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Why 5 Illinois Dems defected on health vote

Updated: December 18, 2013 6:35AM



WASHINGTON — Illinois elected five new Democrats to Congress in 2012 and all of them defied the Obama White House and their own House leadership to vote for a GOP plan to allow people to renew their current health insurance — though at the same time it would weaken the new health care law.

The votes of Illinois Democratic Reps. Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Cheri Bustos and William Enyart highlight the potential 2014 political fallout created because of the Obama administration’s botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

That GOP bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., passed the Republican-run House on a 261-157 vote Friday with 39 Democratic defections, including the five from President Barack Obama’s adopted home state.

Freshmen Schneider, Bustos and Enyart face the toughest re-election battles in Illinois next year. Foster returned to Congress this year after losing his seat in 2010 and has less of a 2014 threat. Duckworth is in the best shape of the Illinois newcomers, with the Upton vote a preemptive strike to make sure her seat does not get into play.

By voting yes on the Upton bill, the Illinois five were inoculating themselves in advance of the anti-Obamacare campaigns the Republicans are getting ready to run against vulnerable Democrats. The “yes” vote on Upton will make it easier to deflect GOP attacks they know are coming.

During the partial federal government shutdown last October, I wrote how Schneider, Foster and Bustos split with party leaders to vote for a series of GOP bills to reopen government piecemeal, also inoculation moves.

The Upton bill faces virtually no chance in the Democratic-run Senate, and even if it did survive, Obama already issued his veto threat.

The vote came at the end of the worst week of the Obama presidency.

Obama, in an extraordinary Thursday press conference, acknowledged his troubles were of his own making, brought about by the initial failure of the healthcare.gov website, his misleading statements about nothing changing with his signature health care law and most important: the rise in recent weeks of a new army of angry people who found they could not renew their individual health insurance policies.

The potential backlash of that outraged army is what triggered the Democratic revolt and Obama’s announcement of what he hoped would provide a temporary fix.

Obama said Thursday that he would approve new rules allowing health insurance companies the option of renewing for existing customers policies that did not meet the standards set in his Affordable Care Act.

If Obama did not take that action, he almost certainly would have faced more than 39 Democratic defections.

The votes for Upton are “a reflection of the fact that we come from moderate districts and we are open
to bipartisan compromise,” Foster told me Friday.

“My neighbors were promised that they could keep their health insurance,” Duckworth said.

“I voted to make sure that happens even though it is a far from perfect bill. The Affordable Care Act does many good things, but I’m disappointed in the administration’s implementation because it leaves my neighbors with a lot of uncertainty,” she said.

“We need to get it right,” Schneider told me.

“The system should have been ready for prime time on Oct. 1, but it wasn’t and we need to make sure people continue to have coverage,” Schneider said.

I talked to Enyart on Thursday, before the Upton vote and as he was leaving a meeting House Democrats were having with White House officials — coming just after a contrite Obama admitted at his press conference about how he “fumbled” the health care rollout.

Said Enyart, “They are not going to judge me on what the president did. They are going to judge me on what Bill Enyart does.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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