First off, would anyone mind if I took a moment to eat a little crow? In early October I picked on Md. Congressman Andy Harris for calling the troubled roll-out of the Maryland Health Connection’s website a “bad omen” for Obamacare. Turns out, he could barely have been more correct. So far, anyway.
Not only have healthcare.gov’s technical difficulties proved to be a bigger problem than the administration initially let on, but President Obama’s repeated promise that Americans would have the option of keeping their current health plans became his own personal “Read my lips” moment as a few million Americans received cancellation notices from their insurance companies.
As Obama’s approval ratings drop, some Democratic lawmakers (many of whom will soon be up for re-election) have turned against the president, demanding that he alter the Affordable Care Act to allow active health insurance plans that don’t meet the new law’s coverage standards to be grandfathered in, at least for now. Even former President Bill Clinton has spoken up in favor of Obama tinkering with the ACA to retroactively keep his promise.
But there’s at least one Democratic legislator who appears prepared to stand by the president and his eponymous health care law come hell or negative approval ratings: Maryland’s Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. As the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, he has had it out with his Republican counterpart Darrell Issa, during ACA hearings, defending the website against Issa’s laundry-list indictment with a partisan attack. “Nobody in this room believes Republicans want to fix this site,” he said.
When enrollment numbers failed to meet expectations, Cummings blamed Republicans again: “Republican governors refused to set up state exchanges, forcing the federal government to bear more of the workload. To me, this is one of the most inexplicable actions I have ever witnessed from elected representatives against their own people.”
It’s true that in recent years the GOP has demonstrated an inclination to sabotage — Mitch McConnell’s “deny Obama a second term” comment and the Obamcare-centric government shutdown come to mind — so the suggestion that Republicans would deliberately hinder the enrollment process may not be all that far-fetched. But does the president bear any of the responsibility for these problems? Any at all?
Cummings’s loyalty to the president may play well in Maryland where, according to a recent Goucher College poll, most residents remain “cautiously optimistic” about the health care law’s impact.