President Obama -- already under fire from Republicans over his healthcare law -- now is catching flak from Democrats concerned about the rocky rollout of the insurance program and voters who may turn their frustrations against them in the midterms.
"I'm angry because my constituents are frustrated," Democrat Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona told Fox's "On The Record" Friday about a bill he and fellow Democrats would introduce to delay any penalties for those who were unable to enroll in Obamacare by Jan. 1 "until we have certification the [HealthCare.gov] website is working."
"Time is getting very short," Barber said. "We've lost two months for people to sign up. We need to extend the deadline for enrollment and for any penalties."
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Just a day earlier, Democratic senators shot questions at White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other administration officials responsible for the health exchange website at a lunch at the Capitol, according to an aide.
“There’s a lot of frustration, everywhere,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said after the meeting, The Hill reported
Democratic senators facing reelection in 2014 were some of the most vocal critics, with one lawmaker describing Sens. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as visibly “agitated," The Hill reported.
Shaheen demanded to know why the rollout of HealthCare.gov had become so riddled with problems.
A Democratic aide said Shaheen asked the administration officials for a contingency plan in case technical problems are not fixed by Nov. 30. They replied they are working on one but did not have a plan to share as of Thursday, The Hill reported.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has spent more of his career in the private sector than in government, also weighed in forcefully.
"I am not happy with the website. That is a pretty common thought that we all feel," Warner later told reporters.
“I think we ought to give them the time to make the improvements. But we need to see the improvements. We need to make this a much easier, consumer-friendly process," he added.
The communication from the White House on the rollout's problems has been less than ideal, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said, The Hill reported.
“[People] are unhappy. We want to see improvements. They’ve got to let people know what they’re doing, as they’re doing it,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said.
Shaheen, one of the first
in the party to criticize the administration’s performance with the health-care law’s rollout -- and is up for re-election next year -- organized a public letter
to the administration from 10 Democratic senators, later endorsed by an 11th senator, asking for an extension of the insurance exchange’s open enrollment period beyond the current March 31 deadline.
And Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin
of West Virginia announced he's drafting legislation with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia to postpone the law’s $95 penalty for failing to obtain health insurance,
a core provision that the White House has insisted on maintaining without delay.
Also, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat facing re-election in a state that backed Obama’s Republican opponents in 2008 and 2012, said in an interview this week Obama should fire some staff members to hold them accountable for the website’s problems, Bloomberg News reported.
John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate Republicans’ third- ranking leader, who a few weeks ago was among those struggling to hold his party together during the government shutdown, said he sees the Democrats’ united front is “starting to show some cracks” on Obamacare.
“The Democrats realize how bad this is, and if you listen to people across the country about rate increases, loss of coverage, dropped coverages, the Democrats are feeling that,” Thune said. “If you’re an in-cycle Democrat, a 2014 Democrat, I think you’re going to go increasingly sympathetic to the idea that all of parts of this should be delayed.”
But Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York disputed there's any cracks in the party's armor. He said the website’s initial flaws “will be forgotten rather quickly in our fast-moving world.”
“There are problems, obviously, with the computers and all of that,” Schumer said. “But once those are fixed, and I think they will be, everyone’s going to be focusing on who’s signing up and what they’re getting for it, and that’s going to be the key issue.”
Bloomberg News contributed to this report
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