Obama fails to calm jittery Dems
By Alexander Bolton and Russell Berman - 11/14/13 06:34 PM EST
President Obama failed to put jittery Democrats at ease Thursday with a proposal he said would allow millions of people to keep their insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats facing tough reelection races in 2014 praised Obama’s proposed administrative fix but said it did not go far enough.
“It’s not a magic wand that makes every other concern disappear. The website’s not working, that’s still a problem,” said a Senate Democratic aide.
Several vulnerable Democrats said they would still pursue legislation to shield people from policy cancellations despite receiving discouragement from their leadership.
“I have a bill. There are other bills that have been filed. We’re going to be working across the aisle,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces a competitive race next year. “Anybody who wants to work with me or anybody else to fix it, I’ll be willing.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he prefers Landrieu’s plan to Obama’s suggested fix.
“I’m continuing to support the Landrieu bill, which goes a little further,” he said after meeting with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Merkley said Obama’s proposal “doesn’t go as far as I like.”
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a top GOP target in 2014, called Obama’s announcement a start but said she would break with Democrats and back a Republican bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that is coming up for a vote on Friday.
“I just think that we should support any reasonable solution and the Upton bill is a reasonable solution and I support it,” she told reporters.
At least four other House Democrats, Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.), also said they would vote for Upton’s bill. Many others said Thursday that they remain undecided.
Upton’s bill would allow insurance companies to continue to offer plans that fall short of the healthcare law’s requirements.
Democratic critics say it would gut ObamaCare because it would allow anyone to purchase plans with holes in coverage, instead of focusing solely on people who already hold the old policies.
The president said Thursday his administration will inform insurance companies that they can continue to offer plans that fail to meet the minimum requirements of ObamaCare through the end of 2014.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said Obama “should have done that two weeks ago” to spare the party a torrent of negative publicity. He said he was undecided about whether to support Upton’s legislation.
Democrats looking at tough races next year want the grace period for sub-standard insurance plans to last longer. Otherwise, the issue of policy cancellations could bubble up again in the final stretch of the campaign season.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed House Democrats have lost their 9-point generic ballot lead over Republicans and are now tied, a month after a government shutdown sank the GOP’s approval rating.
The same poll showed Obama’s job approval rating has dropped to 39 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
Obama admitted Thursday that his administration had “fumbled the rollout on this healthcare law.”
Experts estimate that more than 4 million people could see their insurance policies cancelled because they fail to meet the requirements of ObamaCare.
When Congress was debating the landmark legislation in 2009, the president repeatedly promised: “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan.”
Democrats fear a public backlash if that promise is broken.
“Number one, the president made a promise and I think he should honor it, which he did today,” said Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who has a tough reelection fight next year, said he prefers a plan sponsored by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) that would let people keep their plans through Dec. 31, 2015.
The Udall-Shaheen bill would mandate that insurance companies allow people to renew their health plans for another two years while Obama’s fix would not impose such a mandate and would provide a transition period of only one year.
Democrats are split over whether Obama’s administrative fix would prove adequate.
Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday insisted Congress does not need to act.
“There is no need for a legislative fix for this issue,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Instead, Congress should continue to work with the administration to improve the implementation of the law.”
Durbin said lawmakers should redouble efforts to highlight the benefits of the law for millions of people without insurance.
House Democratic leaders have yet to say whether they'll whip against Upton’s bill.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, hedged when asked the question Thursday evening, saying only that he expects Democrats to be overwhelmingly opposed to the measure.
Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the man tasked with winning back the House majority for Democrats, said Obama’s move had “unmasked” the Republican legislation as “yet another repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”
“It is no longer necessary to fix the problem because the administration has fixed the problem,” Israel said. “It is only necessary if it is designed as yet another attempt to ambush and sabotage the law.”
But Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he would not urge vulnerable Democrats to oppose the Upton bill.
“I don’t tell them anything,” he said in an interview. “I’ve been consistent in telling our Frontliners to vote in accordance with their priorities and in accordance with their district’s priorities.”