Listen Some Democrats suggest they would support Republican legislation that could roll back parts of the federal health care law
Reporters in the U.S. Capitol are good at smelling fear. For the past two days, they've been hunting down Democrats who may face tough re-election challenges next year to find out whether they're breaking from their party on the insurance issue.
That's why U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who represents Minnesota's 8th District, found himself surrounded by pack of a dozen reporters this afternoon, getting peppered with questions about whether he ever expected President Barack Obama's now-infamous promise that people would be able to keep their health care plans would come back to haunt him.
"Oh, I would like to be able to say I envisioned the brouhaha that would flow from it," Nolan said. "But quite frankly I didn't."
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For the last month, the federal healthcare website has been plagued by numerous problems and delays and millions of Americans received letters from insurance companies that their healthcare plans would be cancelled because they don't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. To stem a national tide of dissatisfaction, the president today announced changes to the law that would allow insurance companies to keep consumers in their plans for one year.
Despite the president's announcement, some Minnesota Democrats in Congress are signaling they were prepared to vote with Republicans to prevent people from losing their insurance. It's a sign some Democrats are becoming increasingly worried that the problems with the rollout of the health care law will hurt them in next year's election.
Nolan, whose district the president narrowly won last year, could be one of the lawmakers in jeopardy. That could explain why Nolan was vague about whether he'll vote Friday for a Republican bill that will allow insurance companies to keep selling policies don't meet Affordable Care Act standards. But Nolan said he would consider some kind of legislation to address the cancellation notices people have been receiving from their insurance companies.
"A promise made is a promise kept, and I think we have an obligation to do that," he said.
Minnesota's two Democratic senators are trying to keep a low profile on the issue though neither has signed onto bills that would allow the 140,000 consumers in the state whose policies don't meet the new standards to keep those plans.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she first wants to see whether President Obama's fix does the job.
"We have to make sure it works and then we could look at legislative changes if there's problems," Klobuchar said.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who is running for re-election next year, said he was still reviewing the details of the president's proposal to determine whether it's sufficient.
"But I believe it's a step in the right direction and I hope it will help those Minnesotans whose plans were cancelled," he said.
Two other Minnesota Democrats who face potentially close races next year appear ready to support the Republican bill in the House on Friday.
"This is what I was concerned about," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents Minnesota's 7th District, said of the cancellations.
Peterson was one of very few in his party to oppose the Affordable Care Act when it passed. His district is among the most conservative in the state, and he's survived there politically by at times keeping a healthy distance from his party.
"These things that they were saying where they were going to tell people what's good for them, it's just not my philosophy," he said. "People are smart enough to figure out what they want on their own. They don't need the government telling them what to do."
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the 1st District, also may back the Republican bill. His district very narrowly backed the president over Republican nominee Mitt Romney last year.
But Walz characterized the Republican legislation as an attempt to try to improve the federal healthcare law rather than simply repeal it, as the GOP has tried to do many times before.
"It looks like now, maybe for the first time, some of our colleagues are willing to do that and I'm certainly willing to help them," Walz said in an interview Wednesday.
But U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents Minneapolis and its close-in suburbs in the 5th District, said voting with Republicans who want to change the new federal healthcare law would be "a huge mistake."
Ellison said the Republican bill is a Trojan horse that will undermine the insurance market reforms of the Affordable Care Act by allowing less-generous health plans to be sold to new customers.
"Do you really want people to keep plans where if they get sick you really can't use them?" Ellison asked.
The question on the minds of Democrats like Walz, Nolan and Peterson is whether the healthcare law's woes will drag down Democrats in next year's election.
Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg isn't sure yet -- especially as people's feelings about the Affordable Care Act will vary significantly by state.
"To me the anti-incumbency feeling and the hatred towards Washington is more challenging for incumbents than ACA is, especially in a state like Minnesota where you have a functioning exchange," Greenberg said.
For liberals in safe districts, such as Ellison, the rollout problems won't have any impact on their campaigns.
But he doesn't want to see Democrats weaken the law right at the moment it's taking effect.
Ellison is making a wish that nearly every Democrat in Washington is probably making -- that healthcare.gov is mostly fixed by the end of the month as the president promised.
"The faster the website gets fixed, the faster these Democrats will stop being jittery about sticking with this bill," he said.