Media Lets Republicans Get Away With Absurd Statements On Obamacare & Other Issues

Republicans have been successful at “playing the refs” with false claims of liberal bias, helping them get away with spreading their misinformation. Liberal blogs and magazines, have commented a lot on Mitch McConnell’s absurd statement in support of the popular and successful Kynect exchange site while attacking Obamacare, which makes Kynect possible. Fact checkers have debunked this claim months ago. However the mainstream media is paying little attention to this–considerably less than the far less significant refusal of Alison Lundergan Grimes to say who she voted for.

Brian Buetler thinks that the media is largely giving McConnell a pass on this due to failing to understand this, and not really liking to discuss policy. He explained, as so many have in the past, why McConnell is both wrong and dishonest:

During the debate, McConnell said he’d be “fine” with it if Kentucky decided to hold on to Kynect if and when Republicans repeal Obamacare. The subtext of Holmes’s tweet is that Kynect would simply become a hub for the kinds of plans that existed in Kentucky before Obamacare. After all, it’s true there was an insurance market (a non-group market) before there was Obamacare. It could follow that McConnell’s proposition is perfectly reasonable.

But there were also websites before there was Kynect. One of those websites is a Kynect-like exchange called ehealthinsurance.com. Yet somehow, before Obamacare and Kynect came along, it wasn’t processing half a million Kentuckyians a year. The uninsurance rate in Kentucky was extremely high and showed no signs of falling on its own.

That’s because prior to Obamacare, the non-group market was dysfunctional. It excluded and priced out the sick and poor. It offered decent plans to young people who posed minimal health risks, but also sold junk policies that left people who believed they were doing the responsible thing exposed to medical bankruptcy.

It took Obamacare (and, thus, Kynect) to transform that market into something that proved inviting to half of Kentucky’s uninsured population almost overnight. Take away Obamacare, and Kynect might still exist as a website. But it’d be about as useful to Kentuckians as ehealthinsurance was prior to last year. Not totally useless, perhaps, but dramatically diminished and completely superfluous.

You need to know all this if, as a political reporter, you’re going to dismiss the McConnell camp’s spin and call him out as clearly as you (presumably) called out Grimes. Likewise, when McConnell implies that Kentucky could simply replicate the ACA’s private insurance expansion and its Medicaid expansion, you need to know that Kentucky probably couldn’tand certainly wouldn’tever do it on its own. McConnell is suggesting that Kentuckians replace a valuable, paid-for federal benefit with one that would impose steep new burdens on the people of the state alone, knowing it’ll never happen.

Once you grasp it all, then it becomes obvious why McConnell’s contradiction is theoretically so dangerous. He isn’t just painting a shiny gloss on a controversial position. He’s exploiting the public’s confusion over it, playing voters for fools by peddling absurdities. Something that can come to define a campaign just as easily as Grimes’ political cowardice might ultimately come to define hers.

This isn’t the only dishonest statement to come from Republicans in recent debates. Tom Cotton, Republican Senate candidate in Arkansas, made an absurd claim that people with pre-existing conditions were better off before the Affordable Care Act. I happened to listen to the debate in Virginia on C-Span, hearing Ed Gillespie make multiple false claims, such as repeating the Republican lie that Medicare is being cut to pay for Obamacare.

Part of the problem is that many in the media sees their job as “objectively” reporting what each side says, regardless of whether one side is saying far more absurd things. The conventional wisdom this year is that Republicans are doing better because there have not been statements such as Todd Akin talking about “legitimate rape,” but in reality Republicans continue to say many totally off the wall things which are being ignored by the media. Paul Waldman discussed absurd statements which Republicans are getting away with this election cycle and concluded:

…in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. Sure, there are exceptions: For instance, Republicans Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell both saw their candidacies derailed by their crazy or outsized statements. But their utterances were truly, deeply bizarre or comical, so they broke through.

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.

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Republicans Remained Obsessed With The Sexual Activities Of Others

Periodically there is talk from some Republicans about letting up on the culture wars, especially as social issues are alienating Republicans from large segments of the electorate. Unfortunately there are always social conservatives who will react negatively to this:

Conservative activists are launching “an unprecedented campaign” against three Republican candidates — two of whom are out gay men — because of their support for marriage equality and abortion.

The National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council Action, and CitizenLink “will mount a concerted effort to urge voters to refuse to cast ballots” for Republican House candidates Carl DeMaio in California and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts and Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby in Oregon, according to a letter sent to Republican congressional and campaign leaders on Thursday.

