WASHINGTON — It's not easy being a Democrat on Capitol Hill these days, as the party's congressional ranks join President Barack Obama in suffering an abrupt drop in approval ratings because of the problem-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
But the only two Democrats in the Tennessee congressional delegation, Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis, stand by the beleaguered health care law and say House Republicans are making too much over flaws in the healthcare.gov website, where consumers are supposed to be able to sort through competing plans with ease.
Their Tennessee Republican colleagues, in fact, have been among the most vocal in saying the Affordable Care Act brought Americans and Tennesseans a bad deal. They have all called for a legislative fix that would allow Americans to keep their current health policies.
Lost in the uproar, Cooper and Cohen say, are many needed coverage guarantees now available that didn't exist before, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
"They will use whatever they can," Cohen said in an interview. "The Affordable Care Act is a lot of policy that's not part of a machine. The machine will be fixed."
Earlier this month, Cohen showed his willingness to stand by the act by bringing Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, to Memphis to encourage participation.
Meanwhile, Cooper, as a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, saw firsthand last week how more Republican efforts to highlight the problems with the website were playing out.
The committee chairman, Republican Darrell Issa of California, called in several Obama administration technology experts Wednesday for a grilling, including questions about alleged security issues.
Cooper didn't like the tone of the questions or what he perceived to be frequent interruptions of the witnesses.
"I'm worried the net effect of this hearing would be to exaggerate the security difficulties of the website," Cooper said when Issa recognized him.
"Another concern I have is witnesses being badgered."
In particular he didn't like Issa's questioning of Todd Park, chief technology officer in the executive office of the president. Cooper said he had heard Park speak years ago in Nashville to a "hardcore private-sector, pro-capitalist business audience" that raved about him.
"The way this hearing is conducted does not encourage good private sector people to want to join the federal government," the Nashville representative said.
"I believe in fairness. The American people do not want to see a kangaroo court here."
Issa didn't like the criticism. The chairman denied unfairly treating administration witnesses.
"No witness here today has been cut off. Every witness has been allowed to complete their entire answer. Kangaroo court is quite an accusation," Issa said.
"This is not a partisan hearing. I will not have it accused of being a partisan hearing."
To which Cooper replied, "This is a hearing on a broken website by a broken committee and the air is thick with innuendo."
Cooper, like Cohen, said he's confident the website will be fixed soon. Republicans, he said, "are making hay out of a software glitch."
Another exaggerated issue, the Nashville congressman said, is the cancellation notices some Americans are receiving. Insurance companies send out such notices every year, Cooper said.
He acknowledged, though, that he has yet to try healthcare.gov himself. He said he's waiting for the Web traffic to decrease.