By Mike Lillis - 05/14/13 06:14 PM EDT
Democrats anticipate glitches in ObamaCare's implementation and are anxious about the potential political fallout, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
Hoyer, the Democratic whip, fiercely defended President Obama's 2010 healthcare law, arguing that public support will swell as more benefits kick in. But with the central reforms set to be installed within the next year, the Maryland Democrat also conceded that stumbling blocks are inevitable and Republicans will likely pounce on each one.
“It's going to be difficult to implement without glitches and I think it would be a surprise if there weren't some glitches. And, yes, I think the Republicans will try to make as much hay of any glitches that may occur as they possibly can,” Hoyer added. “But … the election last year was essentially about the Affordable Care Act and their [the Republicans'] desire to repeal it. … And Obama won a very handy election.”
Hoyer's comments strike a different tone than those offered last week by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who expressed no concern that some of the most sweeping changes under ObamaCare are set to take hold just months ahead of the 2014 midterms.
“We're very pleased that we're coming to a place now where we're going into implementation,” Pelosi said Thursday. “It's going to be something so remarkable in terms of prevention and wellness; it's going to be something so great in terms of technology and … electronic medical records.”
The recent scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service – which admitted last week to targeting conservative groups – has fueled the Republican opposition to ObamaCare, as many voices on the right say the agency can't be trusted to implement the healthcare law.
But Hoyer on Tuesday rejected that notion, arguing that, while the IRS's conduct was “inappropriate” and offending officials should be held accountable, there's no link between the recent scandal and the agency's capacity to install the healthcare law. Those suggesting otherwise, Hoyer added, “are grasping at straws to distract the American people and to undermine … a focus on substance.”
“I don't think that this is anything that's going to undermine the IRS's credibility, vis-a-vis the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
Addressing another recent headline – the seizure of Associated Press phone records by the Department of Justice, including those originating in the AP's House bureau – Hoyer said the act was unjustified unless a court had determined there were national security interests at stake.
“We need to find out why it happened, but clearly, it should not have happened,” Hoyer said. “We should not have either House lines – but in particular the lines of the Fourth Estate, of the press – subject to being intercepted without knowledge and without court oversight. … The House needs to take cognizance of it and pursue it.”
But Hoyer was quick to divorce the recent episodes from Obama's legislative agenda, predicting that any wrongdoing in the agencies won't derail the administration's second-term priorities – including budget issues and immigration reform.
“Over the last month or so, it's hard to believe we could do less than we've done,” Hoyer said. “What is derailing substantive consideration of important legislation … is the continuing focus [by Republicans] on political posturing as opposed to positive policy. … It's all about appealing to one's base in the Republican House.”
Some provisions of ObamaCare are already in effect, but the central parts of the law – a sweeping expansion of Medicaid, the establishment of state-based insurance markets and the requirement that almost everyone in the country obtain health coverage or face a financial penalty – don't kick in until late this year or early the next.
With polls indicating that most voters are unaware what the law actually does, some Democratic leaders are worried that any problems with implementation will be magnified by Republicans on the 2014 campaign trail.
Hoyer said Tuesday that Democrats have their work cut out.
“We need to be aggressive,” Hoyer added. “Republicans are doing everything they possible can to make this program, which is of great benefit to the American people, fail.”