LEXINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence came to Kentucky on Wednesday “to turn up the heat on Congress” to pass a Republican backed bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
He was largely preaching to the choir, however, a group of about 150 invited guests, nearly all of whom are Republicans and Republican office holders, including Gov. Matt Bevin and Kentucky Congressmen Andy Barr of Lexington and Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green.
“We need you to stand up and speak out,” Pence told them. “Let your voices be heard by the Congress. We need people who know we can do better than Obamacare to let their voices be heard.”
He even seemed to try to apply just a little heat on Kentucky’s two Republican senators, both of which strongly support repealing the ACA but differ perhaps on the best means of doing it.
Republicans control both chambers of the U.S. Congress and have promised for years to repeal the ACA if they won control of Congress and the White House at the same time, But even with the election of Donald Trump, that promise is proving difficult to deliver.
Pence’s visit came the day before Kentucky Republican Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to introduce the latest attempt to secure passage of legislation to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
About 30 protestors stood in the stifling July heat and humidity outside chanting support for the ACA but they were kept comfortably away by security.
They couldn’t be heard inside Bryant’s Rent-All, a party and equipment rental business in Lexington. Prior to addressing the invited guests, Pence met with the owner, Terry Bryant, and other small business owners who told him Obamacare is driving up their employee health costs and business costs
So far McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader known for his uncanny ability to pull a rabbit out of the legislative hat, has been unable to must the 50 votes he needs to pass the bill.
Several Republican Senators — including Paul and others like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the right and moderates like Maine’s Susan Collins — say they can’t vote for the bill in its current form.
Pence took a while to get around to the subject of healthcare. He first rattled off what he said are major accomplishments of the Trump administration: repealing regulations by executive order, confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and withdrawing from the Paris Accord on climate change.
He praised Trump for taking on terrorism “on our terms on their territory” and said Trump is deporting “gang members and drug dealers” who have entered the country illegally.
He characterized Trump’s trip last week to Poland and Germany for a meeting of the G-20 as “historic” and lauded Trump’s widely praised speech on protecting Western civilization in Poland.
But he didn’t mention the discord with the other members of the G-20, primarily the European nations or news about Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who acknowledged Tuesday he met with a Russian attorney during the campaign last summer.
Instead he bragged on his friend, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, for his efforts to alter the way the Medicaid is delivered in Kentucky.
When he turned to healthcare, Pence ticked off statistics he said proves the failures of the Affordable Care Act: higher premiums, higher costs and deductibles.
He said Obamacare also reduces choices for consumers and pointed to the growing number of counties where only one plan is available on the health exchange. He assured the crowd things will only get worse if the law isn’t repealed.
But help is on the way, he said, declaring “that before the summer is out we will repeal and replace Obamacare.”
That may be difficult. The revisions McConnell is expected to announce Thursday include retention of upper income taxes and $45 billion to treat opioid addiction. Those may appease moderate Republicans but drive conservatives like Paul farther away.
And the measure still reduces funding over time for Medicaid, something moderates like Collins oppose.
Paul’s spokeswoman said after Pence’s speech that Paul strongly favors repeal of Obamacare but the current Senate bill “doesn’t do that and leaves most of its taxes and regulations in place.”
But Pence claimed confidence, saying he and Trump are counting on Paul and McConnell.
“The president and I believe when the time comes Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul will do the right thing together and we will pass legislation to end Obamacare once and for all,” Pence declared.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.