Democrats Not Satisfied by Obama’s ‘If You Like It’ Fix for Obamacare

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 14, 2013 at 4:02pm

President Barack Obama’s announcement Thursday about keeping existing health care policies under Obamacare hasn’t fully assuaged Senate Democrats’ concerns.

“We still need to work towards a permanent solution so we do not simply kick the can down the road, which is why we need to pass the Landrieu bill that will give people certainty that they will not lose their current coverage,” Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said in a statement. She was referring to a measure introduced by Louisiana Democrat Mary L. Landrieu that would allow individuals to preserve canceled health insurance plans that do not meet the standards of the 2010 health care law.

Hagan’s statement followed a special Senate Democratic caucus meeting at the Capitol with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who was dispatched to brief Democrats on both sides of the Rotunda about Obama’s plan to handle the outrage over the inaccuracy of the “if you like what you have, you can keep it” catch phrase that the president and other Democrats repeated as the health care measure moved through Congress.

Hagan and Landrieu each face re-election campaigns in conservative-leaning states in 2014.

Indeed, Senate Democrats and the president appear keenly aware that the botched health care law rollout could impact their candidates in 2014. Spotted leaving the closed-door meeting was Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil, who sometimes attends the conference’s caucus lunches. His  presence Thursday highlighted the importance of the issue.

The president himself addressed the political peril he has put Democrats in at the White House earlier in the day.

“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the [law] 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,” Obama said. “And I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them rather than easier for them to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place.”

Speaking with reporters after the special caucus meeting with McDonough, Landrieu said that she thought a legislative fix would probably need to come about in order to codify what the president announced earlier in the day.

“The president’s guidance is a great step forward. I have a bill. There are other bills that have been filed. We’re going to be working across the aisle not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not to defund the Affordable Care Act, not to undermine the Affordable Care Act, not to gut the Affordable Care Act but to fix it,” Landrieu said.

“I said the president’s announcement this morning was a great first step, and we will probably need legislation to make it stick,” Landrieu said. “However, do not underestimate the power of a presidential directive, and don’t underestimate the willingness of insurance commissioners around this country, Republican and Democrat, to make this right for people. I mean there are people in this country, contrary to what we might think here in this Capitol, that really want this legislation to work because they know the promise that it has for people.”

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., took a realistic view, saying that he didn’t expect legislation to move “at this point,” noting the GOP’s longstanding opposition to the health care overhaul itself.

“Listen, under the ordinary course of events, Democrats and Republicans would work together to make this a better and stronger law, but the Republicans voted like 40 times to eliminate it, shut down the government,” Durbin said. “They are not constructive. They just want to see chaos.”

There seems to be no consensus on whether the Democrats who had been pushing their own legislation to fix Obamacare will cease those efforts, even as the administration has asserted it has the authority to do so and members largely agree.

“They’re basically listening to us. We have legitimate concerns, but them acknowledging it and giving us that one year reprieve … at least acknowledges that a person should have [the ability to keep insurance he has],” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who has been one of the most vocal Democrats against many pieces of the law.

Manchin said that McDonough did not ask members to hold off on their own legislative efforts, but the West Virginia moderate left ambiguous what edict, if any, might have been delivered.

“No, that didn’t come in that way,” Manchin said. “They feel he has the jurisdiction to do what he’s done and we believe he does, too. Are we going to go in a different direction? Are we going to say we still want legislation? I think that is being discussed and all of us who have signed onto bills will look at it more thoroughly.”

Manchin, who has come under fire previously for his comments and offerings on the health care bill, demurred when asked whether he personally would continue to pursue legislative recourse: “I’m going to respectfully talk to everybody,” he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said leaving the meeting that there still was an appetite among the caucus to work on other legislative adjustments.

“I think there’s a lot of support for additional changes that may require legislation. There’s concerns about excessive premiums,” Blumenthal said, even as experts have said that grandfathering in old policies could increase premiums and strip away funding necessary for the law to pay for itself.

Speaking at the White House earlier, Obama noted that insurance commissioners would maintain power over health plans sold in their states.

“State insurance commissioners still have the power to decide what plans can and can’t be sold in their states, but the bottom line is insurers can extend current plans that would otherwise be canceled into 2014, and Americans whose plans have been canceled can choose to re-enroll in the same kind of plan,” Obama said.