Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell says he would try to repeal the Affordable Care Act if he's elected Senate majority leader. But the veteran senator won't say what would happen to the 421,000 Kentuckians who have health insurance through the state's health care exchange. McConnell told reporters Friday that the fate of the state exchange is unconnected to the federal health care law. Yet the exchange would not exist, if not for the law that created it.
Senate hopefuls Michelle Nunn (D-Ga.) and Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-Ky.) have taken some heat this week, some of it deserved, for less-than-clear answers on the Affordable Care Act. Both are broadly supportive of reform and have endorsed key provisions, but both have been reluctant to say to how they would have voted if they'd been in the Senate when "Obamacare" was up for a vote.
The question obviously won't go away and they'll need clear answers, sooner rather than later.
But while scrutiny like this is fair, it's important that campaign watchers not miss the other side of the coin: some Dems may be hedging on some health care questions, but in a variety of races, the Republican line is a complete mess.
This AP report doesn't include any exact quotes, and I'm reluctant to draw sweeping conclusions from paraphrases. I'll be interested in McConnell's exact words.
But if the AP's rough account is accurate, the Senate Minority Leader's position is plainly incoherent. It's simply not possible to separate the law's exchange marketplaces from the law itself. Like it or not, one is a key part of the other. The federal law was responsible for creating and funding the existence of the state exchange. When consumers -- in Kentucky and elsewhere -- use these marketplaces to sign up for private coverage, many are able to afford the insurance thanks to subsidies made possible by the federal law Republicans have been desperate to obliterate.
Or put another way, when McConnell says he wants to destroy the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, "root and branch," he necessarily means eliminating the marketplaces where insurers compete for consumers' business -- it's one of the "branches."
So why suggest otherwise?
Again, his exact words matter, but if the AP's right, McConnell probably wants to draw a distinction between Obamacare and a key feature of Obamacare because most of his constituents probably like these exchange marketplaces, and this election year, he doesn't want to be on the wrong side of Kentucky's mainstream.
In other words, the political winds have changed direction so dramatically that even McConnell realizes that shouting "Repeal!" over and over again is no longer a sustainable posture, even in -- especially in -- a red state like Kentucky, which has had great success in implementing the law.
What's more, this isn't just about McConnell. If the media wants to press Democrats like Nunn and Lundergan Grimes about hypothetical votes four years ago, it's certainly a legitimate area of inquiry. But at the same time, Republicans like Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina also refuse to answer equally legitimate questions about basic parts of the health care debate. And when they try to respond, many end up repeating gibberish.
Some of these candidates have a decent excuse: they're running their first Senate campaign and may simply be out of their depth. But if so, what's Mitch McConnell's excuse?
Update: Joe Sonka's report offers details the AP account does not. Note that the senator specifically says the future of Kentucky's system is "unconnected" to his plans for the federal law.