SAVANNAH, Ga. — In the past three years, Rep. John Barrow has outraged fellow Democrats with his vote against President Obama’s health care overhaul and been attacked by Republicans for refusing to support a full repeal. And the deep South’s last white Democratic congressman is still defying both parties with his stance on the law.
Before Congress adjourned Aug. 2, Barrow was among just four Democrats who sided with House Republicans voting to gut a key part of the Affordable Care Act that puts the Internal Revenue Service in charge of enforcing certain mandates. But the Augusta Democrat says he won’t be joining GOP lawmakers pushing to deny funding for the health care law or shut down the government when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.
“It’s a question of defunding the whole government in an attempt to get the other side to cry uncle and agree to defund Obamacare,” Barrow said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. “And I think that is a reckless game that will not succeed.”
Barrow represents the Republican-leaning 12th District in eastern Georgia that still has a significant number of black voters who are critical to the district’s Democratic base. So the Obama health law has been a thorny issue for the congressman since its passage in 2010, when Barrow’s vote against the measure caused some Georgia Democratic officials to condemn him.
Barrow insists, as he did then, that problems with the law, which are burdensome for uninsured individuals and small businesses, can be fixed without scrapping the entire thing. Critics say Barrow is trying to straddle the fence in a way that lets him appeal to voters on both sides of the issue.
“He very cleverly continues to vote against repeal while voting to repeal parts of it,” said John Stone, a former congressional aide who’s one of two Republican candidates who have launched campaigns for Barrow’s seat in 2014. “He can sort of go both ways on this while he talks to people.”
During his 2012 re-election campaign, Barrow sent a letter to Democratic supporters saying he stood with the party “against repealing the Health Care bill.” Meanwhile, Barrow’s campaign aired TV ads boasting that the congressman had voted 12 times to repeal “the worst parts” of the Obama health care law.
Barrow said he’s taken a common-sense position between partisan Democrats who won’t acknowledge flaws in the health law and Republicans who treat the entire thing as political poison. Barrow said he mainly wants to eliminate the portions of the law mandating that uninsured individuals and businesses with 50 or more workers buy health insurance.
“Of course it can be fixed,” said Barrow, who blames both Republicans and Democrats for keeping that from happening. “Both sides are wrong because both sides are taking an all-or-nothing approach to this.”
Barrow also noted that House Republicans are far from unanimous on whether to strip funding for the health law from any spending bills to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. A little more than a third of the 233 House Republicans have sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking him to resist any new funding for the law as it enters a critical stage of signing up millions of Americans for health coverage. With funding stripped for the health law, the Democratically controlled Senate and Obama himself would almost surely reject the spending bills, forcing a government shutdown.
Of course, the bill that Barrow supported to stop the IRS from enforcing provisions of the health law also faces sure rejection by the Senate.
Both Stone and Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen, the second GOP candidate running for Barrow’s seat, have said they support withholding funds from the law even if that means a showdown over a government shutdown.
Allen’s campaign Web site features a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Allen’s campaign said he was unavailable for a telephone interview. The campaign issued a statement from the GOP candidate saying Barrow was sticking taxpayers with higher health care premiums for themselves while continuing to make them subsidize insurance for congressmen and their staffs.
“Deciding if a law is a bad idea is easy,” Allen said in a statement. “You simply look to see if Congress exempts themselves from it and that is exactly what Barrow and the liberals have done here.”
The Obama administration has said both Democratic and Republican lawmakers asked for regulations it adopted in August to ensure taxpayers will keep paying most of the health-benefit costs for members of Congress and their aides even as they’re marshaled into new insurance exchanges under the health care law. Legislators and their staffers had worried they might be forced to pay thousands of dollars more for health insurance.
Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo said legislation to reverse the exemption for members of Congress and their staffs is expected to be introduced after Congress returns Sept. 9 and “Congressman Barrow is going to support the efforts to remove the exemption.”