Some Big Names To Skip Fancy Farm But Politics, BBQ Still On Menu Tuesday, Jul 25 2017 

(Featured image: Crowd at Fancy Farm 2016)

The annual Fancy Farm picnic and political speaking event takes place next week in far-west Kentucky’s Graves County.

Though no major elections are scheduled to take place this year, state political leaders will still roll up their shirt sleeves and hurl insults at each other during the 137th iteration of the charity event.

Gov. Matt Bevin has declined an invitation to speak, citing a scheduling conflict. That means a public showdown between the Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear will have to wait for another year.

Beshear says he will be in attendance — he missed the event last year to attend a family event.

Other confirmed speakers include Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer, whose district includes the area.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have not confirmed their attendance and are expected to be absent because the regularly scheduled August recess for Congress has been pushed back to allow Republicans time to hash out an Obamacare repeal plan.

St. Jerome’s Catholic Church has hosted the Fancy Farm Picnic since its inception in the 1880s. Each year, volunteers barbecue several tons of pork and mutton to sell to more than 10,000 attendees.

The political portion of the event has evolved into a raucous affair where speakers insult and tease opponents while the crowd heckles and chants.

There are no statewide or legislative races scheduled this year, which could dampen the frenetic energy of recent Fancy Farm picnics.

Last year’s picnic was notable because of the presidential election, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s challenge of incumbent Sen. Rand Paul and races for the state House of Representatives —  which ultimately led to Republicans gaining control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century.

The year before, Bevin defied expectations by winning a crowded primary election and later winning the Kentucky governorship, becoming only the second Republican to do so in more than four decades.

Bevin criticized the bombastic tone of the Fancy Farm speeches over the last two years, though the rowdy atmosphere hasn’t abated.

This year’s event will be emceed by former Democratic House Speaker Bobby Richardson, who left the General Assembly in 1990.

Recent emcees have alternated between representatives of the two major political parties — Republican operative Scott Jennings last year, and Kentucky Sports Radio Host Matt Jones, a Democrat, the year before.

The picnic will be held on Saturday, August 5 at 10 a.m. CST with the political speaking beginning at 2 p.m. and aired live on KET.

Other confirmed speakers include:

  • State Sen. Stan Humphries, Republican
  • State Rep. Richard Heath, Republican
  • U.S. Rep. James Comer, Republican
  • House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Republican
  • House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, Democrat
  • Attorney General Andy Beshear, Democrat
  • Agriculture Commission Ryan Quarles, Republican
  • State Auditor Mike Harmon, Republican

Organizers are still waiting for confirmation from the following:

  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Republican
  • Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat
  • Treasurer Allison Ball, Republican
  • Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton, Republican
  • State Senate President Robert Stivers, Republican

Rand Paul asked VA to meet with UofL president to discuss Jewish Hospital alternative for replacement VA hospital Wednesday, Jul 19 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in June to meet with University of Louisville interim President Greg Postel to discuss an idea he had pitched to Paul weeks earlier — that the VA consider buying the downtown Jewish Hospital from KentuckyOne Health as the site for a replacement VA hospital instead […]

Rand Paul Doesn’t Support GOP Health Bill Thursday, Jun 22 2017 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has unveiled the newest version of a bill to replace many provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Negotiations over the much-anticipated bill were held in private, with even some Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul criticizing the secretive process “with little time to fully evaluate the proposal.”

Paul issued a statement Thursday saying he wasn’t ready to vote in favor of the new bill because it doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare.

“It does not keep our promises to the American people,” Paul said. “I will oppose it coming to the floor in its current form, but I remain open to negotiations.”

A vote on the measure is expected next week.

If no Democrats vote in favor of the bill, McConnell can only afford to lose two votes out of the 52 Republicans in the Senate. In case of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would have the option to cast a tie-breaker.

The proposal would by 2024 phase out funding for states like Kentucky that elected to expand their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.

It would also end the requirement for people to buy health insurance, and employers of a certain size would no longer have to provide coverage for employees. It would eliminate taxes on the wealthy and insurance companies, but keep a provision that allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until age 26.

During a speech on the Senate Floor Thursday, McConnell said the plan was the product of dozens of meetings.

“It’s time to act,” McConnell said. “Because Obamacare is a direct attack on the middle class and American families deserve better than its failing status quo.”

He also chided Democrats for indicating they wouldn’t support the Republican-crafted plan.

“They can choose to keep standing by as their failing law continues to collapse and hurt more Americans, but I hope they will join us instead to bring more relief to families who have struggled under Obamacare for far too long,” McConnell said during his Senate remarks.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, criticized the proposal for its tax breaks and changes to Medicaid.

“Any senator who votes for this bill is clearly prioritizing a meaningless political victory over the health and livelihoods of the American people,” Yarmuth said in a statement.

