House Democrats Eye New ‘If You Like It’ Obamacare Fix (Updated)

Posted November 14, 2013 at 4:28pm

Updated 6:17 p.m. | House Democratic leaders, in a bid to keep frustrated rank-and-file members from supporting a Republican bill to remedy the White House’s broken “if you like it, you can keep it” promise, are mobilizing around a new legislative fix.

As Democrats huddled in a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday afternoon with Obama administrative officials, leaders decided they would go to the House floor on Friday with a new plan to counter the bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., a House Democratic leadership aide confirmed to CQ Roll Call.

Upton’s bill would allow insurers to revive existing health plans canceled because they don’t comport with the health care law’s new standards. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that the Democrats’ plan, to be offered via a motion to recommit, would “complement” the administrative fix President Barack Obama announced earlier on Thursday. That fix allows insurers to extend canceled health plans by a year, but not allow them to sell policies to new customers as the Upton bill would.

The plan also would include language promoted by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., that would give some additional power to state insurance commissioners, said the aide. A source added that leadership is also considering adding a number of other members’ ideas into a “package.”

The top four House Democrats — Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California — appeared before the microphones at the conclusion of the caucus meeting.

They deflected on the question of whether House Democrats felt compelled to apologize for the website glitches and the unfulfilled pledge to let Americans keep their insurance policies. They suggested Obama’s “if you like it” statement wasn’t inaccurate even though Obama acknowledged Thursday that it was.

Hoyer said that while, as he had said before, the president lacked “precision” in his explanation of the conditions under which individuals could and could not keep their health care plans, Obama never made an inaccurate statement.

“The president was very gracious in taking responsibility and making an apology, but I agree with Mr. Hoyer,” said Pelosi. “What the president said, in regard to the Affordable Care Act, is absolutely so.

“Did I ever tell my constituents that if they liked their plan, they could keep it?” Pelosi continued. “I would have, if I ever met anybody who liked his or her plan, but that was not my experience.”

Clyburn added, “I have not apologized because I think that all of us, when we were advocating for this legislation, we said time and time again, that we wanted to get rid of discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, we wanted to get rid of people having policies canceled as soon as they got sick, we wanted to get rid of these annual limits, these lifetime limits. …I don’t think there’s anything for us to apologize for.”

Democratic leaders, fearful of the political embarrassment of defections from the rank-and-file, also wouldn’t comment on whether they were launching a formal whip operation to urge “no” votes on the Upton bill. If there isn’t such an operation, it could be out of the sensitivity of the issue: vulnerable Democrats might feel they need to vote “yes” on the legislation in order to protect their seats in 2014.

Speaking with reporters in a small scrum following the press conference, Becerra said that leadership was engaging in extensive communication, with the most recent caucus meeting the 24th occasion on which members have been briefed on Upton’s bill, be it in meetings, small sit-downs or conference calls.

Asked by one reporter whether it was true that leaders feared 100 Democratic defections, Becerra shook his head and said he didn’t think it would approach anything like that.

Other Democrats leaving the meeting midway through demurred when asked whether the Obama-Schakowsky language was a done deal.

Reps. Jim Costa of California and Michael E. Capuano of Massachusetts both said it was just one of many ideas being discussed.

Others backed the idea of including Obama administrative language as vastly preferable to the Upton bill.

“I mean, it’s a positive plan that makes the president’s words real and allows those people that had their policies cancelled to hopefully have an opportunity to get the insurance they liked and maintain coverage,” said Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

“I think the one-year fix is sufficient. I think when people find out that their policies weren’t very good and that they had so many, such deficient coverage, that I think they’re going to want to get a better policy,” he said.

Cohen said the president’s pledge was never really enforceable to begin with.

“While the president said ‘if you like your health care now, you keep it,’ well he couldn’t really make the insurance companies continue to offer it,” Cohen said.

Cohen predicted that 20 to 25 Democrats “at the most, at the most” would vote for the Upton bill.

Early Thursday morning, Pelosi was prepared to put her weight behind a proposal spearheaded by fellow California Democrat George Miller, sources said. A close Pelosi ally and ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee, Miller proposed a plan that would have allowed people to stay on their old plans until the end of the enrollment period in March.

But Obama’s announcement a few hours later changed the state of play, said sources.

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.