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Rockefeller comments rile GOP senator

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

A Republican senator did not take kindly to comments from Sen. Jay Rockefeller when the West Virginia Democrat again said some opposition to the new federal health care overhaul is tied to dislike of President Barack Obama’s race.

The comments, similar to others from Rockefeller that also drew national attention, led to something of a squabble between Rockefeller and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., during a Senate committee meeting.

Rockefeller was heading a meeting of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee about what he considers the successes of the medical loss ratio requirements in the Affordable Care Act.

While describing the program — where insurance companies must refund premium costs if they don’t spend at least 80 percent of the money on medical care — Rockefeller talked about receiving emails from people lamenting the federal legislation, also known as Obamacare.

“Especially from people who’ve made up their mind that they don’t want it to work, because they don’t like the president. Maybe he’s of the wrong color, something of that sort,” Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller made similar comments recently during a different committee hearing, drawing the attention of national media and others. At the time Rockefeller, who is retiring at the end of the year, said he was angry at himself for not speaking up sooner.

No one spoke to those comments during the meeting when he made them, though.

About 20 minutes after Rockefeller’s initial comments, Johnson said he was deeply offended Rockefeller implied he was a racist.

“I didn’t object to (the law) because of the race of the president. I objected to this because it is an assault on our freedom,” Johnson said.

“And Mr. Chairman I have to admit, I have a great deal of respect for you, but I’m the only one in the room, and I found it very offensive that you would basically imply that I’m a racist because I opposed this health care law.”

Johnson’s response ignited a fairly heated back and forth with Rockefeller. They were the only two committee members at the hearing at the time.

Rockefeller said he thought the senator wanted to go back to the health care system in place before the changes made by the Affordable Care Act.

“You’re evidently satisfied with a lot of people not having health insurance…” Rockefeller said, before Johnson interjected.

“I am not! Quit making those assumptions, quit saying I am satisfied with that, I am not,” the Wisconsin Republican replied.

“Please don’t assume, don’t make implications of what I’m thinking and what I would really support, you have no idea.”

Rockefeller quickly responded.

“I actually do. And… you know, God help you.”

“No, no senator, God help you for implying I’m a racist because I oppose this health care law!” Johnson said.

The exchange lasted a few minutes longer, with Rockefeller eventually declining Johnson’s request to play back a recording of the hearing to the point where the GOP senator thought he was called a racist.

A Rockefeller spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Complete video of the hearing is available at www.dailymailwv.com in the Capitol Notebook blog. Links to stories from Politico and the Huffington Post — both of which quickly picked up on the exchange, are also available at the Daily Mail’s website.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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