North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrats this election season, and she is now facing a strong Republican candidate in Thom Tillis.
Hagan’s support of the Affordable Care Act has eroded her popularity in North Carolina, where the law overall is not popular. And last month, Republicans signaled they would use the Burwell confirmation process to put vulnerable Democrats on the defensive.
But during a Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Hagan came out swinging, defending the law known as “Obamacare” and subtly blasting her opponent for his opposition.
During her questioning of Burwell (around the 1:50:00 mark), Hagan focused on the law’s expansion of the federal Medicaid program, which has not been adopted in North Carolina.
“Last year in North Carolina, our state legislature and governor decided against expanding the state’s Medicaid program. And as a result, about 500,000 people who would have qualified for coverage through Medicaid are now not able to do so,” Hagan said.
Tillis’ primary campaign touted his role in preventing the adoption of the Medicaid expansion. Hagan clearly saw an opening. At the end of her line of questioning, she asked Burwell how much the state would have to pay to expand coverage.
Burwell, who at first didn’t understand what Hagan was trying to get at, eventually figured out the simplicity of the question.
“That would be zero,” she said. “The state doesn’t pay.”
“For three years, the states pay zero,” Hagan said.
“The federal government will pay for those years,” Burwell said.
The North Carolina Senate race is already split by a razor-thin margin — Hagan leads by less than 1%, according to a Real Clear Politics average of recent polling. But in the lead-up to Tillis’ primary win on Tuesday, the Hagan campaign had begun attacking him for his opposition on the law’s repeal, sending out mailers forcing him to clarify his position on whether he thought the law was a “good idea.”
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