When last we visited with Rep. Raul Labrador he was fresh off of 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 Labrador weighed in on a number of other topics during a media conference call Monday — minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, national monuments and the Tea Party — he more 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 figured Labrador had worn the topic thin he injected personal anecdotes.
He and his family have been shopping on the Washington D.C. health care exchange — where folks in Congress have been directed — only to discover that 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. “By law we have to use the Washington DC exchange.”
Though he and his family are shopping outside the exchange for plans as well (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.
Labrador is also concerned about security and privacy issues such as data-mining.
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 roll out 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 the real message: people are sympathetic to folks with pre-existing conditions; they want coverage with choice and without privacy compromises; 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 roll out all but forgotten. Labrador is a smart guy and could contribute to diffusing the demonizing. He could choose to lead on reforms but we won’t hear the solutions if everybody is still screaming.
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, Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo combined.
Like Labrador’s unapologetic positions or not, they leave little doubt about where he stands.
Today he criticized efforts to raise the minimum wage because, in his mind, doing so does more harm than good. Teens lose out and young families lose out when employers cut back on hiring because they have to pay higher wages, he said. Citing his mother’s experience working in the McDonald’s organization, he said true advancement comes with taking on more responsibility and management duties rather than upping the minimum wage.
Labrador is frustrated with continued extensions of unemployment benefits. He thinks there are jobs out there, people just won’t take them. He believes some apply for jobs only to satisfy unemployment benefit requirements to prove they are looking for work.
He is thumbs down on the idea of designating the Boulder-White Cloud region a national monument. He is wary such a move could lead to less access to public lands. “Talk to county commissioners. They are frustrated with the lack of access.”
When asked if he identified more with the Tea Party or Libertarian sentiments among his colleagues, Labrador pointed out that he has refused to join any Tea Party caucus in Congress.
“The Tea Party is an amorphous group,” he said. “I joke around that I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool. . .I sometimes identify with the Tea Party, with the Libertarian side, with conservatives.”
Rather than align with labels, Labrador wants to be known as that guy who is frustrated with business as usual, a lawmaker who looks out for the little people and who does what he says he is going to do.
Asked about accomplishments, Labrador said he and fellow Republicans are responsible for lowering unemployment rates: 10 to 7 percent range since he took office.
“Things are improving because people like me are back in Washington preventing Obama and the Democrats from throwing more money at issues and making them worse.”
So, people should recognize this and put his party back in charge, right? We shall see.