Capital Beat: Democrats complicated relationship with Obamacare continues

Last modified: 2/9/2014 12:57:44 AM
Unfavorable polling for Obamacare and actions taken by New Hampshire’s congressional Democrats last week to fix it underscore Democrats’ continued complicated relationship with the health care law heading into election season.

Republicans will do their best to make sure this doesn’t change anytime soon.

First District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter told President Obama in a face-to-face meeting last week that people need to resign over the flawed roll out of the health care website. And in late January, she sought clarification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on access to health care for children who qualify for Medicaid while their parents don’t – a glitch that federal officials say was fixed last week. Shea-Porter’s team was quick to highlight both as examples that she is fighting to help New Hampshire families.

But Republicans quickly returned fire, with the National Republican Congressional Committee calling Shea-Porter’s call for resignations “laughable” given her vote in support of the law in 2010 and votes against delaying pieces of it last year.

“If Shea-Porter is looking for someone to resign for the disaster that is Obamacare, maybe she should look in the mirror and call it quits herself,” NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running to take back the seat he’s spent years battling Shea-Porter over, is in the middle of a “health care listening tour,” in which he’s stopping at hospitals excluded from New Hampshire’s only insurance plan on the exchange, senior centers and small businesses.

“Obamacare has failed New Hampshire,” Guinta said in a statement last week. “Solutions are within our grasp if Washington politicians would simply listen to those they represent and implement policies consistent with the needs of their constituents.”

Polls released last week by the UNH Survey Center shows 53 percent of New Hampshire residents oppose Obamacare, and that if the 1st District election were held today, Guinta would win.

Convenient timing for Shea-Porter to get an opportunity to call for resignations, right?

Her spokesman Ben Wakana says this is the first time she’s directly called for people to resign over the law, but that her work to fix the law isn’t new, pointing to her calls for more transparency from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and her December announcement that Minutemen Health in Massachusetts will expand coverage to New Hampshire in 2015.

“Carol has constantly worked to improve network adequacy and options on behalf of New Hampshire families, she sees it as her job to do oversight and to advocate for her constituents,” Wakana said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen gave Republicans something to cheer over when she said on Concord News Radio that she hopes to find a way for people who are willing to pay more to keep their doctors. Host Chris Ryan had asked her to speak about a letter she wrote to HHS earlier in the week also asking for more transparency and expressing a need for New Hampshire to have more insurance providers participating in the state exchange. (Anthem has previously said its kept its network narrow to keep costs down.)

“I think what I’m hoping to do as part of this letter and looking in legislation is to see if we can get a look through the federal HHS about the adequacy of the network that exists, so at least for people who are willing to pay more that they have that option of going to their doctor or their hospital no matter what their insurance does,” Shaheen said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a web video attacking Shaheen’s comments, and New Hampshire’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity was also quick to slam her.

“Simply telling people to pay twice – once for Obamacare, and once for the care they’re used to – is totally unacceptable and New Hampshire deserves better than Sen. Shaheen’s lame excuse,” State Director Greg Moore said.

Shaheen’s team sees it differently: “She’s asking questions and raising concerns, to Anthem and to federal officials, so that everybody in New Hampshire has access to affordable, quality health care. Those who would rather play politics than get serious about health care are twisting the facts and Sen. Shaheen’s interview to advance their own interests, not New Hampshire’s,” said her communications director Shripal Shah.

The election may be 10 months away, but it’s hard to imagine Obamacare fading from focus anytime soon.

Return of the gas tax

During her State of the State speech last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan quickly applauded a senator’s bill to increase the gas tax without ever saying those two words, leaving spectators to wonder what message she was trying to send.

Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. Hassan’s spokesman said Friday that the Democratic governor would sign legislation by Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, that would tie an increase to inflation and use the money to finance much-needed infrastructure projects, if it were to pass both chambers.

“Governor Hassan understands that keeping New Hampshire’s economy moving forward requires safe and modern roads and bridges, and there is widespread agreement about the need to strengthen investment in our transportation infrastructure. The governor thanks Sen. Rausch for leading efforts to take an important step toward improving our roads and bridges, and if a consensus can be reached to pass his bipartisan bill, she would sign it,” her spokesman Marc Goldberg said in an email.

Rausch, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, has sponsored legislation that would generate money for roads and bridges. A bill last year to increase the tax by 12 cents over 10 years couldn’t pass the Senate, but this year’s bill would start the increase at 4 cents in 2014 and tie it to inflation in the future. Rausch is also a big proponent of allowing a casino, with revenue going toward the state’s transportation plan.

On Friday he said he appreciated Hassan’s support and is working to bring his fellow colleagues on board. But Republicans aren’t likely to embrace a gas tax anytime soon. In December, Republican Senate President Chuck Morse was unenthusiastic about the proposal. The state Republican Party sent out a statement blasting Hassan for supporting the tax increase but made no mention of the GOP senator championing it.