McConnell blames the Affordable Care Act for rising health insurance premiums and says insurance companies pulling out of Obamacare markets show that the program is not working.

In Kentucky, five companies that sold insurance on Kentucky’s health exchange in 2016 pulled out of the program for 2017. The Kentucky Department of Insurance approved requests by the remaining companies to charge higher premiums.

The proposal, which is dubbed the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would change how states fund their Medicaid programs by shifting to block grants or per capita caps on spending.

The bill would also let states apply waivers to disregard some mandates of the Affordable Care Act, like the law’s ban on insurance companies charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

After the bill was announced, videos showed protesters being forcibly removed from outside McConnell’s Capitol office.

“U.S. Capitol Police handles security in the Capitol complex,” said McConnell press secretary, Stephanie Penn, when asked for comment about the protests.

Rand Paul recounts harrowing baseball practice shooting where Majority Whip was wounded Wednesday, Jun 14 2017 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is uninjured after a shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where Republican Congress members were practicing for a coming Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, which was scheduled for Thursday. Representative Steve Scalise was shot. Scalise is the House Majority Whip. Five people were taken to area hospitals, including the shooter. Witnesses reported […]

Sen. Rand Paul offering resolution to halt part of new $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia Thursday, May 25 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul will soon offer a bipartisan floor resolution in the Senate objecting to a portion of the Trump administration’s new $110 billion military arms deal with Saudi Arabia, arguing such weapons will likely exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and damage America’s national security. In a media conference call on Thursday, Paul and Democratic […]

Rand Paul Pans Sessions’ ‘Tough On Crime’ Prosecution Policy Friday, May 12 2017 

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for directing federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious crimes they can pursue.

The new guidelines are a departure from an Obama-era policy that eased prosecutions of people with non-violent drug offenses.

In 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors to avoid charging people with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, which require judges to impose lengthier prison terms.

In a statement, Paul said the reprisal of the “tough on crime” policy isn’t a good idea.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Paul said. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ problem.”

Paul has pushed for reforms to the criminal justice system, including reduction of mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes, expungement of felony records and restoration of voting rights, though the proposals haven’t garnered enough support to get a floor vote.

However, Paul voted in favor of Sessions’ confirmation earlier this year. Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for being “soft on crime” and accused the former president’s policies of leading to violent crimes.

Sessions’ policy amounts to a return to strategies conceived under former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who directed federal prosecutors to charge people with the most serious crimes possible.

Under the Obama-era policy, defendants who didn’t belong to large drug trafficking organizations qualified to be charged with crimes that didn’t carry long mandatory minimum sentences.

This week, Sessions issued a memo to Department of Justice staff ordering federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions wrote. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us.”

Prosecutors who wish to not pursue the most serious charges possible would have to get approval from a U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general.

Kerry Harvey, who was the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky until earlier this year, said implementation of the policy will depend on each U.S. attorney’s office.

“But on the face of it you would expect that the sentences, particularly in drug trafficking cases, would be longer,” Harvey said.

Rand Paul Calls Syria Airstrikes Unconstitutional Friday, Apr 7 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul has come out against President Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria on Thursday, calling it unconstitutional.

“The president really doesn’t have the authority under the constitution to initiate war,” Paul said during an interview on Fox Business on Friday.

The U.S. military launched the surprise airstrike on a Syrian airfield Thursday evening. The move came in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians the administration believes was launched by the country’s embattled leader, Bashar Assad, and killed dozens of people.

The U.S. has conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria since 2014, but Thursday’s is the first against the Syrian government.

Paul has long spoken out against the U.S. taking military action in Syria and the Middle East. On Friday, he warned that the attack could strain relations with Russia, a close ally of Syria’s.

“The ramifications could be extreme — they may not — but there is a great danger in bumping up against another nuclear power,” Paul said.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing northern and eastern Kentucky, also voiced opposition to Trump’s attack, via Twitter.

“President Trump should have sought Congressional approval for so many reasons starting with ‘the #Constitution requires it,'” Massie tweeted.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s other U.S. Senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, threw his support behind Trump’s actions.

“The strike was well-planned, well-executed, was certainly more than a pin-prick and sends a message not only to Assad that using chemical weapons again is something he cannot do with impunity,” McConnell said during a news conference on Friday.

McConnell notably opposed President Barack Obama’s failed request in 2013 for an authorization to use military force against the Syrian government.

On Friday, McConnell said he couldn’t see a resolution to the Syrian conflict that keeps Assad in power.

“I just can’t imagine after all the butchering of his own people that he’s been doing now for four, five years that there could be any successful conclusion to this chaos with him still there,” McConnell said.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democratic member of Kentucky’s federal delegation, issued a statement in support of the strike against Syria, which he said was in response to “criminal and inhumane actions.”

