I Lost My Seat in Congress, and All I Got Was This Broken Website

Democrats who walked the plank for Obamacare in 2010 now have to watch the White House mess it up.

Protesters opposed to the health care bill gather outside the U.S. Capitol March 21, 2010 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi Sam Baker
Nov. 15, 2013, 5 a.m.

Vul­ner­able House Demo­crats back in 2009 knew that they were risk­ing their polit­ic­al ca­reers by cast­ing votes for the Af­ford­able Care Act. And more than 60 of them—in­clud­ing some who didn’t even vote for the bill—lost their seats the fol­low­ing year.

So there’s an ex­tra psy­cho­lo­gic­al twinge for those forced to watch the ad­min­is­tra­tion blun­der the rol­lout of the very thing that cost them their jobs.

“Am I dis­ap­poin­ted that they didn’t so a bet­ter job? Yeah I am dis­ap­poin­ted — very dis­ap­poin­ted,” says former Rep. Bar­on Hill of In­di­ana, who served a total of five terms and was ous­ted in 2010.

Des­pite hold­ing out hope that the cur­rent mess will sub­side, no one can be happy with how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has rolled out the cent­ral com­pon­ents of the Af­ford­able Care Act. And for those who bet their jobs on it, the cur­rent struggle to make the law work is par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing.

“The bot­tom line is, I feel like, why, I did my job,” says former Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who lost his seat after nine terms. “Who­ever was to do the job of get­ting this im­ple­men­ted cor­rectly didn’t do their job, and I’m mad about it.”

But Pomeroy re­tains some sense of hope that the next six months will bring sub­stan­tial im­prove­ments. “All of these start-up prob­lems are go­ing to fade in the face of what has been achieved by the re­forms them­selves,” Pomeroy says.

Demo­crats every­where were caught off guard by the fail­ures of Health­Care.gov, the primary Obama­care en­roll­ment web­site that crashed as soon as it was launched and is still func­tion­ing poorly. “I’m a small busi­ness own­er, and I make sure when I’m rolling out a new pro­gram that it works. I test it out,” says former Rep. Steve Kagen of Wis­con­sin, who is a doc­tor and voted for the ACA. He lost in 2010 to Re­pub­lic­an Re­id Ribble.

But Obama­care’s polit­ic­al prob­lems go deep­er than Health­Care.gov. Al­though the White House an­nounced an ad­min­is­trat­ive “fix” on Thursday, the up­roar over can­celled in­sur­ance plans has been a ma­jor head­ache for Demo­crats. They feel they’re pay­ing the price for Obama’s broken pledge that any­one who liked their health care plans could keep them.

A slew of Demo­crats with tight races next year have in­tro­duced bills they say would fol­low through on that prom­ise. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has also re­ques­ted an audit of Health­Care.gov‘s fail­ures.

“Of course it’s frus­trat­ing for every­one,” Kagen says, but he still whole­heartedly sup­ports the law. He also pivots to put the onus on Re­pub­lic­ans to do something to fix the cur­rent prob­lems, as well.

“I’ve got con­fid­ence [the ad­min­is­tra­tion is] go­ing to solve this tech is­sue, and I’m look­ing for­ward to Re­pub­lic­ans also help­ing every one of my pa­tients and con­stitu­ents,” he says.

Pomeroy says he re­cently spoke with a group about the ACA, and they re­marked how they thought he’d be more up­set with the rol­lout. “Oh, I’m apo­plect­ic about it,” he re­calls telling them. “I’d cast that vote to­mor­row. However, that vote was ca­reer-end­ing for many of us. We thought that we did our part; it then shif­ted to the ad­min­is­tra­tion to com­pet­ently ex­ecute the pro­gram. They fell short.”

Hill also said he knew at the time that his vote might be a ca­reer-end­ing one, but still be­lieves it was worth it. He’s frus­trated by the rocky im­ple­ment­a­tion, he says, but not bit­ter.

“Life’s too short. I don’t even think about those kinds of things. Am I dis­ap­poin­ted? Sure, I’m dis­ap­poin­ted. But I hold no griev­ances against the ad­min­is­tra­tion or [Health and Hu­man Ser­vices] Sec­ret­ary [Kath­leen] Se­beli­us or any­body else,” he said.

At least 13 House Demo­crats lost their seats as a dir­ect res­ult of their votes in fa­vor of the ACA, ac­cord­ing to a 2011 study by re­search­ers at the Uni­versity of Den­ver and North Car­o­lina State Uni­versity. But vot­ing against the ACA wasn’t enough to in­su­late some Demo­crats from los­ing their seats.

Take former Rep. Lin­coln Dav­is of Ten­ness­ee, who voted against the bill while in Con­gress after hear­ing a loud out­cry from his con­stitu­ents against it. Dav­is says he was taken down in the anti-ACA fer­vor any­way.

“I voted the way people wanted me, the way they asked me. It still didn’t mat­ter,” he says. “The res­ult came, and the le­gis­la­tion, and quite frankly the money that came in­to the cam­paign from out­side groups—we haven’t seen that kind of money.”

Dav­is has no re­grets about vot­ing against Obama­care, but he still wants the prob­lems with the law to be fixed for the sake of the un­in­sured.

As he put it, “If we lost that, we’ve failed more than those who voted for it and lost their races “¦ but also the very people we’re try­ing to help.”

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