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Health care law could be liability for some Democrats

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Rep. Patrick Murphy had been a cautious defender of President Barack Obama’s health care law for much of the last year, telling constituents in his swing-voting district that the far-from-perfect measure is critical to helping cover uninsured Americans.

Then the new health care law made its disastrous debut. The federal health care website repeatedly crashed, blocking millions from browsing insurance plans. Questions about its security mounted. And cancellation notices hit people who buy their own plans, undercutting the president’s vow that those who liked their coverage could keep it.

Now the South Florida lawmaker is distancing himself from the administration and heeding GOP calls to delay key parts of the health care law.

“It’s a complete embarrassment,” the Democratic freshman said recently. “There are no excuses for what happened here.”

Nationwide, Democrats are nervous about the implications of defending an already unpopular law in the wake of the botched rollout. Last week, 16 Senate Democrats talked with Obama about fears the problems could hamper their re-election prospects, a day after two gubernatorial elections highlighted the party’s struggles.

Mirroring national polls, half of New Jersey voters and 53 percent of Virginia voters said they oppose the law. The Democratic nominees in those races won 11 percent and 14 percent of those voters, respectively. Hoping for political gain heading into 2014, the GOP’s top campaign committees are tying Democrats to the law’s messy launch in a series of ads targeting women, who tend to vote Democratic and often make their families’ health decisions.

Murphy and other Democrats anxious about the issue face a test on Friday, when the House is scheduled to vote on a bill to extend the life of individual health insurance policies that otherwise face cancellation under the new law on Jan. 1 because they don’t meet minimum coverage standards. The legislation isn’t likely to become law, but it’s the latest GOP tactic to take advantage of the law’s rocky launch.

Seeking to blunt the fallout, Murphy and other Democrats likely facing tough re-election challenges are pushing legislation to delay the requirement that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine until the website is certified as fully operational.

“I am angry that this website is not functioning — and until it is completely fixed, it is simply unfair to threaten people with fines,” Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., a top target for Republicans, said in a statement.

Some of those same Democrats also have called on the Justice Department to investigate the government contractors who built HealthCare.gov. Others, like Murphy, are calling for the firings of government officials overseeing the rollout.

“If I was in charge, I would make sure that some people went ahead and found a new job after this,” he said. He also pledged to work with Republicans to change the law, saying “It’s not perfect but it’s not going anywhere. Let’s focus on fixing it.”

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