By Beth Musgrave
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged Thursday to overturn a federal health care law less than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court largely upheld the cornerstone legislation of President Barack Obama’s administration.
McConnell, in a speech on the Senate floor, said Thursday’s 5-4 decision “doesn’t mark the end of the debate. It marks a fresh start on the road to repeal.”
The Kentucky Republican used the court’s argument that the mandate to purchase health insurance is a tax as fodder to overturn the controversial law.
“They knew that it would never have passed if they said it was a tax,” McConnell said of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “The bill was sold to the American people on a deception.”
Other Kentucky Republicans criticized the court’s ruling Thursday and used the decision to rally support and raise money for Republican candidates.
State Senate President David Williams used the occasion to paint Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear as an ally of Obama, who has low approval ratings in Kentucky.
“The Supreme Court ruling is a victory for President Obama and his cheerleader in Kentucky, Gov Steve Beshear,” said Williams, R-Burkesville. “By upholding the individual mandate, our employers, especially the small and medium size ones, face a huge tax increase. Kentucky needs job creators — they do not need to be punished.”
Beshear said little about the politics of health care on Thursday, instead issuing a statement focused on how his administration will implement the law.
He pledged to move forward with an insurance exchange, an online marketplace for health insurance and a key provision of the federal health care law. States are required to have an insurance exchange operating by Jan. 1, 2014, but many Republican governors have refused to take preliminary steps to set up the exchanges.
Beshear also said he could not say if Kentucky will continue with an expansion of Medicaid that was prompted by the federal legislation. In its 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court said states could not be punished financially if they do not expand the federal-state program for the poor and disabled.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Bowling Green blasted the court’s decision, saying he still believes the insurance mandate is unconstitutional.
“Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so,” Paul said. “The whole thing remains unconstitutional. While the court may have erroneously come to the conclusion that the law is allowable, it certainly does nothing to make this mandate or government takeover of our health care right.”
Paul also pledged a Republican overthrow of the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“This now means we fight every hour, every day until November to elect a new President and a new Senate to repeal Obamacare,” Paul said.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents much of Eastern Kentucky, called the decision “terrible news for working families and seniors” in his district. “Obamacare taxes hardworking Americans, cuts Medicare, increases health care costs and discourages small businesses from hiring new workers.”
U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, voted against the 2010 legislation. In a statement, Chandler said he still believes there are problems with the law but was glad the Supreme Court upheld key consumer protections in the law that he supports.
“Even though I voted against the bill, there are good parts of the law that helped usher in much-needed reforms, like those that protect Central Kentuckians by preventing insurance companies from dropping people if they get sick, ending lifetime caps on coverage, and eliminating pre-existing condition exclusions,” Chandler said.
In the November general election, Chandler faces Republican Andy Barr in a re-match of the 2010 race, which Chandler narrowly won. Within hours of the release of the Supreme Court decision, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement urging Chandler’s ouster.
“In order to regain control of their health care, Bluegrass state families must replace Ben Chandler,” the NRCC said.
Barr later released a statement noting that Chandler voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“This decision means that the only way to stop ObamaCare is to defeat politicians like Ben Chandler who have voted against repeal of this disaster for working families,” he said.
Justin Wedeking, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, said he doubts Thursday’s decision will impact the outcome of the 6th Congressional District race, which includes Fayette County and much of Central Kentucky. The race promises to be one of the most-watched in Kentucky this fall.
“It likely won’t effect Chandler’s base support,” Wedeking said. “His position is already well staked out.”
However, if enough new voters who are disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling turn out in November, that could help Barr, he said.
“Surges in turnout generally help challengers,” Wedeking said.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, was the only member of Kentucky’s federal delegation to vote for the 2010 bill. Yarmuth praised the ruling on Thursday, saying it will mean lower health care costs for all Kentuckians and said the measure will create jobs.
“The law lowers costs, strengthens care and once fully implemented will guarantee all Americans access to quality, affordable coverage while creating nearly 6 million new jobs in the health care sector,” Yarmuth said.