WASHINGTON -- Top congressional Democrats on Sunday stood by President Obama and the flawed rollout of the government's healthcare website, expressing confidence the problems would be fixed and the issue would not drag down the party in next year’s mid-term elections.
“I don't think you can tell what will happen next year, but I will tell you this -- Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Pelosi downplayed the defection of 39 House Democrats on Friday who voted to help pass a Republican bill, opposed by the White House, to address the millions of people facing cancellation of their health insurance policies. The bill, which passed 261-157, would allow insurers to continue selling individual policies that do not meet new federal standards under the law.
The number of Democrats who defied President Obama and House Democratic leaders on the vote was about the same as those who have joined with Republicans on other bills to alter the healthcare law, Pelosi said. On one such vote in July, to delay the employer mandate in the law, 35 Democrats joined with Republicans.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the assistant House Democratic leader, said many of his colleagues who voted for the Republican bill Friday did so to protect themselves politically.
“Maybe nine people had real serious concerns,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “The fact of the matter is, about 30 of them, and I’ve talked to them, were insulating themselves against sound bites.”
Clyburn criticized the legislation because it would allow insurers to continue to sell what he called “substandard” and “junk” policies.
But Republicans said Democrats were trying to gloss over the problems with the controversial law.
“No matter how much Congresswoman Pelosi tries to spin this, this is a mess,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said on “Meet the Press.” “My constituents are very unhappy with the notices they're receiving and higher premiums.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the law needed to be scrapped.
“It’s time to start over. This healthcare law is terribly flawed,” he said on CNN. “The president did not need to destroy a good healthcare system to try to make a better one.”
Obama tried to address the problem of policy cancellations last week even as administration officials scrambled to try to get the healthcare.gov website running correctly by the end of the month. On Thursday, Obama gave insurance companies permission to renew policies that were to be canceled for not meeting the law's new standards that require, for example, coverage for prescription drugs, hospitalization and maternity care.
But companies do not have to renew the policies and would need permission from state regulators to do so.
“Keep in mind, it is a suggestion. It is not a ruling, and it certainly is not a law,” Ben Nelson, chief executive of the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners, said on “Fox News Sunday.” A former Democratic senator, Nelson said insurance commissioners are concerned Obama’s proposal could disrupt the healthcare market and lead to higher premiums.
Insurance industry officials have the same concerns. They met with Obama at the White House on Friday and are working with the administration to try to address the issue of policy cancellations, said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.
“We have the same goals. We're going to work together to try to get people into affordable coverage,” she said on "Fox News Sunday." “We have work to do, there is no question. But we have an interest in doing it together and working together on that.”
[For the Record, 1:20 p.m. PST: A previous version of this post incorrectly described Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. She is the chamber's minority leader and former speaker.]