ObamaCare setbacks hand weapon to opponents of law

Republicans are launching a new offensive against President Obama’s healthcare law, hoping flaws in the implementation will help undermine public confidence in the Democrats who passed it.

Republicans’ anti-ObamaCare sentiments have ratcheted up to a fever pitch since the administration announced last week that it would delay a provision of the healthcare law requiring large employers to offer healthcare coverage to their workers or pay a penalty. 

“The law is unraveling, and one of the threads to that was the delay,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said at a news conference Wednesday.

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On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have quickly put together a slew of hearings, press events and other messaging opportunities to beat up on the healthcare law. And GOP campaign committees have launched fresh attacks on vulnerable Democrats who supported the reforms.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee targeted eight senators over ObamaCare on Wednesday, including Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

“Now that Democrats admit what a disaster ObamaCare is to implement, Begich is running as fast as he can from the taxes, mandates, and fees imposed by his deciding vote,” the NRSC said in a release.

The administration’s decision to delay the law’s employer mandate handed Republicans a hook to focus on attacking the Affordable Care Act, an issue they believe will work to their favor in 2014, just as it did in 2010.

It also gave Republicans an easy talking point: Employers don’t have to offer insurance next year, but individuals are still required to buy it. They’ve accused the administration of imposing a double standard that hurts working-class families.

“The Democrats believe that businesses deserve relief from ObamaCare — what do they think about the rest of America?” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said.

GOP senators made the same point in a letter to Obama.

"While your recent action provides temporary relief for some, we believe that all Americans deserve permanent relief from this onerous law, so that we can adopt common-sense reforms that will actually lower costs and that Americans support," Thune and his GOP colleagues wrote.

The House is expected to hammer that message home soon with a vote to delay ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) discussed the strategy with his caucus this week, though the timing for a vote has not yet been determined.

“It would only seem fair” to delay the individual mandate, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said Wednesday during a hearing of the Ways and Means Health subcommittee, which he chairs.

Within hours of wrapping up the hearing Wednesday, Brady had scheduled another one for next week, this time with a witness from the Treasury Department. Another House committee is also holding a hearing on the delay next week.

Republicans have sent several letters to administration officials requesting more information about the delay, and have even questioned its legality.

The White House has dismissed those criticisms, defended the delay in the employer mandate and said the central pieces of the healthcare law are still on track.

“What we do not take seriously is the ongoing nihilistic effort by Republicans to undermine a law that’s been signed and upheld by the Supreme Court — an effort that has the result of, if it were to be successful, depriving millions and millions of Americans of access to insurance and the benefits that are available to them through the Affordable Care Act,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.

White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri addressed GOP moves against the individual mandate. 

 “A delay in the individual mandate is repeal by another name,” she said. “After three years’ worth of unsuccessful attempts in the courts and nearly 40 repeal votes in the House of Representatives, Congressional Republicans pushing for a delay in the individual mandate is simply the latest attempt to sabotage the effort to ensure all Americans access to affordable health care.”

In the Senate, Republicans plan to use the appropriations process to drive home their anti-ObamaCare message. 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said he plans to offer several anti-ObamaCare amendments on Thursday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to take up its annual spending bill for the Health and Human Services Department.

Democrats have tried to put a positive spin on the delay, saying it’s a sign that the administration is flexible and willing to work with the business community to make sure the law functions well.

They have also accused Republicans of being disingenuous, celebrating every bump in the road for ObamaCare while remaining unwilling to fix potential problems with the law.

“I’m sure it’s tempting for those who have stood against reform and progress from the beginning to see this as a chance to rip ObamaCare apart,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said during Wednesday’s hearing. “The irony of objecting to the delay of a program you’ve been trying to stop is, no doubt, lost on this room.”

Realistically, supporters of the healthcare law aren’t thrilled about the delay, but say it was probably the better of two bad options. Heading into the 2014 midterms defending a delay is probably better than defending a bad rollout — especially as employers had begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid providing healthcare.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) chided Democrats for arguing that delaying the mandate until after the 2014 midterms was a smart political move, while defending the overall healthcare law.

“If this is such a good thing, why not let people know about it before the election, not after? ... They obviously don’t think people are going to like this once they see it,” Blunt said.

Republicans believe ObamaCare will be a winning issue for them in 2014, when several vulnerable Democrats will face voters for the first time since casting their votes to pass the healthcare law.

Democrats have downplayed the political risks. Healthcare attacks did not help Republicans in 2012, either in the presidential race or Senate campaigns, and Democrats say the issue simply doesn’t resonate with voters the way it did in 2010, when Republicans captured the House majority.



— This post was updated at 9:30 a.m.