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February 10, 2016

Landrieu, Begich Among Moderates Pushing Obamacare Fixes

A day after Senate Democratic leaders played down possible election year blowback from Obamacare, a group of six moderate Democrats, including two with tough reelection races, unveiled a package of proposals for improving the law.

Senior Senate Republicans aides argued that the timing belies that Democrats are worried that the troubled roll out of the health care law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, could hurt them in the November election.

“They see the writing on the wall just like everybody else,” one GOP aide said.

The aides’ comments come after Democrats unveiled their middle-class-focused their agenda Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was peppered with questions about whether Democrats were concerned about electoral fallout from the health care law.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., dismissed the GOP criticism and said she has been committed to improving the law since it became law. She also stressed not to read anything into the timing.

“First of all, don’t try to put those things together because they have nothing to do with each other,” said Landrieu, who is in a tossup race, according to the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings.

“There have been several of us who have said from the beginning, since we voted for the Affordable Care Act, that it could be improved, that it was not perfect,” Landrieu continued. “We have been talking about it for literally a year and a half. We’ve all filed a variety of different bills to improve it. This work that our group has been doing has been going on for months and months and months.”

“So what this is is just an ongoing effort … to improve the Affordable Care Act, and that is all it is,” Landrieu said.

She reiterated her support for the law and stressed that it will insure millions who would otherwise not have it.

“My position has been the same from the beginning,” Landrieu said. “I think it still holds a tremendous amount of promise for middle class families, small business and companies that have never really offered affordable coverage. [But] there are some problems with it and I believe with some fixes and improvements it can be stronger.”

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who is also a member of the group, agreed that the bill could be improved. Begich is up for reelection and Republicans see his seat as a possible pick up — though at the moment the race tilts Democratic, according to Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

“Whether it’s an issue [in the election] or not, there are fixes that are necessary,” Begich said. “I’ve proposed fixes literally not long after the bill passed — some that have become law.”

Begich, as did Landrieu, helped champion a bill passed in 2011 that repealed a requirement under the law that companies file a 1099 form with the IRS every time they conduct $600 worth of business with a vendor.

“I am going to continue to push forward, as I have on my own, but now as a larger group maybe will have more push.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide said the efforts of the moderate Democrats are in tune with the agenda they unveiled yesterday, which is focused on middle class, pocketbook issues affecting most Americans rather than the subset of people affected by the health care law given that most people get their health insurance through their jobs.

“It’s important to do both, answer attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but also push to make it better, in addition to promoting a positive agenda that affects the entirety of the America people,” the aide said.

But Republicans contend that the agenda is merely an effort to change the subject from the health care law ahead of the November election.

The Democrat’s “so-called agenda is actually a political gambit … [which] basically has one intent: to bail out imperiled Democrats — Democrats desperate to distract from how Obamacare is devastating the middle class,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday morning.

Along with Landrieu and Begich, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote an op-ed in Politico proposing nine improvements to the law.

The proposed fixes are aimed at offering more convenient and greater access to coverage, greater choice and affordability, and improved flexibility for workers and businesses.

The bills include one that would provide a permanent path for consumers to enroll directly through insurers or certified web-based entities in addition to enrolling through healthcare.gov. Another, championed by Begich, would create a “copper” plan that would offer lower deductibles but higher out-of-pocket costs than the health law’s gold, silver and bronze plans.

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