“We cannot in good conscience urge our members and fellow citizens to support candidates like DeMaio, Tisei or Wehby,” the presidents of the three groups write. “They are wrong on critical, foundational issues of importance to the American people. Worse, as occupants of high office they will secure a platform in the media to advance their flawed ideology and serve as terrible role models for young people who will inevitably be encouraged to emulate them.”

DeMaio and Tisei are the only out LGBT federal candidates from the Republican Party to be appearing on the ballot this fall.

“The Republican Party platform is a ‘statement of who we are and what we believe.’ Thus, the platform supports the truth of marriage as the union of husband and wife, and recognizes the sanctity and dignity of human life,” NOM President Brian S. Brown said in a statement.

Brown called it “extremely disappointing” to see candidates supported “who reject the party’s principled positions on these and other core issues.”

Of the effort to urge people to oppose DeMaio, Tisei, and Wehby, he said, “We cannot sit by when people calling themselves Republicans seek high office while espousing positions that are antithetical to the overwhelming majority of Republicans.”

The letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, and others in Republican congressional leadership.

In it, the three conservative groups also warned that it is a “grave error” for the party to be supporting “candidates who do not hold core Republican beliefs and, in fact, are working to actively alienate the Republican base.”

In opposing gay marriage, these conservatives are looking at consensual behavior between others which does not affect them and desire to use the power of government to limit the choices of those who do not share their religious views. They also fail to recognize the right of a woman to control her own body.

Social conservative groups have considerable influence in the Republican Party and it will be interesting to see how the Republican establishment respond to this.

Such obsession with the sexual activities of others is not limited to a single faction of the conservative movement. The Heritage Foundation held a conference on the future of liberalism. As would be expected, they hold a very warped view of what liberalism is:

“Give up your economic freedom, give up your political freedom, and you will be rewarded with license,” said Heritage’s David Azerrad, describing the reigning philosophy of the left. “It’s all sex all the time. It’s not just the sex itself—it’s the permission to indulge.”

They totally miss the point. It is not a question of whether we should be promoting more sex, or less sex. Liberals believe government should stay out of the private lives of individuals, and let people make such decisions for themselves.

While they advocate restricting individual liberty and greater intrusion of government in the private lives of individuals, they promote a Bizarro World version of freedom. On social issues, freedom means their freedom to impose their views upon others. Economic freedom means freedom from necessary regulation along with freedom of taxation, but limited to the rich. While they preach keeping government out of economic matters, they actually support using government to rig the system to benefit the ultra-wealthy at the cost of the middle class.

The primary political freedom they support is a right for the rich to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, failing to recognize that regulation of conduct related to spending on  elections is not the same as restrictions on free speech. While a libertarian argument could certainly be made against restricting spending on political contributions, they hardly show any consistent support of political freedom when they use voter suppression tactics to promote their goals.

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Election Forecasts Now Improving For Democrats To Retain Control Of Senate

Various forecasts for who will control the Senate are now tilting in the direction of the Democrats, with most still agreeing the race is very close, continuing a trend I noted at the beginning of the month. Some of the predictions more favorable to Democrats have been those which concentrate more on polls as opposed to historical trends and other factors. Nate Silver had previously discounted many of the polls, noting both the low number and often poor quality of polls available. Silver is now reconsidering his prediction, decreasing chances for Republicans to take control of the Senate from 65 percent two weeks ago to 55 percent.

Others have even more favorable predictions for Democrats. Electoral-vote.com, based purely on polls, has the race even. The Upshot gives the Republicans a 51 percent chance, essentially a toss up. Election Lab gives the Democrats a 51 percent chance. The Princeton Election Consortium even gives the Democrats a 78 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate.

In changing his prediction, Nate Silver looked at factors such as the Democratic ground game, and believes money might be the most important factor.

Charlie Cook looked at the same factors:

Two things may be keeping Republican strategists up at night: money and the Democratic ground game. Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn’t Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats. While Republican candidates, national party committees, and super PACs are hardly starving, their Senate and House campaign committees have not been able to keep pace in fundraising with their Democratic counterparts. Their super PACs do not have nearly the funding that they had in 2012 (even allowing for the absence of a presidential race this year). And, in a number of key races, Democratic candidates, party committees, and their allied groups have been on the air significantly more than Republicans. GOP strategists have privately said that if it were not for spending by organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, they might well be in really bad shape.

