Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania was the first House Democrat to stand and defiantly call out his vote against Nancy Pelosi’s bid for minority leader on the first day of the new Congress Wednesday.
But Altmire’s willingness to defy the liberal Democratic leadership does not translate into support for the Republican drive in the House to repeal President Obama’s health-care bill next week, even though Altmire voted against the bill last year when it passed.
Rep. Heath Shuler, the North Carolina Democrat who challenged Pelosi for the minority leader position and received 11 votes, also voted against the health overhaul last year but is not voting for the Republican repeal bill.
Why? They say they want to keep the portions of the bill they like and repeal the parts they don’t.
“I voted against the bill because on the whole I believe, and I still believe, that it did more harm than good,” Altmire said on Fox News Thursday. “But there is no reason that the repeal has to be structured in a way that you literally throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Key moderate Democrats in both the Senate and the House have begun to stake out this position.
Sen. Joe Manchin, the newly elected West Virginia Democrat whose key campaign ad showed him literally shooting the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House, announced Friday he is cosponsoring a provision to repeal a portion of the health-care bill that creates onerous new tax reporting requirements for small business, known as the 1099 provision.
Manchin cosponsored a similar bill during the lame duck session of Congress last month.
“The 1099 provision would kill jobs, paralyze the millions of small business owners who have endured the worst recession in generations and who are doing the hard work of getting our economy moving again,” Manchin said. “Democrats and Republicans should work together to make this commonsense change immediately and then move on to reviewing and fixing the other problematic parts of the health-care bill.”
Some Republicans have indicated they think many House Democrats would join them in voting for repeal, which is the second symbolic act of the new majority’s time in power, following their action to cut the budgets for congressional offices by five percent.
The repeal vote is set to take place on Jan. 12.
So far, only two House Democrats who voted against the health-care bill in March have said they’ll support the full repeal: Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas and Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma. A few others are uncommitted and could end up voting for repeal.
The political calculus for many of these House Democrats is fairly simple. First, they are now in a general election cycle where more voters will participate in their primary election because of the president’s presence on the ballot.
Obama’s base support will also bring more young and minority voters to the polls who will be sympathetic to the kind of political attack ad that could be run against House Democrats in a primary challenge, hitting them for opposing the parts of the bill that make for political hay.
“Voting for repeal opens the door to a primary challenge from their left. And while they may win it, it’s something they don’t want to have to deal with,” said a senior House Democratic leadership aide.
The bill forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to those with preexisting medical conditions, from rescinding coverage from customers if they get sick, allows parents to keep children up to age 26 on their policy, and gives seniors more money for prescription drugs.
“Everyone agrees those are things that needed to be done,” Altmire said. “Let’s take those off the table and let’s repeal everything else.”
But even liberal Democrats have said they want to make changes to the bill, attempting to change the tenor of the debate from one that is about turning back the bill to one that is about simply refining it.
“We also believe that the only perfect law ever enacted was carried down the mountain by Senator Moses. Every other effort has needed some visitation, reconsideration, and this will too,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat.