Obama’s legacy on the line as healthcare implementation challenges mount

The delay in the healthcare employers mandate has dealt the Obama administration a black eye, at a time when the president desperately needs a political win.

Political observers agreed that the decision to delay the mandate until 2015, which the administration announced on Tuesday, is a setback for Obama, who is currently attempting to shoehorn immigration reform legislation through the House to secure one of his legislative priorities in his second term.

It also casts a shadow on Obama’s one major legislative accomplishment and could possibly put a dent in his legacy, observers said.

“If healthcare were to be his one major victory and it is seen as flawed and resisted to some good effect for the remainder of his presidency, that would be a hit to his legacy and it might take him off the list of great Democratic presidents,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Jillson said the delay also highlights the problems some had with the healthcare law and “feeds into the narrative that Obama is ineffectual in dealing with Congress.”

Republicans seized on the delay Tuesday evening and into Wednesday, claiming the legislation itself had been rammed through both chambers with many blemishes.

“Obamacare is a flawed law, it has been from day one and continues to be one now,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee. “This latest announcement is just another sign that the president and his administration are afraid of the havoc that this imperfect law will wreak on everyday Americans.”

"The idea Obamacare will become more popular with time has turned from promise to punchline," added Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE.

Republicans believe it is a major smear to Obama’s place in history.

But David Axelrod, who served as White House senior adviser and a longtime strategist to Obama, said Wednesday on MSNBC that the president’s “view is that we ought to plow forward, make sure this can work, and we're going to look back at it and it's going to be our proudest accomplishment.

"There are bumps in the road. You have to make adjustments along the way," Axelrod continued. "Ultimately when history looks back at them, we say that was the right thing to do. I think that's the way it's going to be with the Affordable Care Act."

A former senior administration official who worked on pushing the healthcare bill, said the delay by no means diminishes what Obama accomplished in pushing the bill.

“Ask anyone with a pre-exisiting condition whether this has tainted his reputation. Ask anyone who has healthcare and didn’t have it before whether it has ruined his legacy,” the former administration official said. “People are making a mountain out of a molehill. The idea that something so big and complex is going to take some time to get is a rational one.”

Jillson added that, while the delay is a setback for the administration and could be a temporary blot on Obama's image, it probably would not cause long-term damage.

“It’s certainly not good for the White House but I don’t know if it affects Obama’s legacy long-term,” Jillson said. “When you’re looking at this from 30,000-foot views, only the tallest mountains get seen.”