Pence re­lies more on charm than or­a­tory to push GOP health plan

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ASH­LEY PARKER ash­ley.parker@wash­post.com

louisville — Vice Pres­i­dent Pence was in full charm mode Satur­day when he touched down here for a visit to try to sell the Repub­li­can health-care plan in a state that has a com­plex re­la­tion­ship with for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act.

Just a day ear­lier, Ken­tucky’s Repub­li­can Gov. Matt Bevin had told re­porters that while he is eager to over­haul Obama’s health plan, he found him­self skep­ti­cal of the ini­tial Repub­li­can pro­posal and more in line with the views of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has been an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the bill.

Paul, Bevin said, “is not im­pressed with what has cur­rently been of­fered. Truth be told, I’m not, ei­ther. So I’m with him.”

And so, Pence got to work just mo­ments after Air Force Two stopped taxi­ing. Bevin greeted the vice pres­i­dent at the air­port with two of his young sons and one of their friends, and Pence quickly in­vited them back on­board the plane for a be­hindthe-scenes tour.

Then, at a round­table be­fore his speech, Pence touted Bevin’s busi­ness back­ground and in­vited the group to ap­plaud him, be­fore quip­ping, “I was for Matt Bevin be­fore it was cool” — a line he later re­peated dur­ing his re­marks.

Dur­ing his speech, the vice pres­i­dent again sin­gled out the gov­er­nor for praise — and ribbed him about their states’ col­lege bas­ket­ball ri­valry (Pence is from In­di­ana). He called Bevin “a prin­ci­pled leader” and re­called at­tend­ing the gov­er­nor’s in­au­gu­ral ad­dress.

“Any­body else re­mem­ber that sunny day?” he asked.

But if Pence seemed de­ter­mined to win over Bevin, his ef­fort to ac­tu­ally sell the health plan re­leased Mon­day by the White House and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans was a bit more lack­lus­ter. Stand­ing be­fore a crowd of more than 100 in­vi­tees at Har­shaw Trane, an en­ergy com­pany here, Pence spoke for just over 20 min­utes, read­ing from teleprompters a speech that felt as much like a cam­paign pitch as an ap­peal for the health-care plan.

“Most im­por­tantly of all, the top pri­or­ity the pres­i­dent gave us, is to work with mem­bers of Congress to make sure the Oba­macare night­mare is about to end,” Pence said.

With Repub­li­can Ken­tucky Reps. Gar­land “Andy” Barr and Brett Guthrie in the au­di­ence, Pence also made an ap­peal for his en­tire party to unite be­hind the White House’s leg­is­la­tion.

“Folks, let me be clear, this is go­ing to be a bat­tle in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” he said. “And for us to seize this op­por­tu­nity to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare once and for all, we need ev­ery Repub­li­can in Congress — and we’re count­ing on Ken­tucky.”

In many ways, Ken­tucky rep­re­sents the front line of the health-care de­bate. The num­ber of Ken­tuck­ians en­rolled in Med­i­caid has dou­bled since the end of 2013, with nearly one-third of its res­i­dents now in the pro­gram. Pence’s mo­tor­cade passed a group of pro­test­ers chant­ing, “Save our care.”

Un­der Obama’s health plan, gov­er­nors were given the op­tion to ex­pand Med­i­caid in their home states, and since late 2013, roughly 10 mil­lion ad­di­tional peo­ple in 31 states and the District have en­rolled. Bevin’s Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sor, Steve Bes­hear, who ex­panded Med­i­caid dur­ing his ten­ure, gave the Demo­cratic re­but­tal to Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent joint ad­dress to Congress.

Bevin, how­ever, has said that Med­i­caid will ul­ti­mately bank­rupt the state, and he ended new sign-ups, started un­der Bes­hear, to Ken­tucky’s health ex­change.

Bevin, speak­ing be­fore Pence on Satur­day, played down dis­agree­ments within the Repub­li­can Party, say­ing that even most mar­ried cou­ples don’t agree on every­thing for the first two days of their re­la­tion­ship — let alone 20 years. He called Obama’s health plan a “catas­tro­phe” and a “dis­as­ter” that needs to be re­pealed and re­placed.Pence, who was also re­cently de­ployed to Ohio and Wis­con­sin to help push the Repub­li­can health plan, sought to cast health care as yet an­other bold ac­tion the ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken early in its term.

Trump, Pence said, “made a prom­ise to you, the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and as I like to say, this White House is in the prom­ise-keep­ing busi­ness.” He then listed sev­eral of the White House’s ac­com­plish­ments so far, cit­ing the process un­der­way to end il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion; the Key­stone XL and Dakota pipe­lines; and the most re­cent jobs re­port.

“The truth is Ken­tucky is a text­book ex­am­ple of Oba­macare’s fail­ures,” Pence said, be­fore re­as­sur­ing “the peo­ple of Ken­tucky who might be look­ing on this morn­ing” that his ad­min­is­tra­tion was rac­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter re­place­ment plan.

“We’re go­ing to work with the Congress and work with our agency at Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, and we're go­ing to have an or­derly tran­si­tion to a bet­ter health-care sys­tem that makes af­ford­able, high-qual­ity health in­sur­ance avail­able for ev­ery Amer­i­can,” he said.

Later, back at the air­port pre­par­ing to de­part for Wash­ing­ton, Pence again paid spe­cial at­ten­tion to Bevin. The two got out of their car to pose for a pic­ture, and Pence gen­tly tugged Bevin’s el­bow, as if lit­er­ally try­ing to pull him a bit closer to his per­spec­tive.

BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS

Vice Pres­i­dent Pence greets sup­port­ers fol­low­ing a speech about Repub­li­cans’ Amer­i­can Health Care Act dur­ing a visit Satur­day to the Har­shaw Trane Parts and Dis­tri­bu­tion Cen­ter in Louisville.

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