(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A rising tide of Democrats has begun voicing support for easing the deadlines and penalties of the Affordable Care Act, showing the first cracks in party unity against GOP opposition to the health care law.
The pressure is acute in the Senate where Democrats in conservative or competitive states are lining up behind proposals to delay Obamacare, citing problems with the administration's glitch-plagued online rollout.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., announced Thursday she supports delaying the enrollment period for two months and waiving the tax penalty for individuals who fail to enroll for the same period of time. The delays would "make up for time that is being lost" while the website is not functioning properly, she said in a statement.
Hagan's statement came the same day the House held its first hearing into flaws in the website, and Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters, "The system just wasn't tested enough."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., proposed this week delaying the enrollment period, citing problems with HealthCare.gov. Her plan was quickly endorsed by Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. All five Democrats face competitive 2014 re-election races.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he is drafting a proposal to delay for one year the requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance.
A prominent 2014 Senate Democratic candidate, Michelle Nunn in Georgia, on Thursday endorsed delaying the requirement for individuals to buy insurance.
A House Democrat, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, also called for delaying the individual mandate in a floor speech this week, citing the administration's prior decision to delay for one year a separate requirement for employers.
"At the very least, our constituents deserve the same relief that businesses got," said Barrow, who represents one of the most conservative Democratic-held seats.
Growing support for implementation delays is a clear signal that Democrats "absolutely" see political vulnerabilities in next year's midterm elections, said Jennifer Duffy, an elections analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
Pressure to endorse delays could spread as the 2014 election cycle ramps up, as does implementation of the law, Duffy said. "Dissatisfaction comes in waves. The website is the tip of the iceberg."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed suggestions that the health care law is a potential political liability. "I think quite the contrary. I think it's a great asset for Democrats," he told KNPR in an interview Thursday.
To date Democratic leaders and President Obama have shown no inclination that any implementation delay on the individual mandate is on the table.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who played an instrumental role in the law's 2010 passage, said Wednesday that she does not support any proposals for delay. "I'm optimistic that we'll be able to go forward on schedule," she said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Thursday that the White House is confident there is enough time to address the online enrollment problems for individuals to meet the March 31 deadline. "We're three-and-a-half weeks into a six-month process," Carney said.