Democrats Brace For Messy Vote

by Jonathan Strong & Betsy Woodruff

House Democrats are bracing themselves for a messy intra-caucus split today. Dozens of rank-and-file Democrats are expected to defect from the party line and vote in favor of Republican representative Fred Upton’s bill that aims to let people keep insurance policies that were recently canceled. It’s doubtful the legislation has a rosy future in the upper chamber (Representative Chris Van Hollen says “it’s not going to go anywhere in the Senate”), but the vote lets members register discontent with the Affordable Care Act. And many Democrats in purple and red districts will probably take that opportunity.

Not everyone in their party is thrilled about it. Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee told National Review Online that voting for Upton’s bill was “definitely” a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“I think Upton is another attempt to put a dagger in the heart of the Affordable Care Act,” he says. But when asked what it’s like handling the gaping rift in his caucus, he said, “I think this — I can’t answer that.”

One senior GOP aide tells NRO that Democrats’ behind-the-scenes efforts against the Upton bill are more concerted than some might think, though Democratic leadership isn’t formally whipping the bill.

“Pelosi on the House floor personally arm-twisting — never seen anything like it,” he says.  

And Representative Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.) says that Democratic support for Upton’s bill seems more motivated by political expedience than interest in good policymaking.

“This vote, in terms of the split, from the colleagues I’ve talked to, is more of a tactical political move than it is of substance,” he says, “and that’s too bad, because there’s some substance issues here at stake too.”

One of the Democrats expected to defect, Representative Bill Pascrell  of New Jersey, tells NRO that in a caucus meeting he told members he would support Upton’s bill if Democrats didn’t supply a viable alternative.

And, he says, “I haven’t seen the total alternative ye. We tweaked it a couple of times during the night.”

He didn’t seem wholly confident in the president’s administrative fix. 

“We’re tweaking it,” he says. “And we will tweak it.”

Just an hour before the vote, Maryland freshman John Delaney told NRO he hadn’t made up his mind. “I’m still considering it,” he says. “Still reading things and just trying to see if the president’s measures do enough.” He adds that the law’s implementation is “obviously off to a bad start” but said he felt House Democratic leadership gave him flexibility on the vote.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) was optimistic.

“I don’t know how many votes that we’re going to get from Democrats,” she says. “I have heard many of them feel the president’s administrative fix is a good one, they feel confident that within 30 days plus, or maybe under 30 days, the system will be up and running.”