Democrats are beginning to show signs of division as the House of Representatives prepares to vote this week to ensure that the millions of Americans who have received cancellation notices of their health care plans can keep their preferred coverage.
The Keep Your Health Plan Act, which would allow insurance plans currently available to individuals to be offered in 2014 without penalty under the law's individual mandate, is expected to come up for a vote in the House this Friday.
After former President Clinton called on President Obama to "honor the commitment" that if you like your health insurance you can keep it, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer admitted today that the president and other Democrats were "not precise" as they stumped in favor of the health care overhaul.
"The president was not precise and I think that was - he should have been precise. We all should have been more precise," Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the lower chamber, confessed during a briefing with reporters at the Capitol today. "He was not precise enough, and therefore it's led to the position we now find ourselves in."
Hoyer worked to draw a distinction between people keeping policies they obtained before the enactment of the Affordable Care Act on March 25, 2010, and those who acquired health care coverage plans that do not meet criteria set in Obamacare after the president signed the bill into law.
"Had [President Obama] been more precise talking about if you had a policy prior to the signing of the bill where criteria were not applied they were grandfathered in. You know, if you liked it you could keep it," Hoyer, D-Md., explained. "If you got a policy subsequent to that that didn't meet the criteria, that's what you're seeing cancellations on [now]."
Hoyer said that while he had not yet read the Keep Your Health Plan Act or decided definitively about how he will vote, he is "inclined" to oppose the measure when it comes up for a vote later this week.
To date, just one House Democrat, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, has signed on to co-sponsor the legislation.
"When folks were first introduced to the Affordable Care Act, they were promised that they could keep their current plan if they liked it. As it turns out, that's not the case today," Barrow, who opposed the health care vote on passage in 2010, wrote in a statement today announcing his support for fix. "We should be doing all we can to ensure that promise is kept."
Upon learning of Barrow's support for the bill, Hoyer dismissed concerns that the upcoming vote could divide the House Democratic Caucus.
"Does it have Democratic co-sponsors?" Hoyer asked reporters, who answered that Barrow had signed on as a co-sponsor. "No, I'm not concerned with that."
Lawmakers returned to Washington today after spending more than a week in their congressional districts. Another House Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, expressed his frustrations with the blowback surrounding the botched rollout, saying that the president "grossly" misled the American public.
"A lot of Americans, a lot of Oregonians, have stayed with the same policy for a number of years and are shocked that their policy got canceled," Schrader said during an interview in Portland with KGW's Straight Talk. "The president saying you could stay with it and not being honest that a lot of these policies were going to get canceled was grossly misleading to the American public and is causing added stress and added strife as we go through a really difficult time with health care."
But on his own official website, Schrader himself had promoted talking points similar to the president's promises, such as "if you are insured and are happy with your current coverage, nothing changes" and "if individuals like their current plan they may keep that plan for as long as they would like."
Schrader voted in favor of the legislation more than three years ago, making him a prime target for conservative challengers.
"After being a loyal Obamacare foot soldier for years, Kurt Schrader is blatantly misleading voters in the face of changing political winds and the law's botched rollout," Alleigh Marré, a National Republican Congressional Campaign spokeswoman, wrote in an email seizing on his apparent hypocrisy. "Maybe next time Schrader will read his own website before such an obvious attempt to deceive voters."
Once the NRCC called Schrader out, the webpage was promptly pulled down.
Hoyer said he hoped that the Obama administration would take preemptive executive action in the days ahead in order to avert the potential spectacle of a bipartisan vote Friday.
"The president apparently is looking at this," Hoyer said. "I'm not sure what he's looking at. I haven't been briefed on it yet. I want to be briefed on what his thoughts are."