Heck’s Health-Care Problems the Least of it

Republican Rep. Joe Heck is in a tough re-election fight against departing Assembly Speaker John Oceguera. Heck has taken stands related to two recent Supreme Court decisions, but whether they help or hurt him is debatable, and may matter less than a totally different issue that has come up.

The court recently held the Affordable Care Act—Romneycare in historical origin, Obamacare by more recent claim—to be constitutional, although the 5-4 decision had more splits than a gymnastics tournament.

Heck spoke at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast, which it holds with the state’s elected officials, and talked about how he knows what’s best on the health care issue because he’s a doctor. Why he didn’t explain that they should replace the eggs with egg whites because of cholesterol is another matter entirely.

Heck is working on legislation to replace the current law if Republicans manage to repeal it. His measure wouldn’t address Medicare funding, which seems unwise when his district includes a significant population over age 55. That gives Oceguera a wedge to attack Heck on health care: The issue isn’t just that Heck opposes a health care bill, but that, as Oceguera can say, he doesn’t propose solutions to problems that affect his district.

Also, Heck may be talking about keeping provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but his very own House speaker, John Boehner, in a weekend television appearance, talked about how the whole thing needs to be repealed and couldn’t be driven off of any of his talking points. If Heck’s leader wants to unload the whole thing, how does Heck argue that he’s trying to keep the good parts of it?

Heck also said he expects the health care law to be a major issue in 2012 Congressional races, and that he has discussed his views with Mitt Romney’s campaign. But Romney’s campaign has been backing away from a health care discussion and trying to keep the focus on the economy, which leads to questions about what Heck is thinking. 

Meanwhile, Heck is responding to the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision tossing out “stolen valor” laws—in other words, laws against claiming you served in the military when you didn’t. Heck wants to pass a law making it a crime to benefit from such a lie—not to limit free speech. That’s good. No one should argue with that. The question is whether the bill can survive amendments that could put its provisions in conflict with the court’s recent decision. But he has widespread support for the bill, as he should.

That may help ameliorate what could prove to be Heck’s biggest problem in the campaign: the news that his wife, Lisa, collected unemployment benefits in 2011 after losing her job. Well, that seems reasonable, except that Heck belongs to a party that has opposed extending such benefits, among other programs to help the unemployed and underemployed. More interestingly, the job Heck’s wife lost was
as a nurse at a medical-consulting firm whose president was … her husband. Why did the firm shut down? Well, see, her husband won an election to Congress, so he had other things to do.

For Oceguera, this is manna from heaven. Heck’s backers have attacked and will continue to attack him for having been a public employee. They can and will argue that Heck’s wife paid into the system and is entitled to its benefits.

Except that if you want to cut government spending, should you be saying it’s all right for you to receive government money? Considering how many Republicans swilled up stimulus money after opposing the bill, and how Democrats are pounding them for that, Heck is likely to be connected to that kind of thinking.

And that’s without even mentioning the egg whites.