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP’s chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.

Another reason things might not turn out for Republicans is if the highly touted Democratic Senate ground game comes together. Clearly the Obama campaign and Democratic allies had a superior voter-identification and get-out-the-vote operation two years ago. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats announced the Bannock Street Project, a $60 million program with the goal of putting in place 4,000 paid workers to use techniques perfected and put to work in 2010 by DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet in his race, and again two years ago by the Obama campaign. While some Republicans have scoffed at the likelihood of Democrats being able to mount such an effort, they concede that the Democratic ground game was superior two years ago. In midterm elections, if Democrats can crank up the turnout among young, female, and minority voters, then their chances of success this year increase.

The GOP might be paying for its divorce from reality when Republicans were predicting victory in 2012 despite all the polling data showing that they were delusional.

Electoral-Vote.com also looks at how Democrats are spending their money more effectively, along with factors such as the culture war issues  now favoring the Democrats and the Republicans big demographic problem–a considerable decrease in the low-information, non-college-educated white males who provide such a large percentage of Republican votes (emphasis mine):

Republicans used to use cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion to rev up their supporters and get them to vote. Now the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Democrats who are talking about cultural issues and scaring the voters with them. Not only has same-sex marriage gained enormous popularity in the past five or ten years, but Republican support for limiting birth control (such as in the Hobby Lobby case) is scaring women and driving them to the Democrats. Much of the Republicans’ problem has to do with shifting demographics. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was first elected, white voters without college degrees made up 65% of the electorate. In 2012, that number was 36%. Ever since Richard Nixon began his Southern strategy, Republicans have been basing their campaigns on getting older white men without college degrees to back them. They still do, but there aren’t enough of them any more and it is beginning to be a real problem, hence the action in many states to limit who can vote (voter ID requirements) and when they can vote (shortening early voting periods). This year in states as diverse as Colorado and North Carolina, Democratic candidates are claiming that the Republicans are out of the mainstream. Such an approach was unthinkable 10 years ago, when it was the Republicans making these claims about the Democrats.

What Democrats in red states are also desperately trying to do is make the race between them and their actual opponent, not between President Obama and their opponent. In a new ad the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, literally says “I’m not Barack Obama” while shooting a gun. Then she shows a photo of her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), waving a gun with her saying he doesn’t know how to hold it. The Republicans, in contrast, are running against Obama everywhere. Obama himself is not sitting idly by. In October he will begin serious campaigning, although he may be limited to states where he is relatively popular, such as Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan. And of course he can show up in New York and California any time he wants to in order to raise money for the DSCC.

First Read points to how the gender gap continues to help Democrats.The Washington Examiner looked at how Democratic super PACs have been more effective in their use of advertising money.

The Republican playing field has also been narrowing, with states such as Michigan, and now North Carolina moving firmly in the direction of the Democrats. Having Kansas be unexpectedly in play also makes a huge difference. An election which initially looked highly favorable for Republicans now looks to be even.

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Response To Republican Support For Making Birth Control Pills Available Over The Counter

While Republicans have generally been trying to restrict access to contraception, recently some Republicans have been promoting making oral contraceptives available over the counter without prescription. Many people quickly saw through this. It gives the Republicans a way to claim they are removing a barrier to receiving contraception and avoid situations like the Lobby Hobby case. It also does something else–make contraception less accessible for many women. While the Affordable Car Act requires that contraception be covered without out-of-pocket expense to the woman, many insurance plans do not cover over the counter medications. This is also an incomplete response to the issue as there are many other types of birth control, including forms which many Republicans are attempting to restrict.

The Guttmacher Institute issues a statement regarding this topic (via Talking Points Memo):

Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over the Counter, But That’s No Substitute for Contraceptive Coverage

September 11, 2014

By Adam Sonfield and Sneha Barot, Guttmacher Institute

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC)—though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives—let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

The Policy Behind Over-The Counter Contraception
Making birth control pills available OTC has merit, and the Guttmacher Institute is part of a coalition that has been working toward this goal for years. Leading medical groups have also endorsed such a move, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By removing the need to obtain a prescription, OTC status would eliminate this potential barrier to contraceptive use and thereby increase access.

