Hello Idaho by Robert Ehlert: Labrador says Obamacare will dominate campaigns

December 10, 2013 

Robert Ehlert

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When last we visited with Rep. Raul Labrador, he was fresh off a government shutdown showdown episode that got tangled up with budgetary and debt ceiling negotiations. These were complicated by goals to disrupt-derail-defund-declaw or de-anything the Affordable Care Act.

Even though he weighed in on a number of other topics during a media conference call Monday — minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits among them — he often targeted Obamacare.

Amidst the shutdown, Idaho’s First District congressman didn’t quite have the ammunition that the program’s haphazard roll out, missteps, reversals and do-overs have since provided.

Just about the time you figure Labrador has worn the topic thin, he injected personal anecdotes. Besides being concerned with security/privacy issues, he and his family have been shopping on the Washington, D.C., health care exchange only to discover his medical coverage costs could go up $500 a month.

“It is looking like my health insurance costs go up quite substantially and benefits are less — same as most Americans,” said Labrador.

Though he and his family are shopping outside the exchange for health plans (Americans are mandated to have insurance, not insurance from an exchange), the one that is most comparable in the D.C. exchange would cost Labrador about $6,000 more per year, he said.

Asked what he thought would be the biggest political issue in the May primary and November general election, Labrador did not hesitate. “The whole year is going to be about Obamacare,” he said.

He thinks the Oct. 1 rollout fiasco demonstrates federal government ineptness in managing something Americans feel is more personal and worthy of nuance rather than blunt blanket solutions.

I wonder if anti-Obamacare fatigue will set in before Republicans cash in with voters. That worked in 2010 and got people like Labrador elected, but the GOP might be missing underlying messages. People are sympathetic to folks with existing conditions. They want coverage with choice and without privacy compromises. So, show us the fix, sell it, and step down from the soapbox.

Ten months from now the ACA could be on a roll and the rollout all but forgotten. Labrador is a smart guy and could contribute to defusing the demonizing. He could lead with reform ideas, which no one will hear if everybody is still screaming.

A side note: Though we in the media receive regular dispatches and information from our Idaho congressional delegation, I am pleased Labrador reached out with this tele-conference option, something new for him.

In my tenure, I have appreciated his openness and willingness to respond to any questions posed by the public or the media during town halls or media events. Among he and his colleagues, I have to say Labrador initiates more opportunities to discuss issues than Rep. Mike Simpson and Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo combined.

Like Labrador’s unapologetic positions or not, they leave little doubt about where he stands. Monday he criticized efforts to raise the minimum wage (does more harm than good) and continued extensions of unemployment benefits (jobs are available, people apply only to fulfill the mandate to look for work).

The man may leave you wondering, but he never leaves you guessing.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor.

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