- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 17, 2016

DENVER — A left-on-left battle broke out Wednesday in Colorado as influential progressives turned on ColoradoCare, the sweeping universal health care initiative threatening to drag down Democratic candidates in November.

ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Ian Silverii, backed by NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado and several Democratic state legislators, delivered a potentially lethal blow to Amendment 69 by coming out against the ambitious single-payer proposal.

They cited a host of concerns, such as the measure’s potential to cut off public funding for abortion by moving to a state-run health care system, but political analysts weren’t buying it.

“The major takeaway from this announcement is that this socialized medicine scheme must be getting annihilated in progressives’ internal polling,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of the free-market group Compass Colorado.

Analysts say Democrats are counting on the progressive left to provide cover for candidates as they seek to abandon ship under Republican fire despite voting to add support for Amendment 69 to the state party platform.

“ProgressNow would be on the front lines of the battle if the measure stood any chance of passing, not least because both organizations are funded in significant part by the same donors,” Ms. Maher said.

Even the liberal website ColoradoPols described ProgressNow’s decision as a necessary sacrifice, concluding that supporting the measure has become “politically non-viable for Democrats in competitive races this year.”

“Recognizing that early, and giving lawmakers up for election cover to stay clear of the measure, is the smart play politically — even if it stings a little in the short term,” ColoradoPols said in a Wednesday post.

Amendment 69 has drawn staunch opposition from Republicans, free market groups and even some Democrats over its estimated $25 billion annual price tag, which would be paid primarily by a 10 percent state income tax hike that would triple the rate to 14.63 percent, the highest in the nation.

Despite that, the Colorado Health Institute released a report Aug. 8 saying that the revenue would fail to cover costs, projecting a $253 million deficit in the program’s first year in 2019 and a budget shortfall of $7.8 billion by 2028.

The initiative also has laid bare the ongoing conflict between the Democratic Party’s pro- and anti-business factions. ColoradoCare’s most visible supporter is state Sen. Irene Aguilar, a Democrat and a physician, and the state’s top Democrats — Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet — came out in opposition this year.

The situation grew testy Wednesday, when Ms. Aguilar, wearing her white lab coat, crashed a press conference hosted by ProgressNow, interrupting Mr. Silverii and asking whether he was doing the bidding of Brandeberry-McKenna, one of several public relations firms hired to fight Amendment 69.

“I have not spoken to anybody from Brandeberry-McKenna,” he insisted before shutting down the press conference.

Mr. Silverii ticked off a list of concerns with ColoradoCare, citing its status as a constitutional amendment, which makes it impossible for the state legislature to tweak it, and its creation of an elected, 21-member board to run the program instead of experienced health care managers.

An analysis by NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado released June 23 said the proposal would inadvertently cut off public funding for abortion by replacing Obamacare with a state-run health care system. The state Constitution forbids taxpayer funding for abortion.

Organizers have argued that replacing Obamacare with ColoradoCare would save residents about $4.5 billion by eliminating the need for medical premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.

ColoradoCareYes spokesman Owen Perkins took aim at ProgressNow for aligning itself with the business community and insurance companies, which have raised $3.6 million to fight ColoradoCare through the Coloradans for Coloradans campaign.

“It’s really concerning to our campaign to see [Progress Now] just doubling down on the talking points of the far right and walking lockstep with the Koch Brothers,” Mr. Perkins told 9News in Denver. “It’s certainly distressing and mystifying.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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