This is especially true for uninsured women and those who don’t have time for a doctor’s visit or otherwise can’t readily reach a health care provider. However, if the goal is to truly expand access to contraceptive care—and not just provide cover for undercutting insurance coverage for contraceptives—the case to move birth control pills to OTC status should proceed alongside several other important policies and goals:

Protect contraceptive coverage and full method choice: The ACA requires most private health plans to cover the full range of women’s contraceptive methods and services, without out-of-pocket costs for the patient. This policy eliminates cost as a barrier to women’s ability to choose the method that is best for them at any given point in their lives, an approach that has been proven to make a substantial difference in facilitating access to and use of contraceptive services.

Contrary to what some policymakers and commenters have claimed, giving the pill OTC status would not be an effective substitute for the ACA policy. First, it would do nothing to help women access any contraceptive method other than the pill. This matters, since most women use four or more different contraceptive methods over their lifetime to meet their changing needs. If only the pill were available OTC and contraceptives were no longer covered by insurance, women would face significant new barriers in choosing the method that best suited their needs. Cost is a particularly steep barrier for highly effective methods like the IUD or implant that not only have high upfront expenses, but also require a trained provider for insertion and therefore are not candidates for OTC status.

Even for the pill itself, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that moving it to OTC status would substantially lower out-of-pocket costs to patients, let alone come close to the $0 out-of-pocket cost guaranteed under the ACA policy. Rather, making the pill available OTC, if done at the expense of insurance coverage, would replace one barrier (ease of access) with another (cost). Likewise, greater reliance on Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, as some opponents of insurance coverage have proposed, would also merely replace full insurance coverage with patient out-of-pocket costs—leaving most privately insured women, particularly low-income women, worse off. Uninsured women on average pay $370 for a full year’s supply of the pill, the equivalent of 51 hours of work at the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Millions of women already benefit from the ACA’s contraceptive coverage guarantee and these hard-won gains must be protected. Rather than substituting for contraceptive coverage of all methods and related services, OTC status for birth control pills should complement and enhance such coverage.

Strengthen coverage for over-the-counter methods: While the ACA’s preventive care provision specifically requires private health plans to cover certain products with over-the-counter status (including the emergency contraceptive Plan B, folic acid, aspirin to prevent heart disease and tobacco use cessation products), a prescription is needed for these items to be covered—essentially negating the benefits of OTC status. This prescription requirement should be eliminated for any current and future over-the counter contraceptives. Coverage of over-the-counter products without a prescription is already the norm in some state Medicaid programs and in the U.S. military’s Tricare insurance program. Further, ensuring full coverage for over-the-counter contraceptives would prevent “free-riding” by insurance companies that benefit from not having to cover pregnancies that were averted through patient out-of-pocket expenditures.

Ensure equal access for young women: Adolescents and young women, who face greater risk of unintended pregnancy and more barriers to accessing contraception than older women, have among the most to gain from a switch to OTC status. However, recent calls to give birth control pills OTC status as a substitute for contraceptive coverage have specifically excluded minors. That would require women 17 and younger to obtain a prescription, without providing any medical evidence to justify such restrictions. This approach would be harmful to adolescent women and would be counterproductive to helping them avoid unplanned pregnancies and the negative health, social and economic consequences that often follow.

In addition, excluding minors would likely not result in a true over-the-counter status, but instead could put contraceptive pills behind the counter, much as happened when the emergency contraceptive Plan B was first approved for OTC sales. To comply with an age restriction, stores would have to require proof of age via a valid picture ID from any woman who looks young enough to potentially be barred from purchasing birth control pills without a prescription. This would be an added hurdle for millions of women, and it ignores the reality that many young women do not have government-issued forms of photo ID.

Keep politics out of FDA decision making: To switch any drug to OTC status, the typical process involves the drug’s manufacturer submitting an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which—based on several criteria, including the safety and efficacy profile of the medication—decides whether to grant the request. The evidence is quite strong that providing birth control pills OTC would be safe and effective, including for minors. The FDA process should be driven by the evidence and free from political interference by the administration, Congress and others.

It is troubling but not at all surprising that Senator Ayotte and others who purport to be interested in contraceptive access would preempt the FDA with unfounded calls to bar minors from benefiting from any future OTC status for birth control pills. This echoes the longtime political and legal wrangling over minors’ access to OTC emergency contraceptive pills, despite clear evidence that minors could safely use these products without a prescription.

