ken Cuccinelli to stop focusing on divisive ideological battles and start acting in the best interest of the commonwealth.”
Cuccinelli said McAuliffe was the one guilty of political brinkmanship, since he has said several times on the campaign trail that he would not sign a state budget that did not include the Medicaid expansion.