He hoped to spend time during an extended October recess helping people sign up for health insurance, but a sputtering Web site and broken campaign promises are forcing him to defend the law. He still believes in the law and his support remains strong, but he knows the troubled rollout has shaken his constituents’ confidence.
“If you want to give me a good faceful for one of my political positions, I can take it,” he told about 100 of them gathered inside a small community theater Friday.
From the stage, Cartwright said President Obama “was out over his ski tips” when he said Americans would be able to keep their health-care plans if they liked them. In reality, “if you like your policy, and it still remains grandfathered in, and it doesn’t change, and it applies within the law, then you can keep it,” he said. “And he should have said that.”
“Shoulda, woulda, coulda!” a woman shouted from the front rows.
“He should have said that,” Cartwright said again for emphasis.
Embarrassed and frustrated by the early weeks of the health insurance exchange’s rollout, Cartwright is still convinced that the law will work, so he is fighting back with information and brutal honesty.
“I’m the last person who’s going to sit here and say this is a perfect law,” he told the crowd. “But it is the law, and it’s up to us to wrap our hands around it, to get together and learn about it and to do the best for Americans under this law.”
Cartwright’s district is generally a liberal Democratic counterpoint to those ruby-red Republican districts represented by the law’s biggest critics. But in this corner of the district, he is treated skeptically. Pottsville is the headquarters of Yuengling beer and a town where the local Dunkin’ Donuts and auto body shop are adorned with murals depicting a bygone, more robust era.
It is also home to moderate Democrats and Republicans who liked their Democratic former congressman, Rep. Tim Holden. For roughly 20 years, Holden attracted bipartisan support by maintaining a moderate voting record. He survived the 2010 tea party wave by voting against the health-care law.
But last year, Cartwright took advantage of a redrawn map that packed more liberal Democrats into Holden’s district. Backed by MoveOn.org, Cartwright mounted a challenge against Holden from the left, turning the primary into a referendum on his vote against the Affordable Care Act. Cartwright later defeated his GOP opponent by campaigning on the merits of the law.
“I fully expect there to be plenty of kinks in the law that probably during the balance of my political career we will be sorting out,” he told skeptics and supporters Friday.