It is also noteworthy that there are dozens of brands and formulations of birth control pills, most of which would likely have to undergo the lengthy and expensive FDA process to gain OTC status separately. Because formulations of the pill are not medically interchangeable, with some women tolerating specific pills better than others, making one or several versions of the birth control pill available OTC would not benefit all current pill users.

Not A One-Size-Fits-All Policy Solution
Just as birth control methods are not “one size fits all” at any point in a woman’s life, let alone for all of her reproductive years, neither is there a one-size-fits-all policy solution to enhance access to the full range of methods, information and services for women of all ages and income levels, regardless of where they obtain their care. A wide range of approaches is necessary to meaningfully respond to women’s family planning needs in a comprehensive way.

One such approach includes making birth control pills available over-the-counter, if done so without additional costs or barriers to women. Doing so can complement and enhance current efforts to help more women become effective contraceptive users, including the ACA’s significant gains for comprehensive private and public insurance coverage for contraceptive counseling, services and supplies.

If anything, contraceptive coverage should be broadened to cover more women and strengthened to eliminate the prescription requirement for OTC methods that are covered. Other urgent priorities include expanded access to Medicaid, public support for safety-net family planning centers and the Title X national family planning program, comprehensive sex education and the development of new contraceptive technologies.

Truly increasing access to contraceptive care requires a multifaceted approach to meet the needs of all women throughout their reproductive lives. Political talking points will not do it.

This article was originally published on Health Affairs Blog at this link.

Click here for a recent statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) supporting over-the-counter access to birth control pills as part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s health care as opposed to a political tool.

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Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Update: Taylor drops out of race

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Quote of the Day: Alison Lundergan Grimes on Mitch McConnell

“If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he would be ‘Mad Men,’ treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season.” --Alison Lundergan Grimes on Mitch McConnell at the Fancy Farm picnic in Kentucky or, as she referred to it, “Senator  McConnell’s retirement party.”

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McConnell Promises Conservatives That Republicans Will Work To Restrict Abortions If They Take Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate up for grabs, The Hill reports on one key reason why it is important for Democrats to get out to vote. Mitch McConnell vows to escalate Republican efforts to restrict reproductive rights and promote further government intrusion in the private lives, and bodies, of women:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised Saturday to focus more attention on limiting abortions if Republicans take control of the Senate in November.

Speaking to the National Right to Life Convention in his home state of Kentucky, the Senate’s top Republican suggested Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has blocked the upper-chamber from voting on bills that would limit women’s rights to abortion, according to conservative website Townhall.com.

But McConnell said he would push abortion-limiting legislation to pressure President Obama to take a stand on the issue.

“For six years, the president has been isolated from this growing movement,” McConnell said. “He will be forced to listen to the cause that’s brought us all here this morning. Senate Dems would be forced to take a stand.”

I fear that the Republicans will really do this, as opposed to their empty promises to work to create more jobs when they took control of the House. Undoubtedly Obama will take a stand and veto such legislation.

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Republican Extremism And The Weakness Of Republican Leadership

The victory of David Brat over Eric Cantor was momentarily a cause for celebration, but the long term results might not be so favorable. Norm Ornstein warns that this will lead to further radicalization of the Republican Party:

First, it is clear that this moves the Republican Party even further to the right, in approach, attitude and rhetoric. Even if the overwhelming majority of incumbents, including establishment ones, have won renomination, even if broader Republican public opinion is more establishment conservative than Tea Party radical, all it takes is an example or two of the opposite to get all politicians jumping at their shadows and muttering to themselves, “That could happen to me.”

…American political parties always face a tension between their establishment and ideological wings. On the Republican side, going back more than a hundred years to the Teddy Roosevelt era, that was a struggle between moderate progressives and conservatives.

Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.

In our 2012 book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” Tom Mann and I described the Republican Party as an “insurgent outlier.” That is even more true today. The energy and driving force in the party, in its House membership, media dominance, caucus and primary electorates and financial backers, is not its conservative wing but its radical side.

Ornstein is probably right that this will pull the Republicans even further to the right, but how far right can they go before even safe Republican districts are at risk? Will Republicans in these districts support any lunatic with an R after his name, or is there a limit? At the moment it appears that Brat should win, but the narrative would certainly change if the victory by such an extremists were to cause the Republicans to lose a safe Republican district.

