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Health Insurance Mandate Votes Are Designed to Put Democrats on Defense

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
It’s unclear whether Pelosi and Democratic leadership will whip against either of the two bills House Republicans are offering to delay implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Freshman Democrats who have spoken out against some provisions of Obamacare are also grappling with their options, given that this is really only their second opportunity to vote on the health law. They had the choice of whether to vote on a full repeal earlier this year, the chamber’s 37th vote to dismantle the law since Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Not many of them did.

Members of the New Democrat Coalition, a more progressive faction than the Blue Dogs who still err toward a more fiscally conservative, pro-business position, have to decide as well how they want to vote on the employer mandate.

“It’s a tough vote for a lot of our members and conversations have already started on that,” coalition spokesman Phil LaRue said. “It will definitely be a tough one for some folks.”

Democratic leadership aides said Monday that no decisions have been made yet on whether to whip against either of the two bills — those conversations will occur in earnest in meetings that take place before the first vote series of the workweek, in this case Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

As for whether leaders might decide to advise their members to vote against the party line if they found it politically advantageous, spokespeople for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland indicated that those strategic decisions are made together.

And an aide familiar with strategy within the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added that Chairman Steve Israel of New York will more often than not advise frontliners to “always listen to your district.”

Some aides suggest, however, that the GOP strategy could backfire. A swath of Republican lawmakers on the far right of the conference, they contend, could end up voting against the measures because they would prefer votes on full repeal.

Though conservative advocacy groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, which take credit for bringing down the first iteration of the farm bill last month, have said they won’t issue key votes against the bills, both have made their positions clear: They want votes to dismantle Obamacare, not simply halt its progress.

“Obviously [Republicans] have Heritage and Club foiling their plans, basically saying they don’t have a position on these bills but they are not supportive because they’re not full repeal,” a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

Matt Fuller contributed to this report.

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