Articles

Democrats Face A Day Of ObamaCare Reckoning

December 11, 2013

When he was asked last week how much of a political liability ObamaCare will be for Senate Democrats in the midterms, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Jeff Gillan of Las Vegas's KSNV, "I think it's going to be good for them."

Brave words, but the Affordable Care Act remains very unpopular. And the intensity of feeling is with its critics.

A Dec. 8 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, found 50% thought the health law was a bad idea—43% strongly (7% not strongly). The survey reported 34% thought ObamaCare is a good idea, but only 27% felt so strongly (7% not strongly).

Congressional Democrats will defend voting for ObamaCare by saying everything will turn out OK eventually (the White House line) or attack its many shortcomings. But either they didn't know the law would raise premiums, hike deductibles, cost families their coverage, reduce hours for part-time workers and stymie job creation for small business—all defects that critics repeatedly warned about—or they didn't care.

Consider the predicament of four Democratic senators up next year who voted for ObamaCare and defended it as the president did. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich used to say, "If you got an insurance plan now, you like it, you keep it." Now he says: "Do I have issues with ObamaCare? Yes." Mr. Begich won in 2008 by 3,953 votes a week after his GOP opponent was convicted on corruption charges (later tossed out) in a state Mitt Romney carried by 14 points. No wonder he has issues with ObamaCare.

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu has been elected by no more than 52% of the voters in three races against weak opponents. She used to say those "who like the coverage they already have will be able to keep their current plan." Now? She is out with an ad saying "I'm fixing it . . . and I've urged the president to fix it." Of the law itself, however, she admitted last week: "Yes, I would support it again." That's after a Nov. 12 Southern Media & Opinion Research poll found Louisianans opposed ObamaCare 59% to 34%.

North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan used to say, "If you've got health insurance in our country, you keep it." Running in one of two states Mr. Obama lost in 2012 after winning in 2008, Ms. Hagan now sounds like she's a criminal investigator: "We need to figure out why this happened." Her Republican opponent will solve the mystery: "This happened" because of Kay Hagan's vote.

Then there's Sen. Mark Pryor, who once reassured Arkansans, "Are we gonna be able to stick with our plan? The answer is yes." Now Mr. Pryor fiercely criticizes the government's enrollment website as if it canceled millions of health plans. In a state Mr. Obama lost by 24 points, this may not help him escape responsibility for voting to pass the Affordable Care Act.

It's not just the seven Democratic Senate seats in red states Mitt Romney carried that are in danger because of ObamaCare. In 2010, four of the six Senate seats Republicans picked up were in states carried by Mr. Obama in 2008. Mr. Obama will be less popular in such purple states in 2014 than he was last November—and so will Democrats who have been passive, reliable votes for him.

So Democratic senators in purple states, like New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen, are at risk for having declared, as she did, "One of the things that I said as a requirement that I have for supporting a bill is that if you have health coverage that you like you should be able to keep that." Colorado Sen. Mark Udall will get intense blowback for mimicking Mr. Obama's pledge, "If you like your current plan, you can keep it." And Virginia Sen. Mark Warner can't escape having pledged: "I'm not going to support a health-care reform plan that's going to take away the health care you've got right now."

ObamaCare will also hurt Democratic congressmen attempting to become senators. Examples are Iowa's Bruce Braley, who asserted that ObamaCare would "allow Americans to maintain their choice of health insurance" and Michigan's Gary Peters, who said "If you're covered and you like your insurance, you can keep it."

A Dec. 8 Democratic Public Policy Polling survey found that 48% of Michiganders disapproved of ObamaCare while only 34% approved. Sixty-three percent thought its implementation unsuccessful. Mr. Peters is behind his GOP opponent, 40% to 42%.

These Democrats are now frantically proclaiming their independence on ObamaCare. But when it truly mattered, they were in lock step with the president. The law exists because congressional Democrats voted for it. While that vote is over, the political pain for these men and women has only begun.

A version of this article appeared December 12, 2013, in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline Democrats Face a Day of ObamaCare Reckoning and online at WSJ.com.

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