The Republican hopefuls in this year’s campaign for one of Alabama’s two U.S. Senate seats participate in a candidates’ forum on Saturday, July 15, 2015, in Robertsdale, Ala. (John Sharpfirstname.lastname@example.org).
None of the Republicans running in Alabama’s U.S. Senate campaign fully embraced Saturday the Senate’s latest health care alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
In fact, most of the six of the 10 candidates who attended a candidates’ forum in Robertsdale said the efforts on Capitol Hill don’t go far enough in doing away with Obamacare.
“Absolute repeal,” said former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
“I’m for outright repeal,” added U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville.
“I support a full repeal of Obamacare,” said state Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose.
Added Bryan Peeples, a business consultant from Birmingham: “I am for a full repeal and not what has been introduced in the Senate or voted on in the House of Representatives.”
The comments directed at a full repeal drew the loudest ovations from a large crowd that attended the latest forum held exactly one month before the Aug. 15 primary.
A plan for complete repeal of the 2010 health law is being pushed by President Donald Trump ahead of the August congressional recess. A debate could start Tuesday in the Senate on a repeal and potential replacement of Obamacare.
Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, but differ on the best way in replacing it. Democrats want to fix the existing 2010 health care law. How Alabama’s Senate candidates view one of the most divisive issues in American public policy today.
But for most of the GOP candidates, the federal government should stay out of the health insurance business.
Moore drew the loudest ovation from his supporters when he said the “government” should have nothing to do “with socialized medicine.”
“The Democrats want us to pick up a replacement,” said Moore, who supports a repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson Antitrust Act of 1945, which he believes prevents competition along state lines.
Pittman also supported repealing the 1945 law, arguing that “market forces” are important in determining health insurance coverage.
“Health insurance is not a right,” said Pittman. “I was, in fact, fearing (the approval of Obamacare) was the final nail in the coffin for the free market system.”
Brooks, meanwhile, criticized the Senate bill pushed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as something that “changes almost daily.”
“I hope it will be good, but I fear it may not be,” said Brooks. “Time will tell.”
He called congressional Republicans who oppose an outright repeal as “liberal establishment folks” and blasted the 2010 health law for leading to soaring premiums. His comments were based on a report last month showing that Alabama’s premiums increase more, on average, than premiums in any other state that relies on the federal exchange.
Dr. James Beretta, a physician from Pelham, also pushed for a complete repeal of the law. He criticized the Republican alternatives as something pushed by lobbyists and crafted behind closed doors.
“You can’t see who the lobbyists really are,” he said.
Dr. Randy Brinson, a physician and former head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, was the only Republican to present an alternative to Obamacare aside from outright repeal.
He criticized his fellow GOP candidates for not addressing the issue, saying that while he supports a “total repeal,” something else needs to be put into place to “curb Medicaid spending.”
Brinson said an alternative health plan should expand caps on Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts to allow more tax exempt money to be placed into them.
For most of the forum, the candidates were cordial to one another. Some even engaged in humorous banter, highlighted with Peeples who joked that he wasn’t a hunter or a fisherman and – as an Auburn University football fan – some in the conservative audience may view him akin to former Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale.
Brinson directed the most pointed criticism at Brooks. He accused the congressman for suggesting that he wants to “get rid of the filibuster” while also suggesting interest in a Senate “filibuster” during any future U.S.-Mexican border wall debate by reading the King James Version of the Bible.
“That is concerning to me,” said Brinson.
Brooks said he prefers to “kill the filibuster” to ensure “majority rules.” He said absent the elimination of the Senate filibuster will only lead to an empowerment of Senate Democrats.
“Folks, if you want to empower (New York Democratic Senator) Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, keep the filibuster,” he said.
Most of the critical comments were directed at U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who did not attend.
Brooks said that Strange was appointed senator by former Gov. Robert Bentley through an ethical lapse, and Moore read a national news account that labeled Strange as the “established favorite” of McConnell.
Strange spent Saturday touring an Autaugaville peanut field with Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Strange touted his membership on the Senate Ag Committee, saying it had been “more than 20 years” since an Alabama Senator was a member. He also said he was working on the upcoming Farm Bill.
Strange and Roberts also participated in a roundtable discussion with members of the Alabama Farmers Federation.
On Friday, Strange visited Auburn University to learn more about their poultry, forestry and wildlife management research, as well as their rehabilitation efforts at the Southeastern Raptor Center.
But some people at the Robertsdale forum grumbled over Strange’s absence.
Michael Hoyt, chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party, wished that Strange and three other candidates in the primary – Dom Gentile, Mary Maxwell and James Breault – had attended.
“The people want to hear from all the candidates,” said Hoyt. “We understand scheduling conflicts occur and that appears to have happened with some of the candidates.”
The Baldwin County GOP event also did not include a post-forum straw poll taken by audience members. Similar GOP forums elsewhere in the state have included post-event polling.
“That’s something that was never even addressed,” said Hoyt. “That wasn’t a topic ever broached in the planning for this event. It wasn’t something we were interested in doing. We wanted to provide a forum for the candidates to speak in.”
Traffic was backed up on Interstate 10 and along the Spanish Fort Causeway on Saturday, July 15, 2017. The backups were caused by a fatal hit-and-run crash in Daphne and with an influx of vehicle traffic that occurs on Saturday’s when vacationers leave the coastal Alabama beaches. (John Sharpemail@example.com).