By Elahe Izadi and Sam Baker
November 15, 2013
Vulnerable House Democrats back in 2009 knew that they were risking their political careers by casting votes for the Affordable Care Act. And more than 60 of them--including some who didn't even vote for the bill--lost their seats the following year.
So there's an extra psychological twinge for those forced to watch the administration blunder the rollout of the very thing that cost them their jobs.
"Am I disappointed that they didn't so a better job? Yeah I am disappointed—very disappointed," says former Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana, who served a total of five terms and was ousted in 2010.
Despite holding out hope that the current mess will subside, no one can be happy with how the Obama administration has rolled out the central components of the Affordable Care Act. And for those who bet their jobs on it, the current struggle to make the law work is particularly frustrating.
"The bottom line is, I feel like, why, I did my job," says former Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who lost his seat after nine terms. "Whoever was to do the job of getting this implemented correctly didn't do their job, and I'm mad about it."
But Pomeroy retains some sense of hope that the next six months will bring substantial improvements. "All of these start-up problems are going to fade in the face of what has been achieved by the reforms themselves," Pomeroy says.
Democrats everywhere were caught off guard by the failures of HealthCare.gov, the primary Obamacare enrollment website that crashed as soon as it was launched and is still functioning poorly. "I'm a small business owner, and I make sure when I'm rolling out a new program that it works. I test it out," says former Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, who is a doctor and voted for the ACA. He lost in 2010 to Republican Reid Ribble.
But Obamacare's political problems go deeper than HealthCare.gov. Although the White House announced an administrative "fix" on Thursday, the uproar over cancelled insurance plans has been a major headache for Democrats. They feel they're paying the price for Obama's broken pledge that anyone who liked their health care plans could keep them.
A slew of Democrats with tight races next year have introduced bills they say would follow through on that promise. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has also requested an audit of HealthCare.gov's failures.
"Of course it's frustrating for everyone," Kagen says, but he still wholeheartedly supports the law. He also pivots to put the onus on Republicans to do something to fix the current problems, as well.
"I've got confidence [the administration is] going to solve this tech issue, and I'm looking forward to Republicans also helping every one of my patients and constituents," he says.
Pomeroy says he recently spoke with a group about the ACA, and they remarked how they thought he'd be more upset with the rollout. "Oh, I'm apoplectic about it," he recalls telling them. "I'd cast that vote tomorrow. However, that vote was career-ending for many of us. We thought that we did our part; it then shifted to the administration to competently execute the program. They fell short."
Hill also said he knew at the time that his vote might be a career-ending one, but still believes it was worth it. He's frustrated by the rocky implementation, he says, but not bitter.
"Life's too short. I don't even think about those kinds of things. Am I disappointed? Sure, I'm disappointed. But I hold no grievances against the administration or [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius or anybody else," he said.
At least 13 House Democrats lost their seats as a direct result of their votes in favor of the ACA, according to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Denver and North Carolina State University. But voting against the ACA wasn't enough to insulate some Democrats from losing their seats.
Take former Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee, who voted against the bill while in Congress after hearing a loud outcry from his constituents against it. Davis says he was taken down in the anti-ACA fervor anyway.
"I voted the way people wanted me, the way they asked me. It still didn't matter," he says. "The result came, and the legislation, and quite frankly the money that came into the campaign from outside groups--we haven't seen that kind of money."
Davis has no regrets about voting against Obamacare, but he still wants the problems with the law to be fixed for the sake of the uninsured.
As he put it, "If we lost that, we've failed more than those who voted for it and lost their races … but also the very people we're trying to help."
By Elahe Izadi and Sam Baker
November 15, 2013