Senate Democrats unveiled an agenda Wednesday focused on the middle class and designed to help them keep the majority, but spent part of their press conference parrying questions about whether the Affordable Care Act would be a liability for Democrats in the November election.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ripped Republicans for attacking the White House's latest deadline extension aimed at giving people more time to sign up for health insurance beyond March 31.
“They should be trying to help people get health care,” Reid said, adding that the criticism is “a bunch of drivel.” He said it was the right thing to do given the demand, and noted some people aren't Internet-literate.
“There is no hiccup or delay, we’ve had hundreds of thousands of people who tried to sign up and they didn’t get through,” Reid said.
"There are some people who are not like my grandchildren who can handle everything so easily on the Internet, and these people need a little extra time," he said, praising the administration's move. "There are people that are not educated in how to use the Internet, so this is not anything other than the right thing to do for heaven sakes."
Reid reacted sharply when he was told that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, today called the move "a joke" (video) given that the administration has waived or delayed various parts of the measure.
“Have you ever heard one Republican say one constructive word about as many as 15 million people having insurance they would not have before [passage of the law]?” Reid said. “And the joke, I say to my dear friend John Boehner, is him, having more than 60 votes to terminate Obamacare.”
Reid attributed the criticism to what he contends is the Republican playbook of opposing anything from the Obama administration.
“This is their game,” Reid said.
Despite issues with the health insurance law, Reid and other Democratic leaders said they are somewhat confident that they will keep the majority in the Senate, in part, because of their middle class-centric agenda, which they titled “A Fair Shot for Everyone.”
“We feel very comfortable where we are,” Reid said when asked about their chances. "In spite of the Koch brothers with their outrageous spending — two men who by the way last week were fined $400,000 for one of their chemical plants spewing out poison," Reid said. "We're doing fine. We have superb candidates, all over the country."
He said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet of Colorado briefed the Senate Democrats on the midterms.
"Believe me, my senators walked out of their with smiles on their faces," Reid said.
Democrats currently control 55 seats in the Senate and Republicans would need to win just six seats to win the majority.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed with Reid and argued that the Republicans sought to use Obamacare against Democrats in 2012 and failed.
“In the 2012 election…what did Republicans make the number one issue, Obamacare,” Schumer said. “What did Democrats make the number one issue, an agenda like this. What happened? We picked up seats in the Senate and we carried the presidency by a large amount. This agenda is what the American people want to hear.”
Schumer said most Americans get their health insurance through their jobs and only a small section are affected by Obamacare.
“The American people, most are not directly affected by Obamacare, they want to hear what we are going to do for them,” Schumer said. “Just go back and look at the 2012 election.”
Senate Democrats plan to take up the first issue of their agenda next week, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. That will be followed by a measure the week after on pay equity.
The Senate will take up bills yet to be written on other issues, including manufacturing, college affordability, tax fairness and infrastructure. They are the kinds of bills that Democrats have pushed before without much success since Republicans took over the House.
Schumer also said that Democrats would seek to pass bipartisan bills as well, including a measure reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, patent reform legislation, an energy efficiency measure from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as well as a sentencing reform bill.
“Those bills are important, but the issue we have here go to the heart of the middle class,” Schumer said.
Republicans were quick to dismiss the reviving of the more politically motivated items.
"To put it in a word, they've given up," said John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, in a statement.
"They've given up legislating and are going to spend the next several months holding a series of show votes, which are in essence those designed to highlight poll-tested messages ... I would think the American people would expect and certainly they would deserve better than that from the United States Senate."