Moderate Senate Democrats who voted to repeal a provision of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law say they are open to working with Republicans on more changes — but only if those changes are meant to improve, rather than dismantle, the measure.
All but a dozen Senate Democrats joined a united Senate GOP Conference on Tuesday in voting 87-12 to send Obama the House-passed version of a bill to repeal a requirement that companies to file a 1099 form with the IRS every time they conduct $600 worth of business with a vendor.
Members of both parties had panned the provision as overly burdensome to small businesses, but the White House and some Senate Democrats objected to the bill’s method of offsetting revenue that would be lost if the provision is repealed. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), would pay for the change by requiring some families to repay more health insurance subsidies.
Senate Republican leaders seized on Tuesday’s overwhelming vote as an indication that there would be bipartisan support for other efforts to chip away at the law.
“A bunch of Democrats voted for this repeal, so there will be other efforts,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Congressional Democrats have been unified in their opposition to Republicans’ efforts to push a full-scale repeal. Not a single Senate Democrat backed a McConnell amendment Feb. 2 that would have repealed the health care law, and just three House Democrats backed a GOP repeal bill Jan. 19.
Still, roughly half a dozen moderate Senate Democrats said Tuesday that there are changes they would like to see to the law but that they would be willing to work with Republicans only if they had assurances that GOP lawmakers were working in good faith and not just trying to score political points.
“I’ve got an open mind on any other improvements, but I just want to make sure that it’s an improvement, not an effort to dismantle it,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who was the final Democratic holdout before the health care bill passed the Senate in 2009.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, another vulnerable Democrat up in 2012, said she was “always willing to look at anything to make the bill better” and that she would work with Republicans to do so.
“I’m not shutting the door on any discussion on ways to improve the legislation,” McCaskill said, adding that she was particularly interested expanding pilot programs to create more incentives to deliver preventive care.
In another signal that she may be open to changes to the individual mandate, McCaskill said it is important “to be ready” for a potential Supreme Court ruling on the mandate’s constitutionality.
Sen. Mary Landrieu cautioned that the broad Democratic support for the 1099 repeal “should not be interpreted as a willingness to chip away at the health care law” but that she and other Democrats “had always been open” to revisiting some aspects of the law.
“Not to chip it away, but to make it better, and we remain open,” the Louisiana Democrat said. “Republicans have been, for the most part, intransigent in not wanting this bill to work. They just want the president to fail. ... They want the health care bill to fail, and it’s terrible. ... That’s the position they took, and — as far as I know — they still hold it.”
As it did with the idea of repealing the 1099 requirement, the White House has given its blessing to legislation that Landrieu and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have introduced that would allow states to apply for a waiver in 2014 to opt out of major provisions of the health care law. Under the current law, states would have to wait until 2017 to apply for such a waiver.
Wyden described the proposal as a “natural” next step and said he had made the case to leadership for the measure.
Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin, the chief Democratic co-sponsor of the version of the 1099 repeal that the Senate passed Tuesday, said he, too, was willing to team up with Republicans to give states more freedom over how to implement the health care law.
“We’re looking at how the states have more flexibility,” the former West Virginia governor said. “You cant put the states in the bind that they are in. Coming from the state, I understand that.”
From a political standpoint, however, Republicans are hesitant to let go of the notion that they can get mileage out of Democrats’ support for the health care law, opposition to which many Republicans credit with the gains the party made in the 2010 midterms.
“I hope that now that people have learned a little bit more about the health care bill as its being implemented, that they will join us in repealing more of it. I have some other ideas after this one,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. “Every time there’s a vote and a debate up here, it raises the visibility of it, and I think the more people learn about the health care bill, the less they like it. And so we expect to see that continue.”