Republican lawmakers say they hope that Sen. Joe Manchin III will serve as a guiding light for others in his party after the West Virginia Democrat said he would support a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate — a move that would basically gut the law.
With enrollment for Obamacare just hours away, Republicans are scrambling for ways to put the brakes on the law — and showing that it is so unpopular that it has even fallen out of favor with Democrats packs a powerful political punch.
“I think there are a number of Democratic senators that secretly want a one-year delay if we can give them an excuse to do that,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican.
Senate Democratic leaders have panned the notion that their rank-and-file members will switch sides — and in fact gained a recruit of their own on Sunday, when Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said she is breaking ranks with GOP efforts to present a unified anti-Obamacare front.
“I voted against Obamacare and have repeatedly voted to repeal, reform, and replace it, but I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government — a strategy that cannot possibly work,” she said.
The defections leave both parties struggling to strengthen their hands in the high-profile public relations fight.
Republicans pounced last week when Mr. Manchin told a crowd at a Bloomberg Government breakfast that there is “no way I could not vote for” a postponement of the health care law, calling the idea “very reasonable and sensible.”
Mr. Manchin later clarified his remarks in a news release, saying that he always opposed the individual mandate, but that he does not support the recent Republican push to link a delay of Obamacare to the drawn out spending debate on Capitol Hill that is pushing the nation to the brink of a government shutdown.
“I do not believe that this issue should be used to shut down the government, and I will not vote to shut down the government,” Mr. Manchin said, putting him at odds with the plan that House Republicans carved out over the weekend that includes a one-year delay of the entire health law.
Republicans, though, have glossed over their differences with Mr. Manchin, and are holding him up as a beacon of hope as they look to ramp up pressure on those red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014.
Speaking on the House floor last week, Rep. Roger Williams, Texas Republican, said that the pressure is mounting on Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to scrap Obamacare.
“Even Senate Democrats, like Joe Manchin, are starting to listen to the people who sent them to Congress,” Mr. William said. “Americans don’t want the law, Texans don’t want the law, and my district doesn’t want the law.”
“Sen. Manchin is right about Obamacare,” Rep. Luke Messer, Indiana Republican, said via Twitter.
Mr. Manchin was elected to office in November 2010 to the seat left open following the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who joined the rest of his Democratic colleagues roughly a year earlier in passing the Affordable Health Care Act in the Senate and sending it on to Mr. Obama, who signed it into law in March 2010.