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Dems Scramble To Minimize Defections On GOP's Obamacare Bill

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AP Photo / Evan Vucci

Democratic leaders aren't confident that many members won't side with Republicans in the vote, which is expected early afternoon. But they're hoping President Barack Obama's administrative fix announced Thursday -- to let insurers continue existing, if substandard, insurance policies into 2014 -- will allay the concerns of Democrats who have been panicking about the political fallout over the law's botched rollout.

"We expect Democrats to largely oppose the Upton bill," said a House Democratic leadership aide. "They're definitely not going to get a veto-proof majority, which is what matters."

The bill, offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), goes somewhat further than the president's fix by letting insurers sell those plans -- which fail to meet Obamacare's minimum benefit standards -- to anyone, rather than just existing policy holders. While both parties are playing up that difference, it's unclear just how consequential it would be, given that insurers and state insurance regulators immediately warned Thursday that it may not be feasible to continue substandard plans at this stage, let alone re-open policies that have already been canceled.

"Members wanted answers and today the administration delivered," said a second House Democratic leadership aide. "We now have a way to move forward to improve and implement the Affordable Care Act. What House Republicans are offering is nothing more than a ruse, a trojan horse to sabotage the health care law."

A House GOP leadership aide insisted the Obama and Upton fixes were different. "The Keep Your Health Plan Act aims to help Americans keep their health care plan and give their neighbors a chance to buy the same plans rather than being forced to buy their insurance from healthcare.gov. In other words, the 2013 plans currently available would be available to everyone who wants a more affordable plan that suits their needs. There is no confusion -- it removes the impediment in law that restricts insurance plans from being offered."

Although vulnerable Democratic senators say they want to go further than Obama and enact a legislative fix, the party leadership is resisting that route, wary of opening up the opportunity for Republicans to offer amendments designed to weaken Obamacare. Top White House officials met with Senate and House Democrats on Thursday to ease their concerns.

The White House formally threatened to veto the Upton legislation Thursday night, saying that it "threatens the health care security of hard working, middle class families" and accusing Republicans of "refighting old political battles to sabotage the health care law."

The White House Office of Management and Budget said the bill "rolls back the progress made by allowing insurers to continue to sell new plans that deploy practices such as not offering coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, charging women more than men, and continuing yearly caps on the amount of care that enrollees receive."

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.