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Blunt, McCaskill split over new GOP efforts to derail Obamacare

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2013: U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on Wednesday accused some House Republicans of behaving like her misspoken GOP nemesis of 2012 – former Rep. Todd Akin – with their efforts to kill the implementation of Obamacare, even if it forces a government shutdown.

“A group of them have ‘Akin-itis,’ “ McCaskill told reporters during a conference call with reporters.

The senator said she was “frustrated beyond belief” and noted that the health insurance measure officially known as the Affordable Care Act was signed into law more than three years ago and largely passed the muster of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This ‘all or nothing’ approach is not what the public wants,” she said, calling it “completely unrealistic and unreasonable that a minority of the members of Congress would bring the government to its knees and refuse to pay the bills of government over the scoring of political points.”

For his part, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said that Senate Republicans may seek an alternative that wouldn’t defund Obamacare, but would call for “a one-year delay of the individual mandate.” It would be attached to the bill raising the debt ceiling.

“ And I’m not absolutely sure that couldn’t pass the Senate,” Blunt told reporters in his weekly conference call. “The president delayed the corporate mandate, the business mandate, the employer mandate. How does it possibly make sense to delay the mandate that the employer has to provide insurance or pay a penalty and still require individuals to pay a penalty?”

Blunt wary of linking Obamacare to federal budget

However, he said that a House GOP plan to attach a defund-Obamacare provision to the continuing budget resolution -- which keeps the federal government in operation -- would be a tough sell in the Senate.  That conforms with conventional wisdom that such a proposal would stall in the U.S. Senate and prompt a legislative stalemate.

“If the question is, 'Would that have a hard time passing the Senate?', then obviously it would,” Blunt added.

Blunt reaffirmed that he doesn't support Obamacare and believes that once it is implemented, "you’ll have more people uninsured" because some companies are dropping healthcare coverage already.

“I’d be for not moving forward – which means permanent delay, defunding, whatever it means," Blunt added. "But I would have a hard time seeing that getting the 60 votes needed in the Senate.”

Meanwhile, McCaskill said a legislative stalmate could spread to other issues. Referring to the budet resolution or the debt ceiling, she said,  “If we can’t compromise to keep the doors open and pay the bills, I just wonder what the future holds.”

During the August recess, “I didn’t hear people saying, ‘Let’s bring government to a halt over Obamacare,’” the senator added. Some Missourians had legitimate questions and concerns about the implementation of the program, McCaskill said, but she said the issues can be resolved if members of Congress work together in a bipartisan way.

She said a few GOP potential candidates for president in 2016 – such as Ted Cruz of Texas – aren‘t helping matters by “waving pompoms to extreme members of the House, saying ‘Go, Go, Go.’ “

Joint call for more scrutiny of contractors

Blunt and McCaskill did agree on the need to scrutinize the security clearances of contract employees, in the wake of Monday’s shootings in Washington’s Navy Yard. A contract employee is blamed for the killing of 12 people, before he was shot dead by police.

McCaskill noted that she has led investigations into the growth of government contractors, especially in the military, over the past 20 years.

She said procedures need to be improved so errant contract employees are monitored more closely and their clearances swiftly revoked when their behavior comes into question.

For his part, Blunt said this week’s shootings are a reason to look at the background-check process for contract employees who “have access to either facilities or information – and in many cases both facilities and information.”

“If there are people getting through whose desire it would be to do harm to others or harm to the country as Edward Snowden wanted to do and ended up doing, what do we do to try and better identify that and see that doesn’t happen?” Blunt said.

He said in some cases, private contractors might be more desirable to use – especially for short-term situations. “When you’re hiring scientists or computer technicians for a short-term project, very likely the best thing to do is to contract that project out,” Blunt said. “But clearly if you’re doing that, we have to do a better job clearing people to have access to those facilities.”

Blunt also used part of his conference call to push for a legislative approach to dealing with mental health issues. He said it’s a “topic for whatever reason the country and the federal government doesn’t like to deal with.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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