But he also called on Trump to seek Congressional approval for future actions against the country.

“I hope that Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell will move quickly to seek the congressional approval of yesterday’s action, so that the constitutional prerogatives of Congress’s war-making authority are asserted,” Yarmuth said. “No escalation of military activity in Syria or the region can proceed without explicit congressional approval.”

This Is Why Men Pay For Maternity Coverage, Too Thursday, Apr 6 2017 

Congressional Republicans are signaling that they want to keep moving forward with a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — despite reports Wednesday that the plan was all but dead.

And although there aren’t many details, it would likely include one of the key components of the GOP’s previous failed effort at repeal: a reduction in essential health benefits, or those services insurers are required to cover under Obamacare.

Maternity coverage is one. And it’s become a bit of a punchline for some Republicans, including Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

“Truth to be told, as a 50-something-year-old man, I don’t need maternity health care coverage. I don’t,” Bevin said at campaign rally for President Donald Trump last month in Louisville. “I’m not expecting that I’ll be expecting, and the idea that I’d be expected to cover health care coverage on the outside chance that I might be [is] a little bit preposterous.”

If that’s preposterous, then so is the idea of insurance in general. Because to argue against pooled risk — or a group of people pooling funds to mitigate catastrophic costs, whatever they may be — is to argue against the concept of insurance itself.

Maternity Care is Costly

Before the Affordable Care Act, having a baby was in most cases an expensive add-on benefit to an insurance policy, costing some women as much as $1,600 more a month than a basic policy, according to a study from the National Women’s Law Center. Many had deductibles as high as $10,000. The ACA changed that.

And yes, having a baby is a women’s health issue. But not so much when it comes to health care costs. In 2010, nearly 4 million women went to the hospital for childbirth, making it the most common reason for a hospitalization.

Multiply all those visits by $9,600, the typical cost of a vaginal birth, or $15,800 for a C-section.

“We’re talking about maternity care, which is a very common service,” says Usha Ranji, associate director for women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’re not talking about a rare event.”

Ranji says spreading the cost of maternity care across the general population — regardless of who’s having babies — makes it more affordable for everyone.

“The nature of insurance is that we all are paying for services we likely will not use,” she says. “That’s the way the insurance market is designed.”

Pooling Risk

The idea is simple and familiar: pooled risk. That’s the underpinning of the entire insurance system, including for the employer market, Medicaid and Medicare. It’s also the concept behind car insurance, homeowners insurance, and so on. Although most people will never use their insurance policies to the fullest degree, they pool their money in case they have to.

Sarah Lueck is a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“[A basic ACA policy] covers a comprehensive set of benefits, many of which the person buying the plan isn’t necessarily going to use, but they may end up needing unexpectedly,” Lueck says. “And that helps spread the cost of that coverage among a larger group of people and makes it affordable for everybody.”

Which is why women can’t opt out of coverage for prostate surgery. And why young, healthy people can’t opt out of paying for insurance that includes heart disease coverage. And why maternity care is now included in all policies, regardless of sex.

It’s not a new idea. Employer-based insurance must include maternity benefits because of a federal law that says it’s discriminatory not to do so. Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income and disabled people, also covers having a baby. And in many states, pregnant women automatically qualify for Medicaid if they have a low enough income.

Although the American Health Care Act — also known as Trumpcare — failed to get a vote last month, Republicans are in the process of creating a compromise plan that seeks to appease legislators who want even more of a repeal of the ACA. Sen. Rand Paul tweeted over the weekend that he met with President Trump, and that “we are getting closer to an agreement.”

The new plan will likely kick the responsibility of individual market requirements to states. They could apply for a federal waiver to include things like maternity coverage. And with new leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services, that would probably go through.

Seema Verma, the new head of the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, said in her confirmation hearing that women should be able to choose.

“Some women might want maternity coverage and some women might not want it, might not choose it, might not feel like they need that,” Verma said. “So I think it’s up to women to make the decision that works best for them and their families.”

Paul, who has led the latest charge to repeal ACA, also follows that line of thinking.

“Insurance companies should be able to sell a variety of plans with various types of benefits, rather than the currently mandated essential health benefits,” said Kelsey Cooper, state communications director for Paul. “For example, the pediatric dental coverage requirement is not something necessary for a family without children.”

In Louisville, Pence Pitches GOP Plan To Repeal And Replace Obamacare Saturday, Mar 11 2017 

Vice President Mike Pence stopped in Louisville Saturday to pitch the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“The Obamacare nightmare is about to end,” Pence said before a crowd of about 150 business owners.

The visit came as President Trump tries to rally support for the plan, especially among conservatives like Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who favors an outright repeal of Obamacare.