Yesterday I noted Brat’s views on slashing spending on Medicare, Social Security, and education.  His plan to replace Obmamacare is just as absurd: “We need to also scrap employer-based health insurance, and give those incentives to individuals to carry their own portable health insurance. If we did that, the issue of pre-existing conditions largely goes away.” This makes absolutely no sense as the individual market has been dominated by insurance plans which have been the most abusive at denying coverage to the sick.

Brat’s campaign manager, Zachery Werrell, scrubbed his Facebook page after the victory but Yahoo News took screen shots while the page was still available:

From comparing George Zimmerman’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin to abortion to calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration and encouraging the adoption of the silver monetary standard, Zachary Werrell – one of just two paid staffers for the upstart campaign of Randolph-Macon College economics professor David Brat – sought in 2012 and 2013 to build a public profile as a socially conservative libertarian voice…

“Can someone who was outraged that George Zimmerman was found not guilty of ‘SOMETHING ANYTHING’ and who is simultaneously pro-choice explain the logical dissonance there? Ie. Why its not ok to kill someone who is banging your head into concrete but its ok to kill someone for simply existing who, through your conscious actions, you brought into the world?” Werrell had written in an Oct. 24, 2013, posting.

The month before, the campaign manager for the likely next congressman for Virginia’s 7th District – since no Democrat has represented that district since 1971 – questioned whether existing state lines were defensible. “Should sections of States be allowed to secede from a State if they feel they are un/underrepresented in the State Government?” Werrell asked. “I say yes. I derive that opinion from our first foundational document – the Declaration of Independence. What say you?”

On Oct. 25, 2013, he called for an end to the regulation of prescription drugs, citing a story from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. “Abolish the FDA!” he wrote.

On Oct. 29 of that year, it was a piece by Fred Reed from Lew Rockwell’s website on the wussification of boys that set him off. “There is a war on boys!” Werrell wrote. “Rough housing, playing soldier, etc, are all punished or medicated away. And we wonder why there is gender inequality in the classroom and in college/attendance/graduation rates.”

The Reed piece called for the end of women teachers in coed or boys’ schools. “It is time to get women out of the schooling of boys,” wrote Fred Reed. “It is way past time. Women in our feminized classrooms are consigning generations of our sons to years of misery and diminished futures.” The piece further argued that “women should not be allowed within fifty feet of a school where boys are taught” and that “Women are totalitarian. Men are happy to let boys be boys and girls be girls. Women want all children to be girls.”

Brat is far more likely than Cantor to make a major gaffe. It will be interesting to see his take on the views of his campaign manager.

If we can fantasize about a Democratic upset in this Congressional district, we might also fantasize about another upset in the general election. Peter Beinart looked at the weakness of the Republican leadership:

Cantor’s boss, John Boehner is, according to Nancy Pelosi, “the weakest speaker in history.” Less than 50 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Over the last two years, he has repeatedly retreated in the face of opposition from rank-and-file conservatives who treat him with barely disguised disdain. Until the defeat of Cantor, his most likely heir apparent, it was widely assumed that he would soon either step—or be pushed—aside soon.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell only avoided Cantor’s fate by attaching himself to his Kentucky colleague Rand Paul, whose upstart Senate candidacy McConnell had opposed. Like Boehner, McConnell is treated with striking disrespect in his own caucus.

David Frum wonders whether the Republican leadership will ever fight back:

At some point, Republican leaders must recognize that they have a fight on their hands whether they like it or not. If they refuse to join that fight, they will be devoured anyway. If they surrender, they condemn the whole conservative project in America to the destructive leadership of fanatics (and the cynics who make their living by duping fanatics).

I never thought there was much of a chance of Grimes to beat Mitch McConnell despite being close in the polls but today Political Wire reported that “A new Magellan Strategies (R) poll in Kentucky finds Allison Lundergran Grimes (D) leading Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) by three points in the U.S. Senate race, 49% to 46%.” Perhaps a major reason that Cantor was defeated is general bipartisan disgust with the Republican leadership, and if so this just might extend to knocking out McConnell.

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A Fact Checker Responds To Mitch McConnell’s Dishonesty On Obamacare

In response to the issue discussed yesterday where Mitch McConnell simultaneously opposed the Affordable Care Act and supported Kynect, the computer exchange set up in Kentucky as part of the Affordable Care Act, Glenn Kessler exchanged email with Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager. Benton made some absurd statements such as that,  “When Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky can choose to continue Kynect or alter it in a way that makes the best sense for Kentuckians.” As discussed yesterday, Kynect cannot exist without Obamacare.

