Obamacare Threatens Senate Democrats — And They Know It

Targeted senators are actively distancing themselves from the law, even though they supported it.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) comes out from the weekly policy luncheon October 4, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Nov. 12, 2013, 5:09 a.m.

Three of the most vul­ner­able red-state Demo­crats are scram­bling to neut­ral­ize the grow­ing polit­ic­al threat that Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law is pos­ing to their reelec­tion cam­paigns.

This week, Sens. Mark Be­gich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, and Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas have un­der­taken a series of un­usu­ally ag­gress­ive man­euvers de­signed to dis­tance them­selves from the health care law, whose botched rol­lout has raised con­cerns it will be­come a ma­jor li­ab­il­ity for the 2014 midterm elec­tions. The de­fens­ive steps are a smart polit­ic­al play from law­makers already pre­par­ing in earn­est for their reelec­tion cam­paigns, but also amount to a ta­cit ad­mis­sion that Obama­care has already be­come a ma­jor head­ache.

Hagan is pre­par­ing to ask the in­spect­or gen­er­al of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment and the Gen­er­al Ac­count­ing Of­fice for a full in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the health care law’s rol­lout, Politico first re­por­ted Monday. Be­gich, mean­while, an­nounced he per­son­ally en­rolled in Alaska’s health care ex­change the same morn­ing, de­clin­ing to take the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s con­tri­bu­tion to his plan. In a state­ment, he also called for a “full and trans­par­ent ac­count­ing of how the vendors con­trac­ted to build the site failed to launch it suc­cess­fully,”

Pry­or, con­sidered the most vul­ner­able Sen­ate Demo­crat next year, took the most ag­gress­ive ac­tion of the three. His cam­paign cri­ti­cized a seni­or ad­viser work­ing for Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tom Cot­ton for sup­port­ing a deal to im­ple­ment Obama­care in Arkan­sas, ac­cord­ing to The Hill. John Burris, who is a state law­maker, voted earli­er this year to ef­fect­ively ex­pand Medi­caid in the state by help­ing poor cit­izens buy private in­sur­ance.

Pry­or’s cam­paign is hit­ting Cot­ton for call­ing for re­peal even as one of his own seni­or strategists backs the state’s health care sys­tem.

“Tom Cot­ton needs to ex­plain why he would take away health care from the 63,000 Arkansans already en­rolled un­der the private op­tion,” Pry­or cam­paign man­ager, Jeff Weaver told The Hill.

This isn’t the first time these three sen­at­ors, all of whom backed Obama­care in 2010, have dis­tanced them­selves from the law. They have pre­vi­ously asked the en­roll­ment peri­od for the ex­changes be delayed, and they sup­port changes to law like re­peal­ing the med­ic­al device tax.

They’re also not the only ones cri­ti­ciz­ing the health care law. Ore­gon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is run­ning against a Re­pub­lic­an phys­i­cian, has been among the rol­lout’s most vo­cal crit­ics.

These Demo­crats’ vis­ible, vo­ci­fer­ous cri­ti­cism now is a sig­nal of just how threatened the Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate is for 2014. And it has Re­pub­lic­ans gloat­ing.

“The pan­ic has set in. The troops are rest­less,” said Mitch Mc­Con­nell, the Sen­ate GOP lead­er, at a press con­fer­ence on Tues­day. “And on a daily basis, you’ll see some Demo­crat in some red state come up with some way to dis­tance them­selves from Obama­care.”

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