WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill today to allow people to keep their current health insurance plans with just enough Democratic crossovers to keep the White House nervous.
President Obama’s announcement on Thursday that he would defer enforcement of the minimum coverage requirements for healthcare plans for a year was an effort to upend the swelling bipartisan support for the bill offered by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
The message given to the Dem caucus, by both Obama and party leaders, was that legislation wasn’t needed to soothe their angry constituents because the administration had stepped in with a fix. Still, 39 Democrats crossed over to vote in favor of the Upton bill before the House recessed for the weekend.
The bill passed easily, 261-157. Four Republicans voted “no”: Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-Mich.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Tom Massie (R-Ky.).
Broun, a doctor, said he voted against the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013 because it “does nothing to address Obamacare in the long-term.”
“We need to focus on real reform that will actually lower costs and deliver quality care, not waste time with another delay or ‘fix,'” Broun said, noting he’d hosted a constituent conference call last night where “90 percent” wanted full repeal over a short-term fix.
Shortly before the vote, Bridenstine tweeted, “Obama’s attempt to rule by decree is unconstitutional, and dangerous to our republic.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), railing against the Upton bill on the floor before the vote, accused it of doing “violence” to Obamacare.
“The idea that it was helping consumers was the Trojan horse whose underbelly is poisonous in terms of the health and well-being of the American people,” Pelosi said.
Yet not only did the bill advance to the floor, a fair chunk of the caucus melted away even with an administrative fix and talk of a Democratic alternative to the Upton bill.
Voting in favor were Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), John Barrow (D-Ga.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Pete Gallego (D-Texas), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Collin Peterson (D-Mich.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Filemon Vela (D-Texas), and Tim Walz (D-Minn.).
Pelosi said she wanted a bill that essentially mirrored the administration’s fix-it offered yesterday, with a temporary extension of policies under the requirement that insurance companies advise customers of all the extras they receive with Obamacare and what their options are in the marketplace. That alternative was killed by a point of order.
“The stories are so glorious and so beautiful about what a difference the Affordable Care Act has made to families, especially those with small children or those with pre-existing conditions, and to seniors,” Pelosi said, encouraging legislation that gave state insurance commissioners authority to “investigate and act upon rate increases as well as the nature of these letters that were sent out without the integrity that they should have had.”
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) warned on the floor that with old plans existing Obamacare might not survive.
“If anyone who wants to can buy one of these cars without an air bag, or cars without seat belts — and that’s what these plans are — then you will find that the new marketplaces don’t have enough people in them,” he said. “And when they don’t have enough people in them, the rates will rise.”
Barrow, who reached across the aisle to co-sponsor Upton’s bill, reminded his colleagues of his original vote against Obamacare.
“I voted against [the Affordable Healthcare Act] because of the enormous burden it placed on individuals, and at the very least we should be doing all we can to ensure that promise is kept,” the Georgia Dem said. “This bill is the most responsible, bipartisan approach to removing the insurance burdens many will face in 2014, and I’m proud to work with my colleagues to move it forward.”
The Upton bill is already under a veto threat issued last night by the White House, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is unlikely to bring it up in the Senate. But the upper chamber faces its own groundswell of Dem discontent that’s rallying behind Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) own fix-it bill. The two could end up in a conference committee where a deal is forged.
“At one point earlier in this week, it looked like we were gonna get a hundred Democratic votes and that’s when the president decided to actually do something,” Upton told Fox this morning. “So he was content for this broken promise to continue to have legs and just mess up the lives of millions of people.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hailed the bill’s passage as “a big, bipartisan statement about the need to make things right.”
“The president broke his word, had a chance to fix the problem, and only did more damage to his credibility,” Boehner said. “…The Keep Your Health Plan Act represents an important step toward providing relief to those who have lost their plans and face much higher premiums, but the real solution is to scrap the president’s fundamentally-flawed healthcare law and focus on effective, patient-centered reforms that will protect all Americans from this train wreck.”
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) echoed what many Republicans expressed today about the ultimate goal: “We know the only solution to the Obamacare disaster is a full repeal and replacement of the law.”
“Until then, I will work to ensure my constituents don’t suffer from the law’s many harmful consequences and the president’s broken promise,” he said.
“Enough with the administrative fixes and sidestepping of Congress, this train wreck has already left the station and we must replace this big, bad, unworkable law with a free-market system,” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). “There is a better way to healthcare reform that doesn’t include burdensome mandates, broken promises, IRS oversight, and more uninsured Americans.”
“This vote isn’t the end of the process, it is just the beginning. I continue to hear from people from all over the 6th District who were lucky enough to keep their coverage, but now face rising premiums and increasing deductibles. We still need to come back and fix the rest of the law. Better yet, we need to repeal it,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), whose Obamacare Choice Act would make the program voluntary.
“This bill is an effort to help the president keep his word,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “And Lord knows he needs a lot of help.”