Delaying Obamacare

Those of us following the frantic and disconcerting efforts to roll out Obamacare have a kind of drill we follow these days: For news of big problems that the administration wants treated as small, we look toward the back of the A section of the New York Times. That’s where the Times now buries most of Robert Pear’s coverage of health care which, despite Pear’s best efforts to cheerlead, tends to involve coverage of delay and dysfunction in Obamacare. Today’s story (page A12) begins with an eleven-word phrase we should get used to and builds from there:

Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation.

It seems HHS is delaying implementation of this provision by a year, to 2015 instead of 2014. Leaving aside the question of where exactly the administration is getting the authority for the delay (given the fact that the requirement to implement this provision, in section 1311(b)(1) of the law, begins with the words “Each State shall, not later than January 1, 2014, establish”), and leaving aside the fact that this provision was the price of at least one senator’s vote for Obamacare (Mary Landrieu’s) and perhaps others’, the fact of the delay should get members of Congress from both parties thinking. We have already seen other deadlines pushed back, and we will see more. Why not formalize this process and just push back the implementation of the entire law by at least a year?

Ramesh and I make that case in the course of a larger argument in the current NR (and I’ve argued for it here, as have Jim Capretta and others.) Congressional Democrats surely want to avoid being blamed for a meltdown of American health care during a congressional election year, the people implementing this law at every level could certainly use the time, and Republicans believe that more time would not make Obamacare more popular but would allow them to further develop and articulate their alternatives (and allow another election to intervene earlier in the rollout process, making a replacement more plausible). It would also make our budget politics a bit easier, since the CBO would score a one-year delay as reducing federal spending by about $160 billion over the ten-year budget window. If it’s going to happen informally (and in a legally dubious way) anyhow, what’s the case against delay by statute?

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