Capital Beat: Obamacare rollout woes a bummer for Shaheen, Shea-Porter and Kuster
How much of a bummer for Democrats is Obamacare’s buggy rollout?
Just look at the three members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation up for re-election in 2014. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Rep. Annie Kuster are all Democrats, and they all support the 2010 health care reform law championed by President Obama.
But all three were trying to distance themselves last week from the program’s troubled implementation.
Shaheen introduced a bill in the Senate that would extend enrollment through the exchanges for at least two additional months; “It’s not fair to penalize people for not having health insurance because of a broken website,” she said.
Kuster voted Friday for a House bill that would allow insurers to continue offering and selling individual plans in 2014 that otherwise would be dropped under Obamacare. While saying she remains “committed to increasing access to affordable health care for hardworking Granite State families,” Kuster acknowledged “significant frustration with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.”
Shea-Porter also voted for the “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” which passed the House, 261-157, with 39 Democrats in support, but faces dim prospects in the face of a veto threat from Obama.
“Congress must continue to fix the problems that arise with the Affordable Care Act,” Shea-Porter said. “But we cannot go back to the days when health insurance companies could deny men and women coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or cancel a person’s policy when they need it most.”
The problems with the Obamacare rollout – an iffy website, insurance plans being dropped by insurers, low early enrollment numbers, a “narrow network” for new exchange plans that exclude 10 New Hampshire hospitals – have dominated local and national headlines for weeks.
That’s good news for Republicans who have spent years railing against the program, and they weren’t letting up last week.
Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, called Shaheen’s bill “disingenuous” and a “desperate political stunt.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee said Shaheen “is either not credible or not competent.” Ethan Zorfas, general consultant to Frank Guinta’s congressional campaign, derided Shea-Porter’s “desperate flip-flop to save her political life.” Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire denounced all three as “panicking career politicians.”
Shea-Porter and Kuster’s votes Friday “were a desperate attempt to save their political careers, not an honest recognition that their support for Obamacare has resulted in disaster for millions of Americans,” said Derek Dufresne, spokesman for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire.
Still, Election Day is nearly a year away. Other issues may emerge in the meantime to dominate the political conversation. And no one knows if the problems with the health care law will persist.
Plus, all three Democrats have built-in advantages headed into the campaign season. Shaheen is well-known and has led her two announced opponents in early polls. Kuster is a formidable fundraiser in a Democratic-leaning district. And Shea-Porter has won three of her last four races in spite of the 1st District’s slight GOP lean.
But this definitely isn’t the conversation they wanted to have on the eve of an election year.
On Wednesday, the Executive Council will hold its first meeting in more than three decades without Ray Burton as the councilor from District 1.
His seat won’t stay empty for long.
The state Constitution says Gov. Maggie Hassan “may issue a precept for the election of a new councilor” for a vacant Executive Council seat. But a separate state law states the governor “shall declare that there shall be a special election” within 21 days of a vacancy.
So a special election seems likely in the coming months – perhaps on town meeting day, like the March 2002 special council election won by Manchester’s Ray Wieczorek – though Hassan’s office wasn’t giving specifics last week.
“The governor right now joins with people throughout New Hampshire in mourning the loss of Councilor Burton, and these issues will be addressed at the appropriate time,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg.
The sprawling District 1 comprises 108 towns, four cities and all or parts of seven counties, from the North Country and the Upper Valley down to the Lakes Region.
Burton, who held the seat for 35 years, died Tuesday after a months long battle with cancer. He was 74.
A public memorial service is planned Dec. 14, 1 p.m., at Plymouth State University, Burton’s alma mater.
Not everyone’s a fan of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
The New Hampshire group is part of the State Policy Network, a group of conservative think tanks. The Center for Media and Democracy and Progress Now, two liberal groups, issued a report last week describing them as “stink tanks” that promulgate right-wing misinformation as they lobby state legislatures across the country.
“SPN and its affiliates push an extreme right-wing agenda that aims to privatize education, block health care reform, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental protections and create a tax system that benefits most those at the very top level of income,” the report states.
