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Obama's Fix Fails to Satisfy Some Democrats

Obama's Fix Fails to Satisfy Some Democrats

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 14, 2013

President Obama's announcement that he will allow a one-year delay of cancellation notices for current health insurance policies, even if they don't comply with the Affordable Care Act, triggered relief among some congressional Democrats, but others are concerned it doesn’t go far enough.

Democrats like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose bill would extend current policies indefinitely, still want legislative fixes to supplement the president’s directive “to make it stick," Landrieu said, noting that she was “encouraged” by the president’s solution but will continue to push her legislation. "I remain willing to work with anyone who wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and keep the significant promise that it holds for our country,” she said.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has endorsed Landrieu’s bill, said that while the White House proposal is “a step in the right direction,” it doesn’t go far enough. “The concept was … you could chose between the individual plan you have and the plans that were on the exchange and without any limitation on the length that you could keep the plan that you had,” he explained.

Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly also got behind the bill on Thursday, joining several other red-state Democrats.

But leadership members like Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois said the administration’s proposal is sufficient and there isn’t a need for legislative action to address the cancellations.

Obama’s offer comes amid growing discomfort among his party members with the flawed rollout of the health care law. Over the past several days, Democratic lawmakers, including those who have been steadfast in their support for the law, have demanded that the White House address constituents’ outrage over their canceled plans.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats would propose their own legislative fix to accompany the president’s. “Think of a belt and suspenders,” she said Thursday morning ahead of the Obama’s announcement. “What the president will put forth will be one, and what we will do with be the other. But everything will be under control by tomorrow afternoon.”

Pelosi, who pushed the Affordable Care Act through her chamber in 2010, said her caucus is united about the need to change the law so buyers in the individual market can keep their policies, a promise the president made repeatedly when explaining the legislation. “We’re all of one mind. … We must have a fix, and we will,” she told reporters.

Having a separate, legislative fix could provide some cover to Democratic members in GOP-targeted districts.

House Democrats met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Thursday afternoon to talk about the proposed changes. Afterward, Pelosi they would present legislation on Friday, and that the caucus was “ in the process of building consensus around it.”

But there are mixed feelings on the Senate side, where members also met with McDonough earlier in the day.

Iowa’s Tom Harkin, a progressive who has been wary of changes to the law, said he hoped the president would ensure that "if we're going to extend it for a year ... then insurance companies that have these policies must inform people what it lacks from what we have in the Affordable Care Act.

"The harm [of the transition period] is that we'll still have a lot of people that might not be adequately covered."

On Friday, the House will vote on a Republican measure that would allow insurance companies to continue selling current policies for year -- a bill that Democratic leaders say would undermine Obamacare because it would allow policies that don’t meet the law’s coverage requirement to be purchased by new buyers, and not just maintain plans for those already enrolled. Many Democrats have said that without an alternative, they could vote for the GOP bill, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Pelosi asserted that the president’s proposal and the one from her caucus would do enough to calm those restive lawmakers. “We’ll be good,” she said. “We will do what we have to do.”

House Speaker John Boehner, though, said he was “highly skeptical” that the president could legally solve the problem through administrative action. Republicans have been using Obama’s apology for the canceled plans to build a case against the president’s credibility and the need to repeal a law they believe is beyond repair.

“When it comes to this health care law, the White House doesn’t have much credibility,” Boehner told reporters. “The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all. There is no way to fix this.”

Sen. John McCain echoed this, saying Obama is “kicking the can down the road, not addressing the fundamental problems with Obamacare.

"Scrap it. Start over. That's the way to do it. Try to get some bipartisan [support] because it's totally partisan."

After Friday’s vote, a GOP aide said, House Republicans will continue to put forward bills that chip away at the law and put further pressure on Democrats, and they will continue to maintain oversight with aggressive hearings. 

Adam O'Neal contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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