By Fredrick Kunkle
Just days after a federal government shutdown triggered by a fight over President Obama's signature health-care law, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II delivered the weekly Republican address with a full-throated blast at the Affordable Care Act.
Cuccinelli attacked the new law as the exemplar of big government and called its implementation "a national embarrassment."
"Let me be plain, the law that carries the president's name is the hallmark of a reckless federal government that has lost its way," Cuccinelli said in Saturday's address.
Cuccinelli -- who trails Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race with about two weeks to go before Election Day -- went all in with the sort of talk that made him a hero to tea party enthusiasts and other believers in limited government. He noted that he was the first of 27 state attorneys general to challenge the law's constitutionality. He went on to catalog what he says is a gap between Obamacare's sunny promises and the glitch-marred rollout that began Oct. 1 with the opening of the online government insurance markets. And he blamed the law for suffocating the economy, saying that rather than the prosperity its proponents promised, it would create mostly part-time jobs.
"Everywhere you look, there's more evidence that Obamacare was fundamentally broken even before it started," Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe's campaign characterized Cuccinelli's message as more of the same from a polarizing candidate.
"After Cuccinelli sided with Washington tea party Republicans to oppose reopening the government, it's no surprise they asked him to carry their divisive message," McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said in an e-mail. "Virginia needs a governor who is more concerned with Virginia's economy than with his reputation with the Tea Party and D.C. Republicans."
In a race that has featured sharp character attacks by both candidates, the federal health-care law is an issue that clearly defines their differing views. McAuliffe supports the law and has tied much of his agenda to Virginia's possible expansion of Medicaid under its terms, while Cuccinelli has opposed it at every turn.
In his party's response to the president's weekly address, Cuccinelli used the national platform to cast himself as a politician willing to stand up for "first principles" against a federal government that is "eating away at our liberty and crushing opportunity."
There is no better example of that overreach, he said, than the health-care law.
"Obamacare represents one of the largest and most reckless expansions of government in the more than 200-year history of our nation," Cuccinelli said.
"I believe it's an affront to the freedoms and liberties our founding fathers fought to establish on our behalf. I'm proud to say many of those heroes were Virginians, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry," he said. "Because I believed Obamacare was an affront to our liberty, I stood up."
Cuccinelli criticized the law's impact on businesses and other institutions and discussed problems with the law's launch.
"During the debate over this law, citizens in the Commonwealth were told they could easily access information about their health-care choices and join the system. Well, that proved to be untrue," Cuccinelli said. "They were told their premiums wouldn't increase; that proved to be false. And they were told they could keep access to their insurance and their doctors, and that proved to be downright dishonest."
He noted that the University of Virginia, where he studied engineering as an undergraduate, will discontinue health-care coverage for employees' spouses who are working and have coverage through their own employers. He also discussed a decision by the Fairfax County Water Authority to drop health insurance coverage because of the federal law.
Cuccinelli called instead for market-based approaches and other reforms favored by conservatives, such as allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.
He also attacked the Obama administration for giving some organizations temporary exemptions from some of the law's provisions. For example, the government has given one-year waivers to more than 1,200 companies that provide health insurance to their employees using basic plans that limit the annual benefits. By 2014, those benefit caps will be prohibited.
The administration had voiced concern that some companies with those basic plans and benefit caps might drop coverage altogether if they were required to remove the limits immediately.
Cuccinelli also accused Congress and the Obama administration of operating under a double standard because the federal government will still contribute to health-care premiums purchased by members of Congress and their staffs on government exchanges.
But supporters of the decision to require the federal government to continue contributing to the premiums said the measure is intended to make up for the unintended consequence that members of Congress and their staffs, who were previously covered, would otherwise face a pay cut because they are not entitled to the government tax credits available to qualified purchasers on the exchanges.