WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, Amy Klobuchar among them, seem more than willing to let President Obama’s health insurance cancellation fix run its course before trying to pass legislation themselves.
But on the House side, a handful of Minnesota Democrats have said they’re open to backing a Republican alternative up for a vote on Friday.
Obama announced Thursday that his administration would waive some Affordable Care Act standards ending low-frills insurance plans, allowing beneficiaries to stay on those plans for another year. Several congressional Democrats had lined up to support bills meant to undo the policy, but those in the Senate, including Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who introduced one of those bills, said Thursday they’d let Obama’s fix take effect before moving forward.
Klobuchar, who said she was sitting next to Landrieu in a closed-door caucus meeting with Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough on Thursday, said the president’s plan “is a very positive development.”
“We’ve been pushing for changes, and again, how it will work in practice, we have to make sure it works and then we could look at legislative changes if there are problems,” Klobuchar said.
In a statement, Franken said, “I am still reviewing the details of the President’s proposal to determine whether it’s sufficient, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction and I hope it will help those Minnesotans whose plans were cancelled.”
But a Senate legislative fix is an option that will likely only come up down the road. Democratic leadership hinted after the meeting that they’ll delay action on a Landrieu’s bill — which has received a lot of support from potentially vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next fall — or any other until after Obama’s plan had the chance to run its course.
Landrieu’s bill is not the only one working its way around the Capitol, and some House Democrats have said they’re willing to back a bill from Michigan Republican Fred Upton when it comes to the floor on Friday. That bill would not only allow insurance companies to keep individuals on these low-end plans through next year, as Obama does, but allow them to sell the plans as well. ACA supporters say that could diminish the standards built into the law and lead to higher premiums for individuals on the exchanges. (Slate has a good overview of all the legislative proposals floating around.)
Count moderate Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson as a supporter of both Obama’s plan and the Upton bill. Peterson voted against the ACA when it passed in 2010 and he said this very issue — setting coverage standards so stringent that certain types of health care plans would end — was one of the reasons why.
“This is what I was concerned about, where they were going to tell people what’s good for them,” Peterson said. “That’s just not my philosophy. People are smart enough to figure out what they want on their own, they don’t need the government to tell them.”
Rep. Rick Nolan released a statement after the announcement cheering Obama for “moving quickly to address the issue of policy cancellations,” but said later that he simply didn’t know if the fix was enough — he hadn’t heard specifically what Obama was ordering, and he was still considering whether he’d back the Republican bill on Friday.
Nolan said he’s always been concerned with the “if you like it you can keep it” promise, even as ACA supporters, himself included by his own admission, campaigned on it. (Republicans noted the line is still on his official website, as of Thursday.)
“If the president and many members of the Congress made that promise, then I think we have an obligation to honor that promise and to do a legislative fix if that’s what it takes,” Nolan said.
Elsewhere, Rep. Tim Walz told Minnesota Public Radio he’s also open to supporting the Upton bill, though he did so before Obama’s plan came out Thursday. House Democratic leadership said they’re likely to offer their own insurance cancellation fix on Friday, but such an effort is likely to entail a procedural move that almost never succeeds.
Republicans, meanwhile, said they didn’t think Obama’s plan goes far enough. In a statement, Rep. Michele Bachmann repeated her call for a repeal of the ACA, and called Obama’s announcement “merely a political fix for his dropping poll numbers, not an actual fix that will help the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry