WASHINGTON - Tough re-election campaigns looming, a handful of moderate Senate Democrats voted on Thursday to keep the money flowing to President Barack Obama's health care law despite increasing public opposition to the year-old overhaul.
The deal on the spending bill struck by Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., required a separate vote on cutting off money for the year-old health care overhaul. The effort failed, 53-47, falling 13 votes short of the 60 votes needed for passage, but it put lawmakers on record – an outcome relished by Republicans looking ahead to 2012.
Moderate Democrats such as Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska stood with Obama in endorsing the health care law last March and they voted with their party leaders on Thursday. Abandoning the law now would have drawn charges of flip-flopping.
“It’s a dilemma of their own making,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, head of the committee that helps elect Republicans.
Within minutes of the vote, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out news releases to Missouri, Montana and Nebraska as well as several other states, criticizing the Democrats on their vote and sounding an overarching theme.
“While McCaskill doubles down on her liberal Washington record, Missourians have yet another reason to replace her with a commonsense Republican next year,” said Chris Bond, a spokesman for the NRSC.
McCaskill had said earlier in the day that she would vote against any effort to cut off money for the law.
“I voted for the bill and I think there are real cost savings in the bill,” she said.
Nelson defended his vote too, saying, “Nebraska’s families and small businesses can’t afford to continue to pay the hospital bills of those who don’t have health insurance.”
McCaskill, Tester and Nelson have drawn GOP rivals in states that either trend heavily Republican (Montana and Nebraska) or stand as electoral battlegrounds (Missouri). Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin has no announced foes in West Virginia and remains popular, but his state voters strongly backed Republican presidential nominee John McCain over Obama by 13 percentage points in 2008.
Manchin defended his vote to fund the law, saying in a statement “Democrats and Republicans must work together to keep the good parts and eliminate the bad parts of the health care bill.”