Democratic leaders have slammed the effort by 14 states to bring lawsuits against health care reform as "frivolous," a waste of taxpayer money, and a political gambit by media-hungry state officials. But some vulnerable Dems who supported health care reform can't afford to be so scathing. Take Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who describes these legal efforts as "an appropriate gesture," even while maintaining his own support for the health care law.
In a telephone town hall meeting with constituents last Wednesday, Perriello tried to assure irate callers that he didn't dispute Virginia's right to challenge the Affordable Care Act in court. "I support [the state's] right to bring it," Perriello told incensed constituents, referring to the lawsuit led by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. "I know some think it's a waste of taxpayer money, but…it's why it's appropriate to have an independent judicial branch."
Perriello never backed off his own defense of the health care law: he explained why he thought the mandate was constitutional and spent the rest of the call explaining reform's benefits to constituents. But as a prime Republican target in a swing district—and with eight GOP candidates vying to oppose him, backed by an upsurge in Tea Party activism—Perriello needs to defuse the opposition without alienating independent voters. Likewise, Sen. Ben Nelson—another Democrat under attack in his home state of Nebraska for supporting health reform—has also welcomed the challenges to the law, according to a state paper.
Both Democrats are trying to take the edge off the Tea Party hysteria without ceding any ground on the merits of reform. That's a delicate balancing act—one that suggests that Dems defending conservative-leaning seats see their health care vote as a serious cause for concern as the elections approach.