Dem candidates anxious for O-Care fix

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Democratic candidates in tough races are calling for a fix to the healthcare reform law to allow Americans to keep their current insurance plans, reflecting the grim political reality facing the party following the botched rollout of the law.

Many Democrats are laying low, and most are avoiding outright endorsement of congressional proposals to address the insurance plan controversy, put forward by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in the House and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the Senate.

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Of the 31 Democratic candidates contacted by The Hill on the issue, only eight responded with comments on the law, and only one was available for an interview.

All who spoke struck the same tone: The law’s rollout and dropped coverage is a big problem, and President Obama’s on the hook to fix it.

Although Obama sought to appease critics and assuage worried Dems with the administrative remedy to the law he announced Thursday, some candidates — like Montana Democrat John Walsh, running for retiring Sen. Max Baucus’s (D-Mont.) seat — said the fix wasn’t enough.

"John Walsh agrees this rollout was disastrous, and now Congress needs to immediately fix the law to hold insurance companies accountable and to make sure Montanans can stay on their plans. This Administration still hasn't gone far enough to fix this mess,” said Michelle Mayorga, Walsh’s campaign manager, in an email to The Hill.

Walsh said he’d support Landrieu’s proposal, which would require insurers to maintain plans for current insurance holders. Democrat Rick Weiland, running for Senate in South Dakota, also said he’d back the Landrieu bill.

But Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’s campaign declined to comment on the Landrieu measure, or any other specific fix proposed in Congress or by the president.

Her spokeswoman Charly Norton instead noted previous comments the candidate made calling for fixes to the law.

“She has called for an extension of the grandfathering period to allow the people of Kentucky to keep their current plans, as well as an extension of the enrollment period and mandate delay for all Americans until the federal website is fixed,” Norton said in an email.

Gwen Graham, a top Democratic recruit challenging Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), launched a rare barb at the president — the only House candidate to do so outright. Southerland, too, has been deeply critical of Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

"My commitment to the people of North Florida is to keep the promises I make. The President should keep his,” she said in an email to The Hill.

Graham was also the only candidate to explicitly endorse the Upton proposal, which would allow companies to sell current plans to any purchasers interested in buying them.

"If in Congress today, I would support the Keep Your Health Plan Act. It is an issue of fairness and the right thing to do. People were promised that they could keep their health care plan, if they liked it. That promise should be kept," she said.

Democrat Jerry Cannon, a Vietnam and Iraq War veteran who is challenging Rep. Dan Benishek (R) in Michigan's 1st District, echoed Graham’s criticism — but didn’t mention Obama outright.

“When I went through basic training, I was taught a promise made is a promise kept. When Obamacare was passed, we were promised that if you liked your insurance plan, you could keep it. We need to honor that promise,” he said in a statement to The Hill.

Asked for clarification on whether he’d specifically endorse the Upton bill, however, he added, in a revised statement, only that “there are some good things about that bill, and some things I'd change.”

A number of other candidates also emphasized the need for a fix, but few were willing to comment on any of the proposals in Congress.

The reluctance to back the Upton bill is not unique to Democratic candidates, however. It’s a product of the tough spot the botched rollout has put Democrats in.

Obama himself admitted on Thursday that “there is no doubt our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they're running or not, because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin.”

And polling bears this out: Two surveys released this week show the generic ballot advantage Democrats enjoyed post-shutdown has been erased, with a Fox News poll showing Dems down by 3 points.

But it seems the situation isn’t yet dire enough to cause Democrats to defect en masse from their party.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Upton measure had 161 co-sponsors, only three of whom were Democrats, all considered vulnerable in 2014.

Two other Democratic candidates — Sean Eldridge, challenging Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), and Elisabeth Jensen, running against Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) — declined to comment on the specific proposals.

Both, however, supported the sentiment of the fix, although Jensen expressed caution.

“The administrative fix is a step in the right direction, and we need to see if it works. The key is making sure people get to keep their insurance,” she said in an email to The Hill.

One candidate, Democrat Eloise Gomez Reyes, challenging top Democratic target Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), said she wouldn’t support the Upton bill because she felt it would “provide for subpar standards” for healthcare. She said it’s important to ensure Americans could keep their health insurance, but declined to endorse a specific fix and said Obama’s had “not yet” done enough.

“I think we need to look at all of the proposals,” she told The Hill in a phone conversation.

Reyes insisted that, while she had heard from folks in the district about ObamaCare, the biggest issues for voters were jobs and the economy.

 

List of Democratic candidates surveyed on ObamaCare fix:

UPTON BILL:

DEM CANDIDATES SUPPORTING:
Gwen Graham (FL-2)

DEM CANDIDATES OPPOSING:
Eloise Gomez Reyes (CA-31)

NO RESPONSE/NO COMMENT:
Patrick Henry Hays (AR-2)
James Lee Witt (AR-4)
Michael Eggman (CA-10)
Amanda Renteria (CA-21)
Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Staci Appel (IA-3)
Ann Callis (IL-13)
Jerry Cannon* (MI-1)
Pam Byrnes (MI-7)
Erin Bilbray (NV-3)
Kevin Strouse (PA-8)
Suzanne Patrick (VA-2)
Aimee Belgard (NJ-3)
Bill Hughes (NJ-2)
Glen Gainer (WV-1)
Alex Sink (FL-13)
Pete Festersen (NE-2)
Andrew Romanoff (CO-6)
Roxanne Lara (NM-02)
Martha Robertson (NY-23)
Domenic Recchia (NY-11)
Sean Eldridge* (NY-19)
Elisabeth Jensen* (KY-06)

LANDRIEU BILL:

DEM CANDIDATES SUPPORTING:
Rick Weiland — South Dakota
John Walsh — Montana

DEM CANDIDATES OPPOSING:

NO RESPONSE/NO COMMENT:
Michelle Nunn — Georgia
Alison Lundergan Grimes* — Kentucky
Natalie Tennant — West Virginia
John Bohlinger — Montana

*Offered statement, but declined to comment on specific proposals

Haley Bissegger contributed to this report.