Votes to delay ObamaCare mandates put House Democrats in tight spot

House Republicans received a boost from Democrats on Wednesday during votes to delay ObamaCare’s individual and employer mandates, highlighting the dilemma facing Democrats as the GOP prepares to hammer healthcare issues in 2014.

Twenty-two Democrats joined Republicans in a vote to delay the individual mandate, which requires most people to carry health insurance starting Jan. 1.

ADVERTISEMENT
Another 35 supported a bill to defer the law’s employer mandate by one year. The measure would enact the same administrative delay announced by the Obama administration on July 2.

The White House had put its allies in a tough spot Tuesday by threatening to veto the employer bill in addition to the individual measure.

Though the employer mandate has already been delayed, giving the GOP measure no practical meaning, the administration voiced strong opposition to the legislation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney characterized the bill as part of a larger Republican effort to undermine the healthcare law before patients can receive its help.

“There are few things more cynical than the House Republicans, who have made it their mission in life to repeal the Affordable Care Act and deny the American people the benefits that they would receive,” Carney told a press conference.

A pugnacious Carney suggested that backing the GOP’s employer mandate delay would hand a victory to opponents of healthcare reform.

“The president would veto those bills because, if they were ever to become law, it would be bad for the American people,” he said.

Wednesday’s votes bring to nearly 40 the number of times House Republicans have voted to defund, dismantle or repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The bills have all died in the Senate, which is led by Democrats.

Obama administration officials are under extreme pressure, facing restive stakeholders and around-the-clock criticism from Republicans, as they work to implement healthcare reform’s central provisions.

The somewhat obscure employer mandate claimed headlines earlier this month when the Treasury Department announced that larger firms would not be required to offer health coverage to their workers until 2015 rather than next year.

Business groups welcomed the decision, but GOP critics jumped on the delay as evidence that the Affordable Care Act is failing.

Congressional Republicans amplified this criticism by linking it to opposition to the individual mandate.

The charges quickly took on a populist tone as ObamaCare critics accused the administration of catering to big business and ignoring individuals.

“Why did you make a decision that Warren Buffett gets relief, but Joe Six-Pack doesn’t?” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked one Treasury official during a hearing Wednesday.

Delaying the individual mandate would throw a major wrench in ObamaCare’s design.

One of the law’s most popular provisions will bar insurers from discriminating against patients with pre-existing conditions.

This coverage will come with high costs. The individual mandate is meant to bring them down by adding younger, healthier people to the insurance pool.

Any delay in the mandate would therefore cause premiums to spike, harming consumers and dooming participation in the law’s insurance exchanges.

The White House sought to turn the tables on Republicans Wednesday by citing New York’s marketplace, where ObamaCare will reportedly cut the average insurance premium in half.

“[Republicans] will be voting, through their measure to delay implementation of the individual mandate, to keep those rates at $1,000 for the individual in New York rather than $308,” Carney said.

A prominent group of economists made the same point in an open letter published Wednesday.

“Delaying the employer [mandate] has almost no effect on the implementation of the ACA,” the group wrote.

“In contrast, delaying the individual mandate would cut at the core of the vision of private market-based insurance market reform.”

Still, Wednesday’s votes against the delays could come back to haunt vulnerable Democrats.

Business groups have filled lawmakers’ inboxes with letters in support of deferring the employer mandate.

In a memo, the Chamber of Commerce threatened to punish lawmakers in 2014 if they oppose the GOP bill.

“Delaying enforcement of the employer mandate would allow businesses to focus on strengthening their businesses, hiring more workers, and revitalizing the economy,” wrote R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs.

“It is crucial that an atmosphere where employers can focus on their role in revitalizing the economy can be provided.”

The Chamber and other private-sector groups threatened to “score” Wednesday’s vote, keeping a tally of members that opposed business interests.