Benton also tried to separate the benefits of the expanded Medicaid program from the Affordable Care Act:

Medicaid existed before Obamacare and will continue to exist after repeal. Kynect is not Medicaid. It is a state administered exchange that provides a marketplace for private insurance plans.  While some 300,000 Kentuckians discovered they were eligible for Medicaid through Kynect, they do not purchase private insurance through the exchange; they are enrolled in the state-administered program.

The expansion of Medicaid is another aspect of the Affordable Care Act, with the federal government paying the bulk of the cost of this expansion. If Obamacare is repealed, there would not be either Kynect or the expanded Medicaid program which many in Kentucky have benefited from.

Benton also claimed that people in Kentucky “would move back to HSA’s and other higher deductible plans they had pre-Obamacare to receive a higher quality of care.” However there were no previous plans for most of these people as 75 percent of the newly insured in both Medicaid and the exchange were previously uninsured. High deductible plans and HSA’s work well for upper income individuals, but they are not a good solution for those with lower incomes who cannot afford to pay high deductibles or place money in HSA’s.

Kessler concluded:

McConnell appears to have accepted the Medicaid expansion that has been so embraced by his state’s residents, while drawing a distinction with the Obamacare health plans sold on the statewide exchange. Given that three out of four of the newly insured in Kentucky ended up on Medicaid, that probably makes political sense—and also is newsworthy.

But the history of individual state exchanges shows it is not credible for McConnell to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the broad health-care system constructed by the Affordable Care Act, such as an individual mandate and subsidies to buy insurance. Given the popularity of the state exchange, McConnell appears to want to offer out hope it would continue even in the unlikely case the law was actually repealed. That’s likely not a tenable position, and we will pay close attention to McConnell’s phrasing on this issue in the future. The senator is clearly trying to straddle a political fence; when doing so, it’s easy to lose your balance.

I do find it strange that Kessler decided to review the exchange with the above conclusion “rather than a traditional fact check.” These statements from McConnell and his campaign manager are clearly dishonest. Kessler has declared statements which were far more ambiguous to be dishonest in the past. I do applaud his decision to concentrate on reviewing the facts as opposed to jumping to awarding Pinocchios, but hope that this new policy applies to both parties.

In related news, a new Wenzel Strategies poll (a Republican pollster with a reputation for a strong pro-Republican “house effect”) has Mitch McConnell leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by 47 percent to 44 percent. The closeness of the race is encouraging but it is hard to see Kentucky voting in a Democratic senator.

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Mitch McConnell Backs Kentucky State Exchange While Calling For Obamacare Repeal

McConnell

Now that people are experiencing the advantages of the Affordable Care Act it is becoming harder for Republicans to call for repeal. While people might tell pollsters they dislike Obamacare, they also oppose the consequences of repeal. In Kentucky, people might say they dislike Obamacare, but they certainly do like Kynect, their highly successful insurance exchange. This is resulting in problems for Mitch McConnell who has been calling for the repeal of Obamacare and is now up for reelection.

McConnell has been trying to express support for Kynect while continuing to oppose Obamacare. It is necessary for one to be either dishonest or quite ignorant about the Affordable Care Act to make claims such as the ones McConnell is making:

“If Obamacare is repealed, Kentucky should decide for itself whether to keep Kynect or set up a different marketplace,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told WFPL.

“But Kentuckians shouldn’t have been forced to lose the plans they had and liked, shouldn’t have seen their premiums skyrocket, shouldn’t have had their Medicare cut, and shouldn’t have had their taxes raised because of President Obama and his friends in Washington forced it down their throats.”​

McConnell is being dishonest with his claims that premiums are skyrocking and Medicare is being cut. One reason people in Kentucky support Kynect is that it is allowing them to obtain health insurance at a lower cost. Republicans are resorting to scare tactics with claims of Medicare cuts.

The Kentucky Herald-Leader had this editorial criticizing McConnell for attempting this deception:

Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky’s senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible.

Repeal the federal law, which McConnell calls “Obamacare,” and the state exchange would collapse.

Kynect could not survive without the ACA’s insurance reforms, including no longer allowing insurance companies to cancel policies when people get sick or deny them coverage because of pre-existing conditions, as well as the provision ending lifetime limits on benefit payments. (Kentucky tried to enact such reforms in the 1990s and found out we were too small a market to do it alone.)

