Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: Going to the mattresses over health care


Partisan allies of Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, are set to sharpen the debate over health care today by pointing to a series of long-forgotten votes cast by GOP rival Brian Kemp while in the state Senate.

The Democratic Party of Georgia is targeting Kemp’s 2005 support for Senate Bill 174, a measure that would have eliminated some of the conditions that insurance companies are required to cover in Georgia.

The bill’s supporters said at the time it wouldn’t affect the broad majority of Georgians and would make it easier for small businesses to offer scaled-down plans to more employees. 

It passed the chamber despite objections from bipartisan critics who said it would make optional some coverage, such as mastectomy treatment and women’s contraceptives.

Then-Republican state Sen. Seth Harp called it a “stinking dead horse.” State Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford, then the only woman in the GOP caucus, voted against it every time. (On the other side of that coin, Casey Cagle, Kemp’s rival in the July primary runoff, was then a state senator from Gainesville and voted in favor of the legislation.)

Critics ultimately succeeded: The bill was essentially gutted during House-Senate negotiations, and many of the mandates were added back before it became law. 

Party spokesman Seth Bringman said Kemp’s support for the earlier version was a harbinger of his health care policy. 

“On the campaign trail, Kemp has refused to commit to protecting Georgians with pre-existing health conditions,” he said. “This vote is proof that he never will.”

The Kemp response, from spokesman Ryan Mahoney:

"This attack is absolutely ridiculous. Brian Kemp would never support ending insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. Kemp backed bi-partisan legislation to expand health insurance options for hardworking Georgians.

Mahoney then indicated he would prefer to talk about Abrams’ vote in the Legislature that would have barred sex offenders from living with a football-field distance of any school, daycare operation, or bus stop.

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The entry of SB 174 into the gubernatorial contest is also a reminder that, once upon a time, women of both parties in the state Capitol were able to work together. The March 30, 2005 lead from the AJC’s James Salzer:

Republican and Democratic women joined Tuesday to help water down a bill that would have allowed companies to offer health insurance without mandated coverage for such things as mastectomy treatment, testing for chlamydia and contraceptives. 

The aim, said male lawmakers pushing the bill, was to give small businesses the option of offering employees cheaper, scaled-down coverage without a host of benefits mandated by the General Assembly in the past few decades. 

However, the measure, which also was fought by women in the Senate before passing the chamber earlier this month, was rewritten before passing the House 162-10. 

House members added back much of the coverage that the Senate bill slashed from the list of mandated benefits after lengthy behind-the-scenes debate and negotiations involving health advocates and many of the leading women of the chamber. 

"This has probably been the most discussed bill this session," said House Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), who helped broker the deal. "Women and men look at legislation from a different perspective. That's why it is good we have both in the General Assembly."

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The timing of this Democratic health care assault isn’t accidental. Oral arguments are scheduled today for a federal lawsuit filed in Texas lawsuit seeking to strike down Obamacare as unconstitutional. From our AJC colleague Ariel Hart:

The lawsuit argues that it has a new legal foothold, following the GOP’s successes in Congress against the ACA last year. One of those moves last year gutted the ACA’s individual mandate that said every American must have health insurance. It left the mandate in place but zeroed out the tax penalty for violating it.

That’s important because when the ACA survived its original challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, it did so because Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the individual mandate was a tax, and Congress has the power to tax.

Now, the lawsuit argues, the tax is gone so the whole law should be gone.

Republican state attorneys general in 20 states, including Georgia, are parties to the lawsuit, and not a few GOP observers are worried about the general election optics. Democrats are arguing that the effort to gut Obamacare could leave millions of people without access to health insurance — and hand their candidates a powerful message.

The latest example comes from West Virginia, where incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat in a state that went heavily for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential contest, faces Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Morrisey is West Virginia’s state attorney general, and joined the Texas lawsuit. Manchin’s latest TV ad has him literally shooting down the legal complaint:

From the script:

“Patrick Morrisey's lawsuit would take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions. That's just dead wrong, and that ain't gonna happen.”

In Georgia, Attorney General Chris Carr signed onto the lawsuit in February, when a primary challenge was possible – Carr was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill out the term left when Sam Olens resigned the office, and is now facing voters for the first time.

