Issa questions Treasury's authority to delay ObamaCare employer mandate

Anne Wernikoff

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is questioning the Department of Treasury’s authority to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate and alleging that the White House initiated the delay for political reasons.

ADVERTISEMENT
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Thursday, Issa, along with Reps. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), requested all correspondences pertaining to the delay between Treasury, the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The Committee is concerned that, as part of its role in the law’s implementation, the Department of Treasury is intentionally disregarding core statutory requirements of the law,” the letter reads in part. “These concerns are compounded by serious questions about the constitutionality of the Department’s actions.”

“Information obtained by the Committee suggests that last year’s decision to delay the employer mandate was made by the White House and not the Treasury Department,” the letter continues. “We were surprised to learn that the White House Chief of Staff knew about the employer mandate delay prior to the head of the department implementing the program. This finding raises serious questions about whether the White House directed the delay of the employer mandate for political reasons.”

A Treasury spokesman told The Hill that the agency was exercising its “longstanding authority to grant transition relief when implementing new legislation” under authority in the tax code that this, and previous administrations, have used to make changes to tax law.

“Treasury has traditionally interpreted this authority under section 7805(a) to include providing transition relief as appropriate in connection with changes to the tax law, including, for example, changes to various information reporting, tax withholding, and other provisions of the Internal Revenue Code over the past ten years or so,” the official said. “Providing transition relief is a means to ensure that changes to the law are implemented for the long term in the most effective and efficient manner.”

In early February, the Obama administration announced a second delay of the employer mandate.

The requirement that companies offer their workers insurance or pay a penalty was a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. But in its final regulations, Treasury delayed the mandate for companies with between 50 and 99 employers after business groups pressured the administration for more time to comply with the law.

Republicans have called the multiple unilateral changes to ObamaCare “lawless,” while arguing that other portions of the law, like the individual mandate, should also be delayed.

The administration has stressed that the vast majority of businesses have fewer than 50 employees and would not be subject to the mandate at all, and that it’s merely seeking to ease the transition for groups that were negatively impacted by the problem-plagued rollout.

Issa cited testimony from Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur, who in an interview with Oversight said repeatedly he couldn’t recall if anyone at Treasury discussed whether the agency had the legal authority to delay the mandate.

“These admissions are stunning: there are more than two thousand attorneys in the Department of Treasury, and the official responsible for tax policy cannot recall a single one inquiring into the legal authority for the employer mandate delay,” the letter says. “Furthermore, Mr. Mazur’s responses are inconsistent with the Department’s claim that it relied upon an asserted authority under § 7805 of the Internal Revenue Code.”

“While we believe that ObamaCare, including its penalties on employers, is bad policy and should be repealed, it is clear that by law the Administration cannot act unilaterally to delay unpopular aspects of ObamaCare until after the next November election,” the letter continues.