Gard­ner dou­bles down on prom­ises by con­ser­va­tives to curb Oba­macare

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Ea­son

Over the shouts of pro­test­ers who sought to dis­rupt his speech, U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner on Fri­day told a con­ser­va­tive gath­er­ing that he would “ad­dress the is­sue of health care” in the com­ing week, dou­bling down on Repub­li­can prom­ises to re­peal Oba­macare, even as the ef­fort’s suc­cess is in­creas­ingly in doubt.

The Coloradan’s com­ments, de­liv­ered at the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, came on the open­ing night of the Western Con­ser­va­tive Sum­mit — the sec­ond ma­jor con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal con­fer­ence in down­town Den­ver this week, as the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil wrapped up its own an­nual meet­ing at a ho­tel across the street.

Hosted by the Cen­ten­nial In­sti­tute, a con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian pol­icy cen­ter based at Colorado Chris­tian Uni­ver­sity, the an­nual con­ser­va­tive sum­mit’s or­ga­niz­ers say its the largest an­nual con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ing out­side of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., draw­ing thou­sands of at­ten­dees from across the coun­try.

In his re­marks, Gard­ner spoke largely in gen­er­al­i­ties, pledg­ing to “get Wash­ing­ton out of the way” and “give con­sumers more choice, more op­tions and more free­dom” when it comes to health care. He also re­it­er­ated com­ments he made in an in­ter­view with The Den­ver Post ear­lier this week, sug­gest­ing that cuts to Med­i­caid may be needed “to make sure that we fo­cus our health care ef­forts on those who need it the most.”

“What has hap­pened is gov­ern­ment has tried to grow so much that is has cre­ated in­sta­bil­ity in our most im­por­tant

safety net pro­gram,” Gard­ner said at Fri­day’s event.

Pro­test­ers from dis­abil­ity-ad­vo­cacy group At­lantis ADAPT talked over the Repub­li­can at length and shouted for “no cuts to Med­i­caid” as they were es­corted out of the con­ven­tion ball­room. Oth­ers in the au­di­ence re­sponded with chants of “USA! USA!” to drown them out, while Gard­ner pressed on.

Un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, of­ten called Oba­macare, Colorado added more than 400,000 res­i­dents to the Med­i­caid rolls, help­ing to drive down the num­ber of Coloradans with­out health in­surance from 15.8 per­cent in 2011 to 6.7 per­cent in 2015. But fed­eral and state spend­ing on Med­i­caid has soared as a re­sult, and Gard­ner says he wor­ries about the pro­gram’s fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity in the long run.

While those in at­ten- dance gave Gard­ner loud cheers through­out his speech, con­ser­va­tives’ pa­tience may be run­ning thin. Jeff Hunt, the Cen­ten­nial In­sti­tute’s di­rec­tor, drew cheers of his own when he called on Congress to act.

“No more ex­cuses — it’s time to re­peal Oba­macare,” Hunt said. “Get it done. We sent you there for a rea­son.”

Ear­lier this week, Gard­ner in his in­ter­view with The Post wouldn’t say whether he would vote for any of the health care pro­pos­als still be­ing floated in the U.S. Se­nate.

“I would pre­fer a so­lu­tion that would be a re­place­ment for the fail­ing Af­ford­able Care Act,” Gard­ner told The Post.

Pro­test­ers aside, the mood Fri­day night was pre­dom­i­nantly up­beat. To kick things off, the thou­sands in at­ten­dance were shown a video of Gard­ner, state law­mak­ers, State Trea­surer Walker Stapleton and gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Ge­orge Brauch­ler danc­ing to Justin Tim­ber­lake’s “Can’t Stop the Feel­ing.”

U.S. Secretary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke was the first fea­tured speaker of the night, pledg­ing to ex­pand off­shore drilling af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s last ditch ef­fort to ban it just weeks be­fore he left of­fice.

“The war on Amer­i­can en­ergy is over,” Zinke said.

John Bolton, a for­mer am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, spoke at length about Rus­sia, say­ing there was no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween the coun­try and Pres­i­dent Donald Trump’s cam­paign. But, he added, there was no ques­tion Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion, call­ing it an “ex­is­ten­tial threat.”

“When the Con­sti­tu­tion is in­ter­fered with by any­one — par­tic­u­larly by for­eign­ers — we con­sider that an act of war,” Bolton said. “We need to show that there’s a big cost to in­ter­fer­ing in an elec­tion. … They need to feel more than com­pa­ra­ble pain to what they tried to do to us.”

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