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Georgia governor’s debate: Candidates clash over allegations of voter suppression

Kemp insists he is “absolutely not” trying to keep down the minority vote; Abrams says voters are “scared”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch full debate on GPB

ATLANTA (CFP) — The charge that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been deliberately disenfranchising minority voters to gain an edge for his campaign for governor took center stage at a debate where he faced off with his Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams.

Abrams and Kemp square off in first debate (Courtesy GPB)

In their first face-to-face encounter, aired October 23 by Georgia Public Broadcasting, Kemp insisted that he has “absolutely not” been targeting voters based on race, a charge made by Abrams and other voting rights advocates amid news reports that more than 50,000 voter registrations are being held in Kemp’s office because of paperwork errors.

But Abrams said Kemp’s office, by systematically removing voters from the registration rolls and holding up new registrations, has created a climate of fear for potential voters.

“They’ve been purged, they’ve been suppressed, they’ve been scared,” she said. “Voting suppression is not only about blocking the vote. It’s about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won’t count.

Kemp insisted that all of the voters with registrations pending will still be allowed to vote and called allegations of voter suppression “a distraction to take away from Ms. Abrams’s extreme agenda.”

He also charged that Abrams has been encouraging illegal immigrants to come out and vote for her, an allegation she denied.

“I only believe that those who have a legal eligibility to vote should cast a ballot,” she said.

Kemp, who oversees elections as secretary of state, also said that he would not recuse himself if the governor’s race ends in a recount because recounts are primarily the responsibility of county officials, not his office.

“I took an oath of office to serve as secretary of state, and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do,” he said

While the candidates had expected disagreements on immigration and expanding Medicare, the debate, sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, began with a question about an incident from Abrams’s past that rocketed through cyberspace on the day for the debate – her participation in a 1992 protest where the Georgia state flag, which then featured the Confederate battle ensign, was set on fire.

“Twenty-six years ago, as a college freshman, I along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol,” she said.

“I took an action of peaceful protest. I said that that was wrong, and 10 years later, my opponent, Brian Kemp actually voted to remove that symbol (as a state senator).”

Although the flag burning issue has been gathering widespread attention, neither Kemp nor Libertarian nominee, Ted Metz, brought it up again during the rest of the debate. The Confederate emblem was removed from the state flag in 2001.

In her campaign, Abrams has been calling for expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, an idea that has been blocked by Republicans in the Georgia Legislature. In the debate, she touted Medicaid expansion as a way to spur economic development in rural areas.

“Rural Georgia has been losing hospitals at an alarming rate, and because of that loss we have companies leaving, we have people without access to health care, we’re not doing the kind of economic development work we can do,” she said, adding that expanding Medicaid would bring $3 billion in federal money to the state and create 56,000 jobs.

But Kemp, who opposes Medicaid expansion, said that “expanding a broken government program is no answer to solving the problem.”

He also pointed to a book Abrams wrote in which she called for a single-payer government health plan financed by tax increases and cuts in Medicaid and Medicare, an idea he called “radical.”

“Abrams’s plan will make your current insurance plan illegal. It will not allow you to choose your doctor, and she’s going to raise your taxes to pay for it,” he said. “And if you’re on Medicaid or Medicare, this should scare you to death.”

Kemp also criticized Abrams for wanting to extend the state’s HOPE scholarship program for high school students to Georgia graduates who were brought into the country illegally as children, commonly known as Dreamers. He said he also opposes allowing them to attend state colleges.

“I’ve been running my whole campaign on putting Georgians first. I think we need to continue to do that,” he said. “I think we need to continue to fight for our own people, our own state.”

But Abrams said, “I stand by believing that every Georgian who graduates from our high schools should be allowed to attend our colleges, and if they’re eligible, receive the HOPE scholarship.”

Abrams, 44, is an Atlanta attorney and former Democratic minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. Kemp is a former state senator from Athens who has served two terms as secretary of state.

They are scheduled to meet for a second and final debate on November 4, the Sunday before the November 6 election.

With polls showing a close race and Metz on the ballot, the governor’s race in the Peach State could be headed to a runoff.

Georgia is the only state that requires a general election winner to capture a majority of the vote. If neither Abrams or Kemp win a majority, a runoff between them will be held December 4.

In the last open race for governor, in 2010, the Libertarian nominee got 4 percent of the vote

General election runoffs, while rare, have proven to have unpredictable results. In 1992, Republican Paul Coverdell ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Wyche Fowler in a runoff, even though Fowler had come out slightly ahead in the initial vote.

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5 Southern Republicans break ranks to oppose House Obamacare repeal

But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.

Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.

Hurd

Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”

Comstock

Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”

“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.

The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.

“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”

Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.

Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact,  if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.

Curbelo

This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.

Mast

In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.

“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”

Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.

“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”

Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”

“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.

Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.

Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen breaks ranks with GOP leaders on health care bill

Florida congresswoman says Obamacare replacement would leave too many of her constituents uninsured

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has become the first House Republican to break ranks with her party’s leadership to oppose a new plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

R0s-Lehtinen, who represents the 27th District in Miami-Dade County, announced her decision to oppose the bill March 14 on her Twitter feed:

“I plan to vote NO on the current ACHA bill. As written the plan leaves too many from my SoFla district uninsured. As AHCA stands, it will cut much needed help for SoFla’s poor (and) elderly populations. Need a plan that will do more to protect them.”

ACHA stands for the American Health Care Act, which is the formal name of the GOP bill.

In a subsequent statement, Ros-Lehtinen said that after studying the bill and hearing from her constituents, she concluded “too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.” However, she made it clear that she would support changes in the existing Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

“I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken healthcare system and did not live up to its promise to the American people, but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs,” she said. “We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us.”

Democrats have not participated in crafting the Republican health care replacement bill, being pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The plan has also run into opposition from his own caucus, both from more conservative members who feel it keeps too many features of Obamacare and more moderate members who fear its impact on Americans who have managed to gain coverage under the existing plan.

Ros-Lehtinen falls into the latter category. She is also one of only six Southern Republicans who represent a House district that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the presidential election last year.

Clinton carried the district by nearly 20 points, her largest margin of victory in any Southern GOP-held district. The majority-Latino district is anchored by Miami’s Cuban-American community.

Ros-Lehtinen became the first Cuban-American to serve in Congress when she was elected in 1989. She has broken with her party leadership in the past, most notably in her support for same-sex marriage.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price nominated to Cabinet post overseeing Obamacare

Price is Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor

georgia mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who has led the charge in Congress to repeal Obamacare, has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to head the department that oversees the nation’s health care system.

U.S. Rep. Tom Price

U.S. Rep. Tom Price

Price, 62, an orthopedic surgeon from Roswell in the Atlanta suburbs, is Trump’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, a post that took on vast new powers under the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009.

“I am humbled by the incredible challenges that lay ahead and enthusiastic for the opportunity to be a part of solving them on behalf of the American people,” Price said in a statement announcing the appointment.

“There is much work to be done to ensure we have a health care system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit.”

In his own statement, Trump said Price “has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity.”

“He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American.”

Price, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was one of nine Republican chairman to jointly endorse Trump in early May, just before he had secured the party’s presidential nomination.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare, something Republicans have tried to do repeatedly while President Obama was in office. Price has been among the leaders of that repeal effort in the House.

The HHS secretary is responsible for overseeing key parts of the Obamacare machinery, including the exchanges that offer subsidized insurance coverage to lower-income Americans and the Medicaid program that allows states to cover the medical costs of the poor.

Price was elected to the U.S. House in 2004, representing Georgia’s heavily Republican 6th District, which takes in upscale suburbs north of the city of Atlanta.

If he is confirmed to the HHS post, a special election will be held to pick his replacement in the House. Given the political leanings of the district, the seat is almost certain to remain in Republican hands.

Alabama U.S. House candidate takes aim at Obamacare — literally

GOP hopeful Will Brooke posts a video in which he shoots guns at a copy of the Obamacare bill

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

alabama mugBIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CFP) — Taking literal aim at Obamacare, Will Brooke, a Republican candidate for Alabama’s 6th District U.S. House seat, has posted a video in which he shoots at a copy of the 2,000-page bill.

The video, posted on YouTube, is entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage.” With bluegrass music playing in the background, Brooke drives his pickup truck out into the country. puts a copy of the bill in a wooden frame and then shoots at it with handgun, a rifle and, finally, an automatic weapon.

U.S. House candidate Will Brooke

U.S. House candidate Will Brooke

“We’re down here to have a little fun today and to talk about two serious subjects — the Second Amendment and see how much damage we can do to this copy of Obamacare,” Brooke says.

Not satisfied with the damage he is able to inflict on the bill, Brooke finally feeds it into a wood chipper.

Brooke is head of a Birmingham-based venture capital firm and served as chairman of the Business Council of Alabama. He is making his first run for political office

The 6th District takes in most of suburban Birmingham, along with a four rural counties to the South. It is one of most heavily Republican districts in the country, giving Mitt Romney 74 percent of the vote in 2012.

Brook is one of six Republicans running for the seat, which opened up after U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus announced his retirement last year.

The other Republicans in the race are State Senator Scott Beason, State Rep. Paul DeMarco,Chad Mathis, Gary Palmer, Rob Shattuck and Tom Vigneulle.

 Here is the video Brooke posted on YouTube:

GOP operative Ed Gillespie announces bid for Virginia U.S. Senate seat

Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, takes aim at U.S. Mark Warner’s vote for Obamacare

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedp0litics.com editor

virginia mugRICHMOND (CFP) — High-powered Republican political operative Ed Gillespie is off and running for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia with a direct swipe at Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner’s vote in favor of Obamacare.

Virginia Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie

Virginia Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie

Announcing his Senate run January 16 with a YouTube video, Gillespie, a top aide in the Bush White House and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, notes that Warner “cast the deciding vote” for Obamacare, adding, “If I were a Virginia senator, it would not be law today.”

However, adding a bit of nuance to his argument, Gillespie says he would replace Obamacare, rather than saying he would repeal it.

In his announcement video, Gillespie highlights his first job in Washington — working as a parking lot attendant in the Senate while working his way through Catholic University of America.

“I’m running for the Senate because the American dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty,” says Gillespie, who also hits Warner for voting for “nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and $7 trillion in new federal debt.”

The president’s signature healthcare bill passed in 2009 with 60 votes, the minimum required to get around a GOP fililbuster.  Republicans running in 2014 against Democratic senators who voted for the bill are all being tagged with casting the deciding vote.

Though he has never held elected office, Gillespie, 52, is a consummate Washington insider. He was a communications strategist for President George W. Bush’s winning campaign in 2000 and went on to serve as head of the RNC and a White House counselor.

In April 2012, after Mitt Romney was finally able to claim the Republican presidential nomination, he signed on as a senior adviser to the Romney campaign.

Gillespie also has a long association with Karl Rove, the Bush political consigliere who has frequently drawn the ire of the party’s Tea Party wing. He held Rove create Crossroads GPS, the super-PAC that has backed establishment candidates facing Tea Party insurgencies.

Gillespie’s entry into the Senate race sets up a class establishment-versus-Tea Party struggle within Republican ranks in the Old Dominion. Two former military officers, Howie Lind of McClean and Shak Hill of Centreville, are already in the race, running as outsiders and seeking Tea Party support.

Unlike in most states, Republicans in Virginia select their nominees with a party convention, rather than a primary. That could level the playing field for an outsider candidate who can develop a strong cadre of supporters to turn out at the convention, which will be held in June in Roanoke.

Lind’s campaign is touting the results of a “grassroots voter contact program” which it says shows Lind with substantially more support than either Gillespie or Hill. The campaign also says it has already raised $300,000 for the race.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face the formidable Warner, 59, a former governor and self-made millionaire who already has more than $7 million in cash on hand for the 2104 race — a huge head start over any of the Republicans in the field.

Both The Rothenberg Political Report and Cook Political Report classify Warner’s seat as safely in Democratic hands. Obama carried Virginia twice, and Democrats swept all three of the state’s top offices in the 2013 elections for the first time since 1969,

In a curious parallel to Gillespie, Warner also worked his way through The George Washington University at the Senate, although as an aide rather than as a parking lot attendant.

View Gillespie’s YouTube announcement:

Louisiana U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu hit with new anti-Obamacare ad

Also, State Rep. Paul Hollis joins the race against Landrieu

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

NEW ORLEANS (CFP) — An anti-Obamacare group is launching a multi-million dollar ad campaign criticizing U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and two other Democratic senators over President Obama’s claim that everyone who had health insurance would be able to keep it.

Obama’s assertion was characterized as the “lie of the year” by Politifact, a nonpartisan group that monitors political claims.

The anti-Landrieu ad, funded by Americans for Prosperity, shows footage of her on the floor of the Senate stating that people can “keep their current plan.” It also shows an exchange between Landrieu and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in which she says she has no regrets about her vote in favor of Obamacare.

“We’re putting pressure on senators who repeated that lie and doubled down on Obamacare, even as it became obvious that the law was hurting millions of Americans,” said AFP President Tim Phillips in a statement

AFP is also targeting Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina with a  separate ad featuring a small businesswoman from her state talking about the negative impacts of Obamacare. The group’s third target is Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

While the Landrieu campaign hasn’t reponded directly to the latest ad, her Web site does feature a fundraising pitch noting that “right win groups tied to the Koch brothers have already spent millions to attach her.”

David and Charles Koch, the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, helped found and fund Americans for Prosperity.

Meanwhile, Landrieu, who is running for her fourth term in the Senate, has drawn a third GOP challenger, State Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington, who has filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission and plans to make a formal announcement in January.

Two other Republicans are also running, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy from Baton Rouge and Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel from Madisonville.

Cassidy is the favored candidate of much of the Republican leadership, both in Washington and Louisiana. Maness is aiming for Tea Party support by positioning himself as the only “constitutional conservative” in the race.

To drive home his criticism of Cassidy as being too much like the incumbent, Maness’s Web site shows pictures of Landrieu, Cassidy and himself, with the captions “Mary,” “Mary,” and “Quite Contrary.”

In Louisiana, all of the candidates, regardless of party, run against each other in a single primary. If no candidate gets a majority, then the top two candidates face each other in a runoff.

In 2008, when she faced a single Republican, Landrieu won without a runoff. But she was forced into runoffs in both 1996 and 2002, when there were multiple Republicans and other Democrats in the race.

Here is the Americans for Prosperity ad against Landrieu:

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