Boehner: 'What the hell is this, a joke?'

“What the hell is this, a joke?” Boehner said at his weekly press conference.

ADVERTISEMENT
He was responding to the administration’s announcement on Tuesday evening that people who had begun the process of signing up for insurance through the federal exchanges would have until mid-April to do so, instead of March 31.

The Speaker called the move “another deadline made meaningless,” adding it to a litany of unilateral changes that the administration has made to the law. 

“This is part of a long-term pattern of this administration manipulating the law for its own convenience,” Boehner said. “It’s not hard to understand why the American people question this administration’s commitment to the rule of law.”

The Speaker mocked the use of the “honor system” to determine who was eligible for an extension after the administration said it would make no effort to ensure that people had actually begun the process of signing up by March 31.

“Why don’t they just say, ‘We’ve moved the date to April 15’? Because that’s in effect what they’ve done,” Boehner said. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney slapped back at the House Speaker Wednesday afternoon, noting Boehner had not protested when the Bush Administration offered a similar grace period for enrollment in Medicare Part D.

"A 'joke' was the indifference with which John Boehner, Congressman Boehner, Speaker Boehner, at the time, greeted the extension under George W. Bush of the Medicare Part D enrollment for certain populations compared to the response he’s given today," Carney said.

Carney likened the extension to "what happens when you vote — if you're in line before the polls close, you vote."

Administration officials cited “a surge in demand” as a reason for the extension, which they said is aimed at people with “special circumstances and complex cases.”

“Open enrollment ends March 31,” Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters told The Hill in an email Tuesday evening. “We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment — either online or over the phone.”

Republicans have attacked the healthcare law from virtually every angle, criticizing both its underlying regulations and the administration’s repeated decision to delay or not fully enforce them. Boehner has criticized the early problems with the HealthCare.gov website, and on Wednesday, he was pressed on why people shouldn’t have more time to sign up for insurance because of them.

“The dates are the dates, and the law is the law,” he said. “The president doesn’t have the authority to change the law whenever he wants, which he continues to do.”

Boehner added later in the press conference: “The law says that enrollment stops at the end of March. That’s what the law says. I’ve got to live by the law; you’ve got to live by the law; the American people have got to live by the law. And guess what? The president needs to live by the law as well.”

In response to Boehner, Peters compared the situation to Election Day, when voters who are in line when the polls close are still allowed to cast their ballot.

"The law is the law. Consumers need to know the deadline is March 31," she said. "But just like on Election Day, if you are in line when we close, you get to enroll. We're experiencing near-record volume and the site, and we're not going to turn people away who tried and couldn't complete their enrollment. This is about helping people who want to get health insurance."

Peters noted that a similar extension was offered under the Bush administration in 2006 for the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. 

— Jonathan Easley contributed to this story.

— This story was updated at 5:55 p.m.