Jason Conger and Monica Wehby tangle over Obamacare
PolitiFact Oregon has been getting an earful from the campaigns of Monica Wehby and Jason Conger -- Republicans vying to take on U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in November’s general election.
Both candidates want to talk about the campaign’s pivotal issue, health care. Or, more specifically, who opposes Obamacare more?
Conger, a second-term legislator from Bend, insists he has always opposed the Affordable Care Act and voted for bills that established the Cover Oregon insurance exchange only because they represented the lesser or two evils.
He and some Republicans joined most Democrats out of a sense of states' rights, Conger said. Oregon’s failure to establish its own insurance exchange would only have prompted the federal government to take that step on its own.
Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, told a gathering of conservatives recently that Conger has voted "five times to aid and abet Oregon’s Obamacare." A billboard carrying the same message also appeared in recent weeks.
PolitiFact Oregon decided to do some checks.
Charlie Pearce, Wehby's campaign manager, sees the claim as a straightforward fact.
"There’s a million reasons why Cover Oregon is Obamacare in Oregon," he said. "The bills he voted for say this is how Oregon’s laws will be aligned to fit the Affordable Care Act. It’s really pretty simple."
Jordan Conger, the candidate’s son and campaign manager, couldn’t disagree more.
"We don’t believe for a second that’s an accurate representation," he said. "Jason Conger is a state legislator. Obamacare is federal law. Federal law pre-empts state law, meaning the state of Oregon has no choice about whether or not to adopt Obamacare."
The younger Conger said a letter from Dexter Johnson, legislative counsel, bolsters his claim. Johnson’s letter, dated Feb. 20, 2014, includes these points:
Johnson’s office has drafted no bills allowing the federal or state government to take control of health care.
The office has identified no bills that expressed support for the ACA.
The Oregon Legislature has never voted for or against the implementation of Obamacare.
"I welcome an accurate discussion of any of those votes," Conger said. "But to say he voted on something as a state legislator that’s actually impossible for him to vote on is way off base."
Replied Pearce, "He’s the only Republican in the House who voted yes on every single health care bill related to Obamacare. Obama wanted people to vote for this law, and that’s what Jason Conger did."
Jim Moore, an assistant professor who teaches political science at Pacific University, has his own take on the situation – and it won’t thrill the Congers.
"Is Cover Oregon the ACA?" he said. "I think you can make that assertion. States that didn’t let the feds do the ACA for them got permission to do ACA-like things in their states. They are part and parcel of the same thing."
Moore noted that the back and forth between Wehby and Conger on this issue has been going on for some time now.
"The first time she brought it up, his response was: 'That’s not what I meant,' " Moore said. "A complete dud of an answer. It surprises me that he hasn’t come up with something stronger since then."
He deducts points from both candidates, meanwhile, for running what he calls "low-level campaigns."
"We have two candidates who are not known at all around the state and yet I’ve seen neither launch a real effort to establish that identity," Moore said. "Ballots go out at the end of next week. It’s surprising to me."