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Sweet: Angry Dems fear health policy cancellations will hurt them in 2014

WASHINGTON DC - NOVEMBER 13:  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) walks up speak reporters after attending weekly Democrpolicy

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), walks up to speak to reporters after attending the weekly Democrat policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats gathered at a luncheon to discuss their agenda. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 15, 2013 12:00PM



WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats — in particular those with big 2014 contests — are angry at the Obama White House, with cancellations of health insurance policies a much bigger political threat than the botched Obamacare website and the resulting initial low enrollments.

The White House dispatched David Simas, the deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy, to a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday, and members who were there told me the session was extremely heated.

Simas, I’m told, delivered what members considered message points instead of proposals for a substantial fix of the cancellation problem. That enraged House Democrats who have gone to the mat defending Obamacare over the years.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Zients, the tech guru brought in to oversee repairs at healthcare.gov, and White House health policy strategist Chris Jennings meet with Senate Democrats on Thursday, and the session could be just as contentious if they come without something to offer.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., I’m told, sent a strong message to the White House on Wednesday that they need to come up with a plan — be it legislation or something Obama can execute with his executive power.

The White House needs a strategy for dealing with the cancellations by Friday, because that is when a vote is scheduled in the GOP-controlled House on a bill by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., to allow insurance companies to continue offering the plans withdrawn as a byproduct of Obamacare.

President Barack Obama is deservedly getting thrashed over his misleading remarks through the years that Obamacare would let people keep the health insurance policies they have. Individuals jolted by cancellation notices are understandably upset.

Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday said Obama should “honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”

The Obama White House opposes the Upton bill on multiple grounds: It’s too late because cancellations are set to kick in at the end of the year, and more important, it will unravel the economic architecture of how the health insurance markets are supposed to work under Obamacare.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at the Wednesday briefing: “The president has instructed his team to come up with options for him to review. And you can expect a decision from him and an announcement from him sooner rather than later on options that we can take to address the problem that we’ve been discussing here with regards to those individuals who have had their individual insurance plans canceled because of the transition to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. So, we’re working on all levels to address these problems.”

But without a credible alternative soon — one that can give an endangered House Democrat cover — the White House should be bracing for a host of Democratic defections on Friday.

With nothing from the White House, I can see Democratic Illinois House members elected in 2012 — Brad Schneider, Cheri Bustos, Bill Enyart and Bill Foster — voting with the Republicans on the Upton bill. These Illinois Democrats are facing potentially tough re-election battles.

Even if they are pressured by Democratic leaders to vote against the Upton bill, why would Schneider, Bustos, Enyart and Foster take a vote that guarantees them political damage? Since the Upton bill — unless it is revised — will not pass the Democratic-run Senate, why take the fall?

Last fall, during the partial federal government shutdown, Schneider, Bustos, Foster and Enyart voted for GOP bills providing piecemeal funding. I wrote then that they were inoculating themselves from future GOP complaints. That will still be true on Friday.

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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