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A group of moderate Senate Democrats are reportedly looking for ways to weaken the individual mandate in President Obama's health care overhaul. The red-state senators--all up for reelection next year--aren't sure whether they'll propose new legislation, Politico's Manu Raju reports, but any move to roll back the mandate could give aid and comfort to Republicans eager to repeal the law.

Basically, the senators want to look centrist, and Obama wants to look centrist, too, but not centrist like that. Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia represent states John McCain won in 2008 and want to be on the record as working across the aisle. That puts Majority Leader Harry Reid in a tough position--he only has a slim majority, which means Republicans could easily claim a simple majority by picking off a few votes. But Republicans face a dilemma too: They want to take advantage of vulnerable Democrats without giving them enough bipartisan cred to actually win in 2012.

As one GOP aide told Raju, "There needs to be a recognition that this is not about principle for these vulnerable Senate Democrats. It's all about election cycle gamesmanship, and our side shouldn't be handing them political cover." So who's more cynical, here? And will any of this maneuvering actually improve the law?

  • Nothing to Gain, The Guardian's Michael Tomasky writes. "There are alternatives to the individual mandate as currently structured, and they're called: more robust public exchanges, the public option, and single-payer healthcare. Something tells me this isn't what these folks have in mind. ... [W]hat on earth would motivate the Republicans to give moderate Democrats in red states political cover? Your Democratic party at work. A beautiful thing to see, eh?"
  • Dems Will Be Attacked Anyway, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes. "If these Dems think this is going to insulate them from GOP attacks, they're kidding themselves: Last night, the NRSC sent out a release blasting McCaskill, asking why she voted for 'Obamacare' in the first place if she thinks the mandate is such a bad idea. All they're succeeding in doing is undermining one of the Democratic Party's signature domestic accomplishments."
  • Dems Won't Gut Health Care, The New Republic's Jonathan Chait declares, saying the Post's Greg Sargent "totally misses what's going on here," and that "the individual mandate is a tool to prevent people from free riding on the health insurance market." He asserts: "Now, the moderate Democrats have not yet unveiled their proposal. But I can promise you this: it will not neuter the individual mandate and replace it with an ineffective alternative that guts the health insurance market. Why not? Because insurance companies don't want that, and if there's one thing that characterizes moderate Democrats, it's a powerful aversion to upsetting the insurance industry."
  • Don't Fall for It, GOP!! The Washington Post's conservative Marc A. Thiessen urges.
Republicans need to understand that there is no path to repealing Obamacare 'plank by plank.' ...[W]hile Democrats will agree to peripheral changes, they will never allow the GOP to repeal the core provisions that make Obamacare such a monstrosity... All Republicans will end up doing is helping Democrats sweeten the hemlock, thus undermining their case for full repeal. ... As more 'fixes' like the 1099 repeal are adopted, the president and Democratic leaders will portray themselves as the reasonable ones who have acknowledged flaws in their law and are working to address them in bipartisan manner." Each such vote will help Dems hold onto the Senate.
  • Behold, the Real GOP Strategy! Chait continues, responding to Thiessen. This is what Republicans did while the bill was before Congress. "If a few of them put something on the table--and many moderate Democrats were ready, especially after the Massachusetts election, to accept the tiniest incremental scrap--they could have persuaded Democrats to abandon the comprehensive plan they passed. Instead they calculated that withholding bipartisan support would maximize their advantage in the elections."
  • Moderate Dems Ahead of the Curve? Or the Courts? Hot Air's Ed Morrissey wonders. "The rulings from Florida and Virginia on the constitutionality of ObamaCare's mandate has them worried that the courts might just overturn the whole enchilada, leaving Democrats empty-handed after the last two years," he reasons. "Those who have to face voters in 2012 are already looking at a rough ride; having ObamaCare disgraced before the election without any chance to rescue it will seal their fate. In response, they are doing what the ideologues in their caucus refused to do, which is to look for legal ways to push taxpayers into buying health insurance."
  • Oh, the Cynicism! The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen writes. "I can't speak to the moderate Dems' motivations, but the cynicism is telling. If it's 'not about principle' for centrist Democrats, it's certainly not about principle for Republicans spurning the Democratic outreach. ... It's quite literally unproductive -- Republicans could advance their own interests, pursue their own goals, and move the law in their own direction, if they'd only be a little more responsible."

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