The lawsuit now gives an opening not just to his Democratic challenger, Charlie Bailey, but to Stacey Abrams, the party’s gubernatorial nominee.

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Dentons, the global law firm with a large presence in Atlanta, is out with an exhaustive analysis of the 2018 mid-term elections, from Congress to individual races for governor and beyond. By itself, the calendar of events that could impact the outcomes is worth the click. On the larger U.S. Senate race:

Currently, the best Republican pickup opportunities look to be Florida, North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, while the best Democratic pickup opportunities are in Nevada and Arizona. Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey and West Virginia are in the next tier of potential Republican gains, while Texas and Tennessee are in the next tier of potential gains for Democrats.

And the Dentons’ take on the U.S. House:

The GOP has 42 seats open because of retirements. The Democrats 22. But while the GOP open seats don’t offer a complete slate of pickup opportunities, roughly 30 are considered at least somewhat competitive. Of those 30, prognosticators have already slid 10 on the Democratic side of the ledger.

The Dentons analysis has some interesting shadings when it comes to Georgia races. The Sixth District congressional race, in which GOP incumbent Karen Handel faces Democratic challenger Lucy McBath, is a “likely Republican” contest, while the Seventh District contest, in which GOP incumbent Rob Woodall faces Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, is scored as “leans Republican.”

A “leans Republican” rating has been slapped on Georgia’s race for governor as well.

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A new internal poll forecasts a tight Sixth District congressional contest. The survey shows Democratic challenger Lucy McBath trailing Republican incumbent Karen Handel by two percentage points, 47-49, with only 4 percent of voters undecided. Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies, which was hired by McBath’s campaign, said Handel’s support level is “well below what is considered safe for an incumbent” but that the Roswell Republican still has a net positive favorability rating, with 52 percent holding a favorable view and 37 percent an unfavorable one.

Take all of this with a grain of salt. Internal polls are leaked by campaigns to show their candidates in a favorable light. Most nonpartisan handicappers have given Handel the edge in the contest, even as Democrats in Washington have stepped up their investment in the race. 

Another number that caught our eye from McBath’s internals: the poll estimates the gun control advocate has pretty low name recognition. With two months to go until the election, it estimated that two-thirds of voters could not identify her. That’s not great news for a challenger facing off against a well-funded and well-known incumbent, but McBath’s campaign argues it gives them “vote expansion potential” in the weeks ahead.

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We also received a copy of an internal poll from Hickman Analytics looking at the race for attorney general. That contest pits Republican incumbent Chris Carr against Democrat Charles Bailey. In this poll, Carr leads Bailey 38-36 with 22 percent undecided. Both candidates have low name recognition, and both have big leads among core supporters of each of their parties.

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As the weekend broke, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue dismissed rumors that members of the Cabinet have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to boot President Donald Trump from office. 

The former Georgia governor joked on C-SPAN that he felt “left out” of those discussions. “I don’t know who was whispering to who but I never heard it. ... I may just be too farm-oriented," he said, per a Friday writeup in Politico

Last week’s infamous anonymous New York Times op-ed said there were “early whispers” among senior administration officials about invoking the obscure Constitutional power, which would require the vice president and majority of the Cabinet to declare the president unfit to serve. 

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., may have a new item on his plate at the Senate Ethics Committee in the weeks ahead. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker may face an inquiry from the panel, which Isakson leads, for violating a Senate rule that bars the release of confidential information. 

Booker directed his staff to release documents marked “committee confidential” during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing last week, which he said was needed because the process wasn’t transparent. McConnell said Friday that it “wouldn’t surprise me” if the Ethics Committee began investigating the matter, according to the Washington Post. 

An Isakson spokeswoman declined to comment, citing Ethics Committee rules. Roll Call has a break down here on what would happen if senators tried to expel Booker from the Senate. 

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This has nothing to do with politics, but is certain to make you emperor of the water cooler today. From the press release:

Thousands of New York fans will pay their respects to the “Smokey and the Bandit” star Burt Reynolds later this month at Long Island’s largest car show with a “100-Trans Am Salute,” with a ceremonial parade of over 100 classic Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams.

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