The Obama administration’s decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate, a central provision of Obamacare, could be a political gift to Republicans. House leaders appear to have crafted a shrewd legislative response — if they can persuade enough of their members to go along with it.
“Is it fair for the president of the United States to give American businesses an exemption from his health-care law’s mandates without giving the same exemption to the rest of America? Hell no, it’s not fair,” Boehner told GOP members at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. He reiterated that message moments later to reporters gathered outside. “I think what the president did is outrageous,” he said. “It’s wrong, and we’ll have another vote. Count on it.”
Boehner discussed the possibility of holding two successive votes that would put Democrats in an awkward position politically and highlight the “indefensible” nature of the administration’s decision, according to a source in the room. “We should be thinking about giving the rest of America the same exemption that Obama last week gave businesses,” Boehner said. The plan would involve voting to enact through legislation the one-year delay of the employer mandate that the administration has imposed unilaterally. That would be followed by a vote on a one-year delay of the much-maligned individual mandate, perhaps the law’s most fundamental provision, which is still on track to take effect in 2014.
Democrats would face a choice of either voting with Republicans to delay the individual mandate or explaining to voters why individuals should be treated more harshly than businesses when it comes to purchasing health care. The votes could also serve to highlight the unilateral nature of President Obama’s decisions to selectively enforce certain requirements of the law and delay others without congressional approval. The legality of the president’s postponement of the employer mandate is, at the very least, up for debate. In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, Boehner and other House leaders asked the White House to explain the legality of its action. Hearings on the matter are in the works.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has also asked the Congressional Budget Office to evaluate the economic impact of the president’s decision to delay such a central provision of his signature law. The employer mandate was expected to generate about $10 billion in revenue from penalty fines in 2014 alone.
Republicans seem to grasp the political potential of the situation. “People are hungry for us to move on something that will take advantage of this momentum,” says a senior GOP aide. But whether or not rank-and-file members, many of whom have insisted on full repeal of Obamacare and view piecemeal efforts to eliminate portions of the law with skepticism, will sign on to leadership’s game plan remains to be seen.
Last week, conservative commentator Erick Erickson of the blog RedState warned Republicans against voting on partial measures. “Do not get cute here,” he wrote. “Americans sent Republicans to Washington to end Obamacare, not mend it. Repeal the whole damn thing, not parts.”
One conservative GOP aide tells National Review Online that “there will continue to be a push for permanent delay, called repeal.” However, others indicated that supporting full repeal would not be incompatible with seeking to delay certain key aspects of Obamacare.
Representative Steve Scalise (R., La.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, appeared open to the idea on Tuesday. “I find it interesting that the president wants to give businesses a break on the law, but he’s still willing to let the individual mandate hit individual families,” he said. “We’re looking at a lot of different options to address the problem.”
Aides suggest that because all members have now had a chance to vote for full repeal of Obamacare, many will be open to supporting a temporary delay of the individual mandate. Of course, such a delay, if enacted, would severely threaten the law in its entirety. Republicans have argued all year that Obamacare would ultimately prove unworkable and collapse under its own weight, a belief that has been reinforced by the administration’s efforts to roll back or delay some of its central provisions.
“The ideal is for the law to collapse without every having done the damage that it will do,” a House leadership aide says of the plan to go after the individual mandate. “That’s what we’re doing. This isn’t preventing or forestalling the collapse, this is a stage in the collapse.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.