Democrats at the White House and in Congress find themselves in an ever-tightening vise over all those canceled health insurance policies.
House Republicans plan a vote as soon as Friday on a bill that would allow people to keep health plans they like, just as President Obama said they’d be able to (until it became clear they couldn’t) under the Affordable Care Act.
Pressure from a far different voice is coming from former President Bill Clinton, who said in an interview published Tuesday that the Obama administration should keep the pledge. “I personally believe that even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got,” said Clinton
To which House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio., replied: “I applaud President Clinton for joining the bipartisan call for President Obama to keep his promise to the American people.”
Behind all of this, of course, is the public-relations disaster that is the steady stream of anecdotes from all those people holding insurance policy cancellation letters.
That helps explain why Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., second in the House Democratic hierarchy, didn’t rule out supporting the GOP legislation dubbed the “Keep Your Health Care Plan Act of 2013” (although he sounded like a man who’d prefer to drink muddy water rather than vote for a bill whose passage would hand Obamacare’s Republican foes a significant victory).
“We’ll see what the bill says before I make a determination,” Hoyer told journalists at a Tuesday briefing. The legislation was crafted by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Hoyer’s clear preference is for the Obama White House to find an administrative workaround, ideally before the likely House vote Friday.
Asked if House Democrats would be pressing the White House for a solution, Hoyer said: “[I] don’t know whether we’ll press them, but they say they’re coming up with it. But sooner rather than later [telling us] what they’re thinking … would be better, yes.”
Curiously, at about the time Hoyer left the door open to the Upton bill, White House press secretary Jay Carney seemed intent on closing it.
“Broadly speaking … we do not see that as fixing the problem; we see that as throwing the, you know, baby out with the bath water,” Carney said of Upton’s bill. The problem with the measure, Carney said, is it would let insurance companies sell policies that failed to meet the higher coverage standards set by Obamacare.
If the White House doesn’t find an answer before the House votes on the Upton bill, Democratic leaders could see a significant part of their caucus vote with Republicans.
That happened on July 17, when 35 Democrats — some facing close re-election races next year, like Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Nick Rahall of West Virginia — voted yes on a bill that passed the House that would have delayed the individual mandate for a year. It was ignored by the Senate.