Dilemma For Some Democrats On Obamacare: Party First or Self-Preservation?

Democratic politicians are in a curious position right now. Consider the dilemma: after the party’s near total unity when rallying for Obamacare, the legislation’s inherent flaws are becoming so obvious that the public’s image of the administration is shifting. Those sinking approval ratings do bear on the president’s party. Case in point: the 2010 midterms.

And the Democrats do have something to worry about. Back on October 22nd, things looked pretty good for the party. A Washington Post-ABC poll released that day showed Republicans with a 67% unfavorable rating. Fast-forward to November 12th, Quinnipiac announces that Obama’s job approval rating hit an all-time low (same rating W. Bush had during at this point in his presidency). To add insult to injury, the same poll shows that voters:

  • disapprove of how Obama handles foreign policy, immigration, the federal budget, health care, and the economy (thumbs up for terrorism though);
  • approve extending the March 31 deadline by 73 to 20 percent;
  • oppose the ACA by 55 to 39 percent;
  • gave Obama his lowest rating ever on whether he’s “honest and trustworthy” (44%);
  • and are divided nearly 50/50 “on whether Obama ‘knowingly deceived’ the public when he said people keep their existing health insurance plans if they wished.”

What a difference one month makes.

A public chewing over whether or not the president intentionally hoodwinked them doesn’t bode well for the individual Democrats in Congress. And the public has reason to wonder.

They thought that “if you like your plan, you can keep it” was an agreement contained in the ACA’s text. They didn’t foresee insurance companies having to issue cancellations due to the ten minimum requirements codified in the ACA. They didn’t expect to find out that the administration knew for three years that these cancellations would occur. And in spite of the administration’s “high traffic” claims, it was revealed that they did know about the huge issues with the HealthCare.gov site before launch. And well before the launch – they knew in March.

Claiming ignorance, shifting blame, and then eventually relenting doesn’t really project honesty.

And I need not address the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans citizens who aren’t involved in any criminal investigations. The average American doesn’t believe President Obama’s announcement that the NSA would “tighten restrictions” on their domestic surveillance programs. And, heck, the president kept up the domestic surveillance that he railed against as Senator Obama in 2008. No wonder people question whether the president knowingly deceived them.

The administration has lost quite a bit of credibility. The ACA’s limp rollout has become so pathetic that 39 Democrats in the House of Representatives defied the administration by voting for a GOP bill that allows for canceled plans to continue to be sold through 2014. Nancy Pelosi dismissed this small rebellion as “political” votes to retain seats in vulnerable districts.

Of course the votes were political. That’s a given. What Pelosi fails to consider in her public dismissal is the long-term goals of Congressional Democrats. Pelosi has already attained a position of power in Washington that other politicians strive for — the whole politics game is a matter of balancing party unity with individual self-interest in order to increase one’s influence. Isn’t that what being in national politics is all about?

The point of reiterating it is that the administration is on damage control at a time where the ACA is becoming more and more unpopular. If (or rather when) things continue to implode, there’s going to be a point where survival instinct goes beyond party unity.

And the Obamacare Patch the president announced to extend canceled plans is likely to backfire too. 2014′s insurance premiums are already locked in for this year with those plans being dropped brought into the calculation. Expect premiums to get even higher to cover the gap.

Oh, and those pathetic enrollment numbers?

Fears that insurance exchanges that are the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul wouldn’t attract the young, healthy people needed to make them financially viable are being heightened by the early results of signups in several states.

If it becomes a trend, that could lead to increases in insurance premiums and deductibles next year. Along with the paltry enrollment numbers released this week, officials in a handful of states said those who had managed to sign up were generally older people with medical problems — those with the greatest incentives to get coverage.

It’s unclear whether that will persist. Young, healthy people may be more inclined to procrastinate, especially given doubts about the law’s technically flawed online signup system. They have until Dec. 15 to sign up if they want to be covered on Jan. 1.

Insurers have warned that they need a wide range of people signing up for coverage because premiums paid by adults in the younger and healthier group, between 18 and 35, are needed to offset the cost of carrying older and sicker customers who typically generate far more in medical bills than they contribute in premiums.

Good luck getting young people — who are either covered by their parents until age 26, by educational institutions, by employers, or historically purchase catastrophic plans – to fork out the dough to buy expensive comprehensive plans to offset the costs of other people in the risk pool. The exchanges offer catastrophic plans as well, but they’re not exactly cheap when you factor in the deductible. Here’s the lowest priced plan available for a 25-year-old woman in the state of Connecticut who left her dependent out of the calculation (i.e., me):

It doesn’t matter if the party rallied together behind Obamacare during its passage and buildup. The more Congressional Democrats who distance themselves from the law and the administration, the greater chance that the continuation of the ACA in itself will be under consideration. One cannot expect Democrats to get behind a full repeal any time soon — if ever. But more retooling will cast the law in a harsher light.

And if the public gets behind something their congressmen can’t ignore, well….

It’s easy for Democrats like Elizabeth Warren to go on about the GOP “taking hostages” for wanting to retool Obamacare during the shutdown. She has the party clout to stand by that statement for as long as she wants. Congressional Democrats may be thinking that they got out of the shutdown in pretty good shape, but within weeks that turned on its head. And the Democrats’ ideological leaders shouldn’t be relying on a replay of nearly unbreakable — and counterproductive — unity from party members when people’s seats come into play.

So what is the Congressional Democrat to do? Gamble on the administration making a comeback and try to gain leverage there? Or run from an imploding piece of legislation to stay in Washington in the first place?

With all the drama and intrigue of power plays, 39 Democrats “defecting” to the Republicans isn’t something to scoff at. If that website doesn’t get going by the end of this month? You can bet on more Democrats getting behind Marco Rubio’s plans to put forward legislation to delay the individual responsibility penalty. From October 22nd:

Amid the problems, top Republican lawmakers are redoubling their efforts to delay ObamaCare’s implementation, with Sen. Marco Rubio announcing he is planning to introduce legislation that would delay the individual mandate until the technical failures are addressed.

And it doesn’t look like those technical failures will be addressed in time. In fact, it looks like even more is going to go wrong.

Keep your eyes peeled the next few weeks. The grumblings of an intraparty rebellion against the administration may be starting. As Obamacare becomes more rotten, I suspect more than 39 Democrats will be questioning the administration’s “wisdom.”