By Alexander Bolton - 02/27/14 06:00 AM EST
Centrist Democratic senators are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring legislation fixing ObamaCare to the floor.
The lawmakers say their leadership has been too reluctant to bring healthcare fixes up for votes.
“You got to move forward and get to the working parts and make sure you’re working toward fixing the parts that are broken if you can. If you can’t, repeal them,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is backing several bills to change the healthcare law, including one offered by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep health plans that fail to meet the requirements of ObamaCare for as long as they like.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is pressing Reid to bring up for a vote her bill, which would extend the enrollment period for ObamaCare, now scheduled to end on March 31.
She also supports legislation sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would let people keep health insurance plans that fail to meet the law’s standards for two years, through Dec. 31, 2015.
Shaheen’s office said she wants votes on her bills this year, noting the open enrollment period is about to end.
“The real question is why Democratic leadership hasn’t called any of these votes,” a Democratic aide said.
For now, Reid does not plan to schedule votes on any of the bills sponsored by Democrats to fix various elements of the Affordable Care Act.
A Democratic leadership aide said the clamor among Democratic lawmakers to vote on the fixes also is considerably softer than it was in the fall.
There are reasons for Democrats to avoid the topic of healthcare entirely given some of the problems with the new law. Republicans have vowed to use ObamaCare in the election-year messaging, and they’ve long said the law’s unpopularity will help them win back the Senate this year.
But Democrats see some advantages for their party in bringing ObamaCare fixes to the floor for votes.
The votes would put Republicans in a tough spot, and some say Reid could want to wait until closer to the election to turn up the heat.
Republican senators are split over whether to focus on repealing the law altogether or reforming it.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Wednesday that he would support a specific repeal of the medical device tax, a proposal many Democrats support.
Republican lawmakers may also find it difficult to vote against legislation sponsored by Landrieu or Udall that would let people keep health plans that fail to meet the law’s requirements.
“It depends on what the fix is,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said.
Risch said he would likely support Landrieu’s proposal “as a general concept.”
“Let’s go back to the free-market system. It’s worked for 240 years,” he said. “Except I don’t think the Democrats are going to let her vote on something like that.”
“A bipartisan effort to undo the egregious parts of ObamaCare that are simply not working or repeal would be welcomed,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said.
Other Republicans say the law is too flawed to be fixed.
“There’s no building in such terrible shape it couldn’t be repaired, but in many cases it’s better to tear the old building down and start again with something that truly will work,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said. “I think it’s largely unfixable.”
Manchin said Congress needs to act once it becomes apparent whether the law is working as intended or not.
He is backing bills that would delay the penalty associated with the individual mandate; extend the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a full-time workweek from 30 hours to 40 hours; and remove requirements that force businesses, charities and churches to file excess forms and filings with the IRS.
The latter two provisions may have a decent chance of gaining Republican support and winning passage if they are brought up for votes.
Reid and other Democratic senators have called into question stories about hardships caused by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue but they’re bring told all over America,” Reid said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Senate Democrats including Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Wednesday launched a campaign to highlight what they described as the underappreciated successes of the Affordable Care Act.
“Over the next several months, the ACA is going to become less important as a Republican campaign issue because more and more Americans from young adults all the way up to seniors are realizing the benefits it has to offer,” Schumer said.
“In addition, the parade of horrible stories trotted out by the haters of this bill prove not to be true,” he added.