By Alexander Bolton and Mike Lillis - 11/13/13 08:40 PM EST
Furious congressional Democrats on Wednesday expressed exasperation with the White House for its bumbling implementation of ObamaCare.
The recent deluge of bad news on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has sparked widespread anxiety among Democrats, who are trying to win back the House and retain control of the Senate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said President Obama should never have promised that people would be able to keep their health plans.
“I listened to the president and I believed he was correct. I didn’t realize there were all these codicils attached to it. I think he was done a disservice. Someone should have stopped him and said — on his staff — ‘There’s this condition and that condition,’ ” Feinstein said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has planned a special meeting of the Senate Democratic Conference with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and other senior administration officials for Thursday afternoon.
On Wednesday, Reid declined to answer questions about the healthcare law’s faulty rollout until he had a chance to meet with White House advisers.
Obama called Reid on Tuesday evening to plot a strategy for healthcare and other issues as polls showed Democratic approval ratings sinking.
“We’re in the wild, wild west right now where everybody is working on their own ideas,” a senior Democratic aide said. “It would be better if we’re pulling in the same direction.”
On Wednesday, House Democratic lawmakers vented their frustration over the administration’s slow progress in fixing the law’s problems during a meeting with David Simas, the White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, and Mike Hash, director of the Office of Health Reform.
Democrats said they were concerned about “being dragged into this nonstop cycle” of bad news, according to another Democratic aide.
The senior officials left House lawmakers unsatisfied by providing few hints to what steps the administration may take to stem the public backlash.
Republicans could barely contain their glee watching Democrats scramble to escape fallout from a law that GOP leaders predicted would be a disaster.
“Obviously, the panic has set in on the other side,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said. “It’s pretty clear now there’s a stampede developing among House and Senate Democrats away from ObamaCare.”
Pressure on Democrats increased further Wednesday afternoon when the administration released numbers showing that only 106,185 people had signed up for health plans through ObamaCare during the first month of the enrollment period.
A mere 26,794 people enrolled through HealthCare.gov, the website that became a joke on “Saturday Night Live” because of its many technical glitches.
Already five Senate Democrats have jumped onto a proposal sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would force insurance companies to allow people to keep health plans they like, even if they fail to meet ObamaCare’s strict standard.
The co-sponsors include Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.). Pryor, Hagan and Landrieu face tough elections next year.
In the House, two conservative Democrats, Reps. John Barrow (Ga.) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.), have endorsed a Republican proposal that would allow insurance companies to continue offering plans that fall below the standards of the Affordable Care Act.
Hagan has seen her 15-point lead over North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) vanish over the last two months. A new survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, showed her up by only 2 points.
“The rollout and early implementation is not going the way it should, and North Carolinians deserve better,” Hagan said in a statement.
Close to a million people could lose their health insurance policies in California, and their complaints spurred Feinstein to sign onto Landrieu’s plan.
“The key in the decision for me was California constituents,” she said.
Unlike Landrieu’s legislation, the bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would not place a mandate on the insurance industry.
Democratic leadership aides have warned those proposals could cause insurance premiums to swell in 2014 by keeping younger, healthier people out of ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges.
The White House has criticized Upton’s legislation as a thinly veiled effort to gut ObamaCare, but it hasn’t threatened a veto. Democratic leaders in the House have not indicated whether they will whip votes against it.
Just a month ago, House Democratic leaders — pointing to the government shutdown — were publicly getting more bullish about taking back the lower chamber.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed Democrats tied with Republicans in a generic congressional match-up, down from the 9-point lead Democrats held over the GOP on Oct. 1.
One House Democratic aide warned that if the administration doesn’t provide a legislative fix by Friday, many members will “go crazy.” And unless it does, there could be a lot of defections to the Upton bill.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has a companion measure in the Senate. Every Republican in the upper chamber has backed it except for Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah).
Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.), a Democrat up for reelection in 2014, on Wednesday unveiled the Continuous Coverage Act, which would allow consumers to keep their current health plans through the end of 2015.
Democratic leaders hope administration officials can help get their party back on the same page by laying out a blueprint to improve the law’s implementation.
Republicans will not back Landrieu’s plan because they say it places an unconstitutional mandate on the insurance industry.
A senior Senate Republican aide said it could force some insurance companies out of business by requiring them to maintain unprofitable insurance plans for small groups of policyholders.
Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.