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Carney: GOP critics 'willfully ignorant' on ObamaCare delay

On the heels of criticism from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) over the delay in ObamaCare's employer mandate, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday that those who suggested delaying the employer mandate in the president's signature healthcare law was unusual were "willfully ignorant about past precedent."

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"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."

Republicans have highlighted comments by Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in an interview with The New York Times, in which he suggested that delaying the provision requiring large employers to offer healthcare coverage subverted the law.

"This was the law. How can they change the law?" Harkin asked the paper.

Carney said it was "obviously not the case" that the White House was prohibited in delaying the regulations.

"I invite you to read the Federal Register and all the examples of [delays]," Carney said.

"The fact of the matter is this is not unusual and … is evidence of the kind of flexibility and deference to the concerns and interests of, in this case, a small percentage of American businesses with more than 50 employees, that you would think Republicans would support," he continued.

Pressed on Harkin's comments, Carney said that while the White House took his objections seriously, they nevertheless believed they had the authority to delay the mandate.

"You can pretend this is about Tom Harkin, but you know it's not," he said.

Carney suggested that instead, Republicans were exploiting the comment in an effort to prevent implementation of a law they objected to.

"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," he said.

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department sent House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) a letter outlining why the administration believed it could delay the law's employer mandate timeline.

In the letter, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur says the decision is "an exercise of the Treasury Department's longstanding administrative authority to grant transition relief when implementing new legislation."

The White House spokesman also dismissed the concerns of Republican lawmakers who said the delay was evidence they should be wary of the administration's promises to implement new border security measures as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"One of the biggest fears we have about the Senate amnesty bill … is we can't trust the president," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said on the House floor earlier this week.

"We can't trust him. Whatever we pass into law, we know he's going to cherry-pick. How do we know that? The Defense of Marriage Act; he refused to defend that to the courts. Appointees to the NLRB; he did that when, of course, the Senate was not actually in session. ObamaCare; he's picking and choosing the parts of the law that he wants to implement."

Carney said the president "has demonstrated by his support for the enormous increase in resources for even greater enhancement of border security placed into the Senate immigration reform bill that he supports even further improvements in our border security."

"I mean, that's just a fact," he continued. "I mean, you can pretend that it's not because you want to find a way to do the wrong thing, or you can acknowledge the progress that's been made on border security."

--This report was updated at 5:21 p.m.