‘Keep Your Health Plan Act’ spells trouble for dozens of Democrats

November 15, 2013

Updated and corrected 10:06 a.m.

Intense focus on the early troubles of the Affordable Care Act already makes this a no good, very bad week for congressional Democrats, who are torn between supporting the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration, but eager to be seen doing something to address significant concerns with the law.


Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) is already sponsoring the "Keep Your Health Plan Act." (AP)

And now dozens of vulnerable House Democrats face a decision later today that is fraught with political risk.

At issue is the "Keep Your Health Plan Act," a proposal by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that supporters believe would fulfill President Obama's now-broken promise to let people keep their current health insurance plan if they like it.

Under the Upton proposal, anyone opting to keep their current plan wouldn't face financial penalties established by the law. And the measure would allow insurers to sell their minimal plans to new customers. The bill is expected to pass easily in the GOP-controlled House.

Most Democrats believe that the Upton bill would fundamentally gut the ACA by allowing plans not compliant with the new law to continue. They believe that the administrative fixes announced by Obama Thursday will work, or are supporting a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would let people keep their current health-care plans, but require insurers to provide information on new plans that meet the law's stricter requirements.

But Upton's "Keep Your Health Plan Act" is the first opportunity for lawmakers to vote on a legislative fix to the law and with opposition to the law and Congress reaching record highs, many vulnerable Democrats are expected to vote "yes."

At least three Democrats -- John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Patrick Murphy (Fla.) -- are cosponsoring the measure, making them automatic "yes" votes. But Barrow and McIntyre represents conservative districts and usually votes with Republicans on controversial, high-stakes votes. Murphy won by a razor-thin margin last year and faces another tough contest in 2014.

So which other Democrats might vote for the Upton bill? We won't know for certain until votes are cast, but here are three easy ways to track potential supporters:

First, House Republican aides Thursday circulated a list of 60 Democrats who, like Obama, have previously said that people enjoying their health-care plans can keep it. The list includes dozens of loyalists unlikely to break with party leadership, but zeros in on three members: Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).

All three easily won reelection last year, but Butterfield and Yarmuth hail from states where Obamacare is unpopular. And Eshoo is a confidant of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but has clashed in recent days in public and behind closed doors with Obama administration officials about the ACA's early troubles. There's no indication that these three might vote "yes," but the memo signals Republicans will be making a big issue of Obamacare in their reelection campaigns next year.

Secondly, the National Republican Congressional Committee said Thursday that it is targeting 17 perennially at-risk Democrats and two of their top party leaders, all of whom voted for the ACA in 2010. The list includes Reps. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), John Tierney (D-Mass.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Finally, let's recall the Sept. 28 vote on a measure that would have repealed a tax on medical devices established by the new law.

Seventeen Democrats voted for the measure: Maffei, Matheson, McIntyre, Owens, Rahall and Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), John Delaney (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), William Enyart (D-Ill.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). Several of these Democrats represent competitive districts and about half of them are freshmen, who won last year in swing districts where Obamacare was a big factor.

No matter how House Democrats vote today, Republicans are poised to pounce. Vote for the Upton bill, and Republicans will label them as flip-floppers and disloyal to Obama. Vote against the Upton bill and Republicans will label them as a supporter of an unpopular law.

FixBits:

Here's how Obama plans to un-cancel insurance policies.

Washington state's insurance commissioner declined to make the insurance fix.

The White House threatened to veto the Upton bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said his push to defund Obamacare was "absolutely" worth it, even given the government shutdown.

Liz Cheney (R) fights the carpetbagger label in her first Wyoming Senate ad.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) kicks off his campaign today with an assist from Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Sarah Palin apologized for suggesting Pope Francis might be adopting liberal positions.

Must-reads: 

"For Obama, the last campaign may be the most difficult" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Health-care law’s problems test loyalty of Democrats in Congress" -- Paul Kane and Jackie Kucinich, Washington Post

"Health Law Rollout’s Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush’s Hurricane Response" -- Michael D. Shear, New York Times

"Whistleblowers tell Senate panel of alleged sexual misconduct by Secret Service agents" -- Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamaura, Washington Post

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly characterized the Sept. 28 House vote on the ACA. We've also added to the list of Democrats cosponsoring the Upton bill.

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