The Josiah Bartlett Center got called out by name in the report, along with Grant Bosse, who runs the “New Hampshire Watchdog” blog (and writes a weekly column for the Monitor).
Charlie Arlinghaus, the center’s president, called the report “one of the most amusing things I’ve read in a long time. They’ve successfully found out that we’re conservative and like conservative ideas. Anyone in the state who hadn’t figured that out will appreciate the service.”
Yes, there’s a 13-11 Republican majority in the state Senate. But the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire seems to think most of those GOP senators are RINOs – Republicans In Name Only.
The conservative group has added a “RINO HUNTING” section to its website: “Primary season on Republicans supporting Obamacare Medicaid expansion has officially begun.”
Listed on the site are 11 of the 13 Republican senators – everyone except Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford and Sen. Sam Cataldo of Farmington – along with forms to suggest candidates to challenge them in a primary if they end up supporting some form of Medicaid expansion in the special session that ends Thursday.
Of course, a lot can change over the next 10 months – or even the next four days.
Balance of power
Rep. Nick Levasseur plans to resign this month, opening up a third vacancy in the state House.
Levasseur, a Manchester Democrat serving his fourth term, last week told his colleagues on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee that he wants to focus on his personal life and a new job.
With Levasseur’s resignation and Democrat Latha Mangipudi’s victory in a Nashua special election earlier this month, the balance of power in the House will stand at 218 Democrats, 179 Republicans.
A special election is scheduled Dec. 17 in Durham and Madbury, with Democrat Amanda Merrill facing Republican Diedre Lepkowski for the seat resigned by Democrat Phil Ginsburg when he moved out of the district.
No special election is scheduled for the seat representing Sandown, Chester and Auburn that became vacant when Republican Stella Tremblay, the infamous proponent of Boston Marathon bombing conspiracy theories, resigned in June.
Money, money, money
New Hampshire saw $18 million in outside spending during last year’s election – nearly $24 per registered voter, more than in any other state.
That’s according to the Center for Public Integrity, which reported last week on the influence of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United campaign-finance ruling on state elections in 2012.
The center’s analysis partly focused on New Hampshire’s gubernatorial race, and the outside spending that helped Hassan defeat Republican Ovide Lamontagne. Such spending dwarfed what the actual candidates raised and spent, the center said, with large sums of money flowing from the Republican Governors Association, the Democratic Governors Association, the Service Employees International Union and AFSCME.
All state-level candidates in New Hampshire raised $13 million for the election, compared with $18 million in outside spending.
“Here’s a little tip for Iowa political observers. If I show up in my pickup truck, you’ll know I’m serious.”
That was Scott Brown, former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, speaking at a GOP fundraising dinner last week in Scott County, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.
So make sure “president of the United States” is on your Scott Brown Political Future Bingo Card, along with “U.S. senator from New Hampshire” and “man who’s enjoying all the attention.”
News of record
∎ Happy birthday to state Sen. Sharon Carson (Thursday).
∎ U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte will be on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning, her 16th Sunday show appearance since taking office in January 2011.
∎ A rededication ceremony is planned Tuesday, 1 p.m., for the Grand Army of the Republic sundial in front of the State House.
The sundial was dedicated in 1942 but the gnomon, or shadow-casting device, went astray sometime in the last decade; it’s now been replaced.
∎ CNN’s Peter Hamby will be at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Dec. 5, 7 p.m., to discuss his study of the 2012 campaign and political reporters, “Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?”
∎ Ashley Pratte is stepping down after nearly a year as Cornerstone Action’s executive director, the group announced Thursday. She’s becoming a spokeswoman for the Young America’s Foundation in the Washington, D.C., area.
∎ Anne Saunders has moved from the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute to New Hampshire Voices for Health, as communications and outreach manager.
∎ The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence on Friday inducted Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, Department of Safety Assistant Commissioner Earl Sweeney and the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Team into its Hall of Fame.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)