Will Republicans tolerate prosperity?

Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster found themselves in the odd position last week of voting with Republicans in support of a bill that would allow insurance companies to continue to offer health plans that would otherwise be dropped under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The two New Hampshire Democrats were among 39 from their party who sided with the GOP just a day after the president spent the better part of an hour at a press conference, trying to give political cover to his fellow Democrats in Congress – many of whom believe their support of the ACA could make them vulnerable to defeat in next fall’s election.

It probably does, given the hue and cry over the website failures to let people sign up for health care online and the slew of policy cancelations sent to people whose old policies no longer comply with the new law.

It’s not clear, however, that voting with Republicans to allow people to keep substandard insurance policies will afford much political cover to Democrats like Shea-Porter and Kuster.

The only thing voting with Republicans accomplishes is that it allows Kuster and Shea-Porter to talk out of both sides of their mouths on the campaign trail next year. They can tell those who believe that only the Democratic Party is capable of governing that they supported the president’s initiative. But, when questioned about the failed rollout and policy cancelations by those who think either party can govern, they can point to their most recent votes as evidence that they were willing to work with Republicans in search of bipartisan solutions.

As a practical matter, theirs was a meaningless vote. The measure they supported is given virtually no chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats have a majority. Besides, the problem they were really seeking a bipartisan solution for was Obamacare’s drag on their chances of re-election.

In that context, their willingness to vote with Republicans would carry more credibility were it not a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. That Shea-Porter and Kuster both ended up on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times – along with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – speaks to how unusual it was for them to break ranks with their party. Each votes in lockstep with their fellow Democrats well more than 90 percent of the time. It also speaks to how damaging Democrats perceive the ACA may be for them next fall.

Ironically, Republicans in New Hampshire probably won’t be blamed for what’s happening with Obamacare in the state, but they deserve to, at least in part. Many of the states operating their own health care websites report far fewer problems than the federal exchange is experiencing. That could have been the case in New Hampshire, too, except that the Republican-led legislature voted – out of spite for Obama and his health plan, as much as anything – to ban the state from setting up its own website.

Oddly, it was only several weeks ago that Republicans were handing Democrats a gift-wrapped campaign issue in the form of a tea-party led partial shutdown of the government.

Then, many Republicans did a remarkable thing: They stopped trying to kill Obamacare and listened as the country groaned under the weight of the law’s implementation.

Time is running out for Democrats, who may soon find themselves in the position of having to hope that those zany tea party Republicans again seize control of the GOP agenda.

If only to allow Democrats to vote like Democrats again.


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