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Hoppy Kercheval: Manchin carves out his territory

Senator Joe Manchin, whose political acumen continues to sharpen with age and experience, has joined with a group of fellow moderate Senate Democrats and one Independent to try to fix Obamacare.

The group of six—Manchin, Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Mark Warner, D-Va. and Angus King, I-Maine—announced last week a series of proposals they say will improve the troubled Affordable Care Act.

Three of the six, Begich, Landrieu and Warner, are up for re-election this year, and they can read the polls. The latest survey from the Associated Press finds that only 26 percent of Americans support the law, the lowest level since it passed four years ago.

Manchin is not up for election until 2018, but he’s been working since he first went to Washington to find a middle way.

(Manchin was elected in 2010 in a special election following Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s death.)

He’s been critical of Obamacare, but not willing to push to repeal it, preferring instead for a package of remedies.

Here are some of the key proposals from the Gang of Six:

Creation of a “Copper Plan” in the health exchange, a cheaper alternative to the current gold, silver and bronze plans that would provide low-cost catastrophic coverage for young and low-income consumers.

Funding for consumer-driven health insurance cooperatives that could compete with health plans on the exchange to provide more low-cost options.

Improved tax credits for small- and medium-sized businesses to help them offset the cost of providing coverage.

Raising the employee threshold for businesses required to provide insurance from 50 to 100 employees, thus excluding the majority of small businesses from the mandate.

The next question is whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow any of these proposals to come up for a vote.

Reid, President Obama and other stalwarts of the Affordable Care Act worry that the changes could further weaken an already unsteady law.

All the while, Manchin continues to carve out a place among the diminished breed of moderate Democrats in the Senate.

He’s joined forces on their health care fix plan, and he has campaigned for Begich and North Carolina Senator Kay Hagen.

Those chits add up, and they will help position Manchin as a substantial figure in 2016, especially if Hillary Clinton is the nominee and the Democratic Party swings back closer to the middle.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast statewide by the Metronews Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. Listen locally on WCHS 580 AM.

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