Why 39 Democrats Voted For a Republican Health Bill

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks about the Affordable Care Act during her visit to Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS) on November 15, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

Thirty-nine House Democrats crossed party lines today to vote for a Republican health-care bill that would let insurers sell their existing health plans through next year.

The bill is opposed by President Barack Obama, who yesterday granted a one-year reprieve for Americans whose health plans were canceled. Today’s vote allowed some nervous Democrats to put some political daylight between themselves and a president whose approval rating has slipped in the past few weeks.

Read Roxana Tiron’s story about the House’s action today. And here’s a Bloomberg Government analysis of the bill, H.R. 3350.

You could divide most of the 39 Democrats into a few rough camps:

Romney Democrats: Of the nine Democrats from districts that Obama didn’t win last year, eight of them voted for the Republican bill.

They are Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Matheson of Utah, John Barrow of Georgia, Ron Barber of Arizona, Pete Gallego of Texas and Patrick Murphy of Florida.

The exception was Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona.

Junior Democrats from moderately pro-Obama districts: Of the 31 yes-voting Democrats from districts Obama won, the president took less than 55 percent of the vote in 20 of them, according to data compiled by Political Capital. In 15 of the 31 districts, the Democrat is serving his or her first term. Junior members generally are more politically vulnerable than more senior members who have parlayed the benefits of incumbency to dominate their political turf.

What was a mildly pro-Obama district in 2012 may not be so in 2014, when Republicans may benefit from historical trends that point to struggles by the White House’s party in lower-turnout midterm elections.

Swing-state Senate candidates: There are just two Democrats in this group, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Gary Peters of Michigan. But they are compelling outliers. Obama took 56 percent in Braley’s district and 81 percent in Peters’s Detroit-area constituency. The Senate seats they seek are in states that aren’t as strongly Democratic. Josh Kraushaar wrote in National Journal that ”the mood toward Obamacare in their home states is decidedly more critical” than in their districts.

During a 16-day partial government shutdown last month, Braley and Peters voted with Republicans on some piecemeal stopgap spending bills that most Democrats opposed.

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii, who’s challenging Sen. Brian Schatz in a primary in that strongly Democratic state, voted against the Republican bill.

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