WASHINGTON — Dealing a blow to President Obama’s effort to fix problems with his healthcare law, more than three dozen House Democrats voted Friday to support a Republican-sponsored bill to address the crisis, brushing aside White House warnings that the legislation would only make matters worse.
Thirty-nine Democrats joined Republicans in a 261-157 vote to approve the legislation, offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), which would allow insurers to continue selling individual policies that do not meet new federal standards.
The Democratic defections, which the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) had hoped to prevent, highlighted the growing unease among House Democrats over the botched rollout of the program and dissatisfaction with the administration's proposed fix, announced by the president on Thursday.
Both the Upton bill and the president's administrative fix were crafted to respond to the number of cancellation notices being sent to customers in the individual insurance market, despite repeated promises by Obama that Americans would be allowed to keep their plans if they wanted.
The GOP-controlled House was always expected to approve the bill, which Republicans described as the first step in a campaign to kill the Affordable Care Act.
“The president repeatedly said that if you liked your healthcare plan you could keep it,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “We knew this was a promise he could not keep, and now it’s a promise he has broken.”
The vote was seen as a critical test of Democratic unity. The president sought to tamp down a revolt from congressional Democrats by announcing the administrative remedy, which gave insurance companies federal permission to renew policies for one year.
Hill Democrats — many of whom fear that their support for the president’s healthcare law will be used against them by Republicans during the 2014 election — welcomed the president’s move, as well as his acknowledgment during a news conference of the political bind he had put them in.
But many still saw a need to demonstrate they were also responsive to voters’ concerns.
“I’m just sending a message by my vote to my constituents back home that I’m going to take whatever action I can take as a member of Congress to fix the problems that have been created, unfortunately, in the law,” said Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), who voted in favor of the Upton bill. “It’s me being responsible to the people back home.”
Defections by House Democrats included not just lawmakers like Barber who represent swing or Republican-leaning districts. Bruce Braley, a candidate for an open Senate seat in Iowa next year, also voted for the bill.
It was unlikely that the Senate would pass a similar bill, and Obama has vowed to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
"It is only a masquerade, a Trojan horse coming in to undermine the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said, deriding what she said was the 46th legislative attempt by Republicans to scuttle the law.
House Democrats offered an alternative proposal, similar to legislation sponsored by Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the Senate, that would allow individuals who had substandard plans to keep them for an additional year.
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