“A gas tax hike will burden small businesses, kill jobs and hurt the working families who can least afford it. Gov. Maggie Hassan is disregarding the standard set by her mentor, Gov. John Lynch, who repeatedly opposed this devastating tax increase on the middle class because it was bad for New Hampshire,” said Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, adding that Hassan is “no John Lynch.”

Republicans propping up a former Democratic governor and slamming a proposal by one of their own? Anything to fight a tax increase.

What’s that, Hemingway?

Was Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway watching the same State of the State address as the rest of us?

“Governor Hassan successfully spoke for nearly an hour without mentioning one accomplishment of her administration,” Hemingway said in a statement after Hassan’s speech Thursday.

Did he miss the part where she talked about passing a bipartisan budget? How about a reference to doubling the research and development tax credit, or allocating resources to deal with the state’s strained mental health system?

Hemingway may not be supportive of these actions or initiatives, but Hassan certainly counts them as accomplishments and touted them as such. His claim that she failed to mention a single accomplishment seems hyperbolic, at best.

The 31-year-old entrepreneur found nothing to love about Hassan’s proposals for the upcoming legislative session either. Hassan’s support for increasing the minimum wage, he said, undermined all of the “lip service” she paid to the business community earlier in her speech. And he decried her embrace of Common Core, saying the new education standards will create a “bureaucratic mess” that will undermine local control.

Obamacare, of course, worked its way into Hemingway’s critique of the governor’s address.

“She failed to even mention the serious problem with our health care situation here in New Hampshire, even though it is arguable one of the largest concerns of our citizens,” he said about the law.

He’s right there. Hassan made no mention of the president’s health care law or the fact that New Hampshire has only one provider on the federal health exchange. She did mention health care extensively in the context of expanding Medicaid, as well as access to substance abuse and mental health care.

There was only one item on which Hemingway agreed with Hassan: the need to improve the state’s roads. If only, he said, she’d offered a way to pay for it.

How about that gas tax?

Sincerely, Scott Brown

Anyone still on former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown’s old mailing list got a few bizarre tips on Alzheimer’s last week.

“I thought you might be interested in the offer below from our sponsor Newsmax Health. Thank you, Senator Scott Brown,” the email began, followed by an embedded “article” titled “5 Signs You’ll Get Alzheimer’s Disease” and a link to a video by Dr. Russell Blaylock.

Democrats quickly pointed out that Blaylock opposes vaccines, a position far outside the medical mainstream. They demanded that Brown return the money he got from Newsmax for access to his email list. (Brown isn’t the first politician to rent out his email list.)

Brown, for his part, was quick to cut ties with Newsmax Health. In an email, he said he approves all vendor emails before they go out, but did not see or authorize this message. He’s rented out his list with the guidance of counsel and has been “very selective” about who he rents it to, he said. He dealt with Newsmax by terminating his relationship with it as soon as he was aware of the email, he said.

“I know that the Dems are doing their usual, but due to their troubles throughout the country with the mess they have created, they have to try to change the subject somehow. No big deal,” Brown wrote.

Between this and the New Hampshire Union Leader’s front-page photo of a shirtless Brown, the potential U.S. senate candidate gave people plenty to talk about last week.

Poor polling

Another poll released by the UNH Survey Center last week shows Shea-Porter and 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster face “serious re-election challenges.”

The poll of 304 residents in Shea-Porter’s district revealed just 39 percent of voters have a favorable view of her, while a poll of 280 voters in Kuster’s district show her favorability even lower, at 30 percent. (The margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 and 5.9 percent, respectively.)

But aside from Guinta, their Republican challengers face their own problem of low recognition. The poll shows that 75 percent of voters don’t know enough about Dan Innis, who will fight Guinta for the GOP nomination, to have an opinion of him. Likewise, 81 and 78 percent, respectively, don’t know enough to offer an opinion about former state senator Gary Lambert of Nashua and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia of Salem, who will fight for the nomination to challenge Kuster.

Luckily for everyone involved, they’ve still got plenty of time to change voters’ minds or introduce themselves.

What to watch

∎ The full House will debate a bill that would expand background checks for gun sales Wednesday. The bill would extend background checks to gun shows or other commercial sales but would not require checks for sales or transfers between individuals who know each other, as long as neither are convicted felons, judged incompetent or the subject of a protective order. The committee that worked on the bill voted 10-8 in favor of passage, signaling a potentially close vote on the floor.

∎ The Senate has authorized the Office of Legislative Services to draft a bill based on the Medicaid expansion framework laid out by its leaders last week. Once the bill is drafted, we’ll have a better idea of the details for the plan to use federal dollars to help low-income people purchase private insurance.

∎ The House Ways and Means Committee will hold work sessions Tuesday and Thursday to work out details of the one-casino bill they took testimony on for more than four hours last week. They’ll take a closer look at the regulations in the bill and the community impact of casinos.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)


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