Twenty-seven Democrats on Wednesday sided with House Republicans on a bill to delay tax penalties for failing to buy health insurance this year under ObamaCare.
The vote, which reflects growing Republican frustration with President Obama's selective implementation of the law, again shows some level of Democratic support for a legislative change to the law. Several House bills aimed at making the health law more transparent have also received support from a few dozen Democrats.
Most of the 27 Democrats voting for the bill are seen as vulnerable in the November elections, and one of them, Rep. Gary Peters (Mich.), is running for the Senate this year.
The bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate, but Republicans hope it can bolster their case for taking the Senate in this fall's midterm elections. The party wants to make the elections as much as possible about the problems of ObamaCare, and is hoping to exploit Democratic division on the issue.
The bill was introduced late last week in response to the Obama administration's recent decision to delay enforcement of a requirement that companies with between 50 and 100 workers must offer health plans to their employees. Republicans say repeated delays on implementation of the employer mandates must be met by a delay in the individual mandate to buy insurance, and that anything less is unfair.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) added that the law is already increasing insurance premiums for many, and is leading to reduced work hours at some companies. He said people should not also have to face a penalty for failing to buy insurance under these terms.
"The American people have paid over and over for this healthcare law. They've paid higher premiums and they've paid by having their hours cutback and their paychecks decreased," Camp said. "The last thing this law should do is penalize Americans for being unable to purchase a plan on HealthCare.gov either because of multiple web failures or that they were unable to find an affordable plan."
Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), who sponsored the bill, said killing the penalty for one year is the best way to bring people parity with companies that are benefitting from implementation delays.
"The president has now acted unilaterally on two separate occasions to give big businesses relief from this tax burden," she said. "However, he has not leveled the playing field for the millions of individuals and families who are forced to comply with the individual mandate tax."
Jenkins added that many of the administration's modifications to the law have been announced in blog posts. "This has led to confusion, frustration and ultimately difficulty in complying with the law," she said.
Democrats blasted Republicans for calling up yet another bill that they said would chip away at the healthcare law. Several pointed out that today's vote is the 50th vote to undermine the law since Republicans took back the House in 2011.
"Don't we have anything else to do?" Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked. "All we seem to do is deny science — which is the bill that will be coming up next, where the Republicans want to stop EPA from dealing with the climate change issue — or denying the rights of people to get health insurance."
Others argued that delaying the penalty would reduce funding for the bill, which in turn would mean fewer people would have access to healthcare.
"In 2014, we would see an additional one million uninsured," said Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). "In 2015, two million more people would be uninsured than if the individual mandate stayed in effect. And in 2016, another million people."
Late Tuesday, the White House reiterated these arguments and said delaying the penalty would undercut the law dramatically. The administration's veto threat said the GOP bill would "increase health insurance premiums, decrease tax credits, increase the number of uninsured, and shift costs to businesses, workers and healthcare providers."
Under current law, people who are able to buy a plan but don't will be fined up to 1 percent of their income, or a minimum of $95. From there, it grows to $325 or 2 percent, and $695 or 2.5 percent.
Jenkins's bill would reset that fine structure so it starts in 2015.
Democrats voting for the bill were Reps. Ron Barber (Ariz.), John Barrow (Ga.), Ami Bera (Calif.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Cheri Bustos (Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Bill Enyart (Ill.), Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Pete Gallego (Texas), John Garamendi (Calif.), Joe Garcia (Fla.), Ann Kuster (N.H.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Richard Nolan (Minn.), Bill Owens (N.Y.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and Filemon Vela (Texas).
— This story was last updated at 4:29 p.m.