Rep. Tom Cotton briefly took questions from reporters after his endorsement from the NFIB this morning and declined to take positions on two big issues likely to get a lot of political attention in Arkansas in the coming months.
As Max mentioned in an earlier post, Roby Brock asked about the proposed state minimum wage hike, from $6.25, tied for lowest in the country, to $8.50. Sen. Mark Pryor supports the state hike, though like Cotton he opposes a federal minimum wage hike to $10.10. So what’s Cotton’s position on the state wage hike, which appears likely to get the required signatures to get on the ballot? He won’t say. But he did manage to start talking about Obamacare!
We don’t even know what’s going to be on the ballot yet. Signatures haven’t been submitted, signatures haven’t been verified. There will be a time to evaluate that. I’m more focused on what can be done in Washington, D.C. This is one instance where Mark Pryor and I agree that the minimum wage of ten dollars an hour dictated by Washington D.C. would be bad for Arkansas workers and bad for Arkansas businesses. But what’s equally bad is passing a law like Obamacare, which reduces working hours in America from 40 hours to 30 hours a week or increases taxes on working families. So I’m focused as a candidate for United States Senate on what I can accomplish in Washington for Arkansas families.
The line about focusing on what he can accomplish in Washington is similar in tone to the “state-based issue” response Cotton has given in the past to dodge questions about the private option. Beyond that, he’s basically delaying. The details of the state wage hike are no mystery, so assuming it makes the ballot, Cotton will be pressed for a more specific response. Based on his record, he will almost certainly oppose the initiative. It makes sense politically why Cotton would want to avoid clear opposition while he can: a Talk Business poll last April found a whopping 79 percent support the wage hike. (In addition to being popular among independents, this is an issue that Team Pryor is hoping will help turn out Democratic base voters.)
Meanwhile, as is my wont, I gave Cotton another crack at taking a clear position on the private option, the state’s unique plan to use Medicaid funds available via the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance plans for low-income Arkansans. Cotton has previously repeatedly avoided taking a stance on the private option. (Cotton’s communications director initially cut me off to ask if my question was “NFIB-related” but given that Cotton had talked extensively about health care in his prepared remarks, I went ahead and asked what his stance on the private option was anyways). Here’s Cotton’s response:
We have to start over entirely on health care reform. That starts with repealing Obamacare. But it’s not just about Obamacare. We have health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid that are running out of money frankly. And when we start over on health care reform, we won’t just appeal Obamacare and adopt reforms like expanded health savings accounts or allowing people to buy insurance across state lines or allowing small businesses to pool together so they have the same purchasing power and leverage against insurance companies as do large businesses. But also taking a program like Medicaid and cutting all the red tape and the strings that Washington D.C. currently imposes on it and returning that program back to the states, so they can tailor solutions for their entire Medicaid population. So when I say start over on health care reform, I mean start over on all programs right now that need to be reformed, not simply what Obamacare has done to our health insurance markets.
I’ll leave it to readers to divine whether there is a position on the private option somewhere in there (the presser was ended immediately after this response). Again, the political strategy is no mystery here: a subset of Cotton’s base hates the private option, but a good chunk of independents and Republicans that Cotton needs in the general election support it. To the extent that Cotton can bob and weave, he will (of course, in any case, repealing Obamacare, which Cotton — you may have heard — would like to do, would mean ending the funding for the private option). But Cotton’s non-position may become increasingly untenable. The private option has twice passed the legislature by supermajority, but after the Republican primaries earlier this year, opponents of the private option have gained two seats in the Senate. A rump group of nine senators could block the private option, jeopardizing health insurance for more than 170,000 Arkansans. Pryor strongly supports the private option, and I suspect that’s an issue we’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming months, whether Cotton wants to take a position or not.
p.s. for those curious about the OPM (Obama per minute) rate, in his prepared remarks, Cotton managed to say “Obama” 14 times in 4 minutes. He only said “Obamacare” once, maybe taking our advice to diversify.