Kentucky’s exchange also could not survive without the federal funding and tax credits that are helping 300,000 previously uninsured Kentuckians gain access to regular preventive medicine, including colonoscopies, mammograms and birth control without co-pays.

As a result of a law that McConnell wants to repeal, one in 10 of his constituents no longer have to worry that an illness or injury will drive them into personal bankruptcy or a premature grave.

Repealing the federal law would also end the Medicaid expansion that is enabling Kentucky to expand desperately needed drug treatment and mental health services.

Kynect is the Affordable Care Act is Obamacare — even if Kentuckians are confused about which is which.

The Louisville Eccentric Observer also responded to McConnell:

Just for the record, McConnell saying that Kynect can survive the repeal of Obamacare is like saying that the Oklahoma City Thunder can trade Kevin Durant, but keep his jump shot.

The Kynect website and call center was paid for with federal money from the ACA, specifically $252 million in federal grants. Without the ACA, Kentucky foots the bill for a website that is worthless.

Over 300,000 Kentuckians gained Medicaid coverage because the ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and Kentucky did not opt out, and that coverage is 100 percent paid for by federal money under the ACA, until it becomes 90 percent after a few years. Without the ACA they are no longer eligible, unless Kentucky changes their state law and pays through nose to cover these new people (that is not happening).

Most of the 82,795 Kentuckians who bought private insurance through Kynect were able to do so with the help of federal subsidies only made possible by the ACA. Without the ACA, those plans that have strong consumer protections on preexisting conditions, not being dropped from coverage for getting sick, and spending caps are no longer mandatory, so they’re gone. Gone as well is the requirement that children must be covered under their parents plans through the age of 25. Without the ACA many of these people won’t find someone to insure them, and many are forced to go back to junk plans that are worthless when you have a medical emergency or plans that are unaffordable without federal ACA subsidies.

Without the ACA, Kynect is nothing but a worthless website that would soon go dark, and roughly 400,000 Kentuckians will lose their coverage and the consumer protections it provides, and will therefore be thrown back into the old healthcare system that had failed them beforehand.

What McConnell is hoping to do with this strategy is deceive Kentucky voters who like what Kynect is doing but have a negative perception of the Affordable Care Act, and hope that the media here will do lazy “He said, She said” reporting that does not explicitly point out that what McConnell is saying is flatly false. He might turn out to be successful on that front, but this might also be a good opportunity for Alison Lundergan Grimes to get off of the sidelines and actually talk about health care with the media and voters so they know exactly what McConnell is trying to do, and have an honest conversation about what she would do. Or, she can continue staying out of this fight, and just hope for the best. Your call, Alison.

This should make it easier for McConnell’s opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, to defend Obamacare. Instead it looks like she is trying to play it safe. Greg Sargent discussed how Grimes is talking about the Affordable Care Act:

Now the Grimes campaign is finally hitting McConnell over his gyrations on the issue, accusing him of “voting to destroy Kynect.” From Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst:

Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians.

This seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to “fix” the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” remains under water.

Lake suggests this to Grimes:  “She could say, `In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.”

The idea would be to focus people on something they like — the state exchange — separating it from the hated Obummercare, localizing the contrast between the two candidates’ positions. Her statement today does not mention Obamacare, signaling again that Kynect is far more popular in the state, and that it’s now somewhat safe to make an issue at least out of the state exchange. Indeed, elsewhere Grimes has said: “I am not and will not be for taking away insurance that 400,000 Kentuckians just recently got access to.”

Still, given the tentativeness of Grimes’ statement, clearly she is still not prepared to cross over into seriously making an issue out of that contrast, and it just won’t be a central point she makes. As noted here before, I understand all the reasons for Grimes’ reluctance.

While it is understandable that Democrats would show some reluctance to being associated with Obamacare, failure to speak out probably guarantees their defeat. Democrats need to go on the offensive and take credit for the benefits of the law their party passed. Trying to distance themselves will not work. Everyone knows that this is a policy passed by the Democrats. Acting scared only reinforces the negative views and makes Democrats look weak. As long as Democrats remain afraid to forcibly speak out about the benefits of Obamacare and explain its benefits, voters will fall for the type of deception Mitch McConnell is practicing. Voters do want the benefits of Obamacare, and the popularity of Kynect gives Grimes the perfect opportunity to speak out in its defense.

Update: Glenn Kessler reviewed the facts regarding the above issue.

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