WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, co-chairman of the Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats, voted "no" last year when President Barack Obama's health care reform proposal came before the House. So did U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell.
But when the Republicans vote today on repealing the health care law, both Shuler and Kissell, Democrats from North Carolina, will side with their fellow Democrats to keep the law.
Shuler earlier this year said that doing away with reform now would be "immoral." Kissell has told constituents that he would rather chip away at the law through changes and that, in any case, with Obama in the White House and the Democrats still controlling the Senate, the Republican House effort is a doomed effort.
"Simply put: we must live in a reality-based world," Kissell wrote in a column he disseminates in District 8. "Those who are saying they are able to repeal the law are ultimately misleading the people."
Of North Carolina's Democrats, only U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, a member of the Blue Dogs, is likely to vote with Republicans. He opposed the health care overhaul last year and promised during a tough re-election campaign last fall that he would vote to repeal it.
Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he was surprised that Kissell and Shuler weren't being as consistent with their votes.
"You know the Republicans are going to go after Shuler hard on this, and Kissell too," Sabato said, predicting the GOP would knock them for voting with Democratic leadership.
He pointed out, though, that elections come along every two years, and that in 2012 they'll be looking at a different electorate — one with higher turnout and more minorities.
"This vote may fit the presidential electorate, just like the vote last year fit the mid-term electorate," Sabato said.
Other Democrats worked this week to draw attention to Republicans' plan, hoping to see some residual political benefit in the process.
"Politically, I think it has significance for both them and us. It refines the issue in the public's mind," said U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Charlotte who supports the reform law. "I think people are beginning to change their opinions; even a number of those who opposed health care reform are beginning to change their opinions."
In Washington, Obama administration officials held conference calls with reporters, touting what they called the law's successes.
U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills said a recent report from the Kaiser Foundation showed that among businesses with fewer than 200 workers, there was a 9 percent rise in the past year in companies providing health insurance. Among companies with fewer than 10 employees, she said, the jump was 13 percent.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report Tuesday estimating that up to 129 million Americans under 65 have pre-existing conditions that could be affected by repeal.
And Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a district-by-district breakdown on how many people would be affected by repeal - a handy talking point for members trying to get a message to their constituents.
Up to 13,600 small businesses in Kissell's 8th District, for example, would lose tax credits if the law is repealed, according to the breakdown.
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee estimate that between 1.6 million and 4.1 million North Carolinians could be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
The Associated Press contributed.