OVERNIGHT HEALTH: GOP smells blood in ObamaCare delay

Senate Republicans said Wednesday that their proposals to delay the individual mandate don't affect the guarantee for people with pre-existing conditions, meaning premiums would rise dramatically if the delay actually became law (which it won't).

“We acknowledge that would be an issue that we would have to be deal with" if the mandate were successfully delayed, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (R-S.D.) said Wednesday.

Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee said the omission shows that "this is not about policy. It's politics."

Read our story on the pre-existing conditions issue.

It's legal: The administration pushed back Wednesday against GOP charges that the delay in the employer mandate was illegal. The Treasury Department, in a letter to lawmakers, outlined its "longstanding administrative authority" to provide flexibility with new penalties, a step it also took under the Bush administration.

White House press secretary Jay Carney also noted that regulatory delays are incredibly common.

"People who suggest that there's anything unusual about the delaying of a deadline in the implementation of a complex and comprehensive law are, you know, deliberately sticking their heads in the sand or are just willfully ignorant about past precedent," Carney said. "It's just not — it's not serious."

Healthwatch has more here on Treasury's letter and here on Carney's pushback.

Spotlight on Texas: The Texas State House passed a bill Wednesday banning abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and applying a range of new restrictions to abortion clinics. The legislation is now headed to the Senate and could pass as early as Friday. 

Apart from receiving national attention, the developments drew strong responses from players in Washington. The Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion rights, praised Texas Republicans for "working tirelessly" to "protect an entire class of unborn children." The House Pro-Choice Caucus cast the vote as another attack in the GOP "war on women."

Drawing a line: Abortion-rights supporters in the Senate gathered with Planned Parenthood staffers Wednesday to decry the Texas vote and warn Senate Republicans not to push a similar 20-week ban recently passed by the House. Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (R-Fla.) has been rumored as a possible lead sponsor for the legislation, but Senate Democrats emphasized that the bill is a "non-starter," no matter how it comes up.

"If this bill were to be offered as an amendment to a bill, we would fight against it and defeat it," said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBarbara Boxer recounts harassment on Capitol Hill: ‘The entire audience started laughing’ 100 years of the Blue Slip courtesy Four more lawmakers say they’ve been sexually harassed by colleagues in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) at a press conference.

"Regardless of who introduces it, it is going nowhere," said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Wash.).

Read more about the House bill at The Hill's Floor Action blog.

User fee concerns: Republican senators are asking the administration to explain how ObamaCare's exchanges will operate without long-term increases in corporate fees or patient premiums. Six GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee urged federal officials to employ cost-containment measures to ensure that health insurance companies don't face ever-increasing user fees to support the exchanges.

Read more about the letter to Health Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusObama cabinet official: Clinton White House doubled down on 'abusive behavior' John Roberts has tough job of keeping faith in Supreme Court Price was a disaster for HHS — Time for an administrator, not an ideologue MORE and Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewSenator demands answers from DOJ on Russia bribery probe Koskinen's role in the ObamaCare bailout another reason Trump must terminate him The debt limit is the nation's appendix — get rid of it MORE at Healthwatch.

Thursday's schedule

The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up a 2014 bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America will hold a rally at Upper Senate Park against federal and state legislative moves to curb abortion rights. Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenDemocrats turn on Al Franken Schumer called, met with Franken and told him to resign Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are scheduled to speak.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Results for Life will host a Capitol Hill briefing to educate staff on the value of genetic and genomic testing.

State by state

N.C. attaches abortion restrictions to motorcycle safety bill

Feds: Texas Hispanics may not hear health reform message

Mo. Senate Committee told 'expand, improve' Medicaid

Reading list

Computer snag limits insurance penalties on smokers

CMS proposed rule would kill Reid 'fiscal cliff' provision

UnitedHealthcare sees doubling of accountable care business

Pneumonia vaccine said to reduce U.S. hospitalizations

What you might have missed on Healthwatch

Walgreens, Blue Cross launch effort to promote ObamaCare

HHS pushes ObamaCare enrollment with new grants

GOP wants new cost estimate for health law after mandate delay

NBA player, actress lobby for diabetes research at Senate hearing

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Please let us know:

Sam Baker: sbaker@thehill.com / 202-628-8351 / @sam_baker

Elise Viebeck: eviebeck@thehill.com / 202-628-8523 / @eliseviebeck