“Folks, let me be clear,” Pence said. “This is going to be a battle in Washington D.C. And for us to seize this opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all we need every Republican in Congress and we’re counting on Kentucky.”

The current repeal and replace bill would do away with the law’s requirement that individuals have health insurance and large employers provide it.

The plan would also remove taxes that fund Obamacare and begin scaling back the Medicaid expansion in states like Kentucky that expanded the government healthcare program.

About 500,000 Kentuckians got health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, mostly through the Medicaid expansion, helping bring the state’s uninsured rate from more than 20 percent to about 7 percent.

Pence was joined by Gov. Matt Bevin who downplayed discord over the measure.

“Of course there’s disagreement as to what we should do with it,” said Bevin. “This is America. Americans have opinions.”

Sen. Rand Paul has been one of the most vocal critics of the repeal and replace plan, calling it “Obamacare lite.”

“The only thing that’s really united us over time is repeal,” Paul said on Fox News Friday. “And if ObamaCare lite is the replacement, conservatives aren’t going to accept it.”

Paul’s spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper issued a statement after Pence’s speech saying he “looks forward to continuing to work with the administration and Congress for a real repeal of Obamacare and replace it with conservative market-based solutions that will bring down prices and give families more choices.”

For Kentucky Voters, A Familiar Fight: Trump vs. Paul Friday, Mar 10 2017 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Duard Rutledge voted for Donald Trump and Rand Paul for the same reason: They’re not afraid of a fight.

That’s why the 66-year-old retired Toyota worker wasn’t worried to see Kentucky’s junior senator getting in the way of the Republican plan to replace Obama’s health care law.

“When you get two thoroughbreds, they are high strung,” he said. “But if you get them headed the right way they can both win the race.”

Paul has been one of the most vocal Senate critics of the GOP plan to replace the federal Affordable Care Act, even before he knew what was in it. Last week, he hauled a copy machine outside of the room where House Republicans were writing the bill and asked for a copy, highlighting the secrecy surrounding the proposal. Since then, he has declared the plan dead, calling it “Obamacare lite.”

Trump has pushed back, but without the blunt-force approach that has defined his politics. He dispatched top aide Kellyanne Conway to appear via phone on a Louisville radio station to express disappointment with Paul’s comments. And while Trump has used his Twitter account to call Paul a “spoiled brat” in the past, he used his powerful social media presence this week to call Paul “my friend” and said he was sure he would “come along with the new and great health care program.”

Paul won another six-year term last year and White House pressure is unlikely to make him reverse course.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to appear in Louisville, possibly to advocate publicly for the replacement plan. For Terry Wright, a retired union worker in Louisville who voted for Trump, that’s all he needs to hear.

“I trust him (Trump) more than I would trust anybody else,” he said, adding he did not vote for Paul in the U.S. Senate election.

Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

Mike Pence

Pence is scheduled to appear with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who told reporters on Friday that he will tell Pence “we support their effort to fix this problem” while adding he is not a fan of the initial proposal.

“Sen. Paul … is not impressed with what has currently been offered. Truth be told, I’m not either. So I’m with him,” Bevin said.

After years of Democratic dominance, Kentucky voters are becoming accustomed to Republican rule and the infighting that can come with it. Whether it’s U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Bevin — two fierce primary foes turned allies after Bevin won the 2015 governor’s race — or Trump and Paul’s vicious barbs during the GOP presidential primaries, many conservative voters see conflict as a healthy part of politics.

“Whenever we get into this kinder, gentler, ‘Well I’m not going to say that because it will make them mad,’ that’s how we get in trouble,” said Alan Halsey, a 31-year-old publisher of The Swift Creek Courier and owner of a general store who voted for Trump and Paul. “We need people that will stand. And butting heads is part of standing.”

The Trump-Paul spat is more complicated for Phyllis Vincent, a 70-year-old retired teacher in Frankfort who is running to be the chairwoman of her county Republican party. She wants to do away with Affordable Care Act, but she acknowledges it will be difficult to repeal it “root and branch” now that nearly half a million people in the state depend on it for health coverage.

“Part of me is a bit disappointed (Trump) is not pushing any harder than what he’s doing,” she said. But she also understands how many people have health care, and “we can’t just pull the rug out from under them overnight.”

The friction occurs against a backdrop of intense debate over the success or failure of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky, where it has been touted as a success story by Democrats and some independent studies.

When the original roll-out of health care was plagued by technical problems, Kentucky’s state-run exchange, dubbed Kynect, ran smoothly. The exchange, combined with an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, brought health care coverage to nearly 500,000 people, lowering the state’s uninsured rate from more than 20 percent to 7.5 percent.

But the program has cost taxpayers an extra $257 million in the state’s most recent spending plan, and the current governor has called the program a disaster and moved to overhaul it.

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