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Rahall, Manchin, Begich: J. Scott Applewhite/AP • Landrieu: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call/getty images • Udall: Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images • Sheehan: Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Democrats in disarray

Healthcare | President Obama’s signature law threatens to fracture his party

Issue: "2013 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 14, 2013

During the push to pass Obamacare in 2010, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pleaded, “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.”

More than three years later America is finding out what’s in the mammoth new government program: a dysfunctional website, millions of canceled insurance polices, and higher premiums.

Despite the disastrous rollout, Pelosi on Nov. 17 refused to back away from Obamacare. “I will tell you this: Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

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But 39 House Democrats didn’t receive Pelosi’s message to stand tall. Worried about the effect Obamacare may have on their reelection chances, those Democrats broke party ranks and voted for a Republican-led measure allowing individuals to keep their current insurance plans. It was the largest revolt of Democrats on a congressional vote this year.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., gave the Obamacare rollout a grade of F-minus. “Heads should have rolled in my opinion,” he said.

In the Senate, Democrats lined up to sponsor bills changing the healthcare law many of them once championed. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., authored bills addressing the millions of canceled plans. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote legislation delaying the penalty assessed to individuals who don’t buy insurance. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has a bill extending the enrollment period beyond the current March 31 deadline. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, pushed legislation creating a new “copper plan” healthcare option.

Many of the bills do little more than provide their authors political cover heading into tough reelection battles. But with their Senate leader, Harry Reid, refusing to bring their bills to floor, the maneuverings highlight a fracturing party. That fissure could burst open if Obamacare continues to falter and party leaders balk at changes.

Democrats saying they want to “fix” Obamacare surely have been reading the latest polls. Support for Obamacare dropped 16 points in one month among Democrats. Just 7 percent of Americans think the law is working. A Gallup poll seven years ago found 69 percent of Americans believed the government should be responsible for healthcare. But a new Gallup poll now shows that 56 percent of Americans believe government should not be responsible for healthcare. The president’s approval rating dropped to its lowest ever in at least six major polls. A Nov. 20 CBS News poll pegged Obama’s approval rating at 37 percent, versus 57 percent disapproval. 

Obama tried to help his fellow Democrats by offering a one-year reprieve on the canceled polices. But the National Association of Insurance Commissioners threw cold water on Obama’s effort, arguing that his late change would undermine the marketplace and lead to higher premiums. Several states are declining to accept Obama’s option.

Meanwhile, Democrats are bracing for the next Obamacare bombshell. That likely will occur when a second Obama pledge crumbles. Despite Obama’s repeated promises that Americans could keep their doctors, there will be fewer choices in doctors and hospitals under Obamacare. In New Hampshire, 10 out of 26 major hospitals are excluded from Obamacare. A medical group survey of about 48,000 physicians this fall found that less than 30 percent would join the Obamacare exchanges. And a second wave of policy cancellations is expected to hit next fall just in time for the midterm elections. The American Enterprise Institute predicts that as many as 100 million polices could be affected as business plans try to comply with Obamacare’s mandates.

A 22-page strategy memo given to Democrats in mid-November by the White House urged lawmakers to change the subject by talking about October’s government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate.

But Republicans are not going to let Democrats rewind the clock or hide their support for Obamacare: The Republican National Committee on Nov. 20 invited Democrats to a mock Obamacare press conference that included a photo opportunity in front of a banner reading “Eager and Proud to Run on Obamacare in 2014.”

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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