House Democrats are deeply divided about how to address the problem of millions of Americans being thrown off their health-care plans because of Obamacare, with an increasing number clamoring for changes to the health-care law even as White House aides pushed hard against a GOP bill to fix the issue.
At a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol today, David Simas, an assistant to the president and deputy senior advisor for communications and strategy, told Democrats that a Republican bill slated for the House floor would “put the insurance companies back in charge,” in the words of Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a close ally of Nancy Pelosi who was fiercely opposed to altering the law.
But among those exiting the meeting, the momentum seemed to be with those pushing to alter the law.
“We have to come up with a solution to the issue of all these canceled policies,” said Representative Tim Bishop of New York.
“We definitely need to look at making sure that folks that had a plan — even though it might not meet the Patient Bill of Rights, it might meet the minimum standards — that, if people want to keep it, then that’s their obligation. They’re smart enough to understand what the plan is. I think the insurance company should probably have to disclose that that plan does not meet those standards. But if they still want to keep it, that’s fine. They’re adults,” said freshman congressman Patrick Murphy.
White House official Simas told Democrats the president’s team was working on ways to address the canceled plans but did not offer any specifics about the proposals under consideration, several Democratic members said. No timetable was given either, although one member said Simas hinted a proposal could come as early as this afternoon.
In a press conference after the meeting, top Democrats toed the party line, maintaining that the health-care law was not the reason people’s plans were being canceled and saying a GOP bill to allow people to keep their current plans would make the situation worse.
“There’s nothing in the Affordable Care Act that is requiring these policies to be canceled,” said Representative Xavier Becerra, the third-ranking member of Democratic leadership as caucus chairman.
“The problem with [the GOP bill introduced by Representative Fred Upton] is that it’s going to jack up premiums dramatically next year, so it creates more problems than it solves. We’re looking for other things we can do to address some of the issues that have been raised,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democratic member on the House Budget Committee.
Vice caucus chairman Representative Joe Crowley said one reason Democrats are holding firm is that they worked so hard to get the law enacted in the first place, seeming to compare the situation to a battle in which soldiers find inspiration in the memories of their fallen comrades.
“My colleagues also recognize the sacrifices that were made by our caucus in the passage of this law and they’re committed to seeing this bill through,” he said. Crowley clarified that by “sacrifices” he meant the political “heat” Democrats had taken over enacting the law.
That heat is continuing today, with vulnerable Senate Democrats in particular taking big hits in public-opinion polls of late.
Asked about how dire the situation is, Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said urgency is key.
“If it gets fixed and gets fixed sooner than later, the solution will be more important than the politics,” Israel said, adding, “I got the sense that the White House got the sense that it needs to be fixed.”