Despite Obamacare Fix, Fight Rages On in Congress

Nov 15, 2013 7:59 AM

WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) - After hearing serious concerns from both Democrats and Republicans over the fact that millions of Americans are being dropped from insurance plans that no longer meet Obamacare standards, President Obama on Thursday offered a contrite apology and an administrative solution to the issue.

The debate over the matter, however, isn't slowing down in Congress. The Republican-led House on Friday is voting on a bill called the "Keep Your Health Plan Act," which offers a policy change not far off from the president's solution. The legislation, which would allow plans that existed on the individual market as of Jan. 1, 2013 to stay in effect through 2014, has 161 bipartisan co-sponsors. Liberal Democrats, however, called the legislation a deceptive effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

"The initiative that's before the House tomorrow really looks like something that's a fix, but it isn't," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday. "What we have to do for the fix is thread the needle. What they're doing tomorrow on the floor is unraveling the whole fabric. It's just not necessary unless you want to undo -- for the 46th time, a vote on eliminating the Affordable Care Act."

Republicans haven't been coy about their ultimate goal: "The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday. "There is no way to fix this."

Most House Democrats and the White House oppose the House bill because it would allow insurers to sell 2013 plans in 2014 to anyone -- not just customers who already have those plans -- undermining the new Obamacare marketplaces. (Nevermind that some insurers, industry analysts and even some Democrats worry that Mr. Obama's solution would also undermine the market.)

While continued conflict might be expected in the Republican-led House, even the Democratic-led Senate may keep up the debate over what to do about the millions losing insurance coverage.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. -- a vulnerable Democrat up for re-election next year, sponsored a bill that would go one step further than Mr. Obama's policy change and actually force insurers to keep offering existing plans to their customers. Landrieu told reporters Thursday that Mr. Obama's move "was a great first step," but she added, "We will probably need legislation to make it stick."

Other Democrats up for re-election in 2014, such as Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Udall of Colorado, also suggested Congress may have to step in, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. said that "if we need to do more, we will."

Yet the longer the Affordable Care Act remains a matter of debate in Congress, the more prominent the law will once again be in the next election -- presumably, given the continuing problems with the law's implementation, to the detriment of Democrats. Mr. Obama on Thursday acknowledged as much.

"There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA 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," the president said. "And, you know, 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, which is, in this country, as wealthy as we are, everybody should be able to have the security of affordable health care."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, insisted on Thursday that Democrats "are going to run on the advantage that Obamacare will be going into the 2014 election," but the Republican National Committee mocked the Democratic Party for "doubling down" on its support for the controversial health law. Meanwhile, House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., posted online a list of quotes from dozens of House Democrats who, like Mr. Obama, promised voters that if they liked their old health care plans, they could keep them.

The president assured supporters in Cleveland Thursday afternoon, "We're going to make the Affordable Care Act work and those who say they are opposed to it and can't offer a solution, we'll push back."

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