Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell is ordinarily a spinner of unusual skill. He's relentlessly focused on his message and doesn't let any interviewer frame a question in a way he (McConnell) doesn't like. Which is why it was a little odd to see Fox News' Chris Wallace catch him without a handy talking point when it came to covering the uninsured. This excerpt is a little long, but you have to see the whole thing:
WALLACE: All right, let's move on. If voters elect a Republican president and a Republican Senate, your top priority will be, you say, to repeal and replace "Obama-care." And I want to drill down into that with you. One of the keys to "Obama-care" is that it will extend insurance access to 30 million people who are now uninsured. In your replacement, how would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: Well, first, let me say the single the best thing we could do for the American health care system is to get rid of "Obama- care," get rid of that half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, get rid of the half a trillion dollars in taxes. In other words, the single biggest step we could take in the direction of improving American health care is to get rid of this monstrosity.
WALLACE: But if I may, sir, you've talked about repeal and replace. How would you provide universal coverage?
MCCONNELL: I will get to it in a minute. The first step we need to take is to get rid of what is there, this job-killing proposal that has all of these cuts to existing health care providers. Secondly, we need to go step by step to replace it with more modest reforms. There will not be a 2,700-page Republican alternative. We will not take a meat axe to the American health care system. We will pull out a scalpel and go step by step and make the kinds of more modest changes that would deal with the principal issue which is cost. Things like interstate sales of health insurance. Right now you don't have competition around the country in the selling of health insurance. That is a mistake. Things like lawsuit reform. Billions and billions of dollars are lost every year by hospitals and doctors in defensive medicine. Those kinds of steps...
WALLACE: But respectfully sir, because we are going to run out of time and I just want to ask, what specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?
MCCONNELL: That is not the issue. The question is, how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.
WALLACE: But you don't think the 30 million...
MCCONNELL: What our friends on the other...
WALLACE: You don't think the 30 million people that were uninsured is an issue?
MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what we are not going to do. We are not going to turn the American health care system into a Western European system. That is exactly what is at the heart of "Obama- care." They want to have the federal government take over all of American health care.
And there you have it. Obviously, McConnell can't come out and speak the truth, which is that while there are a few changes Republicans would like to see on health care, not only isn't it an issue they care very much about, they really don't give a crap about people who don't have insurance. Never have, and probably never will. First of all, those just aren't their people, and second of all, actually helping the uninsured requires things they don't like, such as expanding Medicaid.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing they can say. McConnell ought to know that when asked questions like this, Republicans are supposed to say, "The way you expand coverage to everyone is to increase competition and unleash the free market, not through big government blah blah blah." That way it looks like you've actually responded to the question, even though you haven't actually said anything. The great thing about conservative talking points is that they can be used almost anywhere, no matter how empty they are. McConnell is seriously off his game.
I stand by my prediction that Republicans are going to stop talking about health care within a few days. They just don't feel comfortable with the topic.