WASHINGTON: A month after emerging from a government shutdown at the top of their game, many Democrats in Congress newly worried about the party’s re-election prospects are for the first time distancing themselves from President Barack Obama after the disastrous rollout of his health-care overhaul.
At issue, said several Obama allies, is a loss of trust in the president after only 106,000 people — instead of an anticipated half million — were able to buy insurance coverage the first month of the new Affordable Care Act websites. In addition, some 4.2 million Americans received notices from insurers that policies Obama had promised they could keep were being canceled.
“Folks are now, I think in talking to members, more cautious with regard to dealing with the president,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee and one of the first leaders in his state to endorse Obama’s presidential candidacy six year ago.
Cummings, the White House’s biggest defender in a Republican-controlled committee whose agenda is waging war against the administration over Benghazi, the IRS scandal, a gun-tracking operation and now health care, said he still thinks Obama is operating with integrity. But he noted that not all his Democratic colleagues agree.
“They want to make sure that everything possible is being done to, number one, be transparent, [two], fix this website situation and, three, to restore trust,” Cummings said.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., like Cummings, a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus who personally likes Obama, struggled to describe the state of play between congressional Democrats and the president.
“I am trying to think if you can call it a relationship at this point,” he said.
Clay said the administration is now obligated to “fix it, fix all of it” after Obama apologized this month for both the insurance website problems and his earlier promises that people could keep their old polices. Otherwise, he said, “a wide brush will be used to paint us all as incompetent and ineffective.”
Obama is now allowing insurance companies to reissue their canceled policies for another year. But the Affordable Care Act’s problems have left Democrats vulnerable to an orchestrated assault by Republicans who six weeks ago were on the losing end of the government shutdown.
The political body language tells the story of the strain. Thirty-nine House Democrats in Obama’s party defied the president’s veto threat and voted for a GOP-sponsored bill to permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of requirements in the law.
Repairing the relationship between Obama and his allies may be as complex as fixing the website and health-care law. Much rests on rebuilding trust with the public, a solid majority of which now opposes “Obamacare,” according to multiple polls. Both parties will be watching on Saturday to see whether the vast majority of those who try to sign up for policies on the website will succeed, as Obama has promised. Democrats have urged the administration to quit setting “red lines” like the Nov. 30 deadline, that carry the risk of being broken.