House Dems about to 'go crazy'

Greg Nash

House Democrats on Wednesday expressed increasing frustration at the Obama administration’s inability to improve the rollout of ObamaCare.

Democrats said they’re worried about "being dragged into this non-stop cycle" of bad news about the ObamaCare rollout, rather than celebrating the successes of the law they helped to pass, a Democratic aide said.

"They're voicing those frustrations with the administration," the aide said following a Democratic Caucus meeting where administration officials got an earful from exasperated lawmakers.

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With the House vote just two days away, many Democrats are urging the White House to come up with an administrative alternative to legislation sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that would allow insurance companies to offer their old insurance plans.

The GOP bill is a response to the nearly 5 million people who have seen their health plans canceled under ObamaCare.

Two centrist Democrats — Reps. John Barrow (Ga.) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.) — already have endorsed the Upton measure, but that number could rise if the bill comes up for a vote without a Democratic alternative providing some political cover.

A second Democratic aide warned that if the administration doesn't provide such a substitute by Friday, many members will "go crazy.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said President Obama would announce “sooner rather than later” his proposed fix for those who have lost their health insurance because of ObamaCare.

“You can expect a decision from him and announcement from him sooner rather than later on options that we can take to address the problem that we've been discussing here with regards to those individuals who have had their individual insurance plans canceled because of the transition to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces,” Carney said.

Separately, the White House spokesman said Obama had personally been consulting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about tweaks to his signature healthcare bill.

“The president does want to and is discussing with lawmakers the way we can make improvements to the program,” Carney said.

But Carney said that the White House was still wary of Upton’s bill.

House Democrats were briefed at their Wednesday caucus meeting by David Simas, the White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, and Mike Hash, director of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said the officials provided no hints as to what tweaks the administration is considering, or when they might surface. But the disgruntled message from Democrats, he added, was perfectly clear.

“They heard our caucus,” Pascrell said. “I wouldn't say [it was] heated, but very specific. In this business, you keep your word or get out.”

Meeting the press after Wednesday's meeting, Democratic leaders downplayed the friction between House Democrats and the administration on the ObamaCare rollout. But they also acknowledged the unrest among many in the caucus.

“We're Democrats and we're very passionate, especially when it comes to the issue of the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) said. “There have been some frustrations about the rollout, but the reality is this is an enormous, an enormous, undertaking.”

Pascrell said the burden falls squarely on the shoulders of Democrats to fix the law they championed. 

“We've worked too hard to get this passed, and in good conscience, we have to deliver to the American people,” he said. “I don't want to hear about the Republicans exploiting this. They're going to exploit every chance that they have. They didn't cause this particular problem. And so what I'm saying is that we'd better come up with an option or an alternative to Mr. Upton.”

The Upton bill remained a topic of discussion after the meeting. Riding in a crowded elevator up to the House floor, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) asked Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a fiscally conservative Blue Dog, whether he would be voting for the bill. "I don't think so," Cooper replied. Moran then said, "I'm really torn up over this." He later told reporters that he would not be voting for the bill but wouldn't whip his colleagues against it.

Upton's legislation would allow the health insurance industry to continue offering bare-bones plans that existed before the beginning of this calendar year, even if they do not satisfy the minimum coverage requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Supporters of ObamaCare have expressed concern that the plan would undermine healthcare reform because the younger, healthier consumers who are needed to keep premiums down would opt for cheaper plans rather than the fuller coverage offered on the ObamaCare exchanges. In turn, premiums would shoot up for sicker and older enrollees.

“We don't believe that proposed legislation that actually causes more problems than it fixes are the right way to go,” Carney said.

A similar bill championed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the Senate has garnered support from other influential Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said she would sign on to Landrieu's effort.

The House would be open to considering a Democratic-sponsored bill to fix ObamaCare, if the Senate can pass it, a key GOP lawmaker said on Wednesday.

Upton on Wednesday suggested the House could vote on Landrieu's bill, which would require insurance companies to offer the old plans.

"We wanted to pass a bill with bipartisan support — that's what the goal is, if [the Senate] can pass something, more power to them — let's fix the problem," Upton told a gaggle of reporters.

Yet some conservatives have expressed opposition to the Landrieu bill, which would impose requirements on private companies. 

"Government can't be mandating that businesses must sell a certain product," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said. "This is not the Soviet Union."

—Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 3:02 p.m.