Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.
McConnell releases revised health care proposal, immediately draws criticism from Paul
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has proposed allowing insurance companies to sell low-cost insurance plans and retain some taxes on high income earners as he tries to sway moderate and hardline Republicans to vote for a bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act.
However, the plan, released Thursday afternoon, immediately came under fire from some of McConnell’s colleagues including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who criticized the plan as a bailout for insurance companies, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who remains worried about deep cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, and said on Twitter that she “will vote no.”
Paul tweeted a link to his column — which first appeared in The Washington Examiner — in which he called McConnell’s bill “crony capitalism” and a guaranteed profit for an insurance industry that already generates an annual profit of about $15 billion.
“I can have an honest debate with socialists about whether one can have a right that confers an obligation on another individual,” Paul wrote, “but I really can’t even admit any intellectual honesty to those in Congress who now argue that the federal government has a responsibility to confer profit to a profitable industry.”
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said the Senate’s new version of the health care bill is “even worse” than the old one.
“It’s incoherent as policy, guts protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and is peppered with special pay-offs to buy the votes of individual Senators,” Yarmuth said in a statement. “It is stunningly cold in its total disregard of the health care needs of American families, and will have life or death consequences for many. Republicans need to end this desperate attempt at a political win no matter the cost, and work with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act.”
McConnell, the senate majority leader, has struggled to unify senators to fulfill a promise that Republicans have made to voters for years: repealing and replacing the ACA, informally known as Obamacare.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that McConnell’s initial proposal would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion through 2026, but also would reduce the number of Americans with health insurance by 22 million, mainly because of Medicaid cuts. The ACA’s Medicaid expansion has provided millions of Americans, many with critical illnesses, with health care. For example, the expansion provided health insurance to more than 400,000 Kentuckians. Thursday’s proposal has not been scored by the CBO.
Some insurers, including Humana, have said they have lost millions of dollars on the health care exchanges that are a central part of the ACA. The problems have arisen in part because young, healthier people have refused to buy insurance, despite the ACA requiring that everyone buy coverage. The lack of premiums from those healthier customers have undermined insurer’s margins as they have been left with a greater-than-expected number of sick patients who need expensive health care.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said his proposal to allow insurance companies to sell bare-bones low-cost plans, would give consumers more choices and access to less expensive plans, in part in the hope that the cheaper plans might stabilize the market by enticing more healthy people to obtain coverage. However, the insurance industry warned that the proposal would allow insurers to ban consumers for pre-existing conditions and “would create greater instability in the marketplace” by essentially producing two risk pools, one inexpensive one for healthy customers and an expensive one for customers with high health care costs.
McConnell remains determined to get a bill passed. He said this week that he planned to delay the coming recess and keep senators in Washington, D.C., for the first two weeks of August. Vice President Mike Pence visited Lexington this week to support McConnell and promised that President Donald Trump would not give up until Obamacare is repealed. Trump said this week that it would be “very bad” if Congress failed to repeal the ACA and that such a defeat would make him “very angry.”
McConnell initially wanted to vote on the proposal before the July 4 holiday but delayed the vote after he could not find enough Republican supporters. A vote on his new proposal is scheduled for next week. —Boris Ladwig
Will the Omni Louisville open sooner than expected?
The more than $320 million Omni Louisville will receive a “bourbon baptism” this morning to celebrate the fact that the hotel and luxury apartment has reached its peak.
Construction started on the Omni in January, and month by month, it has continued to climb higher, finally ascending to its final height of 30 stories. Omni officials, Mayor Greg Fischer and master bourbon distillers from around Kentucky will celebrate the topping off of the building at 9:30 a.m. today.
Omni officials are expected to give the media an updated timeline for the project and likely announce that the development is ahead of schedule.
Given the current progress and the number of traditionally warm and dry days still ahead in Louisville, the Omni Louisville could debut before its previously stated spring 2018 deadline.
Check Insider Louisville later this morning for updates on the Omni Louisville.
Once complete, the Omni Louisville will have 612 hotel rooms and 225 luxury apartments, 70,000 square feet of meeting and event space and a 20,000-square-foot urban grocery and market, among other amenities. —Caitlin Bowling
JCTC now offering credit to Code Louisville graduates
Despite threat to bourbon export biz, Buffalo Trace plows ahead with $200 million expansion
For the moment, the looming threat on bourbon’s export business is just speculation. And that means it’s business as usual at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, which is on schedule to match the all-time high barrel production numbers set in 1973.
The distillery, run by the family owned Sazerac company out of New Orleans, is in the midst of a $200 million expansion that includes new rick houses, a relocation of the bottling line and new cookers and fermenters in the distillery.
Two new barrel warehouses will be constructed on 200 acres of nearby farmland Buffalo Trace bought a few years ago and are the first rick houses with significant capacity built at the distillery since 1951. The first one will be completed by the end of this year and will hold 55,000 barrels.
After that, a new warehouse will be built every four months for the next several years at $7 million a pop.
With all this expansion, does it mean bourbon-lovers will have easier access to Buffalo Trace products like W.L. Weller 12 and Elmer T. Lee? Well, yes — eventually.
“While we have steadily increased bourbon production over the years, demand for our brands continues to outpace supply,” said Kris Comstock, senior marketing director, in a press release. “Growth will be modest over the next few years, dictated by the number of barrels filled years ago. Most will be sold in the United States where demand continues to rise.”
So 12 years from now, we’re guessing it’ll be easier to come by a Weller 12 at your local liquor store. But 12 years ago, in 2005, most companies weren’t putting away the inventory they are now, so there just aren’t enough barrels turning 12 to satisfy our appetite.
Here comes the Sun King — finally!
Craft beer fans have not been this happy since Fat Tire rolled its way into town. Sun King Brewery, one of Indiana’s largest craft brewers, finally will distribute its quality beers in Louisville beginning in August.
Sun King, based in Indianapolis, produces award-winning beers like Sunlight Cream Ale, Wee Mac Scottish Ale and Osiris Pale Ale, as well as seasonal offerings like Pachanga, Fistful of Hops, Oktoberfest and a rotating IPA series.
According to the press release, Sun King not only invested $2 million to expand its Indy brewery but also worked to overturn the state’s antiquated liquor laws that kept them to a minimum on production.
“We’re now in a position to not only meet the demands of Hoosiers throughout the state, but also to share our beer in other markets where craft beer enthusiasts want to enjoy it,” said co-owner Clay Robinson in the release. “Louisville is one of those places.”
Sun King will be handled by River City Distributing, and you can expect to find it in liquor stores, grocery stores and area bars. Keep an eye out for “tap takeovers” at various bars as we get closer to August. —Sara Havens
Ownership of longtime Prospect restaurant changes hands
With the news that J. Harrod’s Restaurant was adding some girl power, the restaurant’s founder Mike Francis announced that he was retiring and that two employees, Charissa Humston and Jenny Neaveill, had purchased the business.
Francis founded J. Harrod’s Restaurant, at 7507 River Road, in 1994.
In addition to dinner service, the restaurant offers catering and delivery services. Humston and Neaveill hope to expand those services by offering boxed lunches and delivery to nearby businesses, according to a press release.
They also plan serve a diverse selection of specials but keep J. Harrod’s “consistent for its customers,” according to the release.
When Insider visited the Jim Beam Distillery this spring to hear about the new Booker’s release, we spotted a new product on the bottling line during the tour. We were told to keep it a secret, but the cat’s out of the bag and social media is abuzz with talk of the new Jim Beam Vanilla. It’ll officially be released on July 25, but you might see it on shelves any day now. The 70-proof whiskey combines Beam bourbon with vanilla bean from Madagascar. We imagine it would make a mighty fine whiskey and Coke.
Yafa Cafe, which was one of several businesses that were forced to close when Kindred snapped up a huge swath of Theatre Square, has now reopened at 617 S. Fifth Street. Even though the home of delicious shawarma, falafel and other Mediterranean foods is just down the street from Insider HQ, somehow we missed this.
Also, open (or half-open) is the doggie day care in the former Mr. Transmission building on Baxter Ave. When you drive by the building, you’ll now see the bay doors wide open and playful pups bounding around and barking. Diditformydogs Social Club is open for business, although the retail part of the business is still to come.
Scoppechio Advertising has opened a downtown Cincinnati office at 615 Main Street. The office will be led by two former Interbrand Cincinnati employees: Rob Jones, who will oversee client services, and Steve Leder as head of creative. Cincinnati clients Scoppechio is currently engaged with include Gold Star Chili, 50 West Brewing, Kao Brands and Coney Island.