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Democrats' Anxiety Grows Over Obamacare Problems

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee questioned Tavenner at Tuesday’s hearing on Obamacare.

When a loyal leader on your own team says there is a “crisis of confidence” surrounding your signature initiative, you’ve got trouble.

That’s the phrase Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland used repeatedly Tuesday morning to describe the rollout of the new health care law as she questioned Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the health agency tasked with overseeing the law’s implementation.

“I believe that there’s been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the website, the canceling of policies, and sticker shock from some people,” said Mikulski, who has generally been a strong ally of the administration.

She cited a news report that 73,000 people in her own state are getting cancellation notices, “so there has been fear, doubt and a crisis of confidence” — and she’s worried people, particularly the young, won’t enroll as a result.

Indeed, the Affordable Care Act’s website woes, combined with millions facing the cancellation of their individual policies despite President Barack Obama’s assurances that would not happen, have put Hill Democrats in an increasingly awkward position — with no easy way out.

After celebrating their victory over the GOP during the government shutdown by sticking firm on Obamacare, vulnerable Hill Democrats are now looking for cover.

The White House now is in a race to fix the problems before demands within the Democratic Party for legislative fixes become overwhelming — either in the form of a proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia for a one-year delay in the individual mandate or Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s new proposal to keep grandfathered plans online instead of generating more cancellation notices.

Landrieu, of course, is up for re-election in 2014, and it’s no secret the GOP intends to use the health care law’s troubles as fuel to defeat her and other vulnerable Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the developments “foxhole conversions” by Democrats. “I think we’re witnessing the beginning of a stampede away from the president’s signature accomplishment,” the Kentucky Republican said.

“I think what’ll be really interesting to see in the Senate is the number of Democrats in very red states who are up in ’14 and what they start demanding of the majority leader and the administration, in terms of adjustments to this law,” McConnell said. “We all know they were lockstep a couple of weeks ago — everybody voting against defunding, voting against delaying and all the rest. Now, it seems to me we’re hearing a kind of different tune.”

One such Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, said he’s going to look at Landrieu’s proposal as well as legislative fixes of his own.

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