A group of 13 Senate Democratic Caucus members said Thursday that they are ready to work with Republicans on changes to Obamacare, but objected to the quick pace GOP leaders are pushing to repeal the law entirely.
Proclaiming themselves “moderate Senate Democrats,” the 13 — including Sen. Angus King, who is an independent but who usually sides with Democrats — said they realize there are problems with the U.S. health care system even with Obamacare. They said improvements are needed.
“But by pushing an immediate repeal through a partisan reconciliation process, we won’t have the opportunity to work together and build on common ground,” the senators said in a letter. “By moving forward with no plan in place for the future of our health care system, those who support repeal assume the responsibility of mitigating the unnecessary and avoidable chaos this will create.”
It’s not clear how serious the effort is. The senators said they supported “improvements” to the law, but gave no details. Instead they listed a number of benefits they said the current law is providing, and insisted those cannot be tampered with.
The effort is being led by Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who was the party’s vice presidential nominee last year, but who has returned to the Senate after his loss. He’s now preparing for a re-election bid next year.
In a floor speech Thursday Mr. Kaine said the problem with rushing through a repeal is that it would leave chaos in the health system. He said Obamacare needs “significant improvements,” but didn’t detail them.
He offered an amendment on the Senate floor that would make it tougher to repeal Obamacare if it altered the number of people who hold coverage now that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is in effect.
That amendment was defeated on a 52-48 party-line vote Thursday afternoon.
Republicans are moving speedily to set up repeal of the health law, though they are still searching for unanimity on what sort of system they want to impose in place of Obamacare. Returning to the pre-Obamacare days of insurers denying coverage based on preexisting conditions is a non-starter for most on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Congress will pass legislation this year, but he said the timeline on the actual transition away from Obamacare is still being hashed out. He said there will be a transition period so consumers, insurers and the health markets can all adjust to the changes.
And Mr. Ryan bristled at what he called “scare tactics” from Democrats warning that voting for a repeal now will immediately strip people of insurance.
“That ain’t happening. That’s not true,” he said.
GOP leaders in the Senate won their repeal first test vote Wednesday, a 51-48 vote on beginning to debate a 2017 budget that will pave the way for a broad repeal with only a majority vote — avoiding the chance for a Democratic filibuster.
Each of the 13 who signed onto Thursday’s letter voted against beginning the budget debate a day earlier.
The include Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. More than half of those senators were in Congress in 2009 and 2010, and voted for the original Obamacare law.
Seven of the 13 are also up for re-election this year, many of them in states won by President-elect Trump.
On Wednesday, Democrats huddled with President Obama and emerged to say they were unified in defending the law, and predicting the GOP would pay a political price for attempting to change it.