FRANKFORT — Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul said Medicaid's lenient eligibility standards have led to "intergenerational welfare" in a discussion Monday with three members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Paul later campaigned in Lexington with his GOP opponent in the spring, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, and asked why his Democratic rival, Jack Conway, does not enjoy strong backing from his primary election conquest, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.
Conway's campaign responded by saying Mongiardo will appear with Conway Saturday night at a Democratic dinner in Louisville.
With less than a month to go in the U.S. Senate race before the Nov. 2 general election, Paul was interviewed on five issues by three chamber leaders.
On major changes in government, Paul said the country needs a balanced budget amendment and must better control spending on federal entitlement programs.
He focused on the high costs of Medicaid, a federal-state health-insurance program that covers about 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians and costs nearly $6 billion.
"When we have a government program to help those who are in need or who have unfortunate problems, let's help those truly in need," Paul said.
He contended that lenient eligibility standards have led to "intergenerational welfare."
Conway's campaign press secretary, John Collins, said Paul's comments were "troubling and show how far out of touch he is with life in Kentucky."
Sheila Schuster, who works with organizations that advocate for disabled Kentuckians, said the state does not have the most liberal eligibility standards for Medicaid and disputed that it has become a welfare system.
"It's a system of taking care of people with serious needs," she said, noting that she is not endorsing any candidate in the Senate race.
Schuster acknowledged there might be some people receiving Medicaid who shouldn't, but she does not think it's a large number.
"Any system will have some degree of fraud, but I recall how the administration of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher said it would get rid of waste, fraud and abuse and didn't turn up many who shouldn't be on the Medicaid rolls," she said.
During a segment dealing with education, Paul said Kentucky lost out on federal funding from the Race to the Top program this summer in part because its application did not include charter schools, which operate outside many of the rules of regular schools.
Kentucky had hoped to receive $175 million from the program designed by President Barack Obama's administration to reward innovative efforts to improve schools.
Paul said he favors charter schools and school choice, including vouchers to allow families to select the public or private schools of their choice and have all or part of the tuition paid.
He also said busing of students to schools two to three hours from home has not worked.
The candidate, a Bowling Green eye surgeon who is making his first bid for public office, stopped short of calling for elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, which he has done previously.
Concerning federal government spending, Paul said every agency should be scrutinized. He specifically criticized the U.S. Department of Commerce's use of jets to fly corporate officials "around the world looking for jobs," and said there is waste in military spending.
Paul has previously said the Department of Commerce should be eliminated.
On energy and the environment, Paul criticized "an out-of-control bureaucracy" of regulations, saying the nation's air is 30 percent cleaner than it was 30 years ago.
He emphasized the role of coal and said nuclear energy should be part of the country's energy strategy.
On health, Paul said the entire federal health care reform act backed by Obama should be repealed but acknowledged that would be difficult with the president's veto power.
He said the legislation might have to be changed piecemeal.
The law will increase insurance premiums and be burdensome to businesses, Paul said.
He said the legislation should have allowed more competition among insurance companies "to drive prices down" and should have encouraged more health savings accounts.
He also said he favors tax credits for employer-sponsored wellness programs.
The interview with Paul will be posted on the chamber's Web site later this week. Chamber president Dave Adkisson said Conway has been invited to participate in a similar discussion but has not accepted yet.
Conway spokeswoman Allison Haley said Conway intends to participate in the chamber's roundtable.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Paul, but the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce will not be endorsing a candidate, Adkisson said.