Some Senate Dems Try Tough Love on Obamacare

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (L) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) speak to the media after successfully pushing a bipartisan bill through the U.S. Senate to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that they have reached bipartisan deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and end the sixteen day government shutdown. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.  
National Journal
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Elahe Izad
Oct. 28, 2013, 5:11 p.m.

There are ba­sic­ally two kinds of law­makers on Cap­it­ol Hill: those who don’t sup­port Obama­care and those who do.

Those who don’t like the law have all sorts of ways to ex­press dis­ap­prov­al. But what about Demo­crats who want to sup­port the Af­ford­able Care Act and yet feel com­pelled to ad­dress the messy rol­lout?

A group of Sen­ate Demo­crats have zer­oed in on one strategy: ex­tend­ing the en­roll­ment peri­od un­der which people can sign up for health care through the in­sur­ance ex­changes. Ten have signed onto a let­ter from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us call­ing for just that — al­though they don’t spe­cify how long that dead­line should be ex­ten­ded.

“It’s something the White House is go­ing to have to con­sider…. They’ve got to give it a good, hard look,” says Jim Man­ley, a former top aide to Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id. “The bot­tom line is every­one still sup­ports the goals be­hind Obama­care. No one can sup­port how this thing has rolled out so far, so this let­ter re­flects the anxi­ety that some mem­bers of the caucus have.”

The group in­cludes not only mod­er­ate, red-state Demo­crats fa­cing reelec­tion in 2014, like Sen. Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, but also re­li­able lib­er­als like Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein of Cali­for­nia, and those who aren’t up for reelec­tion un­til 2018, like Sen. Mar­tin Hein­rich of New Mex­ico. Mi­chael Ben­net of Col­or­ado, chair­man of the Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, also signed the let­ter. Shaheen her­self is fa­cing reelec­tion in 2014.

When asked wheth­er the open-en­roll­ment peri­od should be ex­ten­ded, the No. 2 Demo­crat in the Sen­ate, Dick Durbin, said, “I want to hear the White House’s re­sponse on how quickly they’ll be able to take care of the prob­lem.”

The Shaheen group’s ini­ti­at­ive is markedly dif­fer­ent from the ef­fort un­der­taken by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is draft­ing a bill to delay the in­di­vidu­al-man­date pen­alty for one year.

By con­trast, ex­tend­ing the en­roll­ment peri­od may be more polit­ic­ally pal­at­able, even though the two strategies may play out sim­il­arly in prac­tice.

Shaheen has cast her in­put not as barbs or bills to move through Con­gress, but as simple sug­ges­tions dir­ec­ted to the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Don’t ex­pect any kind of le­gis­lat­ive fix to come of it; lead­er­ship has no plans to bring something to the floor that would ex­tend the en­roll­ment peri­od, ac­cord­ing to an aide. Rather, many view it as a con­ver­sa­tion between law­makers and the White House.

The White House has said it will give Amer­ic­ans un­til March 31, 2014, to sign up for health in­sur­ance be­fore they would be pen­al­ized. “Ex­tend­ing this peri­od will give con­sumers crit­ic­al time in which to be­come fa­mil­i­ar with the web­site and choose a plan that is best for them,” the sen­at­ors wrote on Fri­day. “In­di­vidu­als should not be pen­al­ized for lack of cov­er­age if they are un­able to pur­chase health in­sur­ance due to tech­nic­al prob­lems.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pects Health­ to be up and run­ning smoothly by Nov. 30. But that hasn’t quieted law­makers’ con­cerns. Durbin said, “I have a few more ques­tions I want to ask be­fore I make a fi­nal de­cision” on wheth­er he’s sat­is­fied with that time frame.

The White House did not re­spond when asked about the sen­at­ors’ let­ter, but Shaheen said she’s go­ing to con­tin­ue her ef­forts.

“The law said that people were go­ing to have six months to en­roll,” she said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Na­tion. “Un­like a lot of the pro­pos­als that we have seen from people whose goal is to re­peal it to make sure it doesn’t work, I want it to work.”


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