Paul Ryan’s gift to Tom Perriello

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello may have found the catalyzing issue that gives substance to his campaign’s resistance theme. He will have House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to thank for it.

Ryan and House leaders rolled out their opening bid in the Obamacare repeal and replace sweepstakes. Ryan called the plan “an act of mercy,” offering an alternative that he promised would gain the necessary 218 votes to pass the House.

It was a bold prediction, considering the intra-party opposition to his proposal. Democrats, naturally, opposed the Ryan plan in total. But Perriello, who has more on the political line — and sooner — than congressional Democrats, took the Ryan idea and ran with it. On his Facebook page, Perriello wrote, in part:

Republicans, this is not a damn game. These are people’s lives. The only Americans who will not be harmed by the havoc you wreak with this cowardly Trumpcare bill are insurance CEOs.

That’s fairly strong stuff coming from a statewide candidate not named Corey A. Stewart.

But there’s also a bit of populist genius in this small portion of Perriello’s diatribe (which also extended to Medicaid, mental health care and a mention of him losing his House re-election bid for his vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act).

The swipe at insurance company executives relates to a section of the Ryan proposal that would make it easier or insurance companies to deduct the compensation they pay to their chief executive officers.

The Affordable Care Act caps the deduction amount at $500,000. The Republican plan would raise the cap to $1 million and could be construed to include other compensation, a benefit to health insurers potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.

For a candidate like Perriello, who has been preaching resistance to Trump’s Washington from the beginning of his campaign for Virginia governor, this little nugget, buried in the GOP bill, was a princely gift.

As Christopher Newport University professor Quentin Kidd told me, resistance alone might not be enough to carry a candidate like Perriello to victory.

Kidd said the Virginia gubernatorial race, as well one underway in New Jersey,  “are likely to be taken over to some extent and refocused as referendums on Trump.”

“Part of what will make this more likely,” Kidd said,  “is the focus on [the Affordable Care Act].”

What of the June primary, where Perriello faces off against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam? That remains to be seen. Northam’s response to the Ryan plan focused on abortion.

In a statement, Northam called the GOP plan “shoddy,” “dangerous” and a “despicable effort to bar women from accessing the quality, affordable healthcare.”

That’s fairly strong wording, too. But it is so focused as to be almost focus-grouped.

In short, Perriello, who has long held the rhetorical advantage over Northam, now seems to be stealing the march from him on Obamacare, too.The polling on the gubernatorial race reflects this to some extent.

A Feb. 16 Quinnipiac poll showed Northam and Perriello tied at 19 percent, though “undecided” ran away with the contest at 61 percent.

Conversely, a Feb. 2 Christopher Newport poll showed Northam leading Perriello 26 percent to 15 percent, with 59 percent undecided. That same poll showed 52 percent of Virginians would only support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act if a replacement was “ready.”

The group most opposed to repeal at all: liberals, at 79 percent. The heart of the Democratic resistance is with both Democrats on the ACA. But Northam is positioning his opposition in the narrowest terms. It’s a more traditional approach, and in the Age of Trump, “traditional” is fast becoming a synonym for “sad.”

Perriello has identified and begun exploiting Ryan’s legislative gift. It could end up turning resistance from a romantic ideal into hard, political reality.

-Submitted by Norman Leahy


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