The Corner

Do House Democrats Agree They Are Unnecessary?

This afternoon, the House will vote on two Obamacare-related bills. One would delay the implementation of the employer mandate and associated requirements by a year (as the administration has already announced it will do without congressional authorization), and the other would do the same for the individual mandate. 

Yesterday, the White House released a Statement of Administration Policy announcing that the president would veto both bills if they reached his desk. The White House argues that, taken together, the bills would amount to a huge step toward repealing Obamacare. That’s certainly true, and it’s surely why House Republicans are doing it—they have after all made it very clear they want to repeal the law. 

But the specific components of this particular move toward repeal put Democrats in a peculiar situation: If they vote against both delays, they would be voting against formalizing and legalizing the move the administration has already taken on the employer mandate. If they vote in favor of both delays, they would be taking a huge step toward undoing Obamacare. If they vote to delay the employer mandate but not the individual mandate they would be voting to offer relief to large employers but not to individual workers and families. None of these is a comfortable place for them to be. Unless they vote for both delays, which presumably most of them will not want to do, their votes will clearly be used against them next year. They are being forced to take ownership once more of Obamacare’s least popular elements.

And they have the president to thank for it. The third option—delaying the employer mandate but keeping the individual mandate—is perhaps the most uncomfortable of all as a political matter. But of course, it is also what the administration has already done unilaterally, and therefore is the position in which the president has already put Obamacare’s supporters whether they like it or not. 

The White House has moved to make today’s vote a little easier for Democrats by issuing that veto threat against both bills. But the rationale for that threat, especially as it regards the bill to delay the employer mandate, should make congressional Democrats even more uncomfortable. The Statement of Administration Policy first argues that the two bills, “taken together, would cost millions of hard-working middle class families the security of affordable health coverage and care they deserve.” Does that mean that they think even just delaying the employer mandate (which they have already done) would, taken by itself, have some such costs? If so, why did they do it? If not, why veto both bills? The only rationale offered in the statement for specifically vetoing the employer-mandate delay is, in its entirety, “H.R. 2667 is unnecessary.” The president is threatening to veto a bill that would simply authorize and formalize what he has already done because he deems it unnecessary for Congress to actually pass legislation that actually changes prior law—his administration can just ignore the law and do what it wants, so what’s the point?

It might of course be refreshing if presidents started vetoing laws because they deem those laws unnecessary. Quite a few laws should fall victim to the veto pen in that new world. But H.R. 2667 ought not be one of them. House Democrats are right to want a way out of the political problem the administration created for them by delaying the employer mandate and not the individual mandate, but they should be at least as worried about affirming the notion that congressional authorization for executive action is unnecessary in our system of government. 

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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