Boehner Capitalizes on White House Obamacare Delay

Chris Frates
National Journal

House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday set the stage for two votes meant to put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge a problem with Obamacare or vote against an implementation delay that the White House already said it needed.

Boehner said the House will vote next week on whether to delay two central provisions of President Obama’s health care law—the pieces that require businesses to provide, and individuals to secure, insurance coverage or pay a penalty.

The move reflects a belief among Republicans that the White House’s decision last week to postpone implementation of the employer mandate has helped shift the political landscape around the controversial program in the GOP’s favor.

In fact, conservatives have been arguing for weeks that opposition to the Affordable Care Act could be a winner not just among Republican voters, but also independents and even Democrats. The conservative independent advocacy group Crossroads GPS met with House Republicans three weeks ago to share the results of a survey the group said showed a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans supporting taking apart Obamacare, piece by piece.

“A certain sector of the public have been resistant to repealing the bill outright, but they’re open to dismantling the worst parts of the legislation, which present conservatives the opportunity to make inroads with the folks that have been resisting their message,” said Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio.

The Obama administration last week announced it would postpone implementation of the employer mandate, and Boehner’s idea now is to run one bill that would enshrine into law the employer-mandate delay, forcing Democrats to publicly acknowledge the implementation problem or side against the White House in its delay decision. The second bill would go further than the White House did by also delaying the individual mandate for a year.

“Is it fair for the president to give American businesses an exemption from his health law’s mandates, without giving the same break to the rest of America? Hell no, it’s not fair,” Boehner said.

Until last week’s decision, conservative groups had been largely biding their time as the administration prepares to begin implementing major aspects of the law next year. The move to put off until 2015 the requirement that large employers provide coverage for their employees or pay a penalty has the law’s opponents rethinking that strategy.

“Republicans smell blood in the water from the employer mandate. There were significant issues before, but now there’s a major actionable problem. I think that’s why there’s action from the House, because they sense a real opportunity to go after this law,” said Dan Conston, a spokesman for the center-right advocacy group American Action Network.

The network e-mailed its members Wednesday urging them to call the House Ways and Means Committee to let them know they support a subcommittee’s examination of the administration’s decision to delay the mandate.

The free-market group Americans for Prosperity on Tuesday launched a $700,000 cable and network ad buy in Ohio and Virginia targeting young mothers. The ad, created before the employer mandate delay was announced, aims to educate voters on how Obamacare will affect them.

In the ad, a young mother asks, “What am I getting in exchange for higher premiums and a smaller paycheck? … Can I really trust the folks in Washington with my family’s health care?”

The ad is the group’s first multistate ad buy this year and part of a monthlong education campaign including town-hall-style panels and grassroots action, an effort that will likely cost more than $1 million.

Between 2009 and June of this year, groups on both sides have spent more than $500 million on advertising, with opponents outspending supporters 5-to-1, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media.

Outside groups said the decision to delay the employer mandate raises the question of why the administration has also not delayed the requirement that individuals must have insurance or pay a penalty.

“Certainly, individuals are going to look at this and say, ‘Why are we the only ones who are stuck with this mess?’ ” said AFP spokesman Levi Russell.

Indeed, the administration’s decision to delay the employer mandate is widely seen among conservatives as akin to striking it from the law. If it was too onerous to implement next year, what will change the year after, they argue?

“They’ve opened the kimono on this and I would find it very difficult for them to close it,” said a GOP strategist. “You have a major component that’s pretty much gone.”

And Republicans plan on reminding Democrats of that repeatedly between now and 2014.

“Every Senate Democrat voted for Obamacare and they are all responsible for the train wreck of implementation that’s going on now,” Collegio said, “and conservatives are going to hold them to account for those votes.”