Three Democratic Minnesota U.S. House members — Rick Nolan, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz — bucked their party leaders on Friday and backed a Republican bill that would allow insurers to keep selling policies that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation would grant a reprieve to Americans, including an estimated 140,000 in Minnesota, who would lose their current insurance policies despite a promise from President Obama that his health care law wouldn’t strip away their preferred coverage.
Democrats in moderate districts faced a tough choice with their votes: back legislation that would allow constituents to keep existing insurance plans or rally behind Obama’s signature health care policy.
The bill passed the House 261 to 157. Nearly all 39 Democratic supporters hail from districts where voters favored Republican Mitt Romney or where Obama won by a slim margin in the 2012 presidential election.
Admitting that his administration botched the health care rollout, Obama said Thursday that health insurance companies can extend canceled policies by one year even if they don’t meet the health law’s requirements. The president shouldered the blame for the problems.
Republicans argued Friday’s bill, the Keep Your Health Care Plan Act, would uphold Obama’s promise to let people keep their current health insurance plans. Many Democrats saw the Republican bill as an effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act by allowing insurers to continue selling plans that aren’t compliant with the law.
Democratic Party leaders hoped that Obama’s proposed fix would prevent rank-and-file members from crossing the aisle in support of the GOP bill.
But Republicans ratcheted up the pressure as millions of Americans received notice that they won’t be able to keep their preferred plans. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House Republicans, targeted Walz and other Democrats in potential swing districts who voted for the law in 2010. The lone Minnesota Democrat to vote against the Affordable Care Act when it passed in 2010, Peterson had already announced plans to support the Republican bill.
Minnesota’s House Republicans — Michele Bachmann, John Kline and Erik Paulsen — voted with their party on the legislation. Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum opposed the bill.
The bill may have political ramifications but it has likely hit a legislative dead end. The White House issued a veto threat Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is among the 32 House Republicans who signed a letter to President Obama on Wednesday, urging him to request the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius because of glitches in the Affordable Care Act website, HealthCare.gov.
“With more than three years to prepare for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we are surprised to see the level of uncertainty, confusion and incompetence that has riddled the Health Insurance Marketplace since October 1,” Bachmann and the other members write.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen in numerous news reports, many Americans have found it impossible to sign up for the required health coverage or to simply learn about the new plans and associated costs. The scope of the problem is so great that, were this a private company or military command the CEO or general would have been fired.”
Democrats have also criticized the health care reform law’s troublesome rollout. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said it was time for Obama to “man up, find out who was responsible and fire them.”
But, unlike Bachmann, Nolan stopped short of calling for the dismissal of any specific administration official or contractor.
"There are people like myself who supported the Affordable Care Act, but I'm not oblivious to the fact that this layout has done harm and damage to the brand," Nolan said.
The northern Minnesota congressman is among 11 House Democrats that Republicans are targeting with radio ads criticizing the website.
In the ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee, a woman says, “If you're facing all these issues just signing up, imagine how difficult it could be to get medical care. Finding a doctor's appointment will be a nightmare. And have you looked into how much your insurance premiums will rise?"
The ads are also running in the districts of U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz.
When U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan returned to Congress this year, he declared that legislative work would be his top priority, not canvassing for campaign contributions.
Nolan’s latest fundraising totals may reflect that pledge.
The Eighth District Democrat is the lone member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to be outraised by a challenger during the latest quarter, which covers the months of July, August and September.
Nolan’s Republican opponent, Stewart Mills III, raised almost $244,000. That’s close to double the $129,000 the Nolan campaign collected.
With $261,000 banked for his re-election bid, Nolan has an advantage over Mills’ $234,000. But this was Mills’ first fundraising quarter.
“This strong and early support for Mills … are the latest indicator that Minnesota voters are looking for new leadership and fresh solutions,” said Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.
Rather than spend the four hours per day dialing for dollars that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staff recommended, Nolan told the Star Tribune he would only raise funds on evenings and weekends.
“If it means I’m a one-term congressman, so be it,” said Nolan, who last served in Congress in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Money didn’t determine the outcome in Nolan’s last election. Last year, former U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack outraised Nolan to 2-to-1, but still lost his seat.
Congressional incumbents in two potential swing districts, U.S. Reps. John Kline and Tim Walz, have healthy fundraising leads over their announced opponents.
