There he goes again.
Mitch McConnell has an almost impressive ability to utter up-is-down, black-is-white lies with a straight face.
The strategy doesn’t work if somebody points out that he’s lying, but Mitch is willing to bet on it anyway.
That’s what happened this week at the only debate of the Kentucky Senate race. Faced with a question about the Affordable Care Act and Kynect, Kentucky’s health care marketplace, McConnell looked the moderator in the eyes, and lied.
“Kentucky Kynect is a website,” McConnell said. “The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch.”
Perhaps McConnell means that the address at kynect.ky.gov should point to something different, like a picture of a map of Kentucky, or a list of 22 animated gifs of Dr. Zoidberg. What he could not possibly mean, because it is self-contradicting, is that you can repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and still have Kynect operating, because Kynect is an insurance marketplace set up under the ACA, offering plans under a set of rules set by the ACA, with prices based on subsidies for middle-class families provided for by the ACA. You cannot pull out ACA “root and branch” because Kynect, the way it works, is the actual root of the law.
If “Obamacare” doesn’t mean “Kynect” is doesn’t really mean anything other than an excuse to say “Obama.”
Health care policy is complicated. Nobody in Kentucky is buying a product called “Obamacare;” they’re buying plans from insurance companies, and getting enrolled in Medicaid. A busy person with a full-time job or two, maybe a house, maybe some kids, is not going to necessarily know that McConnell is lying. But McConnell’s job is U.S. Senator. He makes policy. He knows how it works. He would just rather that his constituents hear false information, because his rhetoric about pulling out Obamacare by the roots is absurd otherwise.
This is like passing a law banning the consumption of food between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and promising that it won’t affect anyone’s access to lunch. This is how directly and bluntly Mitch McConnell is lying to his voters.
The thing is, the Affordable Care Act is working in Kentucky. It was designed to give health coverage to people who didn’t previously have access, through Kynect and Medicaid, and lo and behold, it’s doing exactly that. About half a million people have coverage under ACA now, cutting Kentucky’s rate of uninsurance by 40 percent. That’s a real improvement in people’s lives, and there is no way to pull ACA apart “root and branch” without reversing the fortunes of those half-million Kentuckians.
McConnell has had to stumble over this problem before. Last November, he said that ACA wasn’t succeeding, just giving away free stuff.
This May he claimed there was no connection between Kynect and the ACA, so Kynect could stay around even after his promised repeal succeeds.
Brian Beutler describes what Mitch McConnell is actually saying, if anyone bothered to call him on it:
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…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.
If McConnell had such huge problems with the ACA, he could have had a say in that design: he was a Senator, and he had a vote. The monopartisan nature of the bill, much-derided by conservative politicians and pundits, wasn’t the result of Obama’s strategy. It was the result of McConnell’s.
Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.
“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”
While we’re at it, let’s look at one more casually-tossed-off lie from the debate: “Everything this administration has done has made the recovery worse,” McConnell said.
I’m not the sort to argue that the recovery has been fantastic. For most people, there hasn’t been much of a recovery at all. But Mitch McConnell has served as an anchor on the economy, and for him to claim it’s all on the administration strains credulity.
Arguably, the worst government-inflicted injury to the economy since 2009 has come from the constant state of crisis over funding the government and the debt ceiling — a state of crisis Mitch McConnell helped to create.
Much as he did with the ACA, McConnell took a stance of forced monopartisanship on economic stimulus: the Recovery Act passed with few GOP votes, and he kept his caucus together to block future job bills that would have boosted the economy. And, of course, the 2011 near-default not only hurt the economy in the short term, it led to the pointless sequestration cuts.
McConnell blaming the administration for hurting the recovery is like punching someone in the nose and blaming them for the blood on their shirt.
And after all this intentional damage done to the Obama administration at the expense of actual voters, Mitch McConnell hasn’t even succeeded by the standard he set for himself: his top priority, he said, was to make Obama a one-term president.
That wasn’t an idle aside that he said once. He’s said it multiple times.
McConnell used every tool at his disposal to prevent Obama from legislative success, to the detriment of the recovery, and he still failed in his mission. President Obama was re-elected. There are only a couple years left in the second term McConnell couldn’t prevent; the Senator is running for a six-year term with nothing to say for himself but how he’ll oppose the guy he bet everything on opposing. You’d think McConnell would have the decency to be embarrassed by his inability to achieve his number one priority.
This is who McConnell is, though: the consummate cynic, the kind of guy who wants to rule or ruin. it should be, to coin a phrase, disqualifying. But, again, it requires the people covering the race to note when McConnell is lying.
Mitch McConnell was telling the truth about one thing, though. “There’s a great likelihood that I will be the leader of the majority in the Senate next year,” McConnell said, “and the majority gets to set the agenda.” He’s not wrong about that. The question is how much that fact should bother voters – including the hundreds of thousands of people in Kentucky covered under the ACA. I’d suggest it should bother us all, quite a lot.
Seth D. Michaels is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C. He’s on Twitter as @sethdmichaels.
Correction: Near default occurred in 2011, not 2007 as the article originally stated.