LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Republicans vying to wrest the Kentucky House from Democratic control for the first time in nearly a century promised Tuesday to try to repeal the state's Medicaid expansion and rein in other parts of the federal health care overhaul.
House Republican leaders made stops in western Kentucky as part of a multi-day tour to promote their legislative agenda, called the "Handshake with Kentucky." They said they would push for legislation prohibiting mandatory participation in a workplace union and for a revamped state tax code and creation of medical expert panels to review proposed medical malpractice claims before they could be pursued in court.
"If the people of Kentucky entrust us with the majority, we are committing to immediately begin debate with the intention of passing each of these pieces of legislation," House GOP Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon called them "warmed over" ideas repackaged to get Republicans to the polls.
"It's not leadership," he said. "It's pandering to their base."
Republicans have not had a majority in the Kentucky House since 1920. Democrats have been whittled to a 54-46 majority, putting the GOP within striking distance of consolidating power in the Kentucky General Assembly. Republicans have solid control of the state Senate.
One key GOP goal is to undo elements of the federal health care law championed by President Barack Obama. House Republican leaders said Kentucky cannot afford the "unprecedented expansion" of its Medicaid program.
"House Republicans are prepared to take action to do what we can to repeal this expansion before it plummets our state into crippling debt," they said in a release. "It is important that the voices of frustrated Kentuckians be heard on this issue."
More than 413,000 people signed up for health coverage through Kentucky's state-run health exchange during the first round of open enrollment. Nearly 331,000 of them qualified for Medicaid coverage after Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear expanded the program geared toward the working poor.
Washington will pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first few years, and 90 percent over the longer haul. Beshear has pointed to studies indicating that expanding Medicaid would have an $800 million positive impact on the state budget from 2014 into early next decade.
Logsdon said House GOP leaders are placing a high priority on eliminating health coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians, many of whom have health insurance for the first time.
"That's the kind of extremist agenda that the people of Kentucky don't want anything to do with," he said. "That's why we're going to keep the House."
The House GOP leadership also wants a constitutional amendment prohibiting any person, employer or health provider from being forced to participate in a health care system. The proposal targets another aspect of the federal health care law known as "Obamacare."
"The people of Kentucky are not in favor of the federal government mandating their choice of health insurance," Hoover said. "Our proposed amendment would simply give them more control over their own health-care choices."
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Kentucky's approach to the health care law is "making a huge difference in improving our collective health."
"I can't understand why anyone would want to take away these valuable health care gains from our fellow Kentuckians," he said.
The GOP platform also calls for public-private partnerships to pursue major infrastructure projects and legislation to entice the communications industry to expand broadband Internet access. A House Democrat was the lead sponsor of a public-private partnerships bill this year.
"Democrats in Frankfort have failed to achieve meaningful results on behalf of families and local businesses, and the current leadership in the House of Representatives has squandered real opportunities while surrounding states prosper," Hoover said.
Stumbo said it's Democratic House members who are sponsoring laws to create jobs and combat drug addiction.
"I'm proud of what we have achieved, and our caucus is committed to building on these gains in the years to come," Stumbo said. "House Democrats will continue working with Gov. Beshear to free Kentucky from the Republican-caused recession our nation has suffered under for years."