By Elise Viebeck - 07/17/13 05:09 PM EDT
A top Treasury official on Wednesday defended the decision to delay ObamaCare's employer mandate in the administration's first appearance before Congress on the issue.
J. Mark Iwry, the Treasury Department's deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy, characterized the delay as "transition relief" for businesses, while under heavy criticism from Republicans.
"Treasury made the decision that employers' requests for more time to comply with the reporting requirements were valid," Iwry told the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee.
Treasury announced on July 2 that it would defer the employer mandate by one year. The policy requires larger businesses to offer healthcare coverage or face fines.
Republicans on the subcommittee attacked the administration for failing to issue a similar delay for individuals, who will be required to carry health insurance starting next year.
"Why did you make a decision that Warren Buffett gets relief, but Joe Six-Pack doesn't?" Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the panel's chairman, put to Iwry.
Other Republicans charged that the Affordable Care Act is unworkable and failing even the administration's expectations.
Iwry replied that the law's insurance exchanges are on schedule to open for enrollment Oct. 1.
He added that the concerns of average workers were the motivating force behind healthcare reform.
"The tax benefits of this law are of historic proportions," Iwry said. "The market reforms … are of historic significance."
The employer mandate delay has fueled Republicans' criticism of ObamaCare over the last two weeks.
The decision came as a surprise to lawmakers and health policy experts. Iwry said it was made "sometime in June" after a careful and deliberate process.
"It took into account an evolving body of evidence," he told lawmakers.
The House GOP is scheduled to vote Wednesday to delay the employer and individual mandates.
President Obama has threatened to veto both bills, arguing that the former is "unnecessary" given the administration's announcement and that the latter would raise premiums.
Iwry will testify again Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.