Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 26, 2012

RONNIE ELLIS: Reading between the lines

CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — There was a funny and informative moment Thursday during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.

Chairman Bob Leeper, the Senate’s lone independent who caucuses with Republicans, recognized Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, for a question.

Leeper referred to Neal as “the soon-to-be most senior member of the Senate.” Neal laughed and said, “What you’re saying is that I’m old.”

I heard something else. Because for Neal to be the most senior member of the state Senate it would require the departure of Senate President David Williams, who has served there longer than Neal.

By the time you read this, Williams’ nearly universally presumed departure to become a circuit judge in southern Kentucky may have already been announced. Many were expecting Gov. Steve Beshear to make that announcement Friday (after this column was filed).

But nothing was official when Leeper made his comment. Shortly afterward, when I asked him if I could interpret his comment as proof that Williams was leaving, Leeper, a genuinely congenial man who smiles easily and just as easily gets along with reporters, some of whom think he is unusually conservative even by Kentucky standards, laughed.

“I guess that was a slip of the tongue. What I meant to say was that he was the most senior member of the A&R committee,” Leeper told me. Sure. Nice try Senator.

There were other amusing moments. The committee heard from Carrie Banahan, the executive director of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, the online “marketplace” for health insurance coverage required by the Affordable Healthcare Act – “Obamacare” if you prefer.

Republicans would prefer Obamacare to disappear. They’re pinning their hopes on the Nov. 6 presidential election and the promise by Republican nominee Mitt Romney to repeal it on “day one,” even though the law is modeled on one Romney passed in Massachusetts.

Republican Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green asked Banahan if the tax rebates for small employers who purchase health insurance for their employees wouldn’t reduce tax revenues to the government. It would for the federal government, Banahan answered.  Awful!

But that struck me as an odd thing for a Republican to say because it is Republican orthodoxy that the federal government takes in too much federal tax revenue. Can you imagine the idea of leaving “job creators” with more money so they can insure their workers or maybe even – as Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne suggested – hire additional workers?

Later during discussion of how the implementation of Medicaid managed care is working, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, questioned Medicaid Commissioner Larry Kissner. In light of one of the managed care companies failing to make money from its contract to provide services to Medicaid patients in eastern Kentucky, Smith wanted to know what Kissner’s department is doing to make sure such companies don’t fail in the future.

Kissner more or less answered “nothing” – because the company submitted its own bid and signed a contract to deliver services at the contracted prices. It occurred to me that if state government did other than Kissner explained it would in effect be “picking winners and losers.” And as we know from Republicans, that’s not a good thing.

Now to be fair, the Republicans would argue they were simply trying to anticipate or identify “unintended consequences” of the new health care law. Some of their concerns are justifiable and understandable, although they sounded more like a partisan election argument.

But the exchange illustrates something I wish more politicians on both sides would acknowledge: practical reality sometimes gets in the way of pure orthodoxy.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.