In the Second Congressional District, Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline has more than $1.3 million stocked away for his re-election campaign after raising $367,000 during the third quarter.
Kline’s Republican challenger, David Gerson, raised $2,085 during the quarter and has $2,000 banked for his bid, according to data filed with the Federal Election Commission. Gerson challenged Kline in last year’s Republican primary, capturing 15 percent of the vote.
Among the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, attorney Mike Obermueller of Eagan raised $73,000 during the quarter, which includes the months of July, August and September. He has $119,000 cash on hand.
Obermueller is making a second run at Kline after losing to him by eight percentage points in last year’s election. But with roughly a year to go until Election Day 2014, Kline’s war chest is 11 times larger than Obermueller’s.
The second district covers the suburbs south of the Twin Cities.
The campaign finance reports for Democratic candidates, Thomas Craft and Paula Overby, were not available on the FEC website Tuesday afternoon.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz has $238,500 banked for his 2014 re-election bid in southern Minnesota’s First Congressional District after raising $176,648 during the third quarter.
Among the three Republicans seeking to oust Walz, state Rep. Mike Benson of Rochester has $14,707 stockpiled for the race and businessman Aaron Miller of Byron has $54,714 banked. Blue Earth businessman Jim Hagedorn’s finance report was not available on the FEC website Tuesday afternoon.
Benson raised $28,158 during the quarter. Miller loaned his campaign $40,000 and collected another $16,127 in donations.
In the state’s Eight Congressional District, Republican challenger Stewart Mills raised almost $244,000 during the quarter, with Mills and his wife contributing about $10,000 of that total, his campaign reported. Incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan’s campaign finance reports were not available on the FEC website Tuesday afternoon.
Four of Minnesota’s representatives – Democrats Keith Ellison in the Fifth District, Betty McCollum in the Fourth District and Collin Peterson in the Seventh District and Republican Erik Paulsen – do not have announced opponents.
Paulsen raised more than $376,000 and has more than $1.5 million in the bank. Ellison raised $309,000 and has $186,248 stockpiled. McCollum collected $99,219 and has $89,076 in the bank. Peterson has about $227,000 cash-on-hand after raising $83,000 during the quarter.
Click here for campaign finance reports from the Sixth Congressional District, where Rep. Michele Bachmann will not seek re-election.
Low-income advocates pressing for a higher minimum wage told two Minnesota congressmen Monday that they are falling farther behind on their bills and losing sight of the American dream.
“I have paid my taxes and gone to college, yet here I am making $7.25 an hour,” Darcy Landau, an airport worker, said at a forum at a southeast Minneapolis community center. “I owe $80,000 in student loans, and am between a rock and a hard place.”
Advocates are intensifying pressure on Minnesota lawmakers to raise state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, up from a $6.15 base hourly wage for large employers – among the lowest in the nation. The fight to raise the minimum wage stands to be one of the most high-profile issues of the upcoming legislative session.
Most Democrats who control the Legislature agree the state’s base wage should be higher, but they can’t agree how high. Many rural Democrats don’t want to raise it so high that it hurts businesses in border communities, where rival businesses in neighboring states could gain a price advantage from paying lower wages.
Many Republicans and business groups have fought hard against raising the wage, saying companies will have to operate with fewer workers at the higher wage.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents northern Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, said the nation’s economy rapidly evolving in a way that hurts workers at the bottom end of the wage scale.
“The rich are getting rich, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are getting crushed,” Nolan told the crowd. “It is the tax policy, the allocation of money in the budget, and of course it is the minimum wage. That is the best place to start.”
Nolan and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, support measures to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.50 an hour.
“You have got to be able to feed your family working one job,” Ellison said. “It’s a matter of political will and the decisions we have made that allowed us to drift away from the American dream.”
Ellison urged attendees to contact their state legislators and press for a higher wage. He said the GOP plan of lowering government spending and driving down wages, “doesn’t work. It failed.”
Liane Gale, a Green Party activist, criticized Nolan and Ellison for not pressing for an even higher wage, something closer to what many consider a living wage.
“Nine-fifty will not lift anybody out of poverty,” Gale said. “Nine-fifty is not addressing the dignity of any worker here in Minnesota.”
Ellison told the audience that people can debate what the minimum wage should be, “but can we all agree and can we all convince our neighbors to agree the minimum wage needs to go up?”
Gale was not convinced, interrupting: “This is a one-shot opportunity.”
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