By Fredrick Kunkle
Virginia's Republican candidate for governor, Ken Cuccinelli II, sought to make up lost ground in his campaign on Tuesday by again spotlighting the bug-filled launch of Obamacare and teaming with a nationally known conservative.
This time it was Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who shared a telephone press conference with Cuccinelli to bash the Affordable Care Act and warn that Terry McAuliffe (D) has bet his agenda on expanding Medicaid in Virginia under the federal health-care law.
"This is like budget pixie dust claiming that this money is all of a sudden going to come raining in from Washington and pay for all the things you want to do in state government," Ryan told reporters. "It's just not so. It's misleading."
Ryan said that federal government's pledge to fully fund the first few years of expanded coverage and then subsidize most of the program afterwards is a promise waiting to be broken.
"It's basically gambling with other people's money that isn't going to arrive," Ryan said. He and Cuccinelli both urged President Obama to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius for the botched rollout of the law's online insurance markets.
Cuccinelli has played up his opposition to the federal health-care law in the waning days of an uphill climb against McAuliffe in the Virginia governor's race. On Saturday, he kicked around Obamacare as the theme of the GOP's weekly address, and on Monday he called for Sibelius' head. On Tuesday, he criticized McAuliffe for banking on "magical dollars" that the federal government has made available through the health-care law.
"This is a critical issue in our campaign," Cuccinelli said Tuesday. "It's probably one of the top issues, and that is the difference between Terry McAuliffe -- on Obamacare and health care in general -- and myself."
McAuliffe has said he supports expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as a way to widen health care insurance coverage for low-income families and create thousands of new jobs in the health care sector. He has also said that Medicaid expansion will save the state $500 million a year and could help pay for his agenda, including raising teacher salaries and increasing higher education support.
In a statement issued by his campaign Tuesday, McAuliffe cheered as a bipartisan "win-win" the maneuver by Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich (R) to expand Medicaid despite opposition from his own party's legislative majorities. That makes Ohio the 25th state to extend Medicaid and the eighth with a Republican governor. In addition to Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have not decided.
On Tuesday, Cuccinelli told reporters McAuliffe would expand government's role in health care even more if he could.
"He wanted to see the Obamacare go one step further and entirely wipe out private insurance -- go to the full single payer, called the public option," Cuccinelli said. "If you think dealing with your insurance company is challenging, wait till you're dealing with your government."
Cuccinelli has said McAuliffe's estimated savings are exaggerated. Cuccinelli warned that even with the federal government's promised match, Virginia would have to come up with an additional $200 million -- and that could increase if the U.S., which is already carrying a $17 trillion debt, decreased its share of the matching funds.
Cuccinelli, who is trailing McAuliffe is polls and campaign funds, welcomed Ryan "as a passionate conservative leader in Washington." Democrats were eager to make the connection too, less than a week after the 16-day federal shutdown that has further soured many Americans on Congress and the GOP, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week.
"Ken Cuccinelli is continuing to campaign with the Congressional Tea Party Republicans who led the government shutdown in an attempt to further their shared ideological agenda," McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said in an e-mail." Virginians are making it clear that they prefer Terry McAuliffe's mainstream focus on strengthening and diversifying the economy to Ken Cuccinelli's extreme ideological agenda."
Ryan shrugged when asked whether the shutdown was worth the risk of political damage to the Virginia race: "Oh, I have no idea," he said. "I'm not Ken's political adviser, and I'm not in the middle of gubernatorial campaigns. I'll defer to other people to decide whether it's good politics or not."
Ryan -- who was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's running mate in last year's presidential race and is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016 -- voted against the compromise that concluded the standoff.
Cuccinelli treaded carefully during the shutdown by calling for its end but not calling out fellow Republicans who helped lead the cause. On Monday, he told reporters he wasn't sure he would have voted for the compromise. And he again renewed his allegation that McAuliffe had threatened a shutdown by saying he would not sign a budget as governor unless it contained the Medicaid expansion.
McAuliffe's campaign has said his remarks were not a threat but an expression of the importance he places on the issue.