Politics & Government

Kentucky Gov. Bevin comes to DC to tell Senate to get cracking on Obamacare repeal

Gov. Matt Bevin
Gov. Matt Bevin Frame grab from Facebook.com/GovMattBevin

Mitch McConnell has made no secret he doesn't want to revisit the repeal of Affordable Care Act — at least during an election year.

But Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who challenged McConnell in his last Republican primary — and hasn't yet said he will or won't in 2020 — is spearheading a drive to get Congress to take another stab at revoking the 2010 law.

"Promises have been made and this is something the American people need and want," Bevin told an audience Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Galen Institute, which unveiled an effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"This is simply a function of asking our Congress to stand up to the very promises they made to the people of Kentucky," the governor said.

Bevin said he had heard that Republicans were worried that re-visiting the failed effort would "put a tempest in the teapot" and dampen voter enthusiasm in November.

"Trust me, they will if we don't address this," he said.

Senate Republicans turned to taxes after the collapse last year of their effort to repeal Obamacare. McConnell has said he wants the Senate to spend this summer working on spending bills and presidential nominees.

But former Sen. RIck Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, who has championed the repeal and replace effort and attended a Senate lunch on Wednesday to make his pitch, said he was encouraged by the reception his outline is getting in Congress. He said the bill would be crafted to need 50 votes for passage, as previous failed versions did.

"I wouldn't put in the time if we didn't think it was possible," Santorum said.

In a brief interview after the event, Bevin did not rule out a bid against McConnell, but said, "No, I'm worried about being governor. I'm the governor, that's my focus."

But Bevin argued that Congress needs to act: "There is a dearth of leadership everywhere in politics, including in this town," he said, noting that he believes many politicians "traipse around under the guise of leadership. Maybe it's even part of their title."

He warned that the Affordable Care Act will only get harder to repeal as time goes on.

"If you have any influence with your member of Congress, tell them to get off their duff and keep their promises," he told the audience.

He argued that a replacement plan would make it easier for governors to determine care. "We're the innovators," he said.

The plan would eliminate the act's Medicaid expansion and the subsidies that allow people to buy coverage would be converted into block grants for states.

Asked whether he'd spoken with McConnell about the plan, Bevin said he talks to both Kentucky senators and the congressional delegation on a regular basis, and wouldn't share their conversations. But, he said, "at times my sense of urgency is different than some of those with whom I'm speaking."

Bevin spoke about faith and adoption at the Heritage Foundation before the health care event, telling attendees that his frustration with the intricacies of a state adoption system was one of the factors that prompted him to run for public office.

His appearances before the conservative think tanks come as he's been quiet about whether he will seek a second term in 2019, prompting speculation he's interested in unseating McConnell in 2020 — or that he's hoping for a Trump administration gig.

McConnell for his part has made it clear that he wants Bevin to run again, telling the Herald-Leader earlier this month that he hopes e Bevin "finishes the job by serving the full eight years that are allowed under the Kentucky Constitution."

Bevin said in the interview he has time to file for re-election: "We'll see," he said. "We've got time to make that decision, we've got a few months yet."

Bevin also predicted that the legal challenge to his effort to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to find work or lose their benefits will ultimately end up at the Supreme Court. Kentucky was first to get approval for the program and other states are interested.

"It will be decided at the Supreme Court, almost without question," he said.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark