Ohio plays key role in battle for Congress

Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012 @ 10:27 PM
Updated: Saturday, September 15, 2012 @ 10:27 PM

Local congressional races

District 10

District profile: All of Montgomery and Greene counties, northern Fayette County

Candidates: U.S. Rep. Mike Turner is running for his sixth term. His challenger is Democrat Sharen Neuhardt, a Greene County attorney. Libertarian David A. Harlow is also on the ballot.

Debate: WHIO-TV Channel 7, the Dayton Daily News and Newstalkradio WHIO are teaming up to host a debate in this race on Oct. 21. More details to come.

District 1

District profile: All of Warren County, part of Hamilton County. Warren was previously represented by Turner and Jean Schmidt. After the 2010 redistricting, all of Warren County was put in one district.

Candidates: U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, is running for his eighth non-consecutive term. His Democratic opponent is Jeff Sinnard. The Green Party candidate is Rich Stevenson and the Libertarian candidate is Jim Berns.

District 4

District profile: One of the largest districts in the state. Includes all or parts of 13 counties including Champaign, Shelby, Auglaize and Logan.

Candidates: U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the Republican Study Committee, is running for his fourth term. His Democratic opponent is Jim Slone of Elyria. Libertarian Chris Kalla of Lima is also on the ballot.

District 8

District profile: All of Butler, Preble, Darke, Miami and Clark counties and part of Mercer County. Clark was previously represented by U.S. Rep. Steve Austria who decided not to run again after redistricting.

Candidates: Speaker of the House John Boehner is running unopposed in November.

Two years after Republicans swept away four Ohio Democratic incumbents and seized control of the U.S. House, Democrats are hoping to win back at least three seats this November, which would give the party control of seven of 16 congressional districts.

The party is also hoping Democrat Sharen Neuhardt somehow manages to defeat incumbent Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, in the new 10th district which represents all of Montgomery and Greene counties and part of Fayette.

Just as Ohio figures into the presidential race, it has a key role in the battle over which party controls Congress. Although it may be difficult for the Democrats nationally to win the 25 seats necessary to topple House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester Twp., they are poised to spend millions of dollars in an effort to oust Republican incumbents Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Bill Johnson of Marietta.

They also believe they have a chance to defeat Republican Bob Gibbs of Lakeville, particularly if President Barack Obama rolls up a strong victory in Ohio over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Boehner is unopposed and Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, are expected to win easily. Turner, too, is a heavy favorite, but Neuhardt has launched a spirited challenge, unveiling her first television commercial last week.

Former Democratic congressman Zack Space of Dover said three of the races “are competitive and the Neuhardt-Turner race could be competitive. If the Montgomery County vote comes in, Sharon Neuhardt has a shot,’’ Space said.

To Republicans, the Democrats are engaging in wishful thinking. Barry Bennett, a Republican consultant in Washington, said Democrats are “still smoking the funny stuff from Charlotte. If they spend a dime in Ohio, it’s wasted money. So spend all you want.’’

It will be the first time candidates have run in the new districts drawn up last year by the Republican-controlled legislature. Because Ohio’s population has not grown as fast as many southern states, the legislature had to eliminate two seats, giving the state just 16.

Based on voting patterns in past elections, Republicans hold the edge in 12 of those districts, including in the 10th.

Turner, elected to the House in 2002, rolled up comfortable re-election victories in his old district, which included parts of Montgomery and Warren counties and all of Highland and Clinton counties. During the last round of redistricting, Ohio Republicans folded Turner into the same district as Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek. When Austria chose not to seek re-election, Turner’s GOP nomination was assured.

“Southwest Ohio knows my record of fighting for Wright-Patt, growing new and innovative jobs in the region and as being a leader,” Turner said in a released statement. “When I travel throughout the community I hear directly from voters that they believe our government needs to focus on reining in spending and on job creation. My work and experience are focused on the issues important to our community.”

Neuhardt, an attorney from Yellow Springs, hopes to mount a stern challenge. She lost to Austria by 16 percentage points in 2008, but Austria’s old district was much more Republican than the new Dayton-area district.

She has about $200,000 in campaign money to finance her race and is airing a biographical commercial on Dayton TV stations. Michael McGovern, a Neuhardt spokesman, said that “we’re excited to be up and introducing Sharen to voters in the Miami Valley. We’ve had the resources to run this campaign.’’

Unless the Turner-Neuhardt race gets close, Ohio’s most spirited battle will probably be in northeast Ohio between two incumbents — Renacci and Democrat Betty Sutton of Copley Twp. When Ohio Republicans eliminated Sutton’s district, she opted to challenge Renacci, a first-term Republican elected in the 2010 sweep.

They are deeply divided on the same issues that have created such a furor in the presidential race. Sutton voted for the $787 billion economic stimulus package in 2009 that Renacci said “drove up our debt.’’

After McCain – What’s next on health care in the U.S. Congress

Published: Saturday, September 23, 2017 @ 12:26 AM

With Friday’s decision by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to oppose a last-ditch GOP proposal to overhaul the Obama health law, Republicans have almost run out of time to make substantive changes to Obamacare by a September 30 deadline for action under a special expedited procedure that did not allow for a Senate filibuster, again dealing the President and GOP leaders a bitter defeat on an issue they’ve campaigned on for the last seven years.

Here’s what can still happen over the next week – and in coming months on Capitol Hill.

1. There could still be a vote on Graham-Cassidy. While Sen. McCain has made clear that he won’t vote for the plan from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), it’s possible that the Senate could still go on the record on the matter. Aides to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that he planned to force a vote, and that could still happen, to clearly show who was for the plan, and who was not. But for now, it seems like the GOP will fail to get anything done on this signature campaign issue, with McCain, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) definitely against the plan – and two others, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) leaning against.

2. It could re-start bipartisan health talks. Up until last week, when GOP interest suddenly surged in the Graham-Cassidy plan, there had been increasing efforts to find some kind of agreement between Senators in both parties on ways to make some short term improvements in the Obama health care system for those in the individual and non-group insurance market. Those efforts were put on the shelf in recent days, but now this development leaves an opening for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA).

3. GOP health care efforts are certainly not dead. Just because the Graham-Cassidy plan has seemingly fallen short, that doesn’t mean Republicans will give up on their plans to change the Obama health law. For the next fiscal year, the GOP wants to use the budget reconciliation process to pass something on tax cuts and tax reform. Well – there is no reason that they can’t also try to add a health care bill onto that measure as well. One Senate official told me exactly that a few weeks ago. So, this battle is not over.

4. Republicans just weren’t ready for this process. Maybe the biggest lesson from the after-action report on GOP health care bills over the last nine months is a simple one – Republicans were not ready with their own plan to replace the Obama health law, even though they had been talking about this for seven straight years. Ever since the law was signed by President Obama, Republicans had promised to repeal it, and do something different. As a slogan it sounded great – but as we saw in recent weeks, getting the exact details was something different.

5. Democrats have also had 7 years to make improvements. Just as the GOP failed in rallying around a single plan, Democrats also didn’t exactly ring the bell in recent years on how best to improve the Obamacare system. Yes, they admit, things aren’t working perfectly, but they certainly haven’t been talking about what exactly should change, or might be changed. Could we see something different now that Graham-Cassidy seems to be dead? Or will Democrats still just sort of circle the wagons to protect President Obama’s top legislative accomplishment? This is the time for bipartisan action – but that’s easier said than done.

President Trump heads to Alabama to boost Sen. Luther Strange

Published: Friday, September 22, 2017 @ 1:27 AM

Ahead of a Tuesday Republican runoff, President Donald Trump is fully inserting himself in a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, holding a rally Friday night for Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who faces a spirited challenge from former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, in a race that has strained GOP alliances in the Yellowhammer State.

The President will stop tonight in Huntsville, Alabama – not far from there, Mr. Trump had a gigantic rally back in late February of 2016, as he drew some 30,000 people to a football stadium in Madison.

“I am supporting “Big” Luther Strange because he was so loyal and helpful to me!” Trump wrote in one of a number of tweets about the Alabama race.

Behind in the polls, Strange used a Thursday night debate with Moore to repeatedly remind Alabama voters who the President was supporting.

“The first question is, who does the President support? The President supports me,” Strange said.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lkPNR1UGMM&w=640&h=390]

As for Moore, he has drawn support from a number of conservative Republicans, but now finds himself pitted against someone who has the backing of the President, something that Strange mentioned several times at a debate on Thursday night.

“This race is not me against the President,” Moore said.

Moore would seem to be a perfect ally for the President – someone who rails against the GOP Establishment, focusing much of his ire on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – but Mr. Trump has stuck with “Big Luther,” who has trailed in the polls leading up to the runoff.

“If they believe in Trump’s agenda – Moore is the clear choice,” said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), “but if they follow the cult of personality – then Strange.”

Strange was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. Attorney General – Sessions was the first Senator to support Mr. Trump, but that has not earned him any loyalty from the President, who has castigated Sessions repeatedly.

While the President has backed Strange, Moore has received the backing of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who ran third in the original primary.

But the big voice on Friday will be that of President Trump, who has certainly been putting his political capital on the line for Strange.

New GOP health care plan faces questions over how it deals with pre-existing conditions

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 3:17 AM

As Republicans try to push ahead with a new plan to overhaul the Obama health law, one flash point has erupted on how the GOP effort would impact people with pre-existing health conditions, as backers and opponents have come to much different conclusions on that important policy matter.

The issue of how people with pre-existing conditions are treated has been a controversial one throughout this year’s legislative push by the GOP to coalesce behind a plan that would repeal and replace the Obama health law, as supporters of the law argue it’s one of the most popular aspects of the existing law, as it prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people because of their past medical history.

In a tweet sent out on Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump declared his strong support for the Graham-Cassidy plan, specifically trumpeting what he says is ‘coverage of pre-existing conditions.’

As for what’s in the actual proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – the language does not expressly say that people with pre-existing conditions can keep their coverage without facing premium increases, as under the Obama health law.

And the bill text doesn’t expressly say that states can get rid of requirements to cover pre-existing conditions, either – but it leaves open that possibility.

Here is the only mention in the legislative text about pre-existing conditions:

The Graham-Cassidy plan would allow states to change the “Essential Health Benefits” that are required under the Obama health law – basically, these are items that must be included in health coverage by insurance companies, preventing higher premiums based on age, lifetime caps on medical coverage, and the refusal to cover certain items because of a pre-existing medical condition, and more.

Under the plan, states would be allowed to seek a waiver from the Secretary of Health and Human Services to change the EHB’s for that state; some states might want to keep the current Essential Health Benefits, while others could seek something different in terms of minimum coverage requirements.

Some outside groups, and insurance companies have said their read of the language is that coverage for pre-existing conditions would be in danger in the Graham-Cassidy plan.

The current GOP plan is to have a vote on the Graham-Cassidy language sometime next week. The Senate must act before September 30 in order to use a parliamentary procedure that prevents a Senate filibuster.

Senators will be back on Monday for votes – at this point, the GOP does not have 50 votes for this new plan.

Sen. Rob Portman wants opioid money added to health care bill

Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 5:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 5:00 PM

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Washington Bureau
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio(Washington Bureau)

Sen. Rob Portman has privately urged Senate Republican leaders to include billions of federal dollars to treat opioid addiction as part of a controversial health bill that could reach the Senate floor next week.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would dramatically revise the 2010 health law known as Obamacare by shifting hundreds of billions of dollars to the states to design their own health plans.

But the bill does not specifically include any money to treat the epidemic of opioid addiction, an issue Portman, R-Ohio, emphasized during his re-election campaign last year. More than 150,000 people in Ohio are undergoing through Medicaid treatment for opioids and other drugs.

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“While he is still reviewing this latest proposal, Rob has and will continue to advocate for additional opioid funding just as he has done throughout the health care debate,” said Emily Benavides, a Portman spokeswoman.

Portman’s request for opioid money came as a new study shows Ohio could lose as much as $9 billion in federal dollars by 2026 if congressional Republicans approve the Graham bill.

Released by the Washington consulting firm of Avalere Health, the study suggests lawmakers in Columbus would have to find billions of new state dollars to maintain current levels of health care for people receiving Medicaid, the joint federal and state program which provides health coverage for low-income people.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich relied on federal Medicaid dollars made available through Obamacare to extend coverage to more than 700,000 low-income people. Obamacare allowed families of four earning as much as $34,000 a year to qualify for Medicaid.

The report, sponsored by the Democratic leaning Center for American Progress, may undercut efforts by Senate Republicans to push the bill through next week with a parliamentary maneuver that would require just 51 votes.

Jon Keeling, a Kasich spokesman, said, “Make no mistake, losing billions of dollars would be devastating to Ohio as we work to provide care to our state’s most vulnerable and drug addicted.”

“The only ones who can support this legislation are those who haven’t had time to properly assess the damage it would do,” Keeling said.

Although Portman has yet to say whether he would support the Graham bill, he told reporters Wednesday that he is “supportive of the idea of getting flexibility back to the states.”

At Portman’s urging, Senate Republicans last July included $45 billion in opioid treatment money in a bill aimed at scrapping Obamacare. But the bill collapsed in the Senate.

Because Graham’s bill would provide states with greater authority to design their own health plans, states could use those dollars for opioid treatment. But states such as Ohio would likely face a financial squeeze by having to use fewer federal dollars to finance coverage for Medicaid and help middle-income people pay for federally subsidized insurance policies established by Obamacare.

“This bill is worse than the last one,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “First, there is no money dedicated for opioid treatment. Second, it’s worse for those states (such as Ohio) where Governor Kasich did the right thing and expanded Medicaid.”

“If it passes, frankly the Republican majority should be ashamed of themselves,” Brown told reporters on a conference call.

The Graham bill, in essence, would tell the states they could stay in Obamacare or take billions of federal dollars to design their own programs. The federal government would supply states with per-capita grants.

The bill would repeal the law’s requirements that individuals buy federally subsidized insurance policies.