Is the Affordable Care Act in serious jeopardy?

6:54 PM, Nov 17, 2013   |    comments
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With an eye on the 2014 midterm elections, a growing number of Democrats are voicing concerns about the insurance cancellations and website problems that have plagued the debut of the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges - a phenomenon highlighted Friday when 39 House Democrats broke ranks to support a GOP-authored bill that the White House said would undermine a "central premise" of the healthcare law.

It was a remarkable show of disunity from Democrats, who have splintered every which way in reaction to the Obamacare's rocky debut. And it raises an uncomfortable question for congressional Democrats who voted overwhelmingly in 2010 to approve the Affordable Care Act without any Republicans in tow: Will they have the political fortitude to stick to their guns and fend off changes to the law, or will a vulnerable caucus begin to accept alterations to a bill they've steadfastly safeguarded for years?

Despite the anxiety among her troops, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives insisted Sunday she isn't fretting about the law's future.

"I don't think it's in trouble," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. "I think we just have to remain calm, get through the website getting fixed, clarify some misrepresentations about it."

"It's the law of the land," she added. "It's an important health, stability issue, security issue for the American people, and I believe that in a matter of months many more people will see that."

She dismissed the 39 Democratic votes for the GOP's proposal to prevent insurance cancellations by extending 2013 plans through 2014 as a "political" maneuver, noting that a similar number of Democrats joined Republicans on dozens of earlier votes to repeal or alter the law.

But when Pelosi was asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether more Democrats will flee Obamacare ahead of the 2014 election, she declined to speculate.

"I don't think you can tell what will happen next year, but I will tell you this: Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act," she said. "This is an issue that has to be dealt with. But it doesn't mean, oh, it's a political issue so we're going to run away from it. No, it's too valuable for the American people. What is important about it is that the American people are well served, not who gets reelected."

For all of Pelosi's sanguinity, however, it's not clear that the Democratic and rank-and-file is prepared to go to the mat for each of the law's components. And Republicans, for their part, smell blood in the water.

"No matter how much Congresswoman Pelosi tries to spin this, this is a mess," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., appearing directly after the California Democrat on "Meet the Press."

Ayotte repeated her call for a "time-out" on the law, urging lawmakers to "go back to the drawing board" and begin anew on health care reform.

"There are many ideas I think the Republicans are willing to work on a bipartisan basis on, but they have been so stuck on this law and trying to implement it no matter what the cost, no matter what they hear from the American people," she said.

"It's time to start over," agreed Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sunday on CNN. "This health care law is terribly flawed. It is broken. It has failed the American people because they're losing their insurance, they're losing their doctor. Their premiums are going up. I think there's going to be a massive taxpayer bailout needed just to deal with the impact of this health care law."

"This is not what the American people wanted," he said. "The president did not need to destroy a good health care system to try to make a better one, but that's what we have now."

In a move to contain the damage and blunt Republican criticism of the law, the White House on Thursday offered an administrative adjustmentto the law aimed at addressing the rash of insurance cancellations, and several Senate Democrats are moving ahead with similar proposals of their own. Led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., these Democrats, many of them facing tough race in 2014, have said the administration's administrative fix is helpful, but it won't stop them from offering a legislative remedy that would allow people to retain plans that had been canceled.

Yet even as they tinker with the periphery of the law, congressional Democrats have offered scant evidence that the rocky debut is leading them to question the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.

"It's huge bill, over 2,000 pages, there are going to be unintended consequences, there are going to be things that don't work," Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., said Friday, according to Politico. "And I'm about fixing things that don't work. I don't want to see us throw the baby out with the bathwater, which is what some people recommend."

Rep. Jim Clyburn, R-S.C., predicted that Mr. Obama and his allies in Congress, in time, will regain their credibility on the issue as they see the health care law through to a successful implementation.

"Paradise lost, paradise regained," he said Sunday on CNN. "And when you lose something, you can find it again. And the president has admitted that he expects to be held responsible for regaining the Americans trust and I think he will."

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