Politics & Policy

The 2014 Battle over Obamacare

Democrats in tough races support delaying its implementation.

House Republicans on Wednesday approved a one-year delay of the individual mandate, perhaps the most fundamental provision in Obamacare, and did so with the help of 22 Democrats.

The Obama administration’s defenders have sought to dismiss the vote as yet another GOP effort to “repeal” the controversial law in its entirety. House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) accused Republicans of playing “gotcha politics”; the Obama administration has threatened a veto. In fact, Wednesday’s result is just the latest example of Democrats losing ground in the war over health-care policy.#ad#

According to a recent poll from HealthPocket, a non-partisan consumer-resource website, 41 percent of Americans think the individual mandate, which imposes a fine on those who decline to purchase health insurance, should be delayed beyond 2014. Specifically, they said that individuals should receive the same treatment that the Obama administration has decided — without congressional approval, and possibly without legal authority — to give businesses. Just 12 percent said the individual mandate should take effect as scheduled; 47 percent weren’t sure.

Additionally, a Fox News poll released in late June found that nearly 60 percent of voters support repealing all (39 percent) or some (19 percent) of Obamacare, while two-thirds said the law makes them more worried about their health care.

And perhaps most striking of all, the leaders of three major labor unions that supported Obamacare’s passage sent a letter to Democratic leaders this week warning that unless significant changes are made, the law will “destroy the very health and wellbeing of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans.”

A look at the list of Democrats who voted to delay the individual mandate is revealing. All 22 of them are facing tough reelection battles in 2014 and have already been targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC); that includes all seven lawmakers identified by the GOP as top targets for defeat.

At the very least, it’s a sign that Democrats in tough races aren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of defending Obamacare in a midterm election (See: 2010), and party leaders are wary enough to let their members cast votes that will allow them to run against not only the law itself, but also the president and his administration. 

The most notable Democrats to join with Republicans on Wednesday’s vote are Representatives Bruce Braley (Iowa) and Gary Peters (Mich.). Both supported the passage of Obamacare. They are also running for open Senate seats in 2014. In fact, both are considered the favorites to win, according to recent polling.

The Republican-led effort to delay the individual mandate, and thus give individuals and families the same benefit the president has opted to give employers, occurs at a time when the administration’s efforts to implement the law are in obvious disarray. Administration officials on Thursday warned that the state health-care exchanges, another fundamental component of the law, may not be up and running in time. The political environment is equally challenging; businesses face increasing costs and are reducing employee hours. The administration has, tellingly, opted to delay implementing a number of the law’s key provisions, in addition to the employer mandate, until after the 2014 midterms.

It will be interesting to see how Senate Democrats respond to Republican demands for a vote on the individual-mandate delay. Majority Leader Harry Reid is unlikely to bring it up, but if Braley and Peters felt compelled to support the delay, perhaps Democrats facing reelection in 2014, such as Mary Landrieu (La.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Mark Begich (Alaska) would be inclined to as well, given their difficult prospects next fall. Throw in conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and the possibility of majority support in the Senate doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

And yet, Obamacare’s defenders refuse to acknowledge this bipartisan opposition. In a speech at the White House on Thursday, President Obama slammed “Republicans in the House of Representatives” for voting to “dismantle” the law “for nearly the 40th time.”

The media seems happy to perpetuate that narrative. “House Republicans vote to delay Obamacare mandates,” Reuters declared after Wednesday’s vote, waiting five paragraphs to note that “some Democrats” joined the effort. Numerous outlets, such as the Washington Post, misleadingly characterized the vote as an effort to “repeal” the entire law for the 39th time. In fact, the House has only voted three times on stand-alone bills to fully repeal Obamacare.

The House has, however, voted more than 30 times to repeal or defund specific provisions of the law, or otherwise alter Obamacare short of full repeal. Not all of those efforts have failed, as Harry Reid suggested they had on Meet the Press over the weekend. A total of seven House bills to defund or repeal portions of Obamacare have been signed into law since 2011. Major changes include the repeal of the fiscally dubious long-term-care program known as the CLASS Act, repeal of the onerous 1099 reporting requirement for small businesses, and a $5 billion cut to the law’s Prevention & Public Health slush fund, among other changes.

Republicans are hoping their opposition to Obamacare will be a winning issue in 2014, as it was for them in 2010, when they won control of the House. It would seem that Democrats, or at least those in the most contentious races